“Somehow I lost my place in our relationship,” she said when he arrived.
She was seated at a table for two upon which the remains of a meal for one waited to be cleared away.
“I told you I might be late,” he said seating himself. He declined the menu offered by the waiter, asking for coffee only.
“Except you say that every time we make a date to meet,” she said, “And you are, in fact, always late.”
“Would you rather I hadn’t come?”
She waited a long moment.
“I feel like I was reading this love story some time last year. A man, a woman, a pair with things to talk about and stuff they liked to do. And then…I guess I put it down only to take up another book about other people who apparently have nothing in common and seem to like one another very much less.”
“Jesus,” he said.
The coffee arrived then and they were both silent until the waiter disappeared.
“We have fun when we spend time together. You know we do-”
“Actually I can’t afford to,” she said. “Letting myself remember how much I like you…how much I love spending time with you…is a recipe for misery in a matter of days. Hours sometimes.”
He stirred sugar into his coffee, spoke carefully. ”I don’t want to do this. I enjoy spending time with you. I enjoy our time together. There’s no reason to let it go.”
“No reason except that I really do love you…and while I love you I can’t love anyone…anything…else. And I can’t ask you to be better or different. It’s like asking you to pretend and I don’t want to be lied to.”
He raised his eyes to hers.
“I had to get gas,” he said slowly.
“Now let me make a long list of the meals I’ve eaten alone, movies I’ve seen alone, events I’ve gone to alone. Let me list all the excuses…when you bother to make excuses which you usually don’t.”
“Shall we really stop seeing one another because I couldn’t get to my own funeral to time?”
She looked away then, strugging with tears.
“Just forgive me for being late.”
“All the time?”
“All the time.”
Unable to look at him, she shook her head. “I can’t.”
“It doesn’t mean I don’t love you. It doesn’t mean I don’t want to see you. It doesn’t mean anything more than I’ve never gotten anywhere on time. I’m an idiot and inconsiderate not disenchanted or out of love.”
“I can’t take that for the next fifty years.”
“Well…is it the worst thing about me?”
“Maybe…I’m not so bad. There are worse things a guy can be, aren’t there?”
She did cry then.
He rose to sit on her side of the table and took up her hand.
“I’m sorry I was late,” he said. “That’s not a lie…I’ll work harder not to be late. That’s not a lie either. I didn’t mean to hurt you and I don’t want to stop seeing you. Those things are true too. And I’m glad you told me you were angry. I’m glad I just didn’t find an empty table here instead.”
She wiped the tears off her face, and shook her head. ”I’m afraid to pick up our love story again and yet it would break my heart not to…”