She looked down at the remains of her meal as she awaited his return from the menīs room. Sheīd eaten half of her burger and picked at her crinkle-cut fries, but didnīt have the appetite for either. She was tired of waiting and wondering, tired of him not looking her in the eye, tired of his fending her off with another night of work or his buddies or who knows what else. Heīd been keeping her at armīs length for a while.
She had loved him easily, had lured him intently. He had followed willingly enough, but only to a point. After several months, he still wouldnīt sleep over, no matter how tired they were. And, of course, heīd never said the L word. She loved their time together, loved watching movies together, loved his dry sense of humor. She loved the feel of his skin, especially the skin at the back of his neck. And he didnīt seem to mind her idle caresses, at least most of the time.
She couldnīt figure out what was getting in the way. Was it the fact that this was his first real relationship? Was he unwilling or just plain dense? Was she really not his type? Had things become too routine? She was exhausted from dropping all the hints, doing all the emotional legwork, wondering what was going on behind those brown eyes, feeling alternately warmed and frozen by turns.
She felt sheīd come to a watershed moment with him, but didnīt want to say so; was afraid to say so. Unsure of how heīd respond, she internally counted off the reasons why she shouldnīt. Maybe she was being too emotional, too impatient, too clingy, too demanding. This, of course, was followed by an internal list of all the things she considered doing about it. Maybe she just needed to be patient and give him time. Maybe she should make a bold move and insist he stay the night at her apartment. Maybe she should ask if he would agree that they would only date each other. Maybe she should make him a nice dinner and ask if they could go away for the weekend; maybe he needed them to sleep somewhere else, somewhere out of their usual spaces, times, and lives. Maybe she should just give up, throw her hands up in disgust, and walk away.
She wondered what other people did when they reached this point in a relationship. I mean, how do you know whether itīs worth building that bridge - the one that spans your gaping differences and brings you close enough to commit? Then again, once you head in that direction, how do you know that the bridge will be there, and that you wonīt just walk over a cliff?
Maybe it was better to know how he felt sooner rather than later. But finding out meant letting go of the maybe and the what-if and the gossamer possibilities she had been busy internally spinning for their future. And oh, goodness, she didnīt want to have to start dating again. It was awful, spending hours over coffee pretending she was interested in someone while secretly wondering why heīd marinated in aftershave or whether the tattoo on his neck was applied when he was sober or drunk. She couldnīt bear the thought of starting over.
Her parents had loved each other dearly when theyīd first dated, but by the time she and her sister were teenagers they seemed to do nothing but argue. She wondered if that was inevitable, if thatīs just what happened over time, that the shine wore off the chandelier, or the silver plating flaked off the baser metal below until all that was left was a uniform gunmetal gray.
She realized that he had been arguing with her more and more lately and wondered if they had already reached that stage, the one where the arguments overshadowed everything else. She didnīt like to think about the damage they had already done to each other and whether it was time to cut their losses, but she liked even less the thought of starting to date again. There was the coy digging to figure him out, to peek under the mask. And, all too often, there was that awful moment when she realized they wouldnīt be meeting again which, though unavoidable, seemed like some sort of failure on her part.
She stared at her plate and wondered if he wanted out.
Sheīd gotten to this phase of a relationship more than once, but never farther. Never to the point where silence was comfortable. Never to the point where she could look in his eyes and just know what he was thinking, know that he was hers. It made her nervous to be in this in-between place, and when she got nervous she started feeling insecure. Inevitably, sheīd wind up finding fault and pushing too hard, and things started feeling forced. Sheīd feel the tension thicken between her and her partner until some spark ignited the tinder and they fought. After things calmed down there were the inevitable apologies, often heart-felt. But things got more brittle with each argument until the relationship just kind of collapsed in on itself. And, of course, she was usually the last one to figure this out.
Their latest argument was about something stupid, a foolish disagreement over money, and not their first. She earned more than he did, but he seemed too proud to let her pay even half for their dates. She had wanted to go to a nice restaurant, the kind with white tablecloths and waiters who whisked away your dirty dishes without even having to be asked. He argued so vehemently that they had wound up here, barely speaking as they ate, an invisible wall between them. She had difficulty swallowing as she wondered if he felt it was even worth it anymore, being with her, doing this.
She idly checked her phone and thought about looking at his. I mean, heīd left it on the table, he shouldnīt have anything to hide from her, right? It had buzzed once or twice during dinner, but he hadnīt picked it up to look at the texts. She realized that she was hungry to know what he was thinking, and nauseated by the thought of finding out. She felt like she was swinging on a trapeze, ready to let go, but unsure if he would catch her or let her drop. She didnīt even know if there was a net down there if he did.
He strode up to her, forcing a smile, and asked if she was ready to go. She said she was. He dropped the cash on the table next to the check and headed to the exit, his jaw set. Gathering her things, she found herself looking down at the meager tip he had left and considered adding to it but decided not to; heīd only feel hurt and insulted if she did.
Oddly focused, she noticed that the eagle on the back of the crumpled dollar bill held both arrows and olive branches in its talons. Her relationship attempts always seemed to seesaw wildly between the two, but inevitably succumbed to the arrows. The only problem was she never seemed to see the end coming, though by now she should no longer be surprised when it did.
"All set?" asked the distracted waitress in passing. "Keep the change." she said, as she started to rise. "Change is good!" chirped the waitress. She wondered if that was so, took a deep breath, and walked out.