Maybe she had changed her mind. Maybe she had decided, after hanging up the phone, that it wasn’t worth it. She had been hurt. I had hurt her. Surely, it would be safer if she kept away from me.
Surely, it would be kinder if I kept away from her.
I had come back intending nothing more than to ask her a question—did she really, truly love me?—before I left again. It hadn’t occurred to me until that second that I would give her false hopes, if she really felt that way. That I would break her heart a second time, for no other purpose than to make myself feel better. Was I really so selfish?
I finished my second glass in one long gulp and paid for my drinks. I stood, my decision made. Leticia and her lies, Mary and her scheming, Leo and his reproaches—they could all be damned. I could take care of myself. I didn’t need anyone to try to influence me. I didn’t need to be told I had made a mistake—or dozens of them. I just needed…
She reached the bar just as I was about to leave it. My heart jumped to my throat when I found myself in front of her. I didn’t realize I had spoken her name until she smiled in response.
A flash of guilt rushed through me. I had to make her understand before it was too late; before she started hoping for things that couldn’t be. “I’m not back,” I blurted out.
Her smile faltered, though it didn’t entirely disappear. “You could have fooled me.”
I didn’t know what to reply. I could only stand there, my feet glued to the floor, unable to tear my eyes off her. She was wearing faded jeans and a hooded sweatshirt. No make up, no jewelry, messy hair and still sleepy eyes… As beautiful as ever.
“Would you like to sit down with me?” she asked, a little uncertain, after we had been standing like that for long, awkward seconds.
Words were beyond me. I barely managed a nod. She slowly, delicately took my hand in hers, and when I didn’t pull it free, she led me to one of the booths in the back. We sat on either side of the table, facing each other. I couldn’t tear my gaze off her.
I think it was then that I started realizing it; leaving again wouldn’t be as easy as I had thought.
A waitress came by. Virginia asked for a coffee. I didn’t want anything. I’d had too much to drink, already.
For a few minutes, we did nothing more than look at each other. How strange to have come so far to talk to her, to have such important questions for her, yet to be unable to say a word. I didn’t know anymore if I’d ever ask her, as plainly as I had imagined doing, if she loved me. If she did, it would only be cruel to ask. Just because someone else had been cruel to me was no reason to be cruel to her.
Only when the waitress had returned and Virginia had taken a sip from her cup did she finally ask with a faint smile, “So, how long have you not been back?”
I averted my eyes, turning them to the bar in the center of the room. Leo was serving a customer, but as he finished, he threw a glance in our direction.
“I arrived today,” I grudgingly replied.
“I see.” She took another sip. “And were you going to come and see me?”
“I was planning to, yes, but…” I sighed. I didn’t like that little hopeful light in her eyes; I had better extinguish it right away. “I’m not here to start anything again with you.”
The light wavered but did not wink out of existence. Her coffee cup made a light clinking sound when she put it down on the table. “Why are you, then?”
I didn’t know what to reply. The truth was, I shouldn’t have come at all.
“Anando?” She rested an elbow on the table and leaned her chin against her fist. “I’m beginning to wonder if you’re being entirely truthful. I’m not used to you lying to me.”
“I’m not—” I didn’t need to defend myself, I realized. Instead, I had to make a cleaner break between us. “I can’t give you what you want. You’ve got to see that.”
Her eyebrows rose, and her mouth curled in the ghost of a smile. I couldn’t see what was so amusing.
“Oh, I do know that,” she said, leaning back on the bench. Her eyes sparkled with mischief.
“You do. Good.” I looked around, hoping to flag down the waitress. I hadn’t expected this reaction from Virginia. After her visit, after what she had said, what she had written… Had she just given me my answer?
“I know you never give me what I want,” she said again, her smile deepening a little. “I asked for you not to bite me, and you made me beg for it. I asked that we keep things only sexual, and…” She shrugged helplessly. “Well, that didn’t work either, did it? You never gave me what I wanted, Anando. You always gave me what I didn’t know I wanted.”
They were just words. A few quiet words, delivered with a smile. I didn’t know what she expected they would bring her. I wasn’t even sure she thought anything at all would come out of it. She was just telling me how she felt.
And I… I didn’t know how I felt anymore. I didn’t know what to think. I didn’t know if I could deny myself the hope I hadn’t wanted to give her. I shouldn’t have come back to Haventown. Or I should never have left. I should…
“I should leave.”
Without looking at her, I stood and took a few steps away. A warm hand clasped my wrist before I could get any farther. I didn’t look back. I couldn’t.
“I’ll be back here tomorrow night,” she said urgently. “If you want to talk again.”
… continued in Out of the Box 10