What happened that night of their only date is that, finally, she would not let herself believe that he was attracted to her. When the group of co-workers left them alone at their table again, James looked at Beth, sighed and joked, "I thought they'd never leave," though the group had only visited with them for a few minutes. His hand found hers under the table. His touch startled her and she flinched, which caused them to giggle, but Beth's smile left her face too suddenly.
"Are you tired? Your bus stop is before mine, so we could probably catch the 10:30 bus together."
"Oh, um, okay --"
"No, I don't mean to hurry you. We can stay as long as you want. I just wanted to make sure I wasn't keeping you out too late."
"Yeah, I should get home, actually. I told my mom I'd try to call her tonight. You said you could wait for the bus with me?"
She'd already started mourning her failure to make him love her as she sat there next to him on the bus that night, the only time she would ever sit next to him on any bus. She was mourning her failure to make him love her even as his hand faintly shook with the anticipation of touching her under her blouse soon. He thought she would ask him to get off the bus with her, to walk her to her apartment, to come inside. But she didn’t.
The next day at work, she acted as though they had not been out together the night before with their legs touching; she spoke her normal way to him, jokingly and like she was bothering him. And then gradually, as each day passed without her acting aware of his desires or at all full of quiet and secrets like he wanted, her visits to the check-out desk he worked at did become a bother, though not a serious one, more like "Here comes Beth again."
She'd always hated, really hated herself, so when James eventually perceived her as a woman he’d once, and inexplicably, been attracted to, instead of as an enigmatic woman, this shift in his perception was, in a way, what she felt most comfortable with; it was the most satisfying blend of defeat and pathos.