Fantasies of a dramatic reunion melted away as they stood frozen at the sight of one another. The stillness belied their racing minds as they wondered what to do. An embrace might be presumptuous. A cold handshake seemed equally wrong.
He spoke first and breached the awkwardness between them. Although she felt a rush of infatuation as he spoke her name, she did nothing to give herself away. He leaned toward her, and they managed a stiff hug and polite pecks on both cheeks.
Looking to put their clumsy start behind them, they waded into the preliminaries. How nice it was to see one another… How well they looked… How long ago she moved to Paris… The assignment that brought him back… Aided by wine, they gradually became more comfortable, and for the rest of that evening, they journeyed back through the last eight years of their lives.
Trading stories about universities, jobs, moves, romances, travels, families, highs, and lows, they never noticed the parties of friends and lovers that came and went at the tables around them. Their server knew it was safe to ignore them after he brought their second bottle of wine.
As they talked, each made a conscious effort not to get caught staring. They studied each other secretly.
Her hair, darker and shorter. Her face, still exquisite. Her hands, still so small and delicate…
From cute to handsome. Not as shy, now more poised. That smile, still boyish…
It was risky to be so preoccupied. One nonsensical response or question could amount to a tacit confession: I’m sorry, I wasn’t listening. I was too busy adoring everything about you.
By the time they noticed that chairs were stacked on the tables around them, the only question left unasked was the one that mattered most. Not daring enough to venture down that road, they were relieved that it was time to go.
Outside the cafe a taxi pulled up quickly, and the driver’s gaze made them self-conscious. Robbed of their private moment, they hurriedly exchanged polite kisses on both cheeks and said goodnight.
As she sat alone in the back seat of the taxi that he watched drive away, they both felt a familiar twinge of heartache. But there were no tears this time, just thoughts of the red padlock on Pont d’Arcole and the promise they made that day.
©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2016.