“Sir?” the valet prompted again, pulling Mack out of his trance.
He took a deep breath and stepped out of the car, the door having already been opened by a young man.
“Thanks,” he muttered as the valet climbed in and drove his expensive coupe away. Mack straightened his sweater and brushed off his jeans before heading for the restaurant entrance. His heart was beating in his chest so loudly he could hardly focus on anything else. He wiped his palms off for the hundredth time, clammy with nervous sweat. It was a strange sensation. He felt like this was a first date rather than platonic drinks with an old flame.
She was waiting for him at the bar when he walked in, even more beautiful than when he saw her yesterday. Her hair was pinned in a casual, yet sophisticated way, like she had thrown it up after a long day at the office. She used to wear it like that when they would study side by side. He used to tell her it was his favorite; the perfect mix of messy and pulled together. She wore a simple gray dress that looked anything but. No other woman could make business casual look like it belonged on a runway; at least not to Mack. As he floated through the bar to her, light reflected off the diamond ring she sported on her left hand, bringing his mood down a notch. He had to remind himself it wasn’t a date at all. She was engaged and it wasn’t to him.
“Is this seat taken?” he asked coyly.
“Hey you,” Alisha smiled brightly. Mack’s chest hitched. She was wearing the same grape colored lipstick she used to wear when they were together. It was his favorite. “I didn’t know if you would come.”
Mack frantically checked his watch. “Am I late? I’m so sorry…”
“No, no. It’s not that. You are on time. I just…I don’t know. I didn’t know if you would come or if you were being nice. I mean, a big star like you? I just thought…”
“I’d always make time for you. You know that. Don’t be crazy.”
He tried to smile casually but wasn’t certain he pulled it off. There was a strange easiness to their interactions. It was like a reflex to be kind to each other. They could pick up where they left off as if they never spent a day apart, as if they had never broken each other’s heart. It was almost odd how easily one smile could sweep years of ups and downs, pain and hurt away, like it hadn’t happened at all.
Alisha smiled back, not sure how to respond or why she was so nervous. “I ordered you a drink. I hope that’s okay.”
“Yeah, that’s great. Thanks.”
Mack laughed so hard he almost choked on his steak. “I cannot believe she said that. You’re playin’.”
“I am not. Hand to God,” Alisha raised her hands.
“I can’t believe you remember that.”
“Of course, I do. That basement of your aunt’s is permanently burned in my memory. I think I spent more time there as a kid than I did at my house.”
“As a kid,” he couldn’t help but smile as he repeated. Sometimes it shocked him when he thought about how long they had known each other and how much they had influenced each other over the years.
“Well, we were kids. Sixteen-years old talking about getting married. That’s what kids do.” She shrugged.
Mack tried to stop the words but they fell out of his mouth before he had a chance, “I wish you weren’t getting married to Sean.”
Alisha stared at her plate and didn’t answer. The tension between them was suddenly as thick as molasses.
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that. You’re happy. I support you. You deserve it.” He tried to backpedal. When she still didn’t say anything he had to ask the question that had been plaguing him. They had been engaged for two years now and still hadn’t set a date. Something didn’t feel right. “You are happy, right?”
Alisha clumsily put her fork down, clanking it against the plate, and held her lip. Mack could see it in her eyes that she was trying desperately to keep herself together and not cry.
“Hey, it’s ok. We’ll drop it. Tell me about your sister. She just had a baby, right?” Mack didn’t want to shatter their perfect evening. It was all going so well until he had opened his mouth.
Finally, Alisha made eye contact. He could see the tears forming, but she refused to let them fall. “I miss you. I hate that I do. I hate it with every ounce inside me. I miss you so much. It wasn’t supposed to be like this.”
“I didn’t mean to ruin dinner.”
“Not dinner. This. My life, your life, the way it all turned out. This isn’t the way I thought it would be.”
Mack was at a loss for what to say. He thought he had run through every possible scenario on the drive over. Never had he imagined this one. It never crossed his mind that she would feel the same.
“Did you love me?” she blurted out.
“Of course,” he answered, almost offended she would have to ask.
“Did you ever cheat on me?”
“Never. I never cheated on you when we were together. Why, is Sean cheating on you? I knew I didn’t like the scumbag. You just tell me where he lives, and I’ll send some of my boys over there to teach him a lesson. No one messes with you and gets away with it. And on you? Why they hell would anyone step out on you?” Mack could feel his temperature flaring.
“No, he isn’t cheating on me. He never has. It’s not like that. Sean’s a great guy. He’s sweet and kind…” Alisha tried to calm him down. “He’s just… he’s not you, Mack. I don’t know how else to say it.”
Mack knew the situation. He knew how it could play out. This would be his chance to say a couple right things. By the end of the night, Alisha would be back in his arms. He could easily do it, but his gut stopped him. If it happened this way, it wouldn’t last. Maybe she was ready to move on from Sean. Maybe she did want Mack back. Starting on a lie would not get them very far. Deep down, Mack knew if they were going to try again, it would require a clean slate. He wouldn’t tell her to leave Sean. It would be a decision she’d have to come to on her own.
“He’s not me. You’re right. He’s better. You said it yourself; he gives you all of him. That’s what you wanted, right?” He held her hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze.
At that moment, he realized that they had been living more parallel lives than he had ever thought. Since their split, he had spent all his time trying to replace her with someone else, but no one ever fit. Alisha had been doing the same. It was an impossible task. As they sat at the dinner table at one of Atlanta’s finest restaurants, it was becoming apparent that they were both failing.