The coffee was already cold by the time I took a sip. We sat on opposite ends of the table, not looking in the other's direction. I knew she wouldn't take this well. Neither of us wanted to break the silent tension that grew between us. That'd make this real. I set my generic coffee mug down on the cafe's table. Sarah had questioned why I was treating her to such an expensive restaurant, but I had brushed her off. I've done that a lot, recently. I knew that I'd have to let her know eventually but every time I had gone to tell her something came up. All the excuses, the cagey responses were a pointless struggle against the inevitable.
"There's phones. The internet. We could always talk there," Even as I said it, I knew that neither of us would be able to keep up with that, "We can figure something out."
"Yeah! Of course," Sarah leaned her elbow against the table and rested her head in her palm, "Why Australia?"
"I just need a new start," I picked up my mug and cautiously took another sip before I continued to speak, "And where else could I wake up every day fearing for my life?"
"Detroit?" She offered me a nervous laugh but I saw the annoyance flash in her eyes, "You could get a new start in another town. Hell, even another state would do!"
I winced. Sarah only pleaded when she was desperate.
"That's not good enough, Sare," I lean back in the plastic booth that the cafe provided and closed your eyes, taking in the smell of freshly burnt bacon and brewed coffee.
"Why not?" I rubbed my eyes as if I was tired after she asked, but really I was trying to hide my frown that threatened to ruin this dinner.
"Because there's too much baggage here, you know that. Better than most," I scooted back towards the table and finally went to meet her gaze, only to find her hazel eyes locked onto my drink. The bitter beverage refelected her eyebrows pointed downwards and lips set tightly together. Once she didn't give a response, I offered a slight smile, "We can order something to eat, if you'd like."
"I guess," Sarah chewed on a hangnail on her thumb and averted her gaze from anything to do with me.
"Don't be like that," I went to take her free hand but she slid it away and took a deep breath.
"What are we doing here, Fred?"
"Dinner," I mutter and slump forward a bit, "At least, that's what I wanted."
"When do you leave?" It was then that she looked directly back at me.
"Oh," The floor had become the most interesting thing for her to look at again.
"Do you want your check?" A waitress walked over and broke us both out of our heads.
"No, not yet," Sarah piped up, "Could we... get some menus?"
"Right away, ma'am." The waitress, whose name I had already forgotten, strutted off to gather what we would need.
Once again we sat, not a word spoken between us. This time it felt more oppressive. I looked out the window we were sat next to and watched as a single car jettisoned down the rural dirt road, knowing I would miss all of this but my choice had already been made.
"Here you are!" The waitress' smile never faded but I could tell she wanted us to order as fast as possible so she didn't have to stand there. It only took a moment for both Sarah and I to decide what we wanted.
"Just the specialty salad, thank you," Sarah almost whispered.
"I'll take the 'Texan' burger, if that's okay," I give a reassuring smile at the hostess, then turn your attention back to Sarah, "Just like our first time here."
"Oh, yeah," A smile tugged at the edge of her lips, "I didn't notice."
"You were on your break, remember? And I-"
"Don't," She clenched her jaw and looked back at me, "Please."
"Are you going to be okay?" I furrow my brow and lean against the table.
"Yeah. I'll be fine. I think," She sighed and I heard her foot tap against the floor repeatedly, "I think I just need some time,"
"Oh, yeah, of course," My laugh is a touch too loud and I look down at my hands.
"It's not because of me, right?"
"What? No. Why would you even think that?" The surprise in my voice seemed to have startled her a little and she edges towards the end of the booth's bench.
"I don't know," She spoke barely audible to me.
"My decision has nothing to do with you," I knew that was harsh. She was the only reason I hesitated at all.
"Okay then," She laughed and I swear I saw tears brim in her eyes but she turned to look out the window for a moment and when she looked back after a few shaky breaths they were gone.
"You have any luck finding a job?" I pried a bit, having not wanted the entire night to be this tense.
"Yeah, actually. I was going to tell you tonight," She took a moment and a deep breath again, "The animal shelter got back to me, finally. Looks like I'm gonna be a vet!"
Her smile was forced and I bit my lip as the smell of my burger wafted over. Her salad consisted of tomatoes, lettuce, ranch, and croutons. My burger had tomatoes, mayo, ketchup, lettuce, pickles, and shredded onions. I hadn't seen the waitress come nor did I watch her leave.
"When do you start?" My burger remained untouched as my coffee had when we first arrived.
"Next monday," she picked up her fork and poked at her salad, moving pieces around but she never took a bite.
"You should tell me all about it," I looked up at her and hoped there'd be some kind of hint that she had finally accepted the situation, "I don't start my job over there until next month so I'd have plenty of free time."
"I'll think about it," Sarah set her fork down and her shoulders slumped like mine.
"What else is new with you?" I was grasping desperately for any conversation to latch on to.
"Nothing," She had definitely won the staring match with the salad.
"Oh, come on," I offered a weak smile, "There has to be something."
"Other than this dinner and that job, nothing in my life has changed," Her icy words froze the conversation once again.
"I'm sorry," I mumbled.
"I know," Sarah sighed and looked at me again, "...I know."
"I love you, Sarah," We both locked eyes for the second time that night.
"I love you too, Fred," She returned my smile only then as she stood, "But I really should go. I.. have plans."
"Oh! Yeah, of course," I sputtered, knowing that this originally was meant to be a late night dinner, "I don't want to keep you here."
Sarah was about to flag down the waitress when you spoke up again, "No, I got it. You can go, Sare."
For a long moment, she stood there before she walked to the door and glanced back.
I couldn't respond until she was already gone and I placed a few hundreds on the table, not wanting to stick around for the bill.
I'd rather have the burger!
Oh damn, I switched POVs for two sentences. RIP.