“I met Michael Jackson before he died,” Benny said, embellishing the story. He had seen the King of Pop on a corner and waved at him. “He was super nice and let me listen to his new song. He did the moonwalk for me and they interviewed me for a national paper. It was cool.”
Maya nodded. “Cool,” she remarked.
Benny sighed. Nothing he said ever impressed Maya and he so wanted to impress her. She was gorgeous with her rich russet skin and large grass green eyes. Her hair was in long braids down her back and she had dressed conservatively today in a harvest gold dress with a floral print. Her expression wasn’t pretty, however. She looked irritated. He had no idea why. He’d tried telling her about his stint with Nirvana in the 90s and she hadn’t even acknowledged him. Sure Kurt hadn’t let him play guitar on stage, but he had done a soundcheck once when the sound guy was in the john. He had regaled her with tale after embellished tale making himself seem whimsical, intelligent, caring, and just plain amazing. Still, she never fell into his arms. She never loved him.
“Why don’t you like me, Maya?”
“Ben,” Maya said, her tone saying she was annoyed and about to disappear back to her desk. She was only talking to him now because the coffee hadn’t finished brewing and Maya loved her coffee. Benny knew that and had taken the last of the coffee, so she would get one from the fresh pot and maybe stick around and talk to him for a moment. “You’re full of garbage. You haven’t told me one true thing in the five years we’ve known each other.”
“That is so-I always tell you the truth,” Benny argued. Well, he did tell her kernels of truth. He just liked to add icing on top to make them better and more impressive so she would be impressed.
Maya rolled her eyes. “Tell me one true thing right now. No lies, no embellishments. Just pure, unadulterated truth.”
Benny frowned. “I always tell you the truth.”
She poured herself a cup of coffee before it was done percolating. Benny stood there listening as the coffee awkwardly pinged against the bottom of the maker. Coffee was spreading from the base to the table as she poured. She eyed him the entire time, daring him to call her out for making the mess.
“Admit you took the last of the coffee so you could terrorize me with one of your garbage stories, and maybe I’ll thinking about downgrading my hatred of you, to a rich dislike.” Maya dared him as she reached for the creamer. She had to reach past him because he had moved it farther away so she would have to reach past him. He had put new cologne on. He was convinced if she got a proper whiff of it, she would like it, and in return him. She leaned back and sneezed.
Benny worried the cozy on his paper cup. “I knew you wouldn’t want to drink the dregs.”
“Hm,” Maya said. He was blocking her way out of the room. “But you didn’t start the new pot. You waited for me to start the new pot. Yeah, think I’m going to stick to a deep-seated hatred of you if it’s all the same.”
“No Maya,” Benny protested. “Come on! I like you. Why won’t you give me a chance?”
“Because you tell lies, Benny,” Maya answered. “You tell lies and you make my life more complicated and annoying just to tell me these stupid lies. You never stood a chance, Ben.”
“But-but,” Benny sputtered. “I once saw Death eating a fudge pop!” he blurted.
“Eat a fudge pop, Benny,” Maya said in a nasty tone. “Talk to me again and I’ll call HR.”
“But that wasn’t a lie! Maya! That was true! I did! A woman had a heart attack at an ice cream truck and he took her fudge pop!” Benny chased after Maya.
Maya went to HR. Benny was outside holding his box of supplies by the end of the day. That night found him sitting on the Trenton Bridge looking down at the murky, polluted waters. A man in a black tracksuit walked up to him.
“Hey,” Benny called out to the stranger. “Do you like hoagies?”
“Sure,” the man in the tracksuit replied, slowing to a stop. “Why? Do you have one? I gotta tell you, I haven’t had a single thing to eat in forever. I can barely remember what it was…”
“No, well, I don’t have one on me. I was just going to say, I invented them. So, you can thank me for that,” Benny said, trying to perfect his breezy tone. There was something unsettling about the man in front of him. He had a shock of brown hair, nice features for a guy but his skin was a sick milk color. “I mean, you don’t have to thank me…”
The man leaned against the bridge’s rail and eyed Benny up and down. “Hoagie inventor, huh? Worked at the naval yard then…? Or are you just lying, Benny?”
“I-I no, I did work at there and it was after this guy Hogan, Irish guy and we…” he trailed off as the man stared.
His expression was a mixture of disappointment and disgust. “Seriously, Benny?”
“You want your last conversation ever to be about some urban myth about how hoagies got their name? Ugh, why do I even bother!” the man rolled his eyes and snapped his fingers, “Oh wow! I remember now. The last thing I ate and it was years ago now, was a fudge pop!”
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