Nice Girls Always Smile

Nice Girls Always Smile by J. Kuzmier --  photo by John B. at

It was a really nice day when I went to the café to help Tina deal with meeting Rosemary. Unfortunately, a strong wind was blowing through the town. So despite the sun, it was cold. It felt nice to walk into the café, feeling the warmth wrapping me up like a blanket.

The aroma of coffee permeated the room, wafting over all the patrons like a spell. A cup of java always brings people together, it seems. So many people were here today. It could be a nice excuse to spend a casual afternoon with a lover, like some were doing. It could be an occasion where people could actually see each other in person while doing business rather than living in digital.

Or, as in the case of Rosemary and Tina, a nice way to reconnect after a long, long silence that stretched over the years. Those absences are so common nowadays in a mobile world, don’t you think? But wait! We can fix all that. Thank the internet. Thank java. All that neglect can be remedied with just those two things. It’s so nice to be connected once more, no matter where you run off to in this world.

Rosemary and Tina met up at the café, like I said before. I’ve seen Tina around town from time to time, and we talk a lot when we do see each other. We’re even friends on Facebook. Tina told me last week that she was meeting Rosemary here, and she smiled when she told me. But she did say to me, “Clarice, are you going to be free that day? Maybe you could drop by then. It would be nice to have a familiar face in my corner.” I patted Tina’s hand, and said, sure. You never know what happens with these reunions, I can tell you that from personal experience.

So it was settled, this special reunion years in the making. Tina had it all planned out. This is Tina’s town nowadays, with no Rosemary to take over. The café was Tina’s idea. Tina told me that if Rosemary was planning it, she would have wanted to go to the mall. Tina wrinkled her nose when she said this. It gave a subtle distinction to the smile she always wore. But I told her, good. Make things comfortable for you. Always good to do that in these things. Tina and Rosemary hadn’t seen each other, oh, in a long time, my goodness, since the week after college graduation when Tina waved goodbye and Rosemary walked away into the wide world that everyone knew she’d conquer with her winning personality.

So why the separation? What had happened to them? Oh, it got harder to remember as time went on, Tina told me. Was there a fight? Who knows. Back then, we all had our insecurities. I know what Tina means, because I sure can attest to mine. Rosemary and Tina had theirs. It’s easy to paint over all that juvenile emotion with trappings that keep you busy. It’s easy to say, well we were kids and just plain stupid back then, so it’s all good now here in the real world. It’s so good to think that the beginning of wrinkles means something other than needing retinol, and that age automatically brings something other than accumulating years. We all know better now, right? Friendship is just so much more important than those petty grievances.

But still, the yawn of separation between Rosemary and Tina remained. Just like it does for so many of us. Oh sure, there were cards at Christmas. Sometimes there were pictures. That’s not the same, we all know, as seeing people face to face. I know this well, from the long distances that have come between me and the friends I thought I never could live without from so long ago. Reconciliation was just something to get to, tomorrow. Or next week, or Christmas. It was reduced to, did you get the form letter about my kids going to camp? They’re learning Vivaldi concertos! Really? Well, mine are learning Mandarin! Those Hallmark cards at that time, they always seem to bury away the past by reducing it to a holiday greeting. Hope all is well! Gotta go!

Well, that silly sham was all over now, at least for Rosemary and Tina. Those tomorrows had accumulated. Tomorrow was here, and it was now for Tina and her long lost friend. I saw it happen, myself. Tina told me to stay and watch, so I did. I was two tables over from them, and this is what I saw and heard. Let me tell you all about it:

Rosemary and Tina sat at the café together. They eyed each other. The Christmas cards they’d sent over the years were supposed to be a clue as to what they’d see sitting in front of them. I’d seen the cards, and also the pictures Tina had of her and Rosemary from back when, back when Tina was an artist in ragtag clothes and Rosemary was head cheerleader with perfect hair. Let’s put it this way, I wouldn’t have recognized present-day Rosemary from any of those pictures. The pictures I saw? They were of some blond cheerleader that turned into aerobic hockey mom spending three hours in the gym as an adult. That’s what it looked like, up until three years ago when Rosemary stopped sending pictures of herself, according to Tina.

But this Rosemary? She was fat. She was grey. It made met think that Tina had the wrong person. But it seemed Tina didn’t think so. She smiled at Rosemary. She said “Rosemary!” in a loud voice, and the fat grey woman smiled back and took Tina’s hands. Well, nice girls always smile, and Tina and Rosemary had always been counted amongst the Nice Women of this world. When they knew each other back then, everyone complimented them on being such Nice Girls. Tina told me that, a while ago. They smiled a lot back then, too. Tina showed me pictures. The cheerleader and the artist always smiled, no matter what. Just like now. It seems some things don’t really change, even when other things change radically. No, this was Rosemary, live and in the flesh.

There was a problem, though. I saw it, and maybe because I know Tina, I could pick it up even from the distance I was from the two women. She smiled, but her eyes didn’t. What do I mean by that? Well, her eyes didn’t seem to flinch when her mouth did the requisite moves. They glared. Tina’s eyes seemed to flash Rosemary up and down. Like she was sizing her up. Like she was prey. But Tina still smiled. It was all so nice.

Rosemary was harder to read. For one, I don’t know her. I also didn’t have a good read on her face. Facial gestures are hard to gauge in profile. But Rosemary’s body was stiff. Being she was a big woman nowadays, she was having a hard time settling in her chair. So maybe that was the reason for the awkward bearing, but I don’t know her. However, neither woman hugged each other. Nice women hug, and the smile Tina wore was beginning to seem out of place. Rosemary’s stiffness seemed to be more than a gait problem. At least to me.

I could hear snippets of their conversation. Not the whole thing, after all I was two tables away. I heard “divorce”. I heard “affair” like it was heartbreak. I heard “arthritis”. I heard “layoff”. They all seemed to come from Rosemary’s side. Which makes sense, because I know Tina doesn’t have arthritis. And Tina hasn’t been laid off. Tina is still working as an art and history teacher in the local high school. I know because I just went to an art show of her students’ work last week.

Also, Tina never got married. She’s the one who enjoys affairs, not the one who is broken by them. Mind you, she never goes for another woman’s man. She was insistent about that when she told me. But she would never hurt another woman like that. Ever. She was adamant when she told me, so much so that I knew she was telling the truth.

How could I tell? Well, it’s like this. Tina usually has a light face. This means that she tends to smile all over. Her face rounds out with every facial gesture. She widens her eyes all of the time. And she smiles showing her teeth. It’s the kind of face that people could say ‘lights up a room’. Also when she speaks, it’s in a quick, light tone. Almost like she’s singing. All this adds up to when you are with her, you want to get up and dance, no matter how crappy your day has been. I’ve had that feeling myself with her. That’s how she usually is, and how she usually affects people.

But when she said to me “I would never, ever, ever steal another woman’s man. That to me is the worst thing another woman could ever do to another woman. I could never hurt a sister like that. No matter what she has done to me.”, she was different. Her face was stone. She spoke each word slowly to me, like she was dictating each word into an electronic translator. She was so different, so suddenly, it scared me. Like I didn’t know her at all. But one thing that did happen, I believed her. Stealing a woman’s man seemed off the table to her, no matter what. I liked her resolve on that, and it made me admire her in a way I never had before. But her stone expression stopped me from asking why she adopted such a strong stance. So I just said in reply, the coffee today seems really strong. Then she reverted back to light Tina, smiling away, agreeing with me and saying she really needed the caffeine to wake her up. I almost thought I imagined the Tina I saw before.

But stone-faced Tina still existed, apparently. I didn’t imagine it. That Tina I saw for just a brief moment back then was right in front of me now. I recognized it, even from a distance, even with the smile plastered on the bottom, staring right into Rosemary. Maybe I imagined it, but Rosemary seemed to be getting smaller by the moment. Which was strange, considering how big she was. But it was almost like Rosemary was melting, like the wicked witch on the Wizard of Oz. It felt like I was imagining things. I looked at my coffee, wondering if something strange was in it, and felt puzzled. Maybe I didn’t get much sleep last night. Confused, I pondered this, but was startled out of this useless contemplation by a loud thud. I looked up to see what it was. It came from Rosemary and Tina’s direction. I expected to see Rosemary keeled over in a heart attack. Well, the reality wasn’t quite that dramatic.

Rosemary’s purse fell over, its contents bleeding all over the place. Rosemary had trouble bending over to retrieve her things with her bloated body. Tina watched Rosemary struggle for several seconds. Her eyes went so wide I could even see it. It seemed Tina was enjoying watching her friend suffer. But like a good friend, she stepped in. She artfully ducked her body under the table. Pilates had worked wonders for Tina over the years. “Oh, sweetie, let me help you,”she sang. Even I could hear the coo of superiority in her voice. I thought of Rosemary in her cheerleader uniform, way back when. I thought of Tina in her thrift shop getup. Role reversal, anyone?

Rosemary glared at her for a second, resenting the switch in lives, perhaps? But only for second, before she resumed the obligatory role of grateful friend that Tina seemed to have worn for way too long before. Rosemary’s eyes widened, and she smiled an open smile as she struggled her bulk upright again. “You don’t have to.”

“But I do.” And Tina did. She did it with force. It was like she had to take charge over the girl who had tormented her so long with her pretty smiles that charmed everyone into her graces. I imagined her taking back the humiliation fostered on her from the girl who lorded it over her that she was the lowly one in the presence of greatness. Perhaps Tina had to show that greatness was not conferred, at least not indefinitely, and that she was the one to live in the state of regal grace nowadays. So she did, deftly sweeping up the contents of Rosemary’s purse. Credit cards, red lipstick to hide the paleness, foundation to hide the age spots, and a picture. She hesitated at the picture. So curious me, I squinted my eyes, and I got a good look at the picture. This is what it was.

The picture was of Rosemary, twenty years ago. She was in a red sundress, bare legged and barefooted. She wore a wide hat, and her svelte body conveyed a flowing elegance that sure was missing from Rosemary now. The implied self-pity surrounding the nostalgic picture about lost glory days irritated me. And I wasn’t even Tina. So I could only imagine what she was thinking, hesitating by it. The picture was wrinkled, as though it had been handled for years. Tina looked up briefly in the midst of the cleanup, at the round donut that Rosemary was now, and smiled. Rosemary smiled back. Tina went back down under the table.

Tina finished grabbing Rosemary’s belongings, leaving the picture for last. She looked at the picture with Rosemary mocking her with false grace, with the elegance that tortured her for years. Instead of returning the picture to its vault in the purse, she left it on the floor. Smiling, she played the hero retrieving the pocketbook for the weakling and handing it back to her. Rosemary smiled back like the grateful victim she was. It was something else to watch. Would you believe the whole picture incident lasted only fifteen seconds? I happened to notice it on my watch. But it all felt like hours to me.

After all that, Tina and Rosemary returned to talking about old times. No one could see, unless they had paid very close attention like me, what was happening next. Tina’s foot now covered the picture of the past like it was blight to be destroyed. Unless you were staring like me, you’d probably miss the heel of her shoe grinding into it, ever so slowly. This may sound really bad of me, but I had to get a closer look of this one. I know, I’m bad. It’s not very nice. But tell me, what would you do with all of this going on?

So again, curious me, I squinted to see what was going on under the table with Tina’s foot. I saw that the smile on the picture was starting to wear down, and soon the picture would be wrecked to shreds. It wouldn’t matter to a casual observer, because you wouldn’t see it happening, but I did. Everyone else would see, two nice women, smiling and talking away. You’d see them and think, it was nice day to be out at the café with friends. You’d think, it was good to see people like Tina and Rosemary out and about. The aroma of coffee permeated the room, wafting over all the patrons like a spell. A cup of java always brought people together, it seemed. It really could really cast a spell on you, if you weren’t careful.

Later, Tina joined me, once Rosemary was gone. I didn’t even get to meet Rosemary. Tina told me the things they talked about. She told me the things that I already assumed from my eavesdropping, that Rosemary was being laid off from her job as a newspaper editor because of the whole thing with the recession and everything going digital. She was divorcing her husband, the one she met in college when all three of them were in theater together. Also, Tina confirmed that Rosemary had gotten bad arthritis over the years, and her scumbag of a husband had an affair and was moving in with some girl who was in graduate school. The nerve of some men, I sympathized. Yes, Clarice, they do suck when they do that, Tina agreed. But, she added with emphasis, the women are worse. I nodded, couldn’t find much reason to argue with her.

Besides, I didn’t want to argue with Tina. She looked happy now. Her face was smiling, and it made me feel like dancing. It’s amazing what a cup of coffee would do, and it’s amazing what a smile will do for another. Nice girls like Tina always smile. They make things happy, once again. Hey look! The coffeehouse people are sweeping up the floor. The picture is disappearing into the dustpan, courtesy of the broom. All the debris was being cleaned up. It was warm and cozy sitting in the café with Tina. It was a nice day, and it made me smile. God, I just love the smell of java here!

One Response to “Nice Girls Always Smile”

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