It was February thirteenth, so there was a nip in the air. I shivered a little as I walked up to the glass doors of that little diner, decorated with paper cupids and red foil heart balloons. After inspecting the decorations, I saw him sitting in a booth by himself. The way he was slouching over his coffee cup told me all I needed to know.
After exchanging greetings and him offering to help me out of my coat, he began his spiel.
"It's just... you needed a friend, and I needed a friend," he said from the other side of the booth, tapping on his almost full coffee cup. After I saw where this was going, I kind of stopped listening. I just kept playing with my spoon, thinking of absolutely nothing at all while looking at him as if he was a stranger. The truth is, he sort of was a stranger. I hadn't known him for that long, and even though I knew what he was studying in school, I don't think I knew nearly enough to consider him a friend. But that didn't stop what happened between us from happening.
Yeah, it could have been easy for me to blame the romantic setting of the beach, or the conversation about our old heartbreaks instead of acting responsible for my actions, which is exactly what he was doing when I started listening again. But I couldn't agree with him. In fact, I could hardly stand to sit there and listen to one bit of his bullshit story about how he realized his heart needed to mend and that what happened was a mistake.
Even though I went into this situation without any expectations, I still knew what I meant by our encounter at the beach. I didn't want to marry the guy tomorrow or anything, but it wasn't like I wouldn't ever consider it. It was still to early to tell. But I knew that I didn't do what I did without thinking, or because I was hurt and needed a "friend." Friends don't have romps on the beach, and friends don't have pseudo-break ups in shitty diners two mornings after.
"I'm so, so sorry," he said in an overly-sympathetic tone that sounded really insincere. "I thought this was what I wanted. And it is what I want, but I know what I should do. And what I should do is be by myself. You know what I mean? I really hope you don't make a big deal out of this, because I think you're a great friend."
The whole time I kept thinking, what is with the gentle let-down this guy is giving me? He's acting like this notice of rejection is going to break my heart into a million pieces. I was dying to say something, but all I could do was turn my cheap earring that was infecting my ear, and nod. And then he started playing with that damn cup of coffee again. We both sat there in silence for what felt like way too long, staring at him tapping on the coffee cup, both of us avoiding eye contact.
This has happened to me so many times before, that I couldn't bring myself to feel anything but anger. Anger at being rejected; anger that he thought he had such a hold on my emotions, and anger at myself for being so wrong about someone again, and for being so hopeful that this time would be different.
What could be so different about this time if it was just like every other time?
Raising my eyes from the coffee cup, and staring straight into his eyes, I said low enough to conceal the trembling in my voice, "Just stop. It's okay." Out of the corner of my eye, I saw one of those heart-shaped foil balloons.
As I grabbed my coat and stood up from the booth, with a small smile on my lips, I managed to speak again, this time to say, "Happy Valentine's day."
Walking through the parking lot, it took all of me not to scream. But I didn't. Instead, I just got into my car, put the key in the ignition, and turned up the radio:
"I had some dreams, they were clouds in my coffee... clouds in my coffee and..."
And with that, I cried all the way home.
I knew when I got the invite over the phone that this wasn't a treat to lunch. It was another speech in another meeting place safe enough to give disappointing news without a scene. I'm a professional listener of the "it was great, but let's be friends" speech. But still, I was trying to feel optimistic, so I got dressed, and hoped this was all in my head.