Word count, start of day -- 25,134
He's not going to show up. There is no way he was going to show up.
The fact that he didn't run out of the courtyard last week was a surprise. Looking back on that episode, I give him credit for staying. Did he kiss me? On the forehead? What was that about? It certainly was not romantic. If he was going for comforting, maybe it worked. I can't remember how I felt at the time, it was all such a blur. But it was a little weird, him doing that.
Why did I even mention my feelings to him? They had grown stronger every day, but that was my business, not his. Brian is a married man. What am I doing throwing myself at a married man? Annie, you are pathetic. So pathetic. I had found myself falling for a married man, something I had never done. I had vowed that I would never do that. Marriage matters, I know that. This is not going to be good. But I know he's not going to show up. There was no way he was going to show up.
I had thought about Friday a couple of times over the weekend. I could not figure out whether I regretted saying what I did. I suppose it would depend on his reaction. It is so weird to say something like I did and get no reaction at the time. And to get a scheduled reaction. And get it four days later. It was a little like a limbo not knowing what the next step was. But it was all my fault. I was the one who took the first step. So if I'm uncomfortable for a little while, I guess I deserve it.
I got to the restaurant and Brian was already there. He was at a table in a corner of the place, next to an empty table. I joined him an he smiled. No hugs, handshakes, or kisses on the top of my head.
"How have you been?" I asked, a little nervous. He might be mad at me for throwing the monkey wrench into his nice little life.
"Haven't slept much."
I smiled. I wasn't going to apologize. I felt bad enough, but that wouldn't get us anywhere. He showed up. I thought it at least polite to listen to him.
We ended up not ordering pizza. This seemed to irritate the waitress. I had only been a waitress once before in my life, for about seven months. It never bothered me what the customer ordered. I smiled, was polite, and brought the food. No big deal. We ended up each getting a side salad, and splitting orders of fried cheese and garlic bread.
He began shortly after we gave the waitress our orders. He spoke calmly and directly, looking at me with a sly smile. He had a pleasant face to look at, an easy-going eyes and a casual smile. "I have a lot to say, a lot of things I want to tell you, but I need you to tell me something first."
This was fair enough. "I put you on the spot before," I said calmly. "Now you can return our favor."
He breathed in. "What you said on Friday. Is that still true? I say that because sometimes when you say something that's maybe been bottle up in you, it's not as true anymore after you say it."
What was he babbling about? I barely followed it. Maybe he was saying he regretted saying what he did about me. But what the hell, I'll answer his question. "I still feel that way," I said softly, almost so soft he would not hear. "More so." This seemed to be true.
He nodded. "Then what I have to say matters. Because if you had changed your mind, then this is just a lunch, right?" He smiled as he said this. He was so calm and collected. It was very appealing.
Brian cleared his throat. "Whatever happens from out of this craziness," he started, "and believe me depending where this goes, it may get crazy. But no matter what, I want to keep on knowing you." He emphasized the last two words. I was touched by this. "Apart from anything else, I like knowing you, and want to keep on knowing you. Your friendship matters to me." I still could not figure out whether he was letting me down easy, but that would be okay. He was so kind and gentle with me, more so than I deserved.
"Also, I want you to know how humbled I am by what you said. That took amazing courage, tightrope walking without a net kind of courage, Annie." Our food came right at this moment, and the flow of conversation dried up. It gave me a chance to think about what was being said. I think it was good stuff being said. A few minutes later he continued.
"Let me tell you about the last year." Brian went on to describe the development of his feelings for me over the lat year. "I noticed you the first day I was at the Center." He was he had been impressed with my work at Canterbury and appreciated that we had trusted him with our taxes.
"And that dinner," he said, shaking his head at the memory. "With all four of us. That was a lot of fun. I liked Dennis." He sighed. "I thought maybe we could all be friends. I liked you, I wanted to spend time with you, I liked being with you. I must say I never thought that we would be having this particular conversation, though. So I'd been thinking about you when ever I came out to the Home, sneak a visit to your office to day hello, whatever." He chuckled.
"But it was that day at Safeway, do you remember that?" I certainly did remember it. He went on to explain how he had been at the store about an hour before, but had forgotten something somewhere and had to come back. And when he came back I was there. "It was the most uncomfortable moment of my life." He said it with a goofy little grin. "I mean I was so glad to see you there, it was such a pleasant surprise, but the setting was so public and it was a surprise, I just did not know what to do. And you're Erin was there with you. I didn't know whether to talk to her or play with her or just ignore her or what. It was just such an odd setting, but I had to talk to you. I could not just ignore you. It was the leaving and coming back and finding you there that struck me as something more than a coincidence."
"I thought it was some kind of sign, some kind of destiny, that it was okay to approach you. But when I did, it was so unnatural." Brian looked and me and apologized for behaving so oddly that day. I told him that I had not noticed anything like that. As a matter of fact, I was glad to see him. I really had no idea where that reaction had come from.
"It was on that day," he went on, "that what I felt for you moved beyond a crush and to, I don't know, to whatever this is now."
I nodded. Whatever this was now.
"So I kept on thinking about you, of course, and I put that seminar thing together and then, bam! There you are, right there in the classroom. I was all prepared to stop by after the seminar, but you shocked me by being there. It made me a little nervous. I hope you didn't notice that."
"Not at all," I comforted him, "I thought you did fine." It was true.
"And we had a nice chat afterward. I liked that. I always like talking to you. You're very easy to talk to."
I smiled. It was another nice thing for him to say.
"And then last week I stop by for the pre-audit work and you give me this great big hug. I was thinking it was the greatest day of my life."
I laughed out loud. "I don't know what I was thinking when I hugged you, I still don't know what I was thinking that day."
He eyed me coolly. "You regret it?"
I shook my head. No.
"Regret lunch last Friday?"
I shook my head again. I did not regret anything. No regrets at all. Maybe I should have regrets, but I sure didn't have any.
This was going nothing like I had planned for it to go. I was rambling, a compilation of nonsequitirs and oddball stories. I was sounding like a creep. Did I just say that getting a hug from her made it the greatest day of my life? What a loser that made me sound like.
"I don't know what I was thinking that day," she said. That was refreshing. At least I wasn't the only one of us completely winging this.
"Do you regret?" I asked. There was still time to change our minds about all this.
"No," she said. Calm and collected, as always.
"Do you regret Friday? Lunch?" I pressed further.
She gave the same negative answer.
"Regret coming here today?"
She again shook her head. I took a deep breath and was ready to go on. "But," she said a little sheepishly, "I never thought you would show up today."
"Really?" I asked. That thought had never actually crossed my mind and I told her so.
"I mean I'm glad you're here," she said.
"Me, too. Me, too. I wanted you to know a little about me; specifically, my history with women." She seemed taken aback a bit by this sudden change of topic, but it was something I wanted to lay out before her. "Since I've been dating women, I have always dated women." Boy, did that come out wrong. What else did she think I would date? "I mean," I tried to clarify, "I've never been alone, by myself, without a girlfriend. And they have all been pretty long term girlfriends or relationships whatever, each one longer than the one before."
I told her about my first serious crush, Angel Porter. You hear the new girl in school is name Angel and she takes on mythic qualities in the tenth-grade mind. We were both on the school newspaper and took journalism class. After the whole year of being friends and classmates and working together, I made my move. "The last day of class, I slipped a note into her book bag," I chuckled at the memory of it all.
"A note," Annie said in a tone that clearly meant to mock me. "That's very bold, very edgy."
"I've always lived on the edge," I said drolly. "The note said I'd like to see her over he summer, and maybe we could hang out, and I gave her my phone number. I had been home maybe ten minutes when she called.
"Aggressive chick," Annie commented.
"You don't know the half of it. She gets me on the phone and the first thing she says is not 'hello' or 'I got you note.' The first thing she says to me is 'do you want me to be your girlfriend?'"
"Do you want me to be your girlfriend? Are you serious?"
"That's what she asked. I was in shock from the bluntness of the question, but said yes, I guess that's what I meant. So she says that she's my girlfriends and hangs up."
I nodded. "I think it was a first for both of us, you know having a girlfriend or boyfriend." I have having fun with this story. I had not told the tale in too long a time. "So there I was. I was fifteen and I had a girlfriend. But I didn't have her phone number."
"This was the last day of class?" she wondered. I told her she understood the situation. "So what happened?"
"She called me back about two weeks later, demanding to know why I had not called her."
"Typical," Annie put in.
I laughed out loud at that. "So she gave me her phone number and hung up."
"Your first girlfriend was a nut, is that what you are saying?"
"We just got off to a slow start, that's all. I called her right back and asked her out. Our first date was McDonald's."
I felt like defending Angel and me. "Hey, we were young, I was learning. We did have a fun summer and stayed together through most
of eleventh grade. We saw some movies, had some fast food, hung out. It was fun."
"What did she look like?"
"She was a blond with-"
Ahh," Annie said, as if she had figured something out. "No wonder you dated her, she was a hottie."
I chuckled. "Well, she was smart, wore glasses, was not real tall. It was her first year at the school, so she was not real popular."
"What happened to you two?"
"During eleventh grade she grew four inches, got contacts, and became more popular."
"So she dumped you?"
I nodded, resigned to the facts. "Yup, right near the end of the year. For Dominic Piriello, our class president."
She nodded. "But you said you had never been alone. So what happened next?"
"As soon as Angel walked away, literally as she walked away from me, one of her good friends, Michele Catino, walked over to see if Angel had broken up with me. I said 'yes,' she said, 'good,' I said, 'what?' and she said, 'I'll be your girlfriend.'"
"The ladies just throw themselves at you."
I ignored her. "Now Angel was my first girlfriend, but Michele was my first true love. We stayed together the rest of high school and
into our sophomore year at college."
"You went to the same school?" she asked.
I explained that we went to colleges about thirty miles apart, and how I chose my college because it was so close to hers.
"What did she look like?"
I wondered briefly why she was so fixated on this, but answered the question. "She was a little exotic. Her mother was Indian, from the country India. So she had straight long hair and dark eyes and a pretty face. I liked the way she looked."
"What happened with her?"
"At college we developed different interests, I guess. It was hard breaking up with her. We shared a lot of experiences, hopes, and dreams. We had even talked about getting married."
"Really?" She seemed surprised at my attitude as a young dating man.
"Sure. We got along, we loved each other, why not? I was a real geek back then." I was not far from that now. "I was no stud, no male model. If I had a woman who seemed interested in marrying me, why not stay with her and coast off into the sunset?"
She nodded. "So what happened next?"
I was getting ready to tell her about meeting Gwen at college when my cell phone beeped. It took me a second beep to recognize it as mine, I used it so rarely. "Sorry," I said as I pulled it out of my coat pocket. I read the screen and it stopped me in my tracks. "This can't be good."
"What is it?" she whispered. She looked very concerned, and it appeared completely sincere.
"Hospital," I said, then took the call.
"Mr. Norton," the voice rang in my ear. It sounded serious.
"This is he."
"Mr. Norton, there has been an accident. Your wife was driving on the interstate, and there was a collision.
I eyed Annie, dead serious. "Is she okay?"
"We are not certain. You need to get down here as soon as possible."
I disconnected and dropped my head. I had to get down there, contact Nat's school-"
"Your daughter? Is she okay?"
"No," I said, standing. "I mean, it's not Natalie. It's Gwen. There's been an accident. I don't know her condition. I need to go to the hospital."
I threw some money on the table and high-tailed it out of the restaurant.