My future wife and I sit in adjacent booths in a coffee shop when the internet crashes and we look up from our dating apps like groundhogs discovering our shadows. She lifts her delicate hand, her arched finger like a stamen, and pushes an imaginary button between us. “Bingo,” she says.
Behind her, two people jump up and hurry through the front door, their coffee forgotten on the table.
“I’m Lily,” she says from the seat across from me. In all the commotion, I hadn’t seen her move. She has a face so beautiful it seems almost impossible for her to exist. After the way things ended with my ex, it’s easy to feel like I’d never be able to hold on to that kind of beauty again.
“Tell me something that isn’t on your Bingo profile,” she says.
“I’m not as funny as I think I am,” I say.
“No one is.”
“I guess I’m pretty lonely.”
“The human condition.”
I suddenly want to tell her something she can’t render mundane. “I got a boner once when I was petting a cat.”
She laughs so hard that her dark eyes narrow and her nose wrinkles, and I want to be the only person in the world to ever cause that to happen again.
“Will you marry me?” I ask.
“Let’s start smaller,” she says.
“How about a scone?”
I go to the counter, but it appears all the employees have walked away. The coffee machine gurgles and the refrigerator whirrs. Then they both stop at the same time. The electricity has gone out.
I turn and watch the ceiling fan above Lily slowly come to a rest. The small group sitting at the back booth begin stuffing croissants and bagels into their bags and then push out into the street.
Lily and I are alone.
“Everyone’s gone,” I say. A dozen people run past the front window, car horns blaring at them. “Should we go?”
Lily glances around the empty coffee shop. “I want to finish my coffee first. I’m tired of running away.”
I return to my chair. “I don’t want this moment to end either,” I say.
She laughs again, but this one is different. It’s a defense mechanism. “Here’s something I don’t write on my profile,” she says. “I’m uncomfortable outside the noise of the world. If I’m seen in any way, I run.”
And in that moment, I feel I can truly see her in a way I hadn’t before. She’s a bird, wings extending, testing the wind before launching into the air.
“If it makes you feel any better, no one ever notices me,” I say.
She nods. “Not until all the distractions are gone. And then…”
We lapse into a perfect silence where we drink coffee and spiritually lean into each other. The coffee shop is so quiet now that I can hear my nervous system buzzing in my ears.
“Why did your last girlfriend leave you?” she asks.
“Who said she left me?”
“You did. When you said you were lonely and you weren’t funny. Like you’d been spending a lot of time wondering what went wrong.”
I can’t argue. “My ex left me because she said I didn’t fight for her. Which I didn’t. But I would’ve also had to fight this really huge guy from her work.”
“You have to choose your battles.”
Plates rattle in the kitchen and silverware clatters to the floor. I look to the counter hoping an employee has returned, and maybe I’ll be able to order more coffee and drag this moment out for as long as possible. No one is there.
“I haven’t given a Bingo to anyone in the app for weeks,” she says. “But I keep scrolling and scrolling and scrolling. And I never look up.”
“I Bingo everyone,” I say.
She shakes her head with a smile. “Sounds pathetic.”
“Didn’t I mention that? I’m pathetic too.”
We lock eyes as she takes her last sip of coffee. “Yes,” she says.
“I’ll marry you.”
“I don’t think I was kidding,” I say.
Her eyes close and her lips part enough for me to catch a glimpse of her top teeth. “I don’t think I am either. Life is a risk, and I stopped taking risks for some reason.”
Then someone rams into my back and I lunge forward, my coffee spilling across the table. A guy moves toward Lily in a shirt that says DON’T HAVE A COW across the back.
The guy staggers and then falls onto her lap. She tries to push him away, but he clutches her around the waist. I grab a fistful of his hair and it peels off, scalp and all, and ends up as a clump of goo in my hand.
The man lifts himself up until he and Lily are face to face and takes a hold of the back of her chair with both hands.
“That’s my fiancée!” I yell and it feels good to say it. Then the man gurgles a wet inhuman sound and Lily punches him in the forehead.
That’s when it becomes clear. Something has shut down the internet and all the power, and with it, the zombie alarm must have been disabled too. Here I am with most interesting girl I’ve ever met, probably will ever meet, and she is about to be eaten right in front of me while my ex and her massive bald protector are still alive and well somewhere across town.
I leap forward and grab the zombie’s shoulders. His flesh bunches in my hands like slices of bologna, but I hold tight as Lily lifts her knees and pushes against his chest with her feet. He has an iron grip on the back of her chair, his mouth spitting and spraying as he snaps at her face. I widen my stance and yank, but even combined with the pressure Lily is exerting, we are all locked in this position.
I look over the zombie’s shoulder and there is Lily looking back at me.
“Bingo!” I yell.
“Bingo!” she yells back.
I have chosen my battle.
Josh Denslow’s debut collection NOT EVERYONE IS SPECIAL will be published in 2019 by 7.13 Books. He plays the drums in the band Borrisokane and edits at SmokeLong Quarterly.