“Can I take your order, Sir?”
“Oh, sorry, I’m waiting for someone,” Ishir smiled, gesturing at the empty seat, “she should be here any minute now.”
The waiter nodded and hurried away to ask the same question to someone else. Ishir drummed his fingers against the table, looking around. Waiters rushed back and forth between tables of couples and families - mostly the former, with a few people like him dotted here and there, anxiously tapping their feet and checking their watches.
“Hey,” a voice said, and he turned in his seat to look at the woman standing opposite him, smiling as she settled down in her chair.
He found himself grinning, “I love the earrings.” he said.
“Thank you. I like the jacket.”
“How are things?”
“Great. How are you?”
“Not bad. Not bad.” His eyes drifted to her breasts - the dress she’d picked out was modest, showing no skin, and that somehow made him want her even more.
Tara crossed her arms and leaned on the table.
“Should we get something to eat?” he offered, and she nodded.
They ordered drinks and a couple starters - some kebabs and mozzarella sticks. “Not as spicy as they used to be,” Ishir said, biting into a kebab, “I’m kinda disappointed, actually, but I guess they had to tone it down, huh?”
Tara chuckled, “Yeah.”
“Remember the first time we ate here? You could barely handle them.” he laughed, “I guess you like ‘em better now, huh?”
“Should we order now? We should probably hurry up and then we could go back to my place? Or yours, if you’re still in town?”
She’d been avoiding his gaze for the most part, but now she looked him in the eyes, and he didn’t like the pained expression on her face.
“Alright? Something I said?”
“Just… Why did you call me here, Ishir?”
“What do you mean? I invited you out for dinner.”
“We haven’t spoken in three years.”
“I know, we really should’ve talked more. But-”
“The last thing you said to me was that you never wanted to see me again. What’s changed?”
Ishir opened his mouth to speak but found that his mind had gone blank. The last three years had been a blur. He’d been feeling great when they’d first broken up - free, confident, like he could do anything he wanted to. Then the excitement had worn off and he’d picked up his bad habits, one by one… and that had led him here.
“I don’t know.”
“After three years, I just get a greeting and an invitation from you out of nowhere.” she shook her head, “I don’t even know why I came, I… what do you actually want from this?”
The people on the tables around them cast prying glances in their direction. Ishir winced, resisting the urge to tell her to calm down.
“I don’t know, I just… I’m sorry, you know? It’s been a really tough time but I’ve been thinking it through and I think we can - well, I want us to start over again.”
Tara stared at him, her mouth partly open. “Start over? Again? Do you know how many times you’ve said this to me? And I’ve said it to you too, I know, but I’m moving on-”
“In all these years I haven’t met anyone who I love as much as-”
“You haven’t met anyone at all. You don’t go out to meet people, you don’t even make an effort.”
“Don’t talk to me like that!” Both his voice and his hands were trembling, and he set his fork down on the table, taking a deep breath. “I’m sorry.” he added hastily, colour rising to his cheeks, “I just think we can give it another shot, that’s all.”
“No, we can’t.” She held up her left hand. A diamond glinted on her ring finger, “I’ve met someone. And we’re very happy.”
His heart dropped.
Tara sighed, “Look, We’ve had some good times together, Ishir, and some not so good ones. But in the end, it never works out. Even if I was to leave my fiance and agree to date you again, you know how it’d go. You’d get sick of me after the first month.”
Ishir clasped his hands together under the table, digging his nails into his skin. It was difficult to hear her over all the noise in his head. He wanted to scream. Instead, a single tear rolled down his cheek and he had to stop himself from sobbing into the crease of his arm, like he’d done since he was a child.
Tara watched sympathetically, offering him a tissue. “I’m sorry.”
Everyone was watching now, if they hadn’t been before.
“I’ll take care of the bill,” Tara said, pulling out her purse, “let’s get out of here.”
“I’m pathetic,” he said, as soon as they’d left the restaurant. “I’m a piece of shit. No wonder you don’t want me. Why would you?”
Tara touched him on the shoulder, “Don’t say that. There was a reason I fell in love with you all those years ago. And honestly, if certain things hadn’t worked out the way they did, I’d be the one begging you to take me back. Or I would’ve accepted your offer at least.”
It was a hot summer’s night, made hotter by the many restaurant lights and street lamps burning overhead. They walked towards the car park, Ishir getting a grip on himself again. His eyes had dried up but the lump in his throat remained.
“There’s a lot to like about you, I promise you that. But if there’s anything we’ve learnt over years of dating and breaking up and doing it over and over, it’s that we’re not right for each other. ”
“I dunno... maybe we could make it work.”
Tara raised an eyebrow, “Why would it work now if it never has before?”
Ishir sighed, giving in. “How’d you do it then?” he croaked, “You seem more...”
“Put together?” Tara smiled, “Thanks. I’ll be honest, it was a lot of work. Even with the help of a counsellor. Back then, like you, I was in a dark place. I needed you, your love, to not hate myself. And I guess that made me kinda desperate… Still got this car?” She said, slapping the battered Astra’s hood, presumably trying to end on a light note.
He was angry, suddenly, angry at Tara for giving him advice and angry at himself for needing it - but he didn’t have the energy to give into it, and he knew that she was only trying to help.
“Thank you,” he said, managing a weak smile. Tara offered him a brief hug,
“You take care now.” she said, “and don’t hesitate to get in touch. Just no… weirdness.”
“Of course - I’ll see you then. Bye.” he nodded. Tara smiled and waved, walking away. Ishir ducked, getting into his car. He took a deep breath, steadying himself. When he eventually put the car into gear and reversed out of the parking lot, his hands moved on their own. His mind raged on meanwhile, and though he had numbed himself to most of the thoughts, a few slipped through-
Why am I still here?
There’s nothing to look forward to.
I will never be happy.
There’s nothing to look forward-
He turned on the radio to distract himself, tuning it to a station that played nothing but obnoxious pop music.
He was home in thirty minutes and collapsed on the sofa, noticing for the first time just how messy his flat was. He would clean it up. He'd clean it up, get his shit together and even contact a counsellor...tomorrow.
Tomorrow, for sure.
But he didn't have to start now, and he wouldn’t.