6:07 P.M. Los Angeles, Ca
Elle grabbed her coat from her desk chair, said goodnight to the janitor who was the only one left in her office building, and took one last look around trying to remember if she had forgotten anything.
The parking lot wasn’t quite deserted and she wondered whose lives belonged to these cars and which of the surrounding office buildings they worked in. What were their evening plans? The owner of this white Honda Civic for instance? Was she a woman, and would she be going home to cook dinner for her family, regretting a dream she left behind? Or was he a man, making last minute dinner reservations for two? Elle got into her car and contemplated her own evening plans. She’d probably go home and make dinner for one, a glass or two of wine and maybe finish her Kerouac book. That sounded pretty darn good to her. Still, she was in the mood for something different tonight. Kerouac will always be waiting.
She turned up the music and drove through traffic to get home, changed into something that didn’t remind her of selling homes to potential clients. In this case, she chose tight black pants with combat books, a low-cut black blouse and reapplied some make-up, darker this time. Elle didn’t want to reel anyone in tonight, she didn’t need to. In Los Angeles there were plenty of men to choose from, but they hadn’t been able to reel her in. No one had been able to except for David, and he was in Seattle right now. That didn’t do her any good. She had just wanted to get out of her apartment for the night, maybe a drink or two, then go home. Nothing too wild.
Ten minutes later, Elle left her apartment feeling confident. She would take the long way to her favorite whiskey bar, through Laurel Canyon. She decided to bring some work with her, waiting for the night to settle in.
There was still traffic at this hour, but she didn’t mind. Elle loved the mountains surrounding her on Laurel Canyon. She loved the sharp turns, the steep climb. The exciting descent as you got closer and closer to Hollywood. On a night like this, the cool breeze flirting with the loose strands of her hair, Elle felt like anything can happen.
It wasn’t easy finding parking near the bar, but she got lucky within in a few minutes and found a spot directly across the street. She only had to circle the block once. The spot was small, but she silently thanked her Mini Cooper, it was just small enough for the spot she had found. Elle grabbed her work, her purse, and took one last look in the rearview mirror. She saw sadness in her eyes and shook it off.
It was close to eight by the time she arrived. A local band was about to go on stage in a side room. She found a tiny table in a corner and actually felt foolish for bringing her work, so she didn’t dive into it right away. She would try and get a feel for the night first. When she walked up to the bar to order a drink, she saw a face in the crowd and was hit with a force of recognition so hard she couldn’t think for a moment.
That woman, her face. She was so familiar! Who is she?
The woman in question didn’t see her. Elle’s eyes followed the woman as she walked back to her group and suddenly, Elle remembered who she was. It hit her like a ton of bricks. That’s his wife. Elle said a silent prayer to herself. Please don’t let him be here. Not tonight. Not this night. There’s got to be a mistake. Maybe it’s just someone who looked like her. And then Elle realized that the gods were not with her this night, or if they were, they were not listening to her pleas. And there he stood, beer in hand. Adam. The couple were among friends, laughing and drinking all of them. Elle didn’t recognize the other people. Adam was laughing at something someone said, or probably something he had said, knowing Adam. And almost as if Elle herself had willed it, Adams eyes found hers. He did not react but took a swig from his beer instead. To the naked eye, no one would have noticed anything out of the ordinary. No one would have guessed that Elle and Adam had had a relationship that lasted five years, and that they used to fit one another like hand in glove. They would have probably gotten married. No one could have known that it had been a few years since they had last seen each other.
She thought about leaving. But, damn, he had already seen her. As much as she wanted to get the hell out of there, she knew that was immature.
No, she thought to herself. Stay. She squared her shoulders and took the drink the bartender handed her and took a sip. Deep breath. She walked back to her table.
Elle could feel his eyes on her. Her heart was racing. Adam and his wife lived in San Diego. She never, in a million years, expected to run into them on a night like tonight, at one of her favorite spots. She felt a little guilty for her next action, but she decided to do it anyway. Elle checked his profile on a social media website she rarely used. She pulled up his page and noticed that his “Lives in” was changed from San Diego to Santa Monica. Elle’s heart started beating faster. What should she do? She had come to so many forks in the road with Adam. Elle thought back to their history and the heartbreak surrounding it. Some of it, Adam didn’t even know about. She swallowed. Shit, don’t think about it, she told herself. Everything is fine. It was years ago. You’ll be fine.
Elle took a deep breath and looked up from her phone. She really didn’t want to, but she thought that she should probably greet them. Put on a smile and walk over there, she prompted herself. Elle took her drink with her as a crutch and took a quick sip for bravery before she got to their table. She didn’t like the idea of trying to ignore them. Sooner or later their lives were going to probably mix in with hers again seeing as how they had recently moved back. Maybe. Then again, maybe not. Only one way to find out.
There were about seven people at their combined tables. His wife was immersed in conversation with another woman. She made eye contact with Elle as she approached and recognition lit her face, but only for a moment, then it passed as she continued her conversation.
Adam saw Elle approaching and excused himself from the group.
“Adam? Hi! I thought that was you.” She said, pretending to be happy to see him as they hugged. That second felt like an eternity. The familiarity of his body after all this time. Her hands were around his shoulders for mere seconds, but it brought back a wave of memories. Her mind flashed images of him of top of her. She could feel her face getting warm.
“Hey. What are you doing out here? This isn’t your scene, is it?” He laughed easily and genuinely looked happy to see her.
She smiled. He used to know me so well, she thought. “I think it has been for a few years now. The cafes started to get old.” She looked around the crowd and saw a punk rocker with green hair. She smiled. “These guys are way more interesting.” There was a pause. “What about you? I heard you got married! David showed me a few pictures, it looked lovely.” Elle gave him a fake smile. She had only seen one picture. It had been a picture of both Adam and David from that night. This was harder than she thought.
“Yeah, thank you. I know, it’s all going by so fast.”
“I know,” she agreed. “Hey, so what are you guys doing out here on a Thursday night of all nights?” She pretended she didn’t check her phone five seconds before coming over to their table. She took another swig or her drink, bracing herself to hear it out loud, coming from his lips. The same lips she has kissed over and over again.
“Anne and I moved back to the area a couple of weeks ago. It was time to come back,” he said seriously. He looked around the bar, and in a lighter tone, said “It’s good to be back. And who knows, you and I might even be able to get the old gang back together again.”
Shit. There is no way he could have possibly meant that.
“C’mon,” she smiled, playing it off. “It wouldn’t be the same without David.”
“Yeah, but he’s moving back soon.” He shrugged, as if it were that easy.
“It would be nice to see everyone again.” Elle wondered if she should tell him about David. How would he react to her dating his best friend? A stranger walked by and brushed her shoulder. No, break away, she told herself. “Well, it was crazy running into you, Adam. You look good. Congratulations on your marriage.” And he did look good. His hair was shorter, more in style. His dark brown skin looked great in a bright white dress shirt and his slacks were designer. He was as tan as ever, which meant he still frequented the beaches. She was surprised that he still found time to surf. She had always loved how put together he looked, even in their early years. He had a knack for always looking good.
She waved her drink at him in an awkward attempt to say goodbye, with a smile to match when Adam pointed to her drink. He hadn’t noticed her trying to break away, or so she thought.
“What are you drinking, anyway? What is this?” he asked. He had noticed her trying to make a break for it but he didn’t want to let go of this unexpected moment in time.
They had shared drinks often during their relationship. He used to order a unique beer when they would go out and she would do the same. Sometimes they would swap, but even if they didn’t, they would always try each other’s drinks. It was a thing he had started on their first date. Each time, he would watch her as she brought his drink to her lips. The look he gave her never failed to send waves of electricity through her whole body. It never got old, it never ceased to excite her. The way he would look at her hungrily, it was so subtle. But it was there. No one else noticed it, Elle knew. But they both were always very aware.
This night, he took her glass and took a sip. He thought for a second. Then he took another sip, finishing it off. Elle couldn’t tell if he was doing it on purpose tonight, or if he was just being the same Adam she had once fallen in love with all those years ago, bringing their lips together on the same piece of glass, both marveling at the intimacy of a shared drink like a kiss in disguise.
He made a face and handed her back her glass. “You’re sipping Fireball by itself?”
She took the empty glass from him and hugged it close to her, coming to its defense. “I happen to like it. And yes, I asked for it on the rocks, I can enjoy it this way. She looked down into her now empty glass. “Well, not anymore, it’s gone.”
“Don’t worry about it. I’ll get you another drink. A better one.” Oh, Adam was good. He quickly dispelled any and all awkwardness and filled it with charm and warmth. It was a talent of his. It was what drew her to him again and again.
“You don’t have to do that. I mean, I drank most of it anyway.” Also, you have a wife. But she didn’t say that out loud.
He shrugged. “Here, take my beer to hold you over.”
“Beer? I don’t want your beer,” she said with a smile she couldn’t hide. Damn him.
“Try it. I bet you it’s better than yours.” He watched as she put the bottle to her mouth. Her heart raced.
While she drank, she thought about his lips having been on this bottle. Sexual energy flowed through her system yet again as the beer went down, and her stomach fluttered and burned at once. The beer wasn’t ice cold, anymore. She could feel the warmth of the bottle where his hand had been. Adam’s hands. He used to know how to love her with those hands, she thought.
Elle smiled and held up the beer. “Well, I don’t know if it’s better, but it’s good. You’ve always had good taste in beer.” She wasn’t as good with the charm and the warmth. Especially now that she was starting to get a bit nervous and she could feel herself trembling. While she was finally over the break-up and had been for a while, seeing him tonight was completely unexpected.
Adam smiled. He could tell she was trying to hide her nervousness. What she didn’t know is that she held his heart in that smile. And therein lay her charm. Her smile, casting its net around him without his consent, the way it had always done. He used to love nothing more than to try and make her smile, and he was good at it, too. Adam allowed himself to briefly take her in. She wore more makeup around her eyes than he was used to. Her face had thinned out making her look older, more sophisticated, her Italian features more prominent. She was more predator now than prey. Adam wondered if he had anything to do with that. He noticed how her light brown hair was now a little darker. He had always liked when she wore it down, and liked that it was now longer than he had ever seen it. Her large crooked nose that she had always hated suited her. She had finally grown into her looks and she didn’t look like an adolescent anymore. Elle was almost thirty now, and he thought her new look suited her well. He had never seen her dressed in this rock and roll style. He thought she looked incredible.
“I’ll order something to your table. It’s my latest discovery. You’ll love it. And hey…” he looked at her, closely. They held each other’s gaze. She searched into his eyes wondering what he’d say, but whatever it was, he didn’t say it. Instead he said, “Good to see you. You look really good.” He sounded so casual.
She smiled and put her arms around him one last time. She patted him on the back in a friendly manner.
Elle walked away and took a swig of his beer. Back at her table she opened up her laptop and gave it a once over. Who was she kidding? She couldn’t work tonight. A waiter came by with a drink for her. She looked for Adam with her eyes, to thank him. She spotted his group of friends, and his wife. But Adam had disappeared.
Elle took a sip of this new drink and wondered what it was. Heaven in a glass, that’s what. She would have to ask him later. She laughed to herself. When, later? As if it would become a regular thing. But then again, maybe it would. David would be moving back in six months. The two of them would possibly get together from time to time. Now, she was dating David. She still had time to figure it out all. She felt lucky to at least know what it was like to have been loved like that by Adam. She didn’t wonder if he still loved her now. She didn’t need to know. All that she knew was that he had and that he had once known her so well. Some people go through life never experiencing that. So, their timing was off. So what? She was lucky to have had the time at all, even with all the heart-break that followed. She still thought about it from time to time, her and Adam. A woman doesn’t forget something like that. And though the pain hadn’t faded from everything they had gone through, she had moved on. She was looking forward to her future with David, even though it was still new and long-distance. She had let Adam do the same with his new wife a long time ago.
At the end of the night, Elle was glad to have gone out. She had noticed that Adam eventually returned to his table, but he never once looked back in her direction. She decided to give Adam and his wife some privacy, so she moved to the bar with her back to them and struck up a conversation with the bartender in between his drink orders. When Elle walked to her car, she looked in the mirror and noticed she didn’t look tired anymore despite the late hour. The sadness was gone from her eyes.
When Elle got home, she changed into something comfortable to sleep in and picked up her Kerouac. She climbed into bed with it, not feeling lonely anymore. She had never even seen the note from Adam stuck underneath her windshield wiper asking her out for dinner. It had fallen off while she had driven away. He wouldn’t bring it up at the Thanksgiving dinner later that year either, though they talked about many other things.