I am going to do it. Dear God, I made the reservations at Maria’s for this very moment. Why do my palms already have to start sweating while I readjust the menu in my hands? I lick my lips and take a slow deep breath through my nose. My eyes are boring a hole through the pasta section, and my stomach almost collapses with thunderous growls when reading the cheesy descriptions. I know what I want. I really do.
Dancing into place, our waitress arrives with a ‘click’ of her pen. “Welcome to Maria’s- so glad you both could join us. I’m Danielle, and I’ll be waiting on you today. Do you know what you’d like to start with, or do you need more time?”
My tongue feels dry, but my mouth opens just to-
“We’ll share a bottle of the chardonnay. I’ll have the lobster ravioli. He’ll have your garden salad with the soup of the day.”
Matthew smiles perfectly, showing his adorable dimples to Danielle while handing his folded menu. She glances to me, hosting a universal look of apprehension that most people have shared at one time or another.
I defeatedly fold my menu and follow suit.
“That would be great,” I say.
Matthew’s smile widens. “I know what he likes.”
Danielle nods, and her previous sunny disposition gradually returns. “Keep the menu for now,” she tells me with a shrug. “Just in case you think of something else you’d like. I’ll go ahead and put that order in.”
She glides away as quickly as she appeared, leaving me staring directly across the table at the most frustratingly beautiful man in the world. Matthew reaches across the table, beckoning for my hand that I quickly place into his palm. He hums while stroking his thumb over my knuckles. “This was a good idea, Char. It’s been a while since we’ve gone out.”
“Just the two of us that is,” I protest. “Your business dinners don’t count as dates.”
He scoffs, making his eyes crinkle at the corners as he reaches to brush his hair back. “No, you’re right. I’m sorry about all the crazy deadlines. You know it’s going to pay off though. Once I close this deal and finally get that promotion, then we’ll have all the time and money to do what we want,” he sighs and looks up at me from beneath his long lashes. “Maybe we can start making plans.”
“For us. For our future together.”
I swallow dryly as my hand slowly retreats to my side. Matthew is saying what I have dreamt of hearing ever since first seeing him across the bar at Tap Room. He had been wearing his fitted suit which he had casually unbuttoned with an old fashioned in his hand. I had counted three drinks were his system before he approached me, calm and collected. He had leaned over my shoulder, smelling of old spice and whiskey, before ordering a spiked spritz at the bar. Just as the drink came, he sat it in front of me with his characteristic smile. That smile that could practically buy him anything.
“Try this. You’ll love it,” he told me, and I didn’t have to be told twice.
That was one year ago, and my world had rapidly become his to determine.
Grasping my menu, I see Danielle passing by our table. I almost hop out of my seat when trying to wave her down, much to Matthew’s obvious irritation as he groans.
“Can I get the four-cheese tortellini?” I blurt out to Danielle before she even reaches our table. Jesus, I practically scream it across the restaurant.
She startles but nods, almost beaming. “For sure! I’ll put that order in!” And she scampers away before meeting any protest.
And there is going to be a protest.
I sit with my arms crossed to try and hold myself together. Matthew is usually so good at talking me out of my opinions, but if there is to be any future with him, I need to know that I still have enough autonomy to choose…tortellini.
“Charlie,” Matthew moans from across the table, his hands reaching to rub his eyes. “You know that all that cheese is going to make you feel bad. Your stomach is going to hurt, then I’m going to have to listen to you complaining about feeling bloated. It doesn’t even go with the wine we ordered.”
“I just wanted to try something new,” I say, hating how I never sound as confident aloud as I do in my head.
Come on- you practiced this!
“But it’s going to make you feel bad,” he protests.
I shrug lightly despite wanting to cringe to myself. “Maybe I want to feel bad.”
Matthew sits back in his chair with a furrowed brow. “That’s stupid. That’s doesn’t make any sense.”
“Char, don’t make a scene.”
My nostrils flare as I huff, “I am not making a scene. But if I want to feel terrible after engorging myself on cheese then that is my choice.”
“Baby,” he coos while reaching back across the table, and my hand twitches at my side, but I keep it in place. His voice is soft and warm and had made me melt for the better part of a year, but it suddenly strikes a cord of annoyance in me. “You know I’m just looking out for you, right? Charlie, I’m just trying to take care of you. I’ve always just wanted to take care of you- if you’d let me.”
I can feel my initial edge giving away ever so slightly. He isn't wrong, and it isn't that my life hasn’t dramatically improved after meeting Matthew. My apartment no longer looks like an episode of ‘Hoarders’. I even joined a gym and enjoy spin class. My palate has expanded from all the different foods he has made me try. And, dear God, the conferences we travel to for his work always have a killer spa. It's like my life before Matthew, with me frequenting Tap Room every Friday night in hopes of forgetting my punishingly boring life, was one painful painting that only ever used one color. But now, it's like I'm exposed to entire spectrum of light that I didn’t know had existed…
Oh my god. I’m such an idiot. I was willing to lose the best and only good thing that had ever happened to me over a plate of pasta. My thoughts are scrambling for a suitable apology as I wrench for his hand across the table. “I’m sorry,” I tell him while squeezing his fingers. “You’re right, and I’m sorry that-”
“This is our one night out, Charlie,” he interrupts. “And you chose to pick a fight over some tortellini?”
“I know. It was stupid. I think-”
“You always do this. You self-sabotage.”
What do I think? Maybe I am self-sabotaging. It is something I am independently good at, and I don't need anyone else’s help to see it. Why else would my life have been such a wreck before Matthew appeared like a fairy godmother and magically made it all beautiful? Ridiculous. It's all ridiculous. I am ridiculous, and-
Oh god, he stands from the table with the look of disappointment that I utterly dread. I’m still holding his hand when I repeat, “I am sorry. I’m so sorry.” I’ll say it as many times as it takes. Matthew pauses before turning and pulling a chair next to me so that we're sitting shoulder to shoulder.
I lean my head against his while he presses a kiss into my temple. “Relax, Char. I’m not going anywhere,” he murmurs, and I relax into him. “You know that I can see what’s best for you, right? I’m not talking about the food. I just mean…about us. You struggle with getting stuck inside of your own head.”
“I know,” I sigh. “And I do like the garden salad.”
“I know you do,” he says with a smile in his voice.
Snuggling closer to him, seeking out the warmth in the crook of his neck, I feel relief at not ruining us. “We can just split the tortellini and call it a night.”
“No need. I’ll have the waitress cancel the order,” he offers while raising his hand in the air to get Danielle’s attention.
I sit upright. “You don’t need to do that. I’m sure she already put it in.”
“Then they can just have it ready for the next person who orders it.”
“But wait,” I stammer while pulling myself fully away from him, meeting his confused look. “No, I still want to try the pasta.”
“You literally just apologized for ordering the pasta.”
“No,” I counter, suddenly finding some quick courage. “I apologized for making a scene but not for ordering tortellini.”
Matthew sits back with all his charisma fading from his features. “Are you kidding me right now? Do you hear yourself?” he sighs. “You’re doing it again, like you always do. You’re making a big deal over nothing, over pasta, Charlie.”
“I don’t think it is,” I mumble. I need to feel annoyed. I need to remember why I was so annoyed. I had reminded myself over and over before dinner because I knew this would happen. Why I was so irritated and fucking tired of begging that man to love me without exceptions. But there were only ever exceptions. I couldn’t be loved or wanted without conditions in place, and I am spent. After one year I need to be spent.
Shit, I did it again.
“Where do you think you’re going?”
Without realizing it, I’m standing from my chair and bending over to reach for my jacket, hoping not to halt my momentum. “I’m going home.”
“I drove us here.”
“I’ll Uber from my phone.”
“You don’t know how. You can’t even navigate your new phone.”
That you bought me.
“I’ll figure it out.”
“Char!” he says while standing from the table and then people are beginning to stare.
I glance back to see him wide eyed and mouth gaping open with his hand hanging in midair. Never have I seen him like that, almost desperate? Afraid? Matthew has always been so cool and collected and always left it to me to be the one to break down. It almost makes me recoil with regret. Almost.
“Don’t make a scene,” I whisper, turning on my heels and trudging away. My feet feel heavy, like they are stuck in cement, as I walk past table after table of onlookers. I can already feel sobs of remorse and probing second-thoughts readying to send me backwards, but I manage past the hostess stand and outside of Maria’s. Suddenly, I am gulping night air with my hands on my head and tears brimming on my eyes. Shit, it feels like my chest is going to cave-in as I think about how he looked when I turned away.
I have loved him. I have had so much love for him, but only because I hadn’t cared to love myself enough before meeting him. If this whole year had been a waste, maybe at least I have that to takeaway with me.
Still, I am only fifty feet away from him, and I already miss him, and maybe…Maybe I didn’t give us a chance to really talk about it. Hell, I just walked out of the restaurant without properly even addressing the issue. I didn’t even tell him why it wasn’t just about the pasta. Maybe he deserved that, at least. Some explanation. Some closure. Closure? Oh shit, did I even officially break up with him? All I did was walk out.
My mind is racing as my feet stall on the sidewalk, and oh god, I can’t walk back in there looking like I’m melting in tears.
“Sir? Sir!” a voice calls behind me.
I turn around to see Danielle running towards me with a paper bag in her hand. She’s panting as she approaches and thrusts the bag at me. “Here,” she breathes. “You deserve this.” Her smile is bright and wide, and she winks at me before running back into Maria’s.
I’m left alone once again on the sidewalk, but my tears stall with the weighted bag in my hands. It’s warm. It smells amazing. Slowly, I open the bag and look inside to see a bulging, plastic container. A smile dares to grow on my lips.
It’s the four-cheese tortellini.
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Amazing story. Such a good arthur.