“I’ll just have a salad,” Hailey said, demurely. The words were rote. They would have escaped her lips in spite of herself; she’d said them so many times in her life. The waiter left. “We need to talk about what exactly?” Her tone altered into something more aggressive as she turned her attention back to Zane, this man she called her husband.
He looked up from his glossy carrots and gave her one of those soul-penetrating gazes she knew so well. How many women found themselves lost in those eyes? Forget Jonathan Taylor Thomas; Zane Davis was made to hang on teenage girl’s walls. Hailey knew she should feel exceedingly lucky to be on the receiving end of such eyes and such perfection. Instead, she just wished her water wasn’t so cold and that she could order something besides a salad. When was the last time she’d had a greasy cheeseburger? She couldn’t even remember.
“You know what. Please. Finish this.” Zane spread his hands as if that was supposed to communicate something to Hailey. “What happened this morning…” He trailed off, and looked at her expectantly. Hailey tried to muster up enough energy to feel resentful, to make herself care more, but even that felt like work. This whole thing was work. Work, work, work.
“Okay. Fine. When we got married,” Hailey stopped for a moment. Took a deep breath. Continued. “When we got married, it was all so fast. So romantic. Love at first sight, and all that. I was so young.”
“So was I,” he pointed out. There was a double meaning to what he said: Zane was actually two years younger than Hailey, a fact they both knew but had always kept hidden, her especially. In L.A. that was as good as a death sentence for a relationship.
“Fine, so were you.” Hailey gritted her teeth. “We were both young. Too young.” She paused, and reached out her manicured hand to his. “I think we made a mistake.”
There. It was out. It was said. That awful line that had been uttered so many times before in so many doomed love affairs. A vow made obsolete by six little words. How was that even possible?
How trite. Trivial. A million things. But not okay: never okay. A grand speech, a soliloquy, a desperate sob, a scream even. But this calm sentence? It hadn’t seemed right in her head when Hailey had rehearsed it, practiced her goodbye, and it seemed even less right now that it was out. Shouldn’t she fight a bit harder? Argue a little more? But no, this was the end. She fought against her instincts to just improvise; just let the words pour out of her. Something deeper, something with more yearning. Something that would let her off the hook and not leave her looking like an ice cold ex-wife, like all those other ice cold ex-wives she knew. But then again, this was the end; the oh-so predictable and established end. Messy and unfinished though it might be, it was done. Besides, there wasn’t time to drag it out anyway. Like a freight train that hit a wall, their story was devastating, painful, and broken into a million pieces. Someone else would have to pick them up; it wouldn’t be her.
Zane reacted as though she had shot him, or run over his puppy. Even though he knew precisely how this dinner was going to end – he had to – he still managed to look shocked and ruined. His very exterior changed, he was suddenly rumpled and boyish and yet still possessing a charm that couldn’t be denied. He went from sexy, leading man to wholesome, wronged boy that every woman would want to take home to their mamas. He was always so on point; even in tragedies his timing was perfect. Hailey was impressed, though she’d seen him do this kind of thing before and had anticipated it; after all, she’d once been someone who had wanted to take him home to her mama, too.
Hailey’s salad arrived. She eyed the carrots with trepidation. The cucumbers looked off. Was she really expected to eat this thing? And was she really thinking of cucumbers at a time like this? She tried again to focus. Had she taken her meds this morning? Maybe that was part of the problem. Her ADD was rearing its head again, and it was always at the worst times, too. She really needed to center herself; she hoped she could fit in a Yoga class later. Maybe after therapy, but before her hair appointment. Zane was talking, and she wasn’t paying attention. She forced herself to focus on him.
“I don’t regret loving you,” Zane said, softly. Their hands were still clasped over the red and white checked tablecloth, and he caressed her fingers. “You’ll always be the girl at the park for me. The way you looked with your hair blowing in the wind, chasing your dog. I’ll always have that.”
Hailey had to smile. Such a silly picture she would have made that day. She could see it through Zane’s eyes for a moment. She didn’t even remember the name of the dog, only that it was some sort of spaniel. Wasn’t it only yesterday? “That was a long time ago.”
“Will you promise to be happy?” he pressed. “For me?”
How silly, Hailey’s thoughts went off the track again. Wouldn’t it make more sense for me to be happy for me? But she nodded, as though she agreed with this sentiment. “I think I can. And you?”
He released her hand and ran his hands through his dark, disheveled hair in a practiced fashion. “What about me? I’ll be happy if I know you are taken care of.”
“You’ll be happy. You’ll be happy with her, I think.” Hailey nodded towards the door of the restaurant. A soggy, bedraggled woman was standing there. Even sopping wet, with her long, blonde hair hanging in her face, she was stunning.
The receptionist at his office.
To be continued…
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