"You're like a child," says Shelby, grinning flirtatiously as she snatches a green, fish-shaped cracker from the bag on the table between us. She leans back and turns her body, throwing her legs over one arm of the chair, tossing her head back so that her blonde curls cascade over the other. I force a half-smile, unsure of why I agreed to "study" at the Main Library tonight in the first place.
Dad would've liked her. She was pretty, but not too pretty. Spunky, but not crass. She wore flannel sometimes, wasn't much into makeup, and didn't mind getting dirty. I had my eye on the big city, but Shelby was an Iowa girl. Dad would've really liked that.
Tomorrow would have been his fiftieth birthday. I wonder if he would have had gray hair by now. If he still would've played video games with me. If he would've insisted on cooking for his own party.
Shelby starts studying her flashcards, and I hold up Ulysses and pretend to read.
My eyes glaze over and I close them, sinking lower in my chair. I'm eight years old. Dad is in the kitchen, carefully brushing barbecue sauce on ribs and pulling twice-baked potatoes from the oven. I sit at the table, putting my Goldfish in rainbow order. Red, orange, yellow, green. Red, orange, yellow—
"Don't spoil your dinner," he interrupts, making no effort to stop me from snacking. He knew I'd never spoil my appetite for his cooking.
"The greens are the best," he says, running over and snagging one from the line in front of me.
"They all taste the same, Daaaad," I say, giggling. I shove my hand in the bag for a fish to fill the empty space between yellow and red. He walks toward me with a plate—the last meal we'd ever eat together—and the memory blurs. Then, it's the knock on the door and the policeman and sobbing. Days and days of Mom sobbing in a corner on the sofa while I sit at the table, arranging my Goldfish in rainbow order, over and over, not eating a one.
I put my book down and stare at the beautiful woman across from me. "I want to eat Goldfish with you forever," I whisper. Shelby doesn't hear me.
I look at the giant doors leading to the stacks and slip away again. Dad is wearing his long peacoat—the one that makes him look like a professor. I'm chasing him through the aisles of books, my wet boots squeaking on the tile floor. "Shhh," he says, but he smiles as he says it. He grabs a thick, leather-bound book and turns around. "Let's go home," he says, taking my hand as we make our way back through the stacks.
"I want to eat Goldfish with you forever," I repeat. "I want to cook barbecue for you and have kids with you and teach them to count with rainbow Goldfish."
"What?" she asks, looking up from her flashcards.
And in that moment, I see her. Five years from now, at our kitchen table. She's wearing the same sweatpants. Glasses. Hair piled on top of her head. A little boy with blonde curls and big eyes sits on her lap. She arranges fish in rainbow order and he counts, taking breaks to stuff chubby handfuls of crackers in his mouth. He brushes crumbs on the floor, and I laugh, walking over to kiss the top of his head.
"What?" repeats Shelby, and I smile.
"I love you," I say, popping a fish in my mouth. Dad was right—the greens really are the best.