by David Cain
“Popcorn and diet soda for Mary. All right. Have you made up your mind, Ellen?”
“No. What? I’m sorry.”
Ted laughed tenderly. “Do you want something from the snack bar?”
“No, thank you,” Ellen replied, blushing. She watched Ted leave the theatre box and sighed. He was always so thoughtful. Not like Nick. Nick was such a brute. On the other hand, Ted didn’t excite her like Nick. Ellen bit the nail on her left pinky. The newsreel ended and a trailer began. A gun went off and a body hit the floor with a thud.
“Ick,” said Cathy. “I hate movies like that.”
“But Cath,” said Mary, “this movie is just like that one.”
“Oh,” said Cathy, looking back at the box door. “Is Frank really coming?”
“He said he would. And he’s bringing a friend.”
“Then I don’t care what kind of movie it is.” Cathy lowered her voice. “I like Frank.”
“Join the club. I hear he has a dozen girlfriends.”
“That’s just talk,” said Cathy seriously. “He’s just nice to everyone. He isn’t bad like people say.”
“Frank?” asked Ellen, coming out of her self-absorbed state.
“You know Frank Ellington,” said Cathy. Ellen’s eyes opened wide.
“Frank and one of his buddies from the warehouse are supposed to join us,” explained Mary.
“One . . . ,” said Ellen softly. She bit another nail as her hand began to tremble.
A cartoon filled the movie screen with broad splashes of color. Ellen tried to pray as her heart pounded so hard she thought she might faint. The door opened with a dim arc of light. Ellen turned around to face the tall handsome figure of Frank Ellington.
“Frank!” squealed Cathy. Ellen watched as a second figure moved in behind Frank.
“Nick,” said Ellen, recognizing the man with resignation.
“Hey, doll,” said Nick, taking the seat to her left. “I didn’t expect to see you here.”
“No,” said Ellen, “one of life’s little surprises.” Nick stole a quick kiss.
“I’m glad,” he whispered.
“No,” she pleaded softly. “Not here.”
“So, you’re Nick,” said Mary.
“That’s me,” said Nick.
“I”m Mary. You work with Frank?”
Mary began to interrogate Nick about the details of his life. Ellen closed her eyes and tried to control the trembling that shook her inside.
“Damn,” she whispered. The door to the box opened.
“Hey, all right!” said Ted. “Food’s here!” Tubs of popcorn, boxes of candy and cups of soda were distributed through the small theatre box. The last trailer ended and the cinema went black as Ted slipped into the seat next to Ellen.
“Miss me?” he whispered in her ear.
“Shh,” said Ellen. “The movie . . .”
Ted obediently turned to watch the feature’s opening credits. Nick stole another kiss and put his strong hand on her thigh. Ellen stopped breathing, excited and afraid. His paw caressed the smooth fabric of her dress. “If Ted sees . . . ,” she thought in terror. She glanced to her right. Ted looked at her and smiled. Taking her hand, he brought it to his lips.
Ellen tried to look at the screen. Nick’s hand squeezed her leg. The blood pounded in her ears, deafening. Ted put his hand on her knee. Ellen felt the panic rise. Nick’s hand drifted higher, crudely teasing her. Ted softly tickled her thigh.
“Oh,” said Ellen sharply, sitting up at once. Both hands retreated in an instant. “Excuse me,” she said nervously and pushed past Ted to reach the door. Cathy looked back at her, as though asking if Ellen wanted company. “No,” said Ellen. “I’ll be right back.”
She shut the door and ran down the narrow staircase so quickly that she nearly tripped. Reaching the bottom of the stairs, Ellen stopped and looked back, to see if anyone followed her. No one was coming. Ellen leaned against the wall, for support.
“Damn,” she said softly and bit her nail. “I still can’t make up my mind.”