It had to be somewhere neutral. He told her to meet him at a pizza place by where they grew up. She knew of this place, but rather have had him picked sushi or something that she could eat, but then again it wasn’t her place to be making any demands. It had been long enough since they had last seen each other for them not be raw from emotion any more. The wounds would be scarred over, but was clearly visible still on the skin.
She had gotten there first. It was a bittersweet feeling. Part of her was happy to not have to face him just yet, but instead the anxiety was killing her. She had only hurt someone like this once before when she was a reckless teenager. At the time, her youth was enough of an excuse for her momentary stupidity. This time she had to face a man who she hurt more than she could even imagine. She was older and supposedly wiser, but still felt like that stupid teenage girl she had left behind years ago while she waited for him that day.
The pizza pallor was a basic Formica covered oily cube. The neon sign buzzed only was slightly off-set by the low hum of the florescence lights that hung above. She was going to take her coat off before sliding into the red hard plastic booth, but only untied the belt instead. The seat and table looked like it there was a film on it and just in-case she thought it better to leave it on. She slipped into the booth and fiddled with her black lacquered fingernails. They were a welcome distraction from her whirling thoughts. It was so engrossing that she didn’t notice him walking up to her. When she did she saw him he looked just as she remembered. Her stomach dropped as soon as she set eyes on him. All rational thought escaped her. All she saw was his deep brown eyes, his square jaw, and his broad shoulders. She was so happy to be sitting down, otherwise she would have looked a fool, besides only feeling like one.
Unlike her he took his jacket off and laid it down beside him as he slid into the opposite side of the booth. She wasn’t sure if he had done it to spite her or not. Back when she knew him; it would have never cross her mind that he would be vindictive in the slightest. Something in the way he looked at her told her otherwise. The way he looked at her made her inwardly cringe at herself. It was almost palpable the hatreds that could be felt radiating from him. Him hating her meant that he cared enough about her to dislike her as much to hate her. So, she knew she had that much at-least; deep down he still cared.
The two of them sat just looking at each other in an awkward silence. Both was afraid to initiation the talking. They knew once it started the flood gate would be open and things would need to be dealt with. He looked at her with fresh eyes for the first time in years. So, many times he had seen her in his head and even a few times on the street. But all of those times he saw the girl he knew. Now, the person who was sitting across from the booth was a woman that shared very little with the girl he once knew. Those few and far times when she popped up on his path, he just let her pass. Never once making any kind of contact, each time she had this looked like she was carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders and he didn’t want to add to the burden she carried. Even-though he was hurt by the lies she told, he knew that there had to be a reason for it. What little he did get from her was weird enough. She was a red flag from the beginning and just didn’t feel like opening that can of worms. Something was different this time when she crossed his path. This time he wasn’t going to let her cross his path unfazed.
A few weeks ago an ex-girlfriend dragged him in to the city. It wasn’t that he wasn’t a city person, it just wasn’t his city. The ex-girlfriend led him by the hand to every hipster bar that ran down the length of it. It was the second to last place that he saw her. It was just quick glimpse, but it was all that was needed to jump start something that was force down and away for a long time. It was something about how she just floated out of the swinging doors without a care in the world, having men lift her jacket onto her shoulders, hold open doors, and hailing taxi’ for her. It made him mad to see her ‘that happy’ while he was mudding through his own life. She looked like she was about to start an adventure, while he was counted down the seconds just to go to bed. The next morning he tracked down a way to contact her. He wrote an email. It was three lines. It was all he felt she deserved.
It’s been long enough.
Meet me @the pizza place by old times.
He signed it with an X, knowing she would know who it was even-though he was completely vague on purpose. He figured if she wasn’t smart enough to get it; it just wasn’t supposed to be. In some sense he really wanted to lay it all on the table for her to clean up, but then again a part of him want it to stay festering in his heart. Where it could stay for the rest of his life untouched, at least this way he could have a piece of her forever. The moment he pressed the send button, he knew that no matter what he wrote she would know who had sent it. She always had smart and powerful friends who could track the email easily if she couldn’t figure it out. He knew though, it wasn’t going to be needed this time. Somewhere inside, he knew that she had been waiting for him to contact her and wouldn’t miss an opportunity to clear her name.
Slowly, his feet moved him from his truck parked on the side of the building. He saw her sitting waiting for him as he pulled up to the pizza place through the window. She sat there in the last booth of a row of five. Just like the old days she picked the only booth where her back could be against the wall. Her long blonde hair was in slight waves hanging around hiding her face. He was surprised at how up-tight she looked from the last time he saw her. She looked like a well-to-do soccer mom who was slumming it for the day.
The last time he saw her; she showed up at his apartment looking for an adventure and somewhere to hide. It wasn’t an abnormal occurrence for her to just to show up out of the blue like that. She had been doing just that since they were teenagers. That time; the last time; she showed up in some retail car that some suit had accrued for her. He asked her about what who she worked for, but only received vague answers for her reply. All she would say was every now and then she would work with the ‘suits’. This time there was something about the way she bit her black lacquered finger nails that made him feel wary about this meeting with her. She seem on edge and jumpy, something that he had never seen her as before. Tough as nails; is how he would have described her until that moment. But then again, she had a way of glazing over reality for him and make the outside world disappear even if it was just for a few hours.
This time was just that. She needed a partner to blot out the world with and that’s just what they did. It only took slight convincing for her to make his shell drop and become all hers for the night. Without asking she pushed pass him standing in his doorway, her heeled boots echoing loudly with each step on the black and white tile foyer of his building. Knowing there wasn’t anything he could do he locked the front door behind her and followed her into his apartment. The first thing she did was drop her black motor cycle jacket down on the couch and walk straight to his liquor cabinet. He watched from distance to see what she pulled out. If it was vodka; all was good and she just needed to vent, but instead his stomach dropped when she pulled out the whiskey bottle. He knew he was in store for a long night of vague answers.
She walked around his apartment like she owned the place even-though she had only been inside once before. Normally, they would go out and about to blow off steam. This time he knew there was more to the story than ever before. From her tippy toes she reached for two rock glasses, pull them down; then put four ice cubes in each glass; before sitting down to pour a generous amount in both glasses. As soon as she finished the pour she clinked her glass to his that was still on the table and downed the entire thing is one go while he stood unmoving, just watching her. Even though she was visibly distraught she had a certain air about her that there was no denying. When her green eyes finally looked up and met his it pulled him from his wayward position he was holding himself in and made him closed the distance with her.
It wasn’t a monumental night for either one of them. They drank, made love and fell into a dreamless sleep. It wasn’t until her phone went off that things went from nothing to something. She slept in his arms while he watched the whole time wondering what made her come back this time. The buzzing sound from her silent phone drew his attentions from the ticking clock on his bedside. She rustled with each buzz slowing coming back to the waking world. Sleepily she looked up at him and smiled before turning to her phone. It was like electric. One second she was naked and nuzzled in his arms, and the next she was typing furiously and throwing on her clothes. Tears were running down her cheeks and a stout “I’m sorry” left her lips. It all happened so fast, that he almost didn’t realize she was halfway out of his door, before it hit him that she was leaving. Frustrated he yelled at her. “Fuck, What’s going on?”
She held on to the door frame like it was the only thing anchoring her to the spot.
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have come here. I don’t want to put you in danger. I’m sorry.”
The words couldn’t formulate in his head fast enough. “Danger? What danger? Are you in danger?”
But, the only thing she said was “I’m sorry” with that she left only stopping once to look over her shoulder at him sitting in the bed watching he leave with fresh tears running down her face.
It was the last time he saw her. She left him feeling angry and alone. He was mad at her for not trusting him enough to help her, he felt used and confused. It took a long time to forgive her leaving that night, but he couldn’t forgive her for not trusting him; that he took personally. Those few times when her path did cross his, he stood back and just let her cross. Every time it seem he would only be adding to her problems, but this last time was the straw that broke the camel’s back. It wasn’t fair that she would have the world at her finger tips while his felt stagnant and empty. He tried to find her, but had no luck. It was like she disappeared off the face of the earth. No one knew anything and he was left with only his imagination.
The same hurt feelings bubbled up to the surface as soon as he crossed the threshold and stood in the same room as her. The girl he once knew wasn’t there. The women who sat in the last booth was somebody that looked a better fit for a country club sitting in her burberry trench coat on, with her head hanging in her hands than in that random pizza joint. None-the-less he could feel it was still her under the labels she was hiding under. To his amazement she still wore her nails in black lacquer, just like he remembered. It was the only clue he had that she was still the same person on the inside.
A lump was growing in his throat with each step he took. It took extra force to swallow it down as he slid into the booth across from her. The sound from either swallowing the lump or his movement into the booth was enough to get her attention.
Her eyes lit up and widen when she finally looked up at him. Slowly she lifted her head, paused briefly to look up from under her lashing, before looking him straight in the face.
“Hi” came out in more of a squeak from her pouted lips instead of the tone he was used to. “I didn’t order anything yet.”
He was a little lost for words. She sounded delicate and airy, not how he remembered. Instead of answering her waved to a women who was standing behind the counter taking orders on the phone. He held up two fingers and the lady nodded. “We’re cool.”
A little dejectedly she sighed “oh, ok”
An awkward silence was brewing, neither of them wanting to be the one who started the conversation.
“It’s good to see you. You’re looking well” she stated like it was only yesterday they had seen each other and not the many years that have passed
The man sitting across from her was the same man she remembered. A few well-earned lines around the eyes, but that was about all.
“So” was all she would get out before his chocolate eyes were too much for her to take, she could feel the redness to her cheeks rising when she looked away and took a break from them to regain her composter.
“What was that?”
His question seemed random, but she knew exactly what he was talking about.
“What you need to know. That was very strange time for me .”
He just looked at her oblivious not in the mood for games. “I am not going to stay if you continue like this. It’s been long enough for the truth to be let out. We don’t have to play the game anymore.”
“The truth?” she questioned liked it was some foreign term she was unfamiliar with.
“Yeah, you know what comes before all the lies.”
“Lies?” She questioned. Her green eyes looked puzzled when she met his chocolate ones. “Really?! You really want to know?”
“I wouldn’t have asked?” the frustration from over the last few years was dripping from each of his words.
“You will only hate me more” she said before returning her attention to her black fingernails.
He could see her eyes glazing over with unshed tears. “Let me be the one who decides that?”
Defeated, she let out a breathe that she didn’t know she was holding in. “Why now after all these years. Why does it even matter now?” Then a dawning look came over her. “You’re not wearing a wire... are you?”
He smirked at her “You still don’t trust me, do you? Even after all those years” He proceeded to lift his shirt and flipped out his pockets for her just to show her the folly of her words.
“Sorry, I don't trust anybody. Nothing personal; you just never know these days. You wouldn’t be the first.” She knew, he wouldn’t understand. He had never had to fear for his life, like she did. It was just that she didn’t spend much time with normal people anymore. Knowing this wasn’t going to be short story she slipped her coat from her shoulders and folded it next to her not caring about the little bit of grease that could endangering her designer jeans anymore.
Once the jacket came off of her a new feeling rose up inside of her. She felt stronger than when she first sat down and a bit annoyed. Who was he to demand such things from her? It had been years since they shared anything, but knowing the way she left the last time, he at-least deserved to know why she went M.I.A those years ago.
She met his stare with a bit of the fire that used to make it home there in her own.
“What was I supposed to do? Was I really supposed to tell you the day I showed up I was just released by Feds.”
“Fed?” he question with raised eyebrows.
She went into more detail than she should have. She told him about taking the job with the suits, find them the girls, running there packages, and washing their money. Then with a few escape tears she told him about the raids and what she had witnessed. The story was about the girls she brought to face their demised and watching dead bodies fall to the floor. It took his breathe away. He had never expected that the reasons why she was so fucked up and closed off to the worlds, were more than reasons of her own creation.
Embarrassed by her tears she grabbed a nearby napkin and turned away to wipe her eyes, while his stare never faltered once. “What about that night?” he asked, afraid of the answer that he might get.
“Oh, that night…” She paused for a brief second to collect her words. “Was hoping that was enough to satisfy you, but ok.” She said in-between little sobs and a growing smile. She then ran both hands through her long hair to lift her hair off of her neck momentary. When the blonde layers fell, he saw the glittering rock that adorned her left ring finger. The swift movement of his hand reaching for her hand was an automatic response to what he saw. He lifted her hand while she watched uncomfortable while he examined the ring; then let it fall unceremoniously returning his attention to his question. “That night?”
“That night it all went down. What can I say, but I was found and didn’t want to bring trouble for you. I didn’t want to tarnish your halo. I did enough of that for the both of us.”
“All you said was ‘danger’”
“And, I wasn’t lying.
No, one ever said you were.” He retorted defensively
“You know what I mean.”
“No the problem is, that I don’t know what you mean. I didn’t know then, and I still don’t know now.” He said a little bit more forcefully than he meant to.
The tension was palpable, both were getting angry. He was angry at her for being vague like always and she was because he wasn’t getting what she was saying.
“They were outside. It was either they were coming in to get me or I was going to go willingly.”
“That I still can’t answer.” She raised her eyebrows and shrugged her shoulders.
She only had to nod for him to start to understand. “Then what happened?”
“I had to go with them. They would have killed you in a second if they thought you knew anything. It took everything I had in me to convince them I was just blowing steam off at a friend’s. I have enough blood on my hands. I couldn’t have your too.”
He somewhat understood. He had never agreed with her choices. It scared him to think about the crowd she hanged with and not to mention work for. They were all the people he spent his entire life trying avoid and she went to them with open arm. It was always a sore spot for him. He had always wanted her to give up the fast life and become his partner in life, the mother of his children. Deep down he knew it was all a pipe dream. If she did, it would have been like he had clipped her wings.
“It’s been years since all that went down, why have you stayed away?”
“I didn’t want to ruin you. I have destroyed everything I have ever touched.” A slight smile crept onto her face. “Do you remember when we first met I warned you that I would be the death of you, and you just laughed. Well, I think I came close enough to know to stay away.”
He didn’t smile, but remembered it well. Her comment was just written off as her being dramatic at the time. “What about now. That quite some ring you got there.” he said with a little venmon.
Any trace of happiness washed from her face. “Oh that” she sighed as she began to unknowingly began to spin the ring on the finger. He could see the wheels in her head spinning trying to figure out what to say. It was too much for him and he grabbed her hands still spinning the ring.
“Hey, how about you just speak instead of thinking about what is right to say.” he said smoothly
She looked over her shoulders and the window. “It’s all that is left.”
“Of what?” he asked
“What was supposed to be. I thought it was my way out, but it only dug me deeper, until I wasn’t me anymore.”
On closer expectation he saw it was only the engagement ring, there was not wedding band next to it. “When’s the big event?” he asked. His words had a bit of unwarranted jealousy to them, but as soon as he said it he wished he hadn’t. She took off the ring and called over the lady behind the counter. When the lady walked up to the table, she forced a weak smiled and place the three carat flawless princess cut diamond ring into her hand. The lady looked at the shiny ring that lay in her palm. “I can’t take this.”
But she closed the counter lady’s fingers around the ring. “Don’t worry about it. I don’t need it anymore. It just represents another name I have etched onto marble.”
The lady from behind the counter look at him for some kind of approval, which he gave with a tiny nod. The lady then walked back to her post shaking her head, pocketed the ring, and returned to the phone call she had placed on hold.
“Why did you do that?” he questioned
“I don’t need another reminder at how I failed. Any way it looks like she could use the money more than I can.”
What does this all mean” he then asked
Again she just shrugged “Kinda, thought you knew?”
A thousand thoughts started to whirl around his head. She obviously wasn’t the girl he knew, but also she was more the girl he used to know more than ever. When he looked into her emerald eyes he saw the spirit of a fighter, fighting its way back out. He knew she had been through more than he could even imagine, but something still told his heart not to give up on her.
“Are you done with all that.” he sighed while adding air quotes.
“That?” she spat through narrow eyes. “I’ve been done with ‘that’ for years.”
He could hear the tone change. It was enough for him. The plan wasn’t to reconnect with her; just find out the why’s. Instead he got more than an understanding, he finally understood what the void he had been feeling was. There was something about her that made him feel complete. He wasn’t mad at her leaving; she did that all the time, it was more that she never came back.
He stood up suddenly and held out a hand.
“What’s that?” she question still a little bit stung from his previous statement.
“Come on” he said with a smile and knowing nod towards the door.
Again, she just looked at him questioningly. Timidly, she lifted a slightly trembling hand to his. “Why?”
“Why not?” he answered “We’re still young enough for one last adventure.”
She didn’t answer, just left him guiding her out of the building and to his truck. On their way she slipped off her coat into a trash can and pulled out an older one she kept in her trunk; one that he recognized. She then placed the keys of her range-rover on the driver’s seat and hopped into his truck. He lit the tires for reasons unknown to him and drove off. They didn’t look back or talk about the past. They just went. Their only goal was for the adventure of a lifetime that lay in-front of them, just waiting to be taken. Neither one knew what was in-store for them nor did they care. All they just knew they were the happiest that either one of them have been in years.