They’d been together for a while and though Betsy felt they got along well enough, she couldn’t put her finger on why she still felt so empty. Was it the carefree way they drove down the road and he sang those lame top forty songs at the top of his lungs? Or maybe how when they went out on the town he glad handed every person they passed. Or how unfazed and accepting he was when it came to the pressing issues of the day?
What was it?
They made way down the steps of the city museum to a chill in the air. The big reception was tonight and everyone and their mother seemed to be there. Betsy had his arm and Ken was doing his usual yukking it up. The couple of glasses of wine she had and paltry cheese and crackers she nibbled on sat like lead in her belly. She knew if she didn’t get something substantial in her soon, her blood sugar would drop to a dangerous level. She tugged on Ken’s arm.
“Where do we eat?”
“Oh gosh I haven’t even thought about that Betsy, wherever you like. The offerings are many.”
They continued to stroll and he continued to yuk. As if they’d all the time in the world.
“Oh there’s Mr.and Mrs. Branson,” he led her toward the fountain in the courtyard. “Let’s say hello.”
“It’ll just take a second.”
Mr. and Mrs. Branson sat on a bench, enjoying the illumination of the fountain. The lights were multi-colored and last year when construction was done, the city made a huge fuss, lighting it up with a ceremony on TV and even bringing out the municipal band to play music along with the lights. Betsy and Ken were there. The Bransons were too. She remembers how excited he was.
It didn’t take much.
Betsy and Ken stopped and greeted the Bransons, with Mr. Branson standing up enthusiastically shaking Ken’s hand and Mrs. Branson bright and returning his polite embrace. Ken made cheerful small talk, reminding them of last year’s ceremony and how that felt like so long ago and how so much has changed in only a year- the things people talk about when they casually meet on the street. Betsy stood beside him, nodding as if on cue, doing her best to appear interested.
“Betsy, what’s wrong?” They headed down the sidewalk to the street.
“Nothing Ken, I’m just hungry.”
“Well you didn’t mind us talking to the Bransons, did you? I think they’re nice people.”
“No Ken, they’re fine.”
“But it’s like you’re a million miles away.”
“Ken, it’s nothing. I’m hungry.” She managed a smile, but the night suddenly got old.
“Well let’s go eat, what do you feel like, Italian? There’s that terrific little place over on Broad, they say the chef makes a killer aioli. Who makes that around here, right? They serve it with that great crusty bread.”
He’s too animated.
“I don’t care Ken, anything’ll do at this point.”
They stopped at the red light at the crosswalk and he faced her, taking both of her hands. “Betsy, why don’t care? Are you feeling okay? What’s wrong?”
She had about enough. “Honestly Ken, I just don’t get it.” The words started to come out, but she didn’t know where she was going.
“I mean we’ve been dating more than a year and it’s always the same. We go out and do a lot and everything’s just fine.” She didn’t know how to put it. “Why are you so happy? It’s like you’re happy for no reason.”
Ken looked at her and said nothing, but behind his eyes Betsy thought she saw amusement.
“Happy for no reason? I don’t know Betsy, why are you so sad? It’s like you’re sad for a million.”
The light changed and they started to cross. Betsy wondered if he could be right. Sad for a million? Was she just too sad?
“Okay Ken, yes.” She squeezed his hand and began to lead. “The Italian. Let’s try the aioli.”