Her eyes flick up and land on me, with her lashes fluttering, the line of her mouth stretched just enough, and her fingers tipped with pale red nails tuck a loose strand of hair behind her ear.
I stand to greet her, and I’m stunned that I can function. Half of my brain feels excited, and the other half warns me this will taunt me about a life I didn’t choose.
Lena slows down as she approaches me; a nervous smile plays on her soft pink lips. “Hey, have we met?” She pretends to squint her eyes in confusion.
It causes me to grin. “Unfortunately, we have.”
Hug or no hug? This is kind of awkward. I follow her cues, but she is as neutral as the color gray. I hold my arm out to offer a side hug, and we keep it short and loose.
The touch is enough to short-circuit something inside of me, but I choose to ignore it.
After we both land on the comfy lounge chairs, we stare at one another, both in disbelief that we are in front of the real-life versions of one another.
“Lena Gold, it’s good to see you,” I tell her sincerely.
Her soft smile hasn’t faded. “Yeah, kind of unexpected but good nonetheless.”
A barista arrives to take our order. Normally, you need to order at the counter, but they know me here.
“Pumpkin spiced latte?” I suggest to Lena, and my hand comes up like I have a good idea.
Her look turns to concern. “Do you drink pumpkin spiced lattes?” She almost seems petrified.
My face turns puzzled. “Of course not.” Relief floods her face. “I go for the gingerbread coffee.”
Now her eyes go slightly wide, and her mouth parts open, with no words coming out. She shakes her head gently as if she is speaking internally. “Uh, pumpkin spiced latte sounds good.”
The barista smiles in response before she leaves.
Sinking back into the chair, I cross my arms and look at Lena. Damn, she hasn’t changed except her hair is lighter and maybe she’s a little older around the eyes. “When did you start drinking coffee?”
She laughs as she places her sweater to the side. “When I became a mom.”
“Yeah, I hear that a lot from colleagues and my sister.”
“It isn’t a myth, I assure you.”
I hold my hands up. “Don’t worry, I don’t need to be convinced. And what brings you to Hollows?”
She stalls for a second then awkwardly smiles. “Work. I have a new job at Ives & Wells in Chicago, the marketing firm. I’ll be working from home mostly.”
Her eyes seem to be assessing me, from head to toe, actually. “You really are going for the professor look, huh?”
I glance down at myself and see my usual dress shoes, jeans, button-down shirt, and blazer. “This was always my style,” I defend.
She tilts her head to the side. “The stubble is a bit more.”
The barista arrives with our drinks, and we thank her. Lena and I both take hold of our mugs of coffee.
“Will your wife or fiancée meet us later?” she innocently asks as she stirs a spoon in her mug.
I raise my eyes and run my tongue along the inside of my mouth. “Nah, she’s kind of history.”
“Oh.” Lena looks down at her drink and then back to me. “Sorry, I just kind of assumed since I remember seeing something once. Your social media isn’t exactly the source of many clues.”
I smirk because she’s right. “It’s okay, you didn’t know. Tamara and I broke up about a year and half ago.”
“Weren’t you two together for quite a while?”
“Four years, yeah, but she didn’t want to get married in the end, so c’est la vie.” I place my drink on the side table. At that moment, I notice that Lena is missing an accessory that I was expecting on her finger. “You seem to have lost a ring.”
She gulps the small cookie that came with the coffee. “That’s because I did. I got divorced recently.”
My entire body freezes for a second or two as my brain adjusts. I was planning to catch up with Lena, as the guy whose life is gray and her who is very much taken. That expectation now went out the window.