It’s 20 past the hour when I finally throw open the door to the restaurant we agreed to meet.
He’s easy to spot, his long, braided hair setting over his right shoulder; I see him through the window walking up, and glide past the hostess stand with a signal that implies ‘I know where to go.’
I’m sorry, I blurt out when he spots me. I add an extra pant in my breath to emphasize.
I’m sorry. I got caught up with that reporter and –
He’s out of his seat, hugging me before I can finish. Stop, he snorts, mid-hug, my face pushed into his jacket shoulder.
I expected you to be late.
I make a face.
Seriously. I made sure she put me near the game. He points towards the television.
I thank him. For what, I don’t know.
I’m just thankful for him, sometimes.
Sit, he says, motioning towards the empty chair. Sit, sit. I ordered already.
I sit across from him, overlooking falafel, wings, nachos and a large bowl of french fries.
You remembered my order, I smile. Thanks.
You’re in luck, he says. They fucked up and gave us fries instead of the Parmesan wedges. But, he pauses, smirking. Don’t worry I let them know and we’re getting both for free.
Gross, I say. I hate when you do that.
You mean expect to get what I pay for?
My eyes roll. Just … correct things.
I’m always nice about it, he says. It’s not like I’m a dick.
I pause. Anyway.
Anyway, he smiles.
We smile in sync, and I take a bite of falafel.
Later, when our bellies are full, and we’ve remarked again how unreasonably good those Parmesan Fingerlings really are, we find ourselves outside of the restaurant, swaying lazily down Pearl Street.
I comment on the leftover holiday lights.
Wish they’d stay up forever.
Me too, he agrees.
I often wish everything would stay the way it is in the moment I want it to, I muse. And I’m often so sad when it doesn’t.
He agrees that I am that way, but doesn’t offer more, and I wonder if he’s choosing his words carefully on purpose.
But, I don’t ask. The balance, in this moment, too precious to pull.
We wander past the bookstore, our hands buried deep in jackets, and for the third or forth time I remind him that it’s one of the largest independent bookstores left in the country.
He tells me he knows this already.
I wonder if he remembers that he knows it from me.
There’s a book I want, I say. Do you mind?
Of course not. He looks at his phone. I don’t have plans for another hour.
I look at him, wondering why he hasn’t told me this already. And also:
Who the fuck with?
We walk in, past the security guard slumped down on a bar stool. She is holding her head up with a fist under her chin, and her elbow resting lazily on her knee.
He quips “Lots of book thieves in these parts.”
She doesn’t smile, but I snort in response, and we walk towards the bestseller section, lining the first half of the floor.
It won’t be in this section, I admit after a couple minutes. I just like looking at what’s out.
That’s fine, he says. But, like I said, I do have to be going soon.
I’m not answering that.
Seriously? I ask, looking at him.
I feign a tone of nonchalance. We just had dinner. You got another one Romeo?
It’s not like that, he says.
I glare, loud enough for him to notice it. And he grins.
Is it one of those moms?
That, he pauses. Is not any of your business, Lindsey Hall.
Are you in love with her?
He guffaws. Jesus. No. I’m not interested in a relationship. You were quite enough for me for awhile.
I purse my lips.
We’re not all co-dependent, like you. Some of us don’t jump into things.
Do you really care to know?
No. But, I care about how you are in it.
I don’t want to talk about it.
He laughs in a way that insinuates he predicted my response.
A woman walks toward us now. She smiles at me like she’s in on the secret.
I wonder, briefly, standing with a foot or so of room between us, if what she’s really smiling at is what she believes is commitment.
We move to let her pass, and he takes a step forward towards me, putting his hand on my shoulder.
Hey, he whispers. Sorry.
I nod. Me too. It’s not my business.
I want you to be the happiest ‘you’ you can be, Linds.
He shrugs after he says it.
I want the same for you, I say.
Even if it irritates you?
Even if it irritates me.
We hug there, in the bookstore.
Is this ‘friends’? We wonder, proceeding downstairs.
But it’s silly to ask, because of course we have no way of knowing.
It’s just that, sometimes, on snowy nights – flipping through books in the memoir section of a bookstore:
Everything lost, still feels like it can be recovered.
And maybe love is never lost at all.