Bernice wondered what color to paint her toenails, being that it was sandal weather and time for her feet to reveal themselves to the larger world and to prospective dating partners. There were so many colors, reds and pinks were her favorites. Forget about those navy blues and blacks that young girls seemed to like; she thought it was a color that was too heavy to ride upon the insignificant weight of a finger or toenail. She thought a person should reserve black for funerals, unsuitable for making appearances on a young girl’s hands, just like Vaneeta’s in her Sophomore English class, and certainly unsuitable for a white woman like herself in her forties.
During the school year, Bernice only wore clear. She didn’t want to distract her students from their discussion of Ralph Waldo Emerson or Emily Dickinson. Transcendentalists like Bernice took their colors seriously. She had taken months to figure out the right swatches for her living room. She’d loved the mountains outside and the southwest sunsets, decided to paint the walls light browns and deep purples, but it was summer now and she’d painted her nails bright red.
She was sitting in her first home since her divorce a year ago; she had a mortgage, her name on the dotted line, and each time she sat down on the couch to watch TV, congratulated herself on her sense of color coordination. Looking out on the patio, she felt like she was in the mountains, not in a town house facing out on a major highway with a dozen or so more units being behind her.
She’d even begun dating and was about to meet Jeffrey at the Starbucks close to the university in just under two hours. This was their first date. She and Jeffrey had been corresponding. Neither of them had photos. She didn’t want her ex to know she was dating, even though he’d probably never know, let alone care. She’d wear jeans for sure and maybe her red top. Red communicated strength and vitality and the shirt matched her nails. She swung her bag over her shoulder and walked outside, excited that her life was taking a new turn.
She drove to the coffee shop, five minutes early, fiddled in her car listening to music going through text messages although she’d scrolled through them at least ten times already this morning. She wondered what she was going to say, but remembered how easy it’d been exchanging messages about their jobs, traveling, music.
Jeffrey played the piano and worked at the local radio station. He said he was getting a photo to post, and she shouldn’t worry; he wasn’t a monster. He’d be wearing a green shirt and a Diamondbacks cap. She walked into the store and saw a man sitting to her right near the windows. She saw the shirt, the cap. He was African-American, light-skinned, the color of coffee. She swallowed, moved herself forward, and shook his hand.
“Hi, I’m Bernice.”
“Jeffrey,” he said. “Can I buy you a cup?”
“Yes, sure,” she nodded. Thank you,” she said, standing there with her purse and almost knocking over the napkin dispenser with her purse.
He got up and pulled out her chair. She sat down. “What can I get you?”
“Coffee, anything.” He looked at her, puzzled.
“Small latte,” she said, not sure how long they would be sitting there, but a small coffee would give her some wiggle room.
“Good to meet you, Bernice.” He smiled. “Be right back.”
She looked at her nails and then saw Jeffrey at the counter waiting to order. Red was also the color of new beginnings.