It wasn’t exactly the warmest greeting I had ever had. In fact, Lila seemed pretty damn icy when I walked into the NGO at lunchtime. However, she hadn’t told me to leave as soon as I had arrived, so it was already an improvement from the day before.
“What the fuck are you doing here?”
“I thought maybe we could go for lunch,” I offered.
“You just don’t quit, do you?”
I gave her a smile as I shook my head. “Not anymore. Not when it’s important.”
This seemed to shock her for a moment. After a brief pause, Lila got her coat off the back off her chair and came with me out the door, tacitly agreeing to at least talk to me at the café next door.
She seemed to be making more of an effort than at the bar. Even though things were still pretty stilted. Each of us looking for the right thing to say as we sat at a table near the window. As well as trying to avoid the wrong things, it seemed. I still had my secrets I was keeping back, and I was sure she did too. Two years was a long time. One thing I did know was that she wasn’t seeing anyone. She had already said as much.
“Are you seeing anyone?” Lila asked, as though reading my mind.
“No, no one. For a while, actually.”
“Since when?” she asked, sounding concerned. I watched as my ex frowned, clearly trying to hide what she was feeling.
“Since going into rehab. Since you.”
“So, you’re celibate?” she asked, looking skeptical but also pretty damn pleased.
“Two years and counting,” I said, raising my recently arrived mineral water.
I couldn’t help but notice the waitress’s disappointed look. My celibacy was definitely not from a lack of options. I just didn’t need the distraction while I was trying to get clean.
Taken by an impulse, I gently took Lila’s hand from across the table. She jumped, looking startled. Not a good sign.
“I’m really sorry about everything. I-it feels like there’s something wrong without you. Something missing. I really want a second chance.”
“That’s not happening,” Lila said, pulling her hand back.
“Meet me at the library tonight,” she said before leaving.
It was a strange place to meet, and I was pretty confused but not about to sneeze at the chance to see her again. Even if it was only social. Social was good. I could do with social. Anything that didn’t involve her actively hating me was a massive improvement.
Lucky sniffed the sidewalk like a bloodhound tracking a rabbit. I was determined to give him more attention than I had been lately. Not just a couple walks a day like I always did, but I let him take his sweet time and planned to take him to the park that weekend with his favorite toy.
Even though he was two and well full-grown for a dog his size, Lucky could still act like a lot like a puppy. Often, he got mistaken for being a French Bulldog or Pug mix, making him both small and so ugly he went all the way back around to cute.
Lucky finished sniffing and jumped into my arms to be carried back to his palace like a little furry king. He was a benevolent ruler and a good companion, so I didn’t really mind too much.
Getting Lucky fixed up with a doggie feast, I made myself some steak and onions, my belly already starting to growl. I hadn’t eaten since lunch, and even then, it was barely. I was nervous about seeing Lila again at the library and what it might mean. She was giving mixed messages that were harder to decipher than Sartre’s How in the original French, which I had actually tried to read once. I had made it about thirty pages in before my nose started to bleed. To be fair, I was more into media theory, trending towards Marshall McLuhan and Douglas Rushkoff more than the literary set. Though I had also read How to Win Friends and Influence People at least a hundred times. What I really would have liked was a simple guide to basic mind-reading but, alas, no such tome was in existence.
I had given a moment’s thought to a nice tumbler of scotch to go with my steak but thought better of it. It might seem strange why I would still have any alcohol anywhere in the house when I was on the wagon. I suppose I saw it as the proverbial ‘last cigarette’ that I’d heard about former smokers carrying around. Not as a temptation but as a trophy of their will-power. There was a time when they would have smoked it in a heartbeat, but no more! I was in a similar situation, downing a least a bottle of scotch every day, getting to the point that I would barely feel it, my alcohol tolerance achieving God-like status, even though I never really did care for mead. A bit too sweet for my taste.