We’re here again. There, in front of the same place we’d always go, without you or I saying anything. Like our feet just knew the way. The disappearing sun casts a pink glow over your tired eyes. You used to call it “our place,” and I’d smile to myself and come home and tell my friends. “He called it our place,” I’d say. “What do you think that means?”
They never had the answers I wanted to hear. No one did. No one knows we’re here, after all this time, you and I, despite what everyone says about us. They think I’m naïve. They think you’re mean. I’m tired of what they think. I know something they don’t. I know the real you.
“What kind of beer would you like?” the waitress asks you. “A Stella,” I say in my head. “A Stella,” you say out loud. I remember when you told me it was your favorite. “No,” I had said. “That’s my favorite. It can’t be yours.” I was tired of us being the same in all the things that didn’t matter and different in all the things that did. You told me I was acting like a child.
And now we’re playing at being grown-ups. You’re no longer using your fake ID. I wrote you a letter on your birthday that I never sent. “Congratulations,” I wrote, “on joining the mass of men who lead lives of quiet desperation.” I don’t remember your opinion on Thoreau but I’m sure I disagreed with it. I’m sure we spent forty-five minutes arguing about it until we had forgotten why we were arguing in the first place. I’m looking for the familiar desperation in your eyes but I can’t find it. Maybe I’m not looking hard enough. Maybe it’s no longer there.
I order a green tea. You made me tea once when I was sick. Black with lemon in it. You found me trying to escape from a party where you actually seemed to know more people than I did. You asked me if I thought you were fake. I said you tried too hard to please everyone. “I know the real you,” I told you. We were standing on a balcony somewhere. I felt the world shrink around us. I shivered in the cold. You put your arm around me and asked if I wanted you to take me home. I said yes.
I ask the waitress for a fork. You give me one of those looks. “Just because it’s been four months, that doesn’t mean I magically learned how to use chopsticks.” And just like that, the past four months unbury themselves and hang in the silent air between us until the food comes. We eat. We talk about school, jobs, the future. Graduation in the spring. Writing.
“Remember when we were kids?” you say, as if you had been a kid with me. You act like we’ve known each other forever. I just met you last year. “Remember when we would just write for fun, just because we loved it, and we wouldn’t think about anything else?”
“Yes.” My chest tightens. I still don’t want to think about anything else. I still want to write just because I love it. You offer me a piece of your sesame chicken. I agree that it’s bland. I tell you how I heard that the tall blonde waitress who works here fucked someone famous. Your eyes grow wide like they do every time I say “fucked” when I could have just said “slept with.” I know how much you like a bit of gossip. You look around for her but she’s not working tonight. I pretend not to remember her name.
You drain the last of your beer. I finish my tea. There are no leaves in the bottom of the cup but I wouldn’t have known how to read them anyway. You gallantly open your wallet to take care of the tip but of course you don’t have any cash so I pay it for the both of us.
The waitress smiles at us as she takes the check. Does she remember us? Does she know that the first time we came here, my friend told me you looked at me like you loved me? I had laughed then, not believing it. But I’m looking at you the same way now. She probably thinks this is a date. I always wondered what it would be like to come here on a date. I still wonder.
The lights dim. Couples who don’t know each other yet hold hands across the table. It’s time to leave. I never know the right way to go. But you let me lead the way.