© 1992-2000 Michael R. Vickery

The rain was relentless. Down it poured from the sky with increasing malice, forcing pedestrians and drivers alike to seek refuge from its torrent. To step outside for a moment was to get soaked. To walk through it for a short distance would get you chilled to the bone. You had to be crazy, or in love, to risk the streets at a time like this.

He was neither crazy, nor in love. He was firmly convinced of this. The fact that he had taken a cab during the rain did nothing to sway his conviction. He was neither crazy nor in love; he had a mission.

He sipped his water, which was two-thirds empty. Funny, he thought. People always talk about if you call the glass half empty or half full. But it doesn't change the glass, does it? The volume of water stays the same, no matter how we look at it.

His musings were interrupted by a brisk and efficient waiter. In a heartbeat, his glass was filled almost to overflowing, but not quite. "Would you care to order now, sir?" The waiter's tone implied he considered it a capital crime to consider otherwise.

He glanced at his watch, which told him it was five minutes later than the last time he checked. "No thanks," he replied with an embarrassed smile. "I'll wait a little longer, if that's okay."

The waiter's demeanor indicated it wasn't okay, but he turned and stalked away.

He realized she probably wasn't coming. She was already half an hour late, and she was never late. Maybe it was the rain, or maybe she knew. Maybe her fabled "woman's intuition" was telling her why he invited her to dinner, and she was staying away. Maybe that was just as well; telling her over the phone would be much easier. No, it couldn't be that way. He had to face her one on one, not through an anonymous medium. He felt very strongly about this.

The rain continued to pour outside, and there was a brief squeal of brakes as someone made an emergency stop. Everyone in the restaurant paused and hushed, hoping for the dreaded moment. The silence was broken by the cessation of noise from the car, then a long, angry honk from the driver's horn. The diners in the restaurant seemed to give a collective sigh, and the prevailing mood was of disappointment.

He took a long swallow from his water, and put it down again angrily. We call ourselves civilized, and yet we seek death and destruction instead of peace and security. We're not civilized at all, we're just better dressed. He looked at his watch again, which still affirmed that she was late. Maybe it's best that we fight wars and kill ourselves off. Maybe one of these days we'll even fight The Big One and do it right: eradicate ourselves from the planet. We're all self-important blobs of flesh, too wrapped up in our silly greed and emotions to appreciate anyone or anything else around us.

He gave a low sigh which might have been a moan, and leaned back to look around. The restaurant was dimly lit, and the gloomy light from the window did nothing for the decor. Somber paintings of ships at sea fighting the elements stood side by side with exotic sculptures whose origins he could only guess. A woman's laugh made him start and crane his head around, anxious to know if he missed her entrance. No, the voice was coming from the other end of the room. The clink of glasses and rattle of plates echoed in his ears above the dull beat of the rain outside.

It's better this way; it really is. He snuck a look at the well-dressed people who surrounded him. Maybe I should have asked for a table near the wall. She won't like what's going to be said, and we'd both feel better if we weren't in the center of everything. I can't put it off, though. It needs to be done, and there's no denying it.

His eyes dropped to his lap, and he became aware of his unsightly paunch. Suddenly self-conscious about it, he sucked in his gut. He always meant to get rid of it and take better care of himself, but somehow it always managed to not get done. Unlike her, of course, who always took good care of her body. She was almost amazing that way; she wasn't fanatical about exercise, but she was always consistent and efficient with keeping herself in shape. He had tried to join her for a while, but eventually got discouraged when he couldn't match her. She warned him that he wasn't supposed to keep up at first, but he quit anyway. His failure made him feel embarrassed and inferior. She never held a grudge about it or teased him about it. He was always reminded when he held her in his arms, or as they lay in bed together...

He stopped himself abruptly when he felt a twinge of anxiety make his chest tighten. It has to be this way, he told himself. It's for our own good. It was coming sooner or later, and it's best to do it now and not prolong the pain.

The waiter appeared to ask him if he was ready. The man was unfailingly polite, but his manner suggested that if no order were forthcoming, the table might be better used by a paying customer. After all, this was an expensive restaurant, not a bus stop.

"Sorry," he said sheepishly, looking at his watch again. "I'll just wait another ten minutes. If she isn't here by then, I'll go ahead and order."

The waiter nodded sternly. "Very good, sir."

He twisted the glass around in his hand, tracing the etched patterns with his fingers. He wanted a stronger drink, but he stubbornly refused to give in. There would be plenty of time after dinner to get roaring drunk, and he probably would after the the meanwhile, there was no reason to insult her by being drunk while they talked. She deserved better than that.

Again, he switched gears in his mind as he felt his heart lurch. He couldn't deny that he still cared about her, even if the love between them was gone. He was sure of that. She had her life and he had his; there was no time or place for love. Now she had that guy she was constantly talking about, the nice engineer with the mustache. He had no doubt that she preferred to be with him, and so he supposed the evening would work out better than he thought. A clean break, a few tears, and they could part as friends so she could pursue the guy she really wanted. A happy ending for everyone, right?

He was suddenly aware of pressure building in his bladder. He had drunk too much water while he waited, and his body was reminding him of it. He stood up and made his way to the lavatory.

God, this waiting is killing me. He stepped up to the urinal and waited for his body to do what it needed to. A moment later, he began to feel much better. This whole thing is difficult. I hope I can go through with it. Of course I can. The right thing to do is always the hardest thing to do, so I know I'm doing the right thing. There's no doubt about it.

He went to the sink and washed his hands. The soap was both slick and grainy, and he shuddered at how it felt on his hands. He finished quickly and dried himself with a wall dryer.

Immediately outside the door, he collided with a small woman who had been standing nearby with her back to him. He grasped her shoulders by reflex and managed to prevent the both of them from crashing to the floor. "I'm very sorry," he managed to say as he found his feet. "I should have watched where I was..."

The woman threw her arms around his neck and held him tight. "My god, you're still here! I couldn't get a cab in this weather, and when I came in I thought you had already left." Her body was small, lithe and chilled to the bone. Her soaking clothes made wet stains on his good suit. Her hair, though wet and cold, smelled pleasantly of the shampoo she always used.

He put his arms around her, feeling his heart, and his conviction, melt.

"I missed you," he whispered.