Jack looked in the mirror and thought about his evening.
A short while before he and Ann had shared their first meal and talked about life. He wasn’t quite sure how to describe it and yet it felt strangely perfect.
He intentionally had arrived earlier than she did. His intention had been to sit in the car and watch her walk in. Not because he had nefarious intent or any desire to engage in some sort of voyeuristic interests but because he didn’t know how to feel.
So much time had passed and so much energy had been invested it was hard to figure out whether he should be elated, angry, frustrated or sad. In some ways he was all of these things and in others none of them. When you spend as much time as he had trying to make things happen it was almost a let down to see them come about, or maybe it was just fear that maybe what you had expected and wanted wasn’t what you would get.
About ten minutes before Ann was supposed to arrive he felt a familiar rumble in his stomach and cursed. This call of nature had to be answered before the meal. It is really hard to be cool and or suave when you are trying not to unleash biological warfare upon your date.
It made him chuckle. He was certain she remembered his dysfunctional digestive system and that she would be sympathetic, but it wasn’t the way he wanted to start things off.
“No Ann, the band isn’t playing When The Saints Go Marching In, that is just my stomach.”
He laughed again and remembered how she had responded to a more intimate situation and explained that his quick response was a compliment. “Trust me, girls love knowing that our men are so turned on by us.”
Back then it had all worked out and he had been ok because she had made sure to convince him, but this was a different time and things were very different.
He hadn’t ever been to the restaurant before and didn’t know if it had separate restrooms or if there was a unisex that everyone shared. He decided it was better to play it safe than sorry and hustled over to the market down the way.
It made more sense and if Mother Nature decided to punish him it would be easier to make up an excuse for why he was late or worse yet wasn’t going to show. If things went badly he wouldn’t have to walk out of the restaurant and push by her.
Yet at the same time he wasn’t even sure he would stay for the whole meal.
It had been a long day at the office and he was already exhausted when he arrived. He knew himself well enough to recognize that the wrong word from her would set him off and he unleash a torrent of four letter words and abuse at her, none of which she necessarily deserved.
But after all this time it didn’t make sense not to see her and see what happened. After years of trying to re-establish communication it would be foolish to pass up the opportunity.
So he went and sure enough midway through his moment she texted him to say she was there. Timing is everything and the funny in a “we’re not smiling ” kind of way thing was that bad timing was really what had forced them to end things years before.
“I am here too, give me two minutes and I’ll be there”
He pushed send, finished his business, washed his hands and took a quick look at himself in the mirror.
Time had taken its toll upon him and he didn’t like what he saw. There was no doubt in his mind that he was being hard on himself, but we often are our own worst critics.
Moments later he opened the door of the restaurant and watched as Ann stood up and walked over.
He took a step towards her but she didn’t move to hug or kiss him so he stepped to the side and told the hostess they needed a table for two.
Ann was still tall and thin. She looked good.
Once upon a time he would have grabbed her hips and whispered something in her air or playfully smacked her butt but he did neither. It seemed entirely appropriate not to yet a bit weird to be so…formal.
Ann ordered a Margarita but he chose water.
This wasn’t the time to let alcohol loosen his lips. He wanted to be in complete control. If he said anything she didn’t like it wasn’t going to be blamed on anything, he was going to own it.
It took a while for his nerves to settle so he let her carry the conversation and tried to give brief but informative answers which is to say he tried to give details without saying anything.
Truth was it wasn’t really all that different from how he approached most conversations. He kept a lot close to the vest but Ann had always been good at getting him to share more and he had this sense that she still could.
Three hours later they walked out of the restaurant with smiles on their faces.
Ann had given him instructions about how they were only friends and if that was too hard for him to do she understood. He had laughed at that and told her it sounded like she was trying to convince herself.
When they reached her car she turned and hugged him goodbye. He intentionally stuck his nose in her neck and inhaled.
She gave him a moment and then gently pushed him away.
He smiled at her and said, “you really stink.”
She smiled back and said no and then he grabbed her again and smelled deeply, “yeah, you do.”
In return he got a quick eye roll and was told she had to leave. He said goodbye and watched as she got in the car.
He was going to let her go and then impulse took over.
A quick knock on the passenger side window and the door was unlocked.
She apologized for the mess and watched as he sat down.
“Ann, do you love me?”
The pause before her answer felt endless, “Yes, I do.”
“Then say it. Tell me.”
“I told you at dinner.”
“No, you did not. Say the words. It is different than saying you do. Say the damn words.”
“Jack, I love you.”
“Good, I love you too.”
He got out of the car and watched as Ann drove away.
It was one of those moments that he would always remember.
He didn’t take it to mean that tomorrow, next week, next month or next year they would take another shot at being who they could have been because life doesn’t always work that way.
Sometimes heroes fail and sometimes they fall.
Sometimes they are billionaire playboys who can’t close the deal with those they love and spend their free time hiding in their cave or wearing a cape while chasing bad guys.
Sometimes Ilsa tells Rick she still loves them and instead of taking her back he puts her on a plane with Victor Laslo because he has things to do she can’t be a part of.
But sometimes lightning strikes twice. Sometimes the future remains unwritten and that fickle bitch fate plucks upon the threads of the future and decides to play with the lives of a few.
Four hours later they settled down to sleep in separate beds and thought about the evening. Both of them asking silent questions that for the time being would remain unanswered.