BY CHRIS LUCAS
Copyright is held by the author.
FUMBLING FROM his house key to his car key, Richard hardly noticed the snow. Collectively, the white powder absorbed the ambient noise of the cars and pedestrians of the city. On his way to a late lunch with Margot, he gnawed at the idea of a serious relationship. There have been a few times where as soon as he’s committed himself to somebody, there’s soon somebody better he’d rather be with. He decided that by the end of the outing, he’d either fully invest himself, or let Margot go.
He arrived a few minutes before their scheduled time to scope out the other late-lunchers and catch-up with his childhood friend who owned the place. Margot, out of her divine sweetness, chose Richard’s favourite restaurant to eat at, a small English-inspired pub attributing its charm to the inimitable Winston Churchill. The ambiance was rustic, yet modern; busy, yet the chaos was comforting; and, concentrated, while promoting privacy amongst groups. His favourite touch were the green accents of the establishment, especially the pen that came with the check which spilled an evergreen signature.
Margot arrived and she seemed to be very excited. She had bright blonde hair that flowed just below her shoulders and her green eyes were easy to look at. Standing taller than most women, she looked as if she didn’t realize or care that her presence was immediately noticed. Was this lunch designed to celebrate an accomplishment? Richard wouldn’t bring attention to his suspicions, but he counted on some news.
“How’s your day going?” she asked.
“You know it’s been fine. Just trying to see how this week is going to unfold. I have a meeting on Wednesday I have to prepare for.”
This is always how their meals started, brief small talk that later ventured into a deep discussion about something unforeseen. He liked that about Margot. She was a creature of habit just like him. Maybe this is why Richard felt so guilty about potentially distancing himself from her. He would cause a change in her life, not exactly a large one, but one of enough size requiring her to adjust.
They each ordered the American hamburger. Richard always enjoyed the period of time between ordering and having one’s food delivered. There was a level of anticipation that seemed to stimulate the conversation.
“You look good,” Margot said.
“Thanks. You know I hope you would have noticed that I have been working out with Jason,” Richard said with subtle sarcasm, “So how’s your design coming along?”
“I’m almost finished. I went with a theme of transparency and directness. The walls of the house are exposed brick, and my team chose windows that stand tall from the ceiling to the floor,” she said.
“How do you do it?”
She paused. “How do I do what?”
“How do you fully commit yourself to a project knowing full well a more rewarding opportunity could come along?”
“Well,” she answered, “I love what I do. To speak in your language, I don’t try to maximize my return-to-risk ratio every chance I get. I work on things periodically and I can always find something I enjoy and unique in each project. That’s why I love being an interior designer.”
“Sounds much more enjoyable than being in finance.”
The waiter arrived with their food. The warm patties and brioche buns flirted with the noses of anybody within five feet. “Can I also have an iced tea when you get a chance?” Margot requested.
She took a big bite of her burger and caught Richard’s eyes admiring her eagerness to eat. She made a half-smile while biting and held in a subtle laugh.
“Don’t you want to know why I asked you to lunch?” she asked.
“To get a free meal.” Richard joked.
“Haha! No, I have some exciting news. I accepted a commission in Europe that will start in a couple of weeks. The timeline has been fast-tracked because some recently divorced banker is shelling out for his mistress to spite his new ex-wife. I’m happy to accept the premium on expedited services.”
“Wow, that’s quite a pivot. Are you sure you’re ready for that?”
“I mean, I’ve always wanted to go to Europe and my firm just hired a new assistant for me and she’s going to take over all of my domestic projects. I have enjoyed my projects here, but I think this will be a nice change.”
“So, you are maximizing your return-to-risk ratio?”
“I think this is a great opportunity and I’m committed to my work, Richard.”
“What am I going to do here all alone?”
Quick to respond, “Maybe you’ll meet a nice girl that you could settle down with. I’m going to be gone for about a year.”
Richard noticed that her response seemed rehearsed. Has she been just as inwardly apprehensive without him noticing? There’s no way. His inferences on these things were never wrong. He needed her. Furthermore, if things were going to end, he needed to be the one to end them.
“I can come visit you,” he said with an empty undertone as if he knew what this inevitable distance meant.
“I’m going to be busy and the client expects my full attention, but you could try.”
Again, he knew it was over. It had been a good run for the both of them. From meeting at the races a few years back to now, the romance would soon be gone, even though a friendship would always be there. When he met her, she was wearing a white sundress with a beige hat that partially shaded her face. They both placed bets on the same horse to win. Richard calculated the odds and found a bargain while Margot simply picked a random contender on the list. The horse finished second to last, but Richard left feeling like a winner.
His hesitation seemed to have built an inner antagonist. He knew that if he would have acted sooner, he could’ve kept her ashore, or even better, beside him. She was a creature of habit; he could’ve played this perfectly. Not only will he be alone in a matter of weeks, but he’ll also be exiled from her intimacy. He wanted nothing more than to go back to that sunny day at the tracks. He wanted nothing more than to wrap her in a tight embrace and beg her not to leave. He couldn’t though, he couldn’t. Instead, he just sat there and looked into her round eyes. She curled her top lip as she took the first sip of her tea. So uncalculated, so pure. He wanted her.
“Did I kill the mood?” asked Margot.
“No, I just think such sad news shouldn’t be delivered while enjoying such great food.”
“What makes this sad news?”
“I won’t get to see you—”
“—as often,” Margot interjected, fighting off the awkwardness of negativity.
But he knew she was only being polite. She couldn’t purposefully dampen his spirits. There are so are many things he wished he would have done with her. He always wanted to travel with her as partners. He wanted them to jump in the car and drive far away—away from all their problems and new opportunities. But more than anything, he wanted her to be far from what might take her away.
As the two of them wrapped up their meal, there seemed to have been a silent agreement that this would be the last time they would see each other. Richard knew that every so often he would give her a call but, other than that, they’d be separated by the Atlantic. He knew that one day she’d rarely cross his mind and that their excursions would be a fond memory, but he didn’t want her to be a tasteful part of his past, only a savoury addition to his future.
The waiter brought over the ticket and Richard despairingly scribbled his name on it. The green ink bled through the paper and stained that small wooden clipboard it was attached to. Margot stood up, grabbed her jacket, and gave Richard a tight hug. Maybe she felt the same way, Richard thought. He could still ask her to stay and tell her that he loved her, there was still time! But as she pulled away, she smiled at him, a smile full of what-could-have-been’s. And as they walked out the doors and into the cold, he knew that there was nothing more to say.