He sat on his table nursing his third drink. Heaving a sigh, he shifted on his seat, trying to resist the temptation to look at his watch yet again. He didn’t need to be reminded that she was late. Instead, he looked outside the window at the inky blue sky. The massive silhouette of a tree took over most of the view but the moon peeking through the leaves was oddly reassuring. The night was still, as though in anticipation. Just like him.
He suddenly noticed his pale reflection on the window, and sat up a little straighter. Without even meaning to, he gave himself a once over. Not bad, he mused, not bad at all. While he was no longer the twenty-something who had looked like he belonged to a boy band, age had treated him quite well. The well groomed middle-aged man looking back at him from the window looked self assured, and the wise eyes that pierced his looked like they never lost the twinkle of youth. He took a slow sip of his scotch, savouring the warmth and the honeyed smoothness. His thoughts, as though desperate to seek some direction, homed in to her, and he suddenly realised he was nervous. Get a grip Art, he thought to himself, she’s just Calista.
Like it always did, her mere name transported him to that steamy night club he had first seen her in, twenty five years ago. He smiled to himself. Little did she know that he had asked to meet her today because it was exactly twenty five years ago that he had first seen her. Or maybe she did. He hoped she did. He closed his eyes and saw her in front of him, crystal clear. Svelte and sparkling, sexy and sophisticated; she was the whole package. The longer the night stretched on, the more certain he was that he had to know her better, and something in him had stirred. Some primal instinct in him told him they were meant to be. They had to be. Him, the serial heartbreaker and her, the sassy sweetheart. Calista was a vision, dressed in a denim skirt and a fresh green spaghetti top, and she was the only one he wanted to look at. She was surrounded by a gaggle of girls who paled in front of her in his eyes, and amidst that noise and madness, he tried to sustain the semblance of a conversation. As the drunken night yawned and rolled over into the sober hours of early morning, he walked her to her place. Just as they reached her doorstep, and he had almost given up, she turned to him and asked him, “Would you like to come up for a cup of coffee?” Slightly taken aback, he replied, “Umm, I don’t drink coffee”. And in a priceless moment that would forever sparkle in his memory, she turned to him and said, “Well, neither do I”
Art opened his eyes to find himself smiling. He shook his head and raised a toast to his memories. Art and Calista had been painfully young, and don’t they say there’s no love like young love? It had taken her some time to realise it, but by the time she did, she was already in love. They went on their first date three weeks after that first night, and like the quintessential love story, there was no looking back. They threw themselves into the relationship with reckless abandon, turning a blind eye to everything else. Even to their parents’ displeasure. As their ultimate act of defiance, in a moment of unbridled emotion, they had even made a decision to get married in secret.
“Sir, would you like another drink?”
Art was brought back from his reverie by the waiter’s gentle reminder. He started to say yes, but then looked at his watch and admitted to himself that she wasn’t late; she had stood him up. He raised his glass to show the remnants of his last drink and said, maybe no. He sighed again and stared at the entrance, as though willing her to appear with the sheer power of his overwhelming desire to see her. Twenty five years since he had first seen her, and she still had him as her captive. Gulping the last of his drink in one go, Art motioned to the waiter to get him the check, and stood up to leave. And just like twenty five years ago, just as he had almost given up, she appeared.
He smiled and sat down, and waving the waiter away with a flick, fixed his gaze on her. The years had been gracious to her as well. Dressed in an elegant blue sheath dress that showed off her curves just right, and drops of pearl dangling from her ears, she looked ethereal. She could be a married woman, with her eldest at almost the marriageable age, but to Art, she hadn’t changed a tiny bit. She was his first love, as well as his last. How many men could say that? His heart still skipped a beat as she walked towards him, and he stood up as she reached the table.
“I’m so sorry… It’s just that Charles called me just as…” she started saying hastily but he interrupted her.
“Please… We agreed. I don’t need to know” he said softly, but firmly.
Calista raised her hands as if in surrender, and sat down. Art ordered what he knew to be her favourite drink, and himself gave in to the drunkenness he always felt in her company. They sat in silence for a bit, slipping into the comfort of familiarity, letting it wrap them in its warmth.
“Twenty five years, huh?” Calista said, raising her eyebrows.
“I so hoped you would remember… I mean, it’s not as significant as your wedding anniversary or, you know, Charles’s birthday….” Art let the sentence trail off.
“Hey, we agreed” Calista reminded this time.
He noticed that she kept fiddling with her wedding ring. He reached out for her hand, and holding it tight, looked into her eyes and said, “Tell me… How is it fair, that I get only one evening, and that husband of yours gets all the others?”
Calista smiled, and looked away. She made a motion as if to lock her lips, and tossed the imaginary key behind her. Art let go of her hand.
“We really can’t do this, can we?” He asked.
Calista shook her head.
They ordered a humble dinner, more comfort food than fancy and elaborate, and spent the evening talking about everything and nothing, always skirting around anything of major importance. At the end of dinner, Art asked her if she wanted some coffee.
“You know I don’t drink coffee” she rolled her eyes knowingly and said.
“Neither do I, you see. So tell me, your place or mine?” He asked in return.
“Tell you what” Calista leaned forward to come closer to him, “let’s just get in your car”
Art hurriedly called for the waiter to bring the check and within minutes they were both out of the restaurant, sitting in his car. Calista kicked off her high heels, pulled open the million pins holding her chignon in place, shook her hair loose and said,
“Okay. Now that date night’s over, can we stop pretending not to be married and what not?”
“No no no, you ruined it. It was not supposed to be over until we reached home!” Art frowned.
“Oh please… I mean I know you find it hot, but seriously baby. I’d rather sit at home and watch a movie with you” Calista pouted.
“Baby… We always sit at home watching movies” Art said, as he turned the key in the ignition, “but I meant it when I said sometimes it is fun to be your boyfriend and not your husband”
And because that got her looking daggers at him, he hastily backtracked and added,
“I mean, of course it is amazing to be your husband… How would I know to be anything but? Twenty five solid years, baby. And I still feel like that star struck lover boy. Alright, I call date night officially over. You can now tell me that thing about Charles you have been dying to tell me since you arrived at the restaurant and we can go back to being boring parents”
And so they did. Even as they held hands on their drive home as though they were still teenagers.