Aaron sat on his usual bench. Holly, however, did not go to her bench on the other side of the path.
Instead, she sat down next to Aaron and removed her mask.
Aaron shrieked like a little girl who had just seen a mouse, a tarantula, and a masked machete wielding serial killer, and leapt up from his seat.
“What the hell are you doing?” he demanded as he paced nervously along the path, making sure to remain at least six feet from his best friend.
Holly had a sip of her coffee, and then took in a long, deep breath of fresh Maine air before she replied.
“I’m sitting down next to my best friend so I can enjoy his company and the view of the river,” she explained like it was obvious.
Aaron froze in place and stared at her like she had two heads. Coincidentally, in this scenario, neither head wore a mask.
“But this is my bench. That is your bench,” he explained slowly and pointed across the way at the empty bench. “And you most certainly wear a mask. There’s a pandemic going on in case you haven’t heard!”
“The CDC announced that vaccinated people no longer had to wear a mask or social distance when outdoors,” she reminded him and took another sip of her coffee.
Bewildered, Aaron stared down at the bottle of Snapple in his right hand as if he expected to find the answer to this predicament there. Perhaps the answer was under the cap.
“You know I’m not comfortable with this,” he admitted sheepishly.
“That’s why we’re going to tear off the band-aid, or in this case the mask, and get on with our lives,” Holly informed him like a teacher speaking to a reluctant student.
“I’m not ready, Holly,” he whispered.
He did, however, come a little closer to where she sat on the bench.
“I was already not a big fan of the world and other people, and all this pandemic did was make me even more afraid, and force me deeper into my introvert’s shell.”
“It’s not you I’m worried about, it’s them,” he explained and nodded in the direction of the other people on the path.
“You’ve been vaccinated, Aaron,” he said calmly while locking eyes with him. “Even if those people haven’t had their shots, you’re protected. Please trust me.”
Aaron stared at her for the longest time, but did not make any move to sit down next to her, or to remove his mask.
“How about you start by taking a drink of Snapple, and instead of putting your mask back on, you just leave it off?” she suggested.
Aaron loved his Snapple, so introducing his favorite beverage into the equation was bound to work in her favor.
“I don’t know…”
“Come on, Aaron,” Holly urged. “Show me that handsome face. It’s been way too long since I’ve seen it for anything more than a fleeting moment.”
Maybe it was her puppy dog eyes, or the enormous smile that Aaron simply could not avoid now that her mask was off.
“Fine,” he grumbled.
After a moment’s hesitation, he slowly removed his mask.
Without warning, Holly jumped up, shrieked like she was about to be murdered in a horror movie, and ran off screaming down the path.
She continued to shriek and scream as she sprinted away from him.
Every head on the path turned to stare at Aaron.
“I’m going to kill her,” he chuckled and then took a long sip of his Snapple.
WRITER’S NOTE: The above is a photo of me sitting on what I think to be Aaron’s bench. I waited around for a while, hoping to run into him to talk about the popularity of these Sunday short stories, but he never arrived. Maybe next time…