“For two?” the waiter said, reaching for a stack of menus before hearing a response.
“Yes. Thanks,” J said.
“This way please.”
They followed the waiter as he made his way across the restaurant to a table sitting against the far wall. J and her companion sat down, smiling their thanks at the waiter, who disappeared behind them into the kitchen, moving rapidly.
“This is a big place,” her companion said, looking around the room.
“Hm,” J said, intent on the menu.
When she finally glanced up she saw her companion was correct. The restaurant was L-shaped and they sat near the junction of the two parts of the letter. The top part of the L, which extended from the entrance to the kitchen behind them, had more than twenty tables easily, she guessed, set in four precise rows. The other end of the L was longer and had even more tables. Maybe a third of those tables were filled now, a low murmur of conversation reaching their ears.
“What are you thinking?” her companion said, flipping through the menu. “Dim sum? And maybe some noodles?”
J did not reply. In her study of the room, she had set her eyes upon a group at a table two rows across from them. She hadn’t noticed them when they first entered the restaurant—for which she was now cursing herself—and now that she had, she found herself unable to stop looking. At last she forced herself to turn away—before they noticed, and before her companion did as well.
“That sounds good,” she said. “What dumplings do you want? I’d like the pork and dill.”
The conversation went back and forth ,as they debated what to get, until the waiter came back, bringing them water and taking down their order. All the while J agonized about the table across the room and the people at it, specifically the one person who she had never expected to see again. Not after their last meeting. All she wanted to do was forget about the waiter, her companion and their supper and watch the woman as she ate hers.
That or leave now. Leave now and find another restaurant. Another life. It was too late for all that, though.
“Everything alright?” her companion said.
“Just distracted,” J said, with a shake of her head and smile.
The time until their food arrived passed in an anguished blur. It was all J could do not to look over again at the table, to confirm that D was still there. To see if D had noticed her. Her companion was saying things and J was replying, but she heard none of the words that were spoken. Her thoughts were on that table across the room.
Why was D here now? What was she doing in this city? Was D here to see her? That was impossible, J knew. And yet.
The first two baskets of dim sum arrived and she took a tentative bite of one of the dumplings, using the motion to glance over at the table. D had her back to their side of the room, but J felt certain—though she could not have said why—that she had just finished turning around. J ate another dumpling, feeling ill.
“These are great,” her companion said.
More dumpling arrived and the noodles. J tried them all, the chopsticks trembling in her hands. She caught her companion looking at her and attempted a smile. A flash of motion from the corner of her eye drew her attention and she turned in time to see D walking toward the bathroom. J was up and walking after her before she could even think about what she was doing.
As she came to the bathroom door, she paused, her whole body telling her to go back, to walk out of this place and never return. She ignored it and pushed through the door. D was leaning against the sink, facing the door, something like amusement on her face.
“You saw me.” J managed to find the words, and felt immediately foolish.
“The moment you walked in. I always noticed you.” D’s expression did not change.
J’s fingers felt numb. She realized she was clenching and unclenching her hands and forced herself to stop. “Are you here for me?”
“What? Don’t flatter yourself. That was a lifetime ago.” A pause. “For both of us.”
“It was. I know what you’re capable of, though. I know you don’t forgive and you don’t forget.”
“There was nothing to forgive,” D said. “Mostly. And I remember all of it. But like I said, that’s in the past now. I’m here on other matters.”
J frowned. “Why this then? Why bother?”
D laughed. “Two ships passing in the night? You know me better than that. Not my style. Can’t let a moment like this just go.”
“I could,” J said. D did not reply. “What now?”
“Nothing. I just needed to see what you’d become.”
D pronounced it as a judgment and J felt her knees tremble. She could not find the words and D did not give her the chance, brushing past her as she went out the door. J stood absolutely still for a moment, her eyes closed, until she was overcome by convulsions and had to rush for the toilet. She retched into the bowl, coughing and spitting and clutching at the cold porcelain.
How long it was until she gathered herself and rose from the floor to wash her face and return to her seat, J couldn’t say. D and the rest of her group were gone from the restaurant. Her companion looked up, a question on her face. J sat down and looked away over at the empty table.
In A Flash: read a new story every Thursday…
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