“It’s so funny running into you here. I didn’t think this was your kind of place.” She eyed him sideways as she took a sip of her dark purple martini.
“What do you mean by that?” he questioned in response.
“I don’t know. It’s pretty low-key for someone like you, isn’t it?”
Mack looked around the small wine bar. It was a far cry from the nightclubs he was known to frequent. This quaint spot had been recommended by a friend as a quiet place he could go, where he had the least likelihood of being recognized. Jazz filled the room, but not too loudly as to drown out the conversations being had. Groups of people, all lost in discussion, gathered around the long shared tables or in a cozy, dimly lit nooks. There was no dance floor or VIP section, only good friends enjoying each other’s company. Mack was enjoying a glass of Bordeaux when an old friend took the stool next to him.
“I guess it is a bit of a change for me. Then again, change can be a good thing.”
“Always the poet. I hear you are back for good, bought some big house in a gated community,” Alisha said.
“Well, it’s good to have you back.”
A smile washed over his face, and he tapped his glass to hers. “Thanks. It’s great to hear you say that.”
“What? You didn’t think I’d be happy you’d come back?” she asked, mildly surprised.
Mack shrugged and gave her a look that said more than he could tell her.
“I know I never called. I wanted to. I did. But what was I going to say? ‘Wait around until I figure myself out?’ I couldn’t do that to you. So, I just focused on me.”
“Hey, trust me. I get it. You know what? Let’s just forgot about it,” he said trying to lift the mood. “I think we should try something new. We have an amazing bottle of wine and plenty more where it came from. So why don’t we just enjoy it? Forget about all the other stuff.”
“I’d like that very much.” Relief washed over her. Neither one of them was in the mood to rehash their emotional past. It felt refreshing to approach the night in a completely new way. They wouldn’t have to relive their wrongs or explain their reasons. They could just be in each other’s company.
As the waiter poured the last drops of the rich crimson liquid from the bottle, filling Alisha’s glass, Mack gave in to the impulse he had been fighting all evening.
“I can’t do this,” he blurted out.
“Do what? I’m sorry. Did you want the last glass?” Alisha felt blindsided. The night had gone so well, she didn’t know where this proclamation was coming from.
“No, it’s not that. I see where this is going. We said we wouldn’t talk about our past, or us, but that isn’t stopping it from repeating.”
Mack could feel his chest tighten. He couldn’t believe he was ruining this moment, this night. He couldn’t bear the thought of the cycle restarting.
“Alisha, I’ve known you for so long. I know what that look in your eyes means. The way you lick the wine of the rim of your glass and the way you grab my arm when you laugh, I’ve seen it before. I’m not letting it happen again. Not this way.”
“Mack, I have no idea what you are talking about,” she combatted.
“It can’t happen like this. I don’t want some drunken hook up at a bar. I don’t want a haphazard one-night stand that goes nowhere or ends in a fight. I can’t do that again. I can’t have you only to lose you again.”
Alisha sat in silent shock and stared at her glass. He knew her better than she wished to admit. She had planned on going home with him if he asked although now she felt shame in admitting it. It just felt so good being back by his side, laughing and talking, like they had never been apart. She thought of all the things she should say. She should tell him how she had felt over the years, how he left a void in her life no one could ever fill and that she knew they would always end up together.
All she could think to do was leave. It wasn’t the right move. It wasn’t even an easy move, but until she knew exactly what she wanted to say she couldn’t be around him.