The man paid his tab, leaving a wrinkled five-dollar bill in the tip jar, and left. A good meal, it was. Not food fit for kings, but easy on the purse and the waistline. It'd been a while since he'd had a nice cup of java and cheap seafood risotto, and the waitresses were certainly easy on the eyes. He would have to visit that restaurant again sometime.
Poor girl. Must have taken her a lot to approach him like that. Unless it was a dare, which it almost certainly was, in which case he had no sympathy for her. Still, he could not help but see in her timid eyes a little boy pining over a little girl, many years ago...
He adjusted his glasses. It had been ages since he had last thought about Sheila. Eleven years, in fact. Had it really been so long?
Sheila. Melissa. Lily. Eileen. So many women whose hearts he had broken, and who had broken his. Or so he had thought. After Sheila he had thought that the heart was a fragile thing, a glass jewel that could be broken once and would never recover. He had been so naive. Unfortunate, he had thought he was, since the feelings were never mutual. It had taken him so long to learn that it was better this way. Better to have never been together than to be stuck for the rest of eternity with someone he could only love for a while. Better to have never loved at all than to have loved and lost. It had all been so shallow, so meaningless. True love. So young, so naive, he had been, to use those two words so easily. A frog thinks a well is deep until he has seen the ocean, but put him in the ocean and he drowns.
His lean, lanky body cast long shadows over the sidewalk as it passed through the warm glow of an Italian restaurant. Looked like a nice place. Nice comfy chairs, tasteful decor, cheap spaghetti on Thursdays. He would eat there next week. Places like those usually had bad food and tiny portions, but this one had the Feeling. The all-important Feeling.
The man didn't know why the Feeling was so important to him. Maybe it was because he was single? Nah, that couldn't be it. He liked being single--the privilege of sharing Mondays with an ice cold Heineken and ESPN was worth more to him than any woman. So why did he go to all these nice little restaurants and coffeehouses by himself? Why did he spend hours on the roof, staring at the stars, and wondering why they were so far away? He had wit and charm and a quirky sense of humor that everyone admired, and he was always around people. So why did he feel so alone?
He continued down the street, whistling "Superman" by Five for Fighting. Cars whooshed past him, pairs of headlights splashing through the darkness and just as suddenly leaving it still. Surely he had better things to do on a warm summer night than worry about his love life. He was getting too old for this. More important to him were his career, his ailing mother, his stocks, his taxes, his weight...
None of those things really mattered to him, but they were what his father worried about, so he might as well play the part.
The little girl at the cafe floated back into his memory. He wondered what it would be like to have a daughter. Would she see him like he had seen his own father, a pillar of strength, the paragon of maturity? Would she, too, be fooled by his veneer of sophistication, or would she see the listless, directionless, apathetic man he had become?
He hoped she wouldn't mind that the number he had given the girl was not his. His nephew Matt would appreciate it, though; he was a good boy, and not hard on the eyes, either. A bit misguided, but he'd take good care of her, should she accept him. Matt had always wanted a girl who had courage.
She had Sheila's eyes...
The man shook his head. Disgusting. It was just like that movie Lolita, that awful, awful movie. Nothing like that would ever be welcome in his life.
His footsteps faded into the distance.