You're out with a group of friends one night and walk into your favorite bar. Everyone is having a magnificent time, pouring back beers, shouting jokes, and retelling outrageous stories of youthful indiscretions. Someone orders a round of tequila; and even though you swore off the agave beast years ago, you're so caught up in the revelry of the evening you down the ounce-and-a-half of Dulce Vida just like your old braver self.
"Arriba, abajo, al centro, y pa' dentro!"
After returning the glasses to the bar, two of your friends excuse themselves to the restroom to alleviate alcohol-accelerated bladder cycles while you order more beers for everyone. The bartender returns with a half-dozen cheap lagers and you hand over the due remittance, making sure to include the proper gratuity. But just as you begin to disperse the drinks to the thirsty heathens behind you, a familiar face in the back of the bar grabs your attention. At first, you think you're fooling yourself. "It couldn't possibly be," you think. "She moved." You steal quick glances, trying to conceal your staring from both the girl and your friends from whom you divided your attention. The hair was the same, if a slightly different cut. Different jacket, but it looked like something she would wear. With each successive glance, you gain more and more reconnaissance, and become increasingly positive it's her. The excited hand gestures, the way she squinted her eyes and bounced on her toes when laughed. There's now no doubt it your mind. Your stomach just drops.
* * *
You dated for six years -- nearly your entire adult lives. You both were young, but it seemed undeniable from the very beginning. She wasn't the first girl you noticed the summer night when you met -- everybody in the room seemed to overlook her too -- but you knew she was the one the moment your eyes met. From that day on, you did nearly everything together. You enjoyed the same music and movies, traveled together, hung out with each other's friends, met each other's parents. Never could you imagine meeting somebody so wonderful and you were grateful everyday that your lives converged.
But when it became time to consider a long-term commitment everything changed.
First, she took a six-week trip to Russia with her sister. You were happy she had the opportunity to explore the world and overjoyed when she finally returned. But when you asked her about the sights in Moscow or St. Petersburg, she just shrugged and refused to talk about it. Then she started buying expensive clothes and pointing out luxury cars and designer bags whenever you walked by. At her favorite restaurant on her birthday, she complained about how you never took her anywhere nice. For months, you tried anything you could to make her happy again, but nothing seemed to work. How could this person you loved so dearly become so unsatisfied with every aspect of your relationship?
Then you heard she had been hanging out late at night with a guy from Calgary and your heart leaped into your throat. Desperate for any solution to win her back, you blew your entire savings on a ring, drove her to the highest mountain, and proposed on one knee. She said yes, but with a reluctance that made you feel even worse than before. She had moved on and didn't know how to tell you.
Soon after, she left for New York without saying a word.
* * *
Ten minutes and two tequila shots later, she notices you too. She excuses herself from her friends and starts walking your direction. You do the same, unsure what's about to transpire.
"Hey," you reply, putting on your best poker face. The euphoria of the first six years flood your thoughts, as well as the sadness of the past year apart. She looks beautiful and it takes all your strength to keep from throwing your arms around her and professing your undying love, yet you also can't shake the feelings of confusion and rejection that have kept you up at night since she left.
"How have you been?"
"Good. What are you doing back in town?" you say, still surprised you've managed to maintain your composure.
"I'm here for work. Those are all my co-workers over there," she says, pointing toward the group she walked over from. There was a young redhead and a bigger girl you now think you recognize too. She had snuck in a burrito purchased from a street vendor outside and was taking large bites in between drinks.
"Oh, cool. Sounds like everything's going good then?"
"Yeah, they are," she said without an ounce of deceit or spite. She truly did look happy, and you could hear it in her voice. She sounded just like she did in the early years, nothing like she did before she left. Your heart still hurts, but it really was great to see her this way again -- even if it had nothing to do with you. Despite all the misery she had caused, you never wanted anything but the best for her. And maybe it will be better this way. What if you were limiting yourself before? And what if you were holding her back? Keeping her from living her dreams and being as happy as possible? Is it not best if you both come out ahead?
Just then, your phone buzzes. It's a tall brunette you've been seeing and her roommate -- both new in town and a lot of fun. They want to meet up before last call and there's only about half an hour before the bars shut down for the night. You look up at your former flame, at first with a slight grimace, but then a sigh of relief and a smile.
"Hey, I've got to get going. It was good to see you."
She smiles back. "Yeah, it was good to see you too."