So, this is what it’s like to be in a relationship, I muse as I walk Claire into the restaurant where I’ve booked us a table for tonight. I didn’t tell her where I was taking her, or even that I wanted to take her out, because it’s supposed to be a surprise. Judging by the look on her face, Claire is definitely surprised.
LaBein is a new but already popular restaurant that’s making its mark on Melbourne fine dining. It’s received rave reviews so far. I was lucky to call for a reservation on the heels of someone’s cancellation. I’m glad I took the initiative to put this look on Claire’s face.
She looks stunning tonight, dressed in a short, cute black dress that pushes her breasts together and shows off her legs.
As the maître d’ shows us to our table, I put my hand on the small of her back and enjoy the feeling of being with the only woman in the room men can’t take their eyes off.
Her smile is wide as the maître d’ pulls out a chair and she sits down.
“Here’s the wine list. Someone will be here to take your drink order shortly.”
“I can’t believe we got in here on a Saturday night,” Claire says, her face lit up with excitement.
“Happy?” I ask.
“How could I not be?”
I’d take her words as a positive sign, but she hasn’t technically answered my question. More worryingly, doubt flickered in her gaze a moment ago, telling me she isn’t quite sure about this.
I hope the evening out isn’t too much for her considering our casual relationship, but I really wanted to do this with her. In the whole time we’ve been together, I’ve never taken her out to dinner. She’s never asked me to – never expected it from me. For some reason, as our time together draws to a close, it’s become more important to me to do just that.
Sitting across from her, the candlelight flickering across her features, a sort of shy smile on her face, I know this is what it would have been like if we’d been dating for real. If I’d ever wanted to settle down, if I’d ever wanted to make a relationship work with a woman and try to build a future with someone, it would be Claire. Months ago, I thought we were too different to ever experience this kind of contentment or compatibility. Even though we’re still different, she’s shown me she can push herself. She can change and grow.
Despite what Claire thinks, she has a little bit of an adrenaline junkie inside her. Every time she’s dug her heels in and refused to do something, she’s only needed the smallest push to give something a try. And everything she’s tried, she’s loved. I am…in awe of her. This side of her is just starting to develop and if I was staying, there’s no doubt I’d want to explore it further.
But I’m not staying.
Misery settling in my gut, I pick up the wine list and peruse it before handing it to Claire. “Want to grab a bottle?”
She grins at me. “Are we getting drunk tonight?”
I shrug. “Why not?”
“It seems funny to get drunk the one night you aren’t working in the bar.”
“I guess you’re right. Are you sure you don’t want me to ask the boss to hire you? I swear you love Brody’s as much as I do.”
“I’ve definitely enjoyed helping you and the guys out.”
Over the past few months, Claire has either hung out at Brody’s with the girls or helped me out. She knows how to make every kind of cocktail there is now. In fact, last week she even invented a couple of her own.
Her smile falls. “I’ll miss it.”
“Well, there’s always a need for Aussie bartenders overseas. You could always take those skills and put them to use in another country.”
She just stares at me. “I couldn’t just go overseas by myself.”
“Why not? Heaps of people do it. But it’s not like you’d have to travel on your own. We could go together.”
My heart is pounding harder than ever as we stare at each other. Did I really just ask Claire to come overseas with me?
“Together? Or together-together?”
“Whatever you wanted.”
She looks down at the table and fiddles with the fork. “I couldn’t.”
I’m stunned by just how disappointed I am by her response, but I’m not done trying to convince her. The more I think about it, the more certain I am that it’s a great idea.
“Think of how much fun you’ve had these past couple of months, Claire. You’ve been doing stuff you said you’d never do – stuff you never thought you could do. You jumped out of a plane. You can do anything you set your mind to – you just have to take the leap.”
She shakes her head. “You know why I’ve been doing all this stuff. I’ve been taking a timeout.”
“Maybe it started out that way, but tell me you haven’t enjoyed every minute of it.”
“Of course I’ve enjoyed it. That’s been the whole point: to enjoy myself.”
“So what? As soon as I’m gone, you’re going to revert back to the version of yourself who is so focused on the end goal that she forgets to have fun along the way?”
“No. I’m going to take what you taught me and apply it to someone who can give me what I want.”
Her words hurt so much, I have to grip the table to cope with the pain piercing my heart and chest. It’s like she’s just ripped me open and poured salt in the wound.
Her expression is full of sorrow as she looks at me. “You’ve shown me so much and I’m grateful. But you know how much it means to me to settle down and have a family.”
“You could do that later.”
“With whom? You? If I come travelling with you now, are you going to come home with me in six months’ time, or a year, marry me and give me the family I want?”
An image of Claire pregnant with my child floats through my mind, followed by the montage of world sights I’ve put together over the years. For the first time in my life, I’m not completely convinced marriage and a family are out of the question. But I can never give her the stability she wants, even if we get married. There is so much I want to do and see. Claire would hate it if I decided to put money aside for travelling and working overseas in whichever country took my fancy. Marriage and a family are commitments that deserve dedication and a sacrifice I’m just not ready for.
Something I might never be ready for in this lifetime.
As much as I like the idea of having Claire in my life forever, or even starting a family, I’m too restless to make it work. Where did restless parents leave Claire? With a hatred of anything that erodes her security. She despises restlessness. She has a vision of her perfect life and her life will be far from perfect with me.
“I didn’t think so.” She reaches out and puts her hand on mine, the sadness in her eyes echoing the absolute despair I feel. “I don’t want to talk about what happens when you’re gone. Please, can we just focus on tonight and try to enjoy this?”
It’s better this way, no matter how much it hurts. I don’t know when I’ll be home next.
I push the image of Claire married and pregnant to someone else out of my head. I wish her all the happiness in the world. She deserves everything she wants. Even if what she wants isn’t me.