For his thirty-fifth birthday, Judge Haloran gifts himself a chance to try dating again. It turns out he’s not ready, and he resolves to try again at thirty-six.
 He is sitting in a vest and tie at a Macaroni Grill. He is wearing a vest and tie because his mother once said he looked dashing in a vest and tie, like a young Richard Nixon with more honest eyes, and he’s pretty sure Macaroni Grill safely nestles in a sweet spot for Women and Men of a Certain Age who are gifted in the art of managing expectations. He is managing his expectations, and Julie Hartley seems perfectly fine in the way he suspects he is perfectly fine. He’s thought as much since that night in divorce support group where she laughed and nodded along when he confessed that the thing he misses most about being married is the negotiation to have sex in pieces and parts, quick hush of clothing over stone-cold stovetop ravioli. How one time, in the heat of a Scottsdale summer evening, he shared a Corona with his wife while the kids were asleep, and how he remembers the shuffle and creak of wicker patio furniture when her knees bracketed on either side of his legs, the imprint of lacquer and wood pressed to her skin like veins, the huff of his laughter folded just behind her ear, their youngest awake before it even got good.
Julie from Divorce Group has stories like these. They slip and bleed together on the white of the table cloth, and when she tells him over a crust of rosemary bread that she tried to drown herself in a neighbor’s hot tub after she learned her husband was leaving her for her sister, that becomes a thing they share too.
So now they are here, lop-sided at a table set for four, her grief a feathered centaur braying over a glass of sangria. He wishes Ricardo the Vampire was here, and because he has a sense for these things, he fills the empty seat without being asked, dismissively eyeing the garlic dip and hissing that he doesn’t plan to help with the check. He is the better storyteller, preferring confession to companionable silence. Judge suspects that Julie from Divorce Group might wish she was here with him instead, but Ricardo the Vampire is trying to impress the centaur with the story of the first time his companion cut his wrists and doesn’t seem to notice.
When Judge picks up the tab, it crosses his mind that it’s a new era for Men and Women of a Certain Age, and before he can apologize for what must be decades of internalized misogyny that led him to pay without asking, Ricardo the Vampire presses a single clawed finger to his lips and tells him not to fuck it up. He rides out the door astride the centaur’s feathered back, filling his necrotic lungs with the tang of neck, of twigs, and Judge Haloran and Julie from Divorce Group are alone again. They are alone, and she is hugging her coat to her chest in the January air, her back pressed to the door of her Camry through the gulf of silence between them, and when that silence is too heavy, she shoves her hands in her pockets and says it’s a shame it’s not summer in Scottsdale, and he laughs, and she laughs, though neither quite sound like joy so much as they sound like the breath before drowning. They kiss goodnight like children, all flat mouths and no music, and go their separate ways, to the separate houses, to the dark, no signs of life within.