“Do you remember what we used to call these drinks?” she asks, a sly smile playing on her lips.
“I don’t. Will you remind me?” He stares at her, keeping his face decidedly emotionless, but she knows he remembers. He just wants her to say it.
“Lemonade plus Pilsner equals ‘Pissner’, and they’re still serving them in mason jars,” she caves.
“Oh right.” He takes a winning gulp and smacks his lips, not once breaking their gaze. The sun’s rays dance on her left cheekbone, both of them still jutting as confidently as they did thirteen years ago.
Back then he would often try to grab enough skin on her face to squeeze her cheeks, but mostly, what he got were the sharp bones.
“I inherited these from my mother,” she used to say proudly.
Along with all the other baggage, he would often think, but he kept that to himself.
“Well,” she smiles at him. Of course, it’s not the same smile he used to be the recipient of. There’s hesitation now. Boundaries. “How are you?”
“Good, good.” He’s not sure where to start.
“How’s your wife?” She starts for him like she did when they were together, prompting him to talk. She hated doing that.
“Oh yeah, she’s doing great. Traveling for work. You should meet her sometime.” His sentences run together out of guilt. He still hasn’t managed to break the habit of needing her to lead.
She nods her head slightly. She will never meet his wife. They both know that.
“I need another drink,” she says, “One that doesn’t look like urine.”
“Fair,” he laughs, beckoning the server over. “Let me guess. Can we get a glass of your strongest red?” He lifts his palm to her. “Whatcha think? Do I still know you or what?”
“Unfortunately, I remain unshakeably predictable.”
He pulls out his wallet, removes a small picture, and hands it to her.
She puts on her glasses and peers closely. “Your daughter!” she gasps.
“Mhm. She’s nine now. Total spoiled brat.”
“She got my nose though. Your greatest fear when we discussed having children if you recall.”
“Ah, it’s fine. Hopefully she doesn’t have your sense of humor.”
“How dare you!”
“I’m kidding, of course. She’s truly lovely.” She hands back the picture and observes him as he carefully tucks it away.
“Did we do the right thing?” Her question is sudden.
“What do you mean?”
She pauses. Now he recognizes the expression on her face. It’s the same one from over a decade ago- dwindling patience. She waits for understanding to dawn on him.
“You mean, when we split up? That wasn’t really something we did. That was something you did.” He fails to hide a tinge of iciness in his tone.
The server interrupts them with her glass of wine. She takes a moment to swirl the deep red liquid. “Do you think it all worked out, regardless of who did it?” Her question sounds like a request.
He leans back in his chair and examines her. Time has only managed to add slight indications of age to her appearance. She doesn’t dye the grays in her hair, and she is dressed like a sophisticated woman in her forties- silk top layered with an earth-toned sweater.
“Let’s see,” he begins, “If I take inventory of my life, I love my daughter, and I love my wife. So, saying it didn’t work out would objectively be a lie.”
She looks down at her drink. “I’m so glad for you.”
“What about you?” he asks. “Why didn’t you get married or have children?”
She smiles at him. “I know this isn’t the popular answer. I’m supposed to say I’m waiting for the right man or whatever. I just didn’t want to. I wanted to be free. And anyway, if it wasn’t going to happen with you, it probably wasn’t going to happen at all.”
“Now you’re just placating my ego.” He places his hand on his chest and bows slightly toward her.
“You know that what I said has less to do with romance and more to do with…my own issues,” she responds.
“Do you ever regret our break-up?” he asks.
“All the time. I’m regretting it right now. We used to joke about how we’d have an affair if we didn’t end up together. Where do you stand on that?”
He throws his head back and laughs. “Let’s do it,” he exclaims.
“Alright, let’s go. Where’s the closest seedy motel?”
“Does it have to be seedy?”
“That was part of the agreement.”
After dinner, they walk to her car. He embraces her tightly. She blinks away her heartache before letting go.
“Tell your family I say hello, and, oh, here’s something I got for your wife.” She pulls out a gift-wrapped box. “I almost forgot. They’re earrings. She has her ears pierced, right?”
“Yes, she does.” He pauses, searching for the right words. “I’m not sure if she will accept this.” He kisses her lightly on her cheek. “I’m sorry.”
“I get it.” She keeps her voice steady as she retracts the present. “You take care.”
He closes her car door and watches as she drives away. She looks at his form in the rearview mirror until he becomes a dot in the distance.
Foolishly, she considers turning around, but it’s too late.