At almost 10PM, the sky still wasn’t pitch black, as it would be at 5PM on any winter’s night. It remained a glowing grayish-blue, reminding Ryan of summer evenings when he was a kid and could still be able to see a pitch thrown during a backyard baseball game well past his regular bedtime. He leaned back in his chair on the brick patio of the restaurant and took a long swig from his beer bottle. It was his pal Jason’s 30th birthday and the laughs and shouts of the party and the chatter of all the people walking along the boardwalk mixed into the Friday night air, happy, light. He surveyed the passers-by, a few with dogs or kids, mostly couples, eyes stopping longer on the very cute restaurant hostess with the short blonde hair who walked another group to their table nearby.

Glancing out again to the boardwalk, he saw a couple walk past quickly, the girl in a white sundress and clunky pink platform shoes. Jenn.

How is it possible, in not even a single second, to see her face in the bright morning light of the kitchen, hair pulled back and messy, wearing a tank and sleep shorts, smiling that beautiful smile and laughing, cutting up fruit for breakfast? To feel the softness of her forearm as it brushed against his? To remember how she would always stop to pet any dog, no matter what it was or if they were late? How she would bite on pencils, leaving little tooth marks? How she hated beets and geese and The Price Is Right? How she smelled like ice cream and geraniums and Coppertone? How she got quieter as he got quieter, how she got sadder as he withdrew, how she tried and tried and one day she just didn’t come back?

Ryan stood up from the chair and searched for her in the distance. They had paused at the railing by the beach, and even in the dimming light, he could see her laugh at something the guy said, and she reached out and touched his arm. Ah, man. It was Ethan Morris from the Comp Sci department. Shit. Not that guy. Not any guy.

Jason barreled up to Ryan, drunk and loose and happy. “Hey, man, you ready to move on to the club? Gonna be great!” His grin was a mile wide.

Ryan looked at his friend, smiled, patted him on the back. “Yeah, man, get Kenny to bring over the bill and we’ll get going.” Jason made his way through the crowded restaurant, and someone started singing “Happy Birthday” and everyone joined in, loud and off-key.

When he looked back to the beach, Jenn and Ethan were gone. Ryan stared dumbly at where they had been for a moment, pushed aside the little sick bubbly feeling in his chest. Maybe that cute hostess would come over to the club with them, he mused. He pulled his credit card out of his wallet and slapped it on the dinner bill, didn’t bother to look at the total, and finished his beer as sky decided to become night.