Alexis walked out of the restaurant and towards his car. Louis always waited for her in the parking lot after she got off of work. When he saw her, he would roll down the windows, get out of the car, and sit in the passenger’s seat. That day was no different. Alexis watched him light his cigarette. She sat in the driver’s seat, but she wouldn’t drive anywhere.
"You want to try it?" Louis asked her and held out the cigarette. Every day he asked this. She almost always declined. Sometimes she'd grab the cigarette and hover it inches before her lips but hold her breath.
"Sure," she took the cigarette, careful not to let their fingers touch. She held it before her lips and still she did not breathe in.
After a moment, she handed it back. He took it from her in the same way, his fingers at a respectful distance.
"Did you think about it?" Louis asked.
He always asked her the same questions.
"I don't know yet."
She never really had answers. Louis wanted to marry her. He wanted her to quit her job and move with him back to his hometown in Indiana. He told her that she wouldn't have to drive anywhere if they lived there. His sister would be just down the street and could take her places. She wouldn't even have to work because he'd get in contact with his old boss and get his first job back.
She didn't know what to think about it. She didn’t want to travel there, back in time to the place he grew up. She didn’t want to live there, with his sister just down the road, while he worked daily at the first job he ever had. Louis was only twenty-three, and barely younger than her, but the thought of him appearing any younger than that made her feel uneasy. As she found most people wanted, Alexis sought to escape from her youth. The fact that she fell in love with someone who wanted to return to theirs was just the perfect dose of irony.
"How was work?" Louis asked.
"It was okay. Actually, I feel like it's always the same. Sometimes it feels like my brain is standing still and I'm operating solely on autopilot."
Louis was always mindful of the smoke. She watched him turn his head away from her and silently blow a steady stream of smoke right out the window.
"There was an old couple there celebrating their fortieth anniversary. The woman didn't eat very much of her food."
They first met at the restaurant. Louis sat at a table by himself. Her coworker pointed him out and insisted that she take his table. Alexis often wondered if they knew it would turn out the way it had. When they met, she foolishly found herself hoping they would be together for the rest of their lives.
"Did you know that next week makes it two years since I've started working there?" She gripped the steering wheel. The parking lot was empty and dark, the only light came from the flickering restaurant sign. She imagined driving away and looking in the rearview mirror to see Louis standing there all alone in the dark.
"That's longer than we've known each other," Louis said. The cigarette had all but burned up by then. He looked at it strangely and flicked it out the window.
Sometimes she wondered if the same-ness was what she fell in love with in the first place. She was never good at making decisions or adapting to change. With Louis, everything was always the same. It felt like she knew every part of his brain. She always knew what he was going to say and how she should respond.
Even though she felt so certain, so confident in her view of him, suddenly, randomly, one day she didn't know anything anymore. She didn't know what Louis wanted, she didn't know how to respond. Right then, she couldn't tell what his expression meant. Maybe he was thinking of quitting. Maybe he was upset that she didn’t actually try it.
"I want to get out of here."
Louis nodded and handed her the keys, "Go ahead."
Alexis put the key in the ignition but did not turn it. There was nothing wrong with her, she could drive if she wanted to. But she couldn't bring herself to do it. Maybe because, to her, it was too dangerous. She might never stop. Or, she might not even know where to go.
"I can, if you want me to," Louis said.
They both got out of the car and Louis went around to the driver's side. She studied his face for a moment. She wondered if it was too late for them now.
She turned to walk to her side but Louis stopped her. Then, he hugged her. Not tight, but gently. It was the first time they hugged since he proposed. She knew she was being cruel to him, and she knew she needed to make up her mind. Even though she was so unsure, that hug meant a lot to her. She thought about the proposal. Even then he was patient with her. It was almost perfect. If only she knew what had changed.
"I love you, Alexis. I really do. Whatever you need, whatever you want to do, I'll be here."
He released her and she sat in the passenger's seat. Louis turned the car on with ease and pulled out of the parking lot.
Alexis knew he wasn't headed towards home because he turned left instead of right. They drove in silence and she stared at him. The dim light from the dash was barely enough to illuminate his face but she knew it well enough that her brain filled in the gaps of what her eyes couldn't see.
"I love you, too," she said, and that time, she really meant it. Even if she wasn't sure she'd mean it the next time.