It did not go how it was supposed to have gone, or more like how she imagined it. A dinner with her ex, Thomas, his new girlfriend Alex who was her ex-best friend and her new boyfriend, Sam, Thomas’ brother. She imagined to night to be …well a lot of things. Her favourite was one where Thomas gets jealous and becomes his old shouting self and so Sam will heroically defend her and then Alex breaks up with him but not blame her at all for any of this and they became best friends again. Unlikely of course but still great to imagine. A much more likely outcome is just a very, very awkward dinner. The chances of Sam getting at all jealous were basically zero. He always made fun of her for dating his little brother, for settling for the best in the family. He joked that maybe she even dated his older brother, to find just the right fit. She should have been happy about it, but she just could not. He treated their five-year relationship like a fling. It would be nice for him to be jealous, to care. How could he not, he was his brother after all? How could you not care that your girlfriend not only slept with your brother but dated him, for five years? How can you be ok? Is he so self-assured? So cocky? Has he such a low opinion of his brother? She wanted to ask. No, she wanted to scream at him, but how? What would it even achieve, he becomes jealous and breaks up with her? The most likely outcome. Or break up their family even more than it already has been, maybe both.
And then there was Alex. That hurt the most. They became friends in the last year of her and Thomas’ relationship when things there got really bad. Alex was her only friend outside their joint friend group, so whenever things went bad, she would run to her and she always be there to help and cheer her up. She barely ever meet Thomas but she was firmly in the hating Thomas camp even last year they were still making jokes about him about his outburst, his unreasonableness but then suddenly the jokes disappeared. It was only after he asked her out that Alex even told her that her and Thomas worked together. According to her they started working at the same place and at first, she did not say anything as she did not want to upset her and of course she had to be nice to Thomas as they were co-workers, and it would have been awkward but then they slowly became friends and well more. But she told her before anything serious happened she asked for permission. But well of course Hanna gave it to her what else could she have done? Even if she said no, either it would not have stopped them, they would start dating anyway leading to the deteriorating of their friendship or they broke up and Alex starts resenting her and their friendship breaks up. So, she said yes to not lose her.
Yet she was still sort of losing her. They no longer spent so much time together, the things they talked about become limited to their work and workout schedule. Sometimes Alex would get these waves when she was trying to convince her that Thomas has changed.
“Alex has changed” she said. “He is not at all like you described him” she said. “He is so gentle and patient” she said. Alex meant well she knew but did she not see what she was implying. He was not at all like you described him, so either you lied, exaggerated or well you were the problem. If only he dated a nicer girl, someone cooler, more awesome. just like Alex.
And Alex was all those things. She was much funnier, nicer, more pleasant to be around than her. She was the real people person. Everyone liked her. She was the best and she was dating Thomas.
Oh Thomas. Three years ago, seeing him again would have bought on another panic attack those she had all the time in the last three months when all the love was gone and they have been doing nothing btu fighting, well him shouting and her crying. But now with time and a few boyfriends later she could see that they were just a horrible match, their sensitivity pride, opination and somewhat chaotic upbringings made them both defensive emotionally unavailable and hungry for affection while not being able to fully accept it. When they got together, they were still in university it started as nothing more than a drunken hook-up that just never ended. They made perfect sense both studying economics, brilliant minds, smart, hardworking, and passionate. They used to hang out, all their classmates discussing politics until midnight and once they were gone the two of them dissected all the ways they were wrong. It was them against the world but than University ended they were no longer the smartest in the room they were now in the real world where they had to do what their bosses told them they had to be respectful and nice and that was hard for both of them. They changed a lot; they were becoming someone they did not like and took out their frustration on each other. She blamed it all on him but that was unfair, while she did not say much, she pushed just the right buttons the ones that she knew would hurt the most, yet she never said anything as bad as he, she never shouted as hard as he did, she never broke anything. Yet should she did not leave, she did not have the power to break up him, instead she just kept pushing him until he left on his own.
After their relationship ended no matter how bad it got, she was so sad, it was the only relationship she has ever been in, Thomas was her first love, it was really, really hard to let him go. But she did. She made herself. Next few years were hard very hard, she had to rebuild herself from scratch. who was she without him, who she was without her best in class scores, her compliments from everyone, it was hard but she managed it, her new self was someone better, someone kinder, nicer, more realistic. Now when she thought back to her old self could not help but feel embarrassed and amused. So serious so sure, so naive really.
It was after this great rebuild that she run into Sam, Thomas’ older brother, they did not interact much while she was dating Thomas. Sam took their father side in the divorce while Thomas their mom’s, the only time they ever meet were during strained family dinners once a year at Christmas. Thomas always hated his brother for being the perfect son, so she hated Sam with him. But now when she had the time to spend time with him without any of her prejudices, and by the end of the lunch she was so in love.
Alex would still call her like clockwork every week, but she would always come up with excuses to avoid meeting her. It was not until Alex had run into her and Sam on a date, and of course her and Sam got on like nothing happened and set up a double date.
Not that she had any feeling left for Thomas. Not really. When imaging all the outcomes one or two might have ended up with the two of them getting back together but these always ended with a fast break up. The feeling the younger her felt for the younger him were still there. Those early dates that feeling of being entirely and utterly in love without measure with your whole soul. That is what she missed, that is the only thing she still had feelings for. She loved Sam but it was a different kind of love more sensible more measured, more to be honest, her. Still sometimes she missed being in a fantasy.
Thinking of these possible sceneries, filled her mind for the whole week, not even letting her sleep. Hence, when it came to the dinner, the anxiety and the sleep deprivation mixed to make her feel anxious and close to throwing up. The dread was spreading in her stomach numbing her, preparing her for the pain. It intensified as she dressed, she wanted to run to cancel, to just wrap up in bed. But unfortunately, she had to go.
Her stomach was seizing up as she went into the restaurant, dreading the sight of him, as they sat down at the table the awkwardness sweeping through them, they were all awkwardly looking at each other. Alex was the first make a move:
“Hanna, Thomas was just telling me this morning that your old teacher just released his book about China”.
“You mean Professor McCann? He finally finished it?”
“Yeah, his masterpiece that he has been working on his whole life, it’s a thousand pages, apparently just the editing took forever”.
“I bet, I feel sorry for all his poor students who will now have to read it” And just like that they found their old rhythm again. They got deep into the conversation, catching up on all that happened to their friends and professor form uni. It was sort of nice to see him, just like seeing an old friend.
“I remember reading your prediction paper about the election” I said.
“Oh, boy I couldn’t have been more wrong” said Thomas. Him laughing at one of his mistakes, that was so strange. Old him would have never done that; he has really changed just like Alex has said. She wondered what would it be like if they meet now? Would they even be what they are now if it were not for their past relationship? Would things go badly even now? Who knows? But also, who cares? While she liked him, he did not love him any longer. She loved Sam.
She just turned to give her a smile, but then she saw Alex’s face. She could recognize her fake smile anywhere. She then looked around at Thomas, who was not even pretending to smile. She got so wrapped up in her conversation that she never paid attention to either of them. Thomas was of course still chatting away about his paper, at least that did not change, he was always bad at picking up social cues.
It only now hit her now that she was so wrapped up in herself and her problems that she never considered anyone else, until this point it has never occurred to her that the reason Sam was so dismissive about her old relationship was because he was insecure because he did not want to have to deal with the implications of dating his brother’s ex.
And Alex, her old boyfriend broke up with her to get back with his ex, she was so good at playing a confident happy person that she sometimes forgot that it was only an act. She was trying to make things better between them put her insecurities aside, even if it was hurting her and her relationship.
She tried to join the others in the conversation, to steer them away from their university days to the present but the mood did not elevate much.
After the dinner, on the way home Sam was quite, very quite, too quite. At first, she tried talking filling in the silences but there is only so long you can talk to yourself.
He was hurting she realized. He knew that he was dating his brothers ex, btu only now did it became clear that he was really dating her brother’ ex. She has been so worried about the dinner she never bothered to think about the aftermath. What will it lead to? The begging of horrible break up, the end of friendship and severance of family ties. Or the begging of a new friendship a story of patient, and love. Or maybe it is nothing more than a story of a moderately awkward dinner. She has tried to again contemplate the possibilities but this time she had no power over the outcome, and that made it somewhat better but also somewhat worse.