She singled him out of the rest of the people in the waiting room, because he was wearing an ascot as a scarf like he didn’t know the difference. Maybe he didn’t. His shoes didn’t match; one was red and the other was black, though they were both chucks. Behind his glasses, his eyes peered out a pallid, self reflective grey.
An image of him smiling came to her, and made her smile in turn. Then she decided to notice the empty seat beside him and got up. She sat beside him with a whump sound and he didn’t look up. This one looked promising.
“So...” she said, “have you noticed that the lady over there, the one wringing her hands like that, is twisting a ring, but it’s on the wrong finger to be a wedding ring?”
“Uh...” he looked up at her, “no?”
“There, she’s the one in the only cushioned chair in here. The one with the hat.”
He looked over, and then down again.
“Yeah, I guess she is.”
“Who do you think she’s waiting for?”
She smiled at the nihilism.
“I think she’s waiting for her son-- or daughter, whichever-- by her not-husband, they never married but that’s not important to her. She just loves him a lot. I wonder why he’s not here, too?”
He looked at her, and adjusted his glasses.
“Why would you say that?”
“I dunno, gut feelings, you know? What are you waiting for?”He turned in the direction of the lady again.
“Is it good waiting or bad waiting?”
He shot her a look. She shot him a look back. Coy.
“Okay, so bad waiting or bad-bad waiting?”
She twirled a lock of her hair in her fingers, and wondered if he was deciding how to name which shade of green it was. There was a pause in his speech, where he looked her up and down. It was slow; he passed over her striped stockings, and the polka dot skirt. She might have seen his eyes linger over the cut of her top, almost obscured by the tips of her hair, fading to aquamarine. She pulled the right kind of smile.
“Bad waiting like it’s none of your business.”
“I’m just waiting,” she said, “waiting rooms are some of the most interesting places to be; people are at their barest here.”
“So you’re just sitting here. In a hospital waiting room.”
“Well, I am waiting.”
His shoulders rolled and he turned away from her, again. Crossing his arms, he shuffled, and turned back to her.
“That’s incredibly vague. So you’re waiting here, when you could be basically anywhere else, and you’re sitting here, bothering other people?”
She blinked again, and looked him up and down. The slant of light on his face and the downward twist of his lips gave him a serious expression. Its aim was at her. The taste of nails invaded her mouth and she held back the urge to get up and flee without an exit. Making a round of the room with her eyes, she looked at herself in the reflection of his glasses. She took a breath.
“Oh. Am I bothering you?”
“Oh, sorry. Have a nice day, then!”
Getting up, she found another empty seat. Fiddling with her hair left a trace of green dye, which she rubbed onto the plastic of the chair. The new man beside her looked her up and down, with his eyebrows knit together. One brown and one blue eye rested on her own for just a minute before looking away. His vest was rumpled, like he had been there all night, and into the morning. She could feel the weight that turned the corners of his mouth down into a scowl. This one looked promising.
“Have you noticed that the longer you’re here, the more that stain on the ceiling looks like broccoli?”
He looked up. His frown softened.
“No”, he said, “I hadn’t. I...”
He trailed off and looked back to his lap.
“Who are you waiting for?” she asked.
He shuffled a bit in his chair, and she noticed one sock, peeking out between his loafers and his pants, was brown, while the other was blue. The little mirror of his eyes made her grin. He took in her broccoli stain, and then her entire self. She saw his awareness of her shift inside him and held her breath before he spoke.
“I’m... really?” he said, “ I’m just waiting for things to end or get better.”
She watched the rise and fall of the one chip in her nail polish as she patted him on the shoulder. He hesitated, but the callouses of his fingertips brushed hers. Her smile-- the genuine one-- fluttered to life. The iron disappeared from her palate. This one was promising.
Months later, as they lay in bed she saw the first faint glimmers of real happiness on his sleeping lips. Something bloomed inside and she named it love. He woke that day and sketched a girl with green hair that he said was her. She smiled and believed him.