He recognized her from across the store. It had been a couple years, and she had changed her hair. Yet there was no doubt in his mind it was her. She was even more beautiful than he remembered. Even under the florescent lights of the electronics store, she was radiant. He watched from afar as she walked through the aisles, picking up items and putting them back. She hadn’t noticed him yet. He could probably still leave before anyone caught on and made a scene. But he couldn’t take his eyes off her. He couldn’t let this opportunity pass.
He snuck through the aisle, careful not to let her see him. As he approached, the realization dawned on him: she was in the hip-hop row, in the “M” section. She was buying his new album, which was oddly enough what he had come to do himself. It was the first day of the release and it had become a tradition of his to come back home to Atlanta, to the same store, to buy it. It hadn’t occurred to him he might run into her. Quickly, he made his way to her side and picked up a copy of the album.
“I hear this guy is a real asshole,” he said out of the corner of his mouth.
Alisha looked up with a mixture of confusion and shock. Soon a smile crept over her face. She punched him playfully in the arm. “Yeah, but he writes good music.”
“I’m sorry about your birthday,” he sputtered out, suddenly nervous.
She arched an eyebrow in question.
“I didn’t call you. I thought about it. But I…I’m sorry.”
“Oh, hey, no worries. That’s not a big deal. So, how are you?” her voice was pleasant and kind.
Mack could feel his chest getting warm just seeing her smile.
“Good, real good. You? I hear you are a wedding planner full time now or something like that.”
“Yes, yes I am. It pays the bills.”
“You plannin’ your wedding with Sean?”
He didn’t know why he asked. Her love life was none of his business anymore.
“Just other people’s for now. Sean and I haven’t set a date. You still seeing that stripper?” she asked with a smirk.
“She’s not a stripper.”
“She’s a stripper,” she quickly retorted.
“Okay, you’re right. She is.” He smiled widely. He didn’t want to let the feeling go. “Hey, you want to grab a coffee or something?”
“Like now? Yea, sure. I just have to buy this stupid album.” She mockingly rolled her eyes.
“Me too. Hey, I thought you said you didn’t listen to my stuff.”
She shrugged. “Things change.”
“You know, it’s not everything I thought it would be,” he confessed as he stared down into his cup of coffee.
“How so? Isn’t this what you always wanted?” Alisha asked, truly interested. They had been talking for over an hour already, and she didn’t want to leave.
Mack smiled to himself. He couldn’t believe what she could make him admit. There were few people in the world he would spill his heart out to and one of them was sitting across the table from him.
“After a while, it doesn’t feel like something you are striving for. It doesn’t feel like this wild, unobtainable goal you are pushing for. I’m in the spotlight; I made it. From this side, it’s a lot lonelier than I could have imagined. Not like there aren’t people around, there are constantly people. It’s not the same. Everyone has an agenda. You suddenly realize that there isn’t a lot of room on the top. Everyone is clawing and pushing to make their way up there. So either you are standing there by yourself or you are getting knocked off.”
“Yea, but you have Manny and Amber.”
Amber’s name coming out of Alisha’s mouth made Mack cringe. It wasn’t that she said it in a mean way, she said it normally but it felt like blasphemy. Alisha had always been the one he would end up with, and now she was talking about his live-in stripper girlfriend. His choices suddenly made him embarrassed.
“Why didn’t we work?” Mack quickly changed the topic and threw Alisha for a loop.
“What? Geez, Mack, let’s not get into it. We were having such a nice chat.”
“No, no. I’m not trying to start something. I just want to know.”
His voice was so sincere she couldn’t help but believe him. She took a long sip of her chai tea latte while she thought about what to say. She could brush him off, and say she didn’t want to talk about it. Or she could tell him the truth. They could move on from it. It wouldn’t be hanging over their heads any longer, and maybe they could even be friends again. With that thought, she opted for the latter.
“You were never really with me. Sure, you dated me. But I only ever had a part of you. I shared you with your music, with your public image, with the groupies and the spotlight. After everyone took their piece, what was left for me? You remember when I got engaged to Sean, and you asked me what he could give me that you couldn’t?”
Mack thought back to the phone call and a chill rushed through him. He remembered how dead he felt inside after hearing of her engagement. They had planned to get back together before that, but he had yet again blown it.
“He can give me all of him. That’s all I ever wanted from you, Mack. I just wanted everything.”