Zayne glanced up at the clock on the wall for what felt like the hundredth time. He tried to ignore the uncomfortable sweatiness of his palms and nervous racing of his heart as he waited. God, I haven’t done this in a long time… He thought to himself. I can’t screw this up.
One of the servers came to check on him, but he waved her off gently. “She’s still on her way.” He explained. “I’ll order when she gets here.”
If she gets here… Zayne added mentally. What if she stood him up?
No sooner had the thought crossed his mind than a familiar figure appeared near the entrance of the cafe. He thought that the sight of her would help to calm his nerves, but her presence seemed to have the opposite effect. His heart continued to race, and he felt his throat go dry. Here we go…
Zayne took a moment or two to appreciate the view as the woman drew closer. The years had been very kind to her — she was even more stunning now than she had been when they first met all those years ago. Damn…
“Hey, Victoria.” He smiled warmly at her. “It’s great to see you.”
He hesitated for a moment. How should he greet her? A handshake? A wave? Nothing? Why does this have to be so hard? He’d hoped the fact that he and Victoria had something of a history — albeit an embarrassing and cringe-worthy one — would make this easier. But, if anything, it just made things even more nerve-wracking.
In the end, he settled on a quick hug.
“Sorry I’m late… Traffic was a nightmare.” Victoria explained as she pulled away from him and took a seat at the table.
“It’s fine. I wasn’t waiting long.” He lied. “Have you ever been here before?”
Victoria shook her head. “I don’t usually get down to this side of the city very much… But I’ve heard some pretty great things.”
“Trust me, they’ve got the best coffee you’ve ever had in your life.”
For the briefest moment, his mind traveled back to a time when he’d told Hope the very same thing, but he quickly chased the thought away.
The waitress returned to take their orders, then left Zayne and Victoria to fall back into their slightly forced small-talk. It was strange — Zayne had known Victoria for nearly half his life now, and yet he felt he knew so little about her. After their humiliating breakup, the two of them had fallen out of touch with each other for a few years. However, their similar career paths in the culinary world had eventually brought the two of them into similar social circles, and they began talking more and more as the years went by.
But before today, their only interaction had taken the form of ‘liking’ or commenting on Facebook posts, or exchanging pleasantries when their paths crossed in person.
This was different.
While he was busy finishing the last of his cannoli, Victoria’s voice finally brought him back to the present.
“Alright, Zayne, this has been really fun and all…” She sighed. “But do you mind telling me what this whole thing is about? If I didn’t know any better, I’d almost think this was supposed to be a date or something.”
A bright burst of laughter escaped Zayne’s lips at her suggestion.
It was true that he’d been trying to open himself up to dating again, ever since Hope had changed her relationship status on Facebook a few weeks ago. Despite how hard he’d worked to move on over the past several months, the thought of her with someone else still broke his heart. He couldn’t help it. And he’d hoped that finally finding someone of his own would help him cope…
But that wasn’t what today was about. Not by a longshot.
“Oh, no… Definitely not.” He shook his head with a slight chuckle, then realized how terrible that must have sounded. “N-no offense or anything! Like I said in my message, I have a proposition for you.” Zayne continued nervously. “A, uh, business one, obviously…” Smooth, Zayne. Jesus. Don’t fuck this up!
She raised an eyebrow at him. “Business proposition, huh?” Her lips curled into a smile. “I’m listening.”
Zayne took a deep breath and began stumbling over the speech he’d prepared.
And, as promised, Victoria listened.
“So… what do you think?” He asked when he’d finished his explanation. “Ten percent investment in exchange for ten percent of the profits… Plus a salary for your work in the kitchen… if… if you want that part, I mean. It’s up to you.” God, I was NOT cut out to be a business man. He almost laughed.
Victoria did not immediately reply. “Hmm… Ten percent sounds like a pretty sweet deal.” She admitted at last. “And so does this kitchen gig… But how much of a say would I get in how we run things?”
Zayne smiled at her question. After what he’d gone through with Denise and Greg, he understood her concern all too well. “I’ll always let you have a say in all our decisions. And I’ll definitely listen to any ideas you might have too.” He promised her. “At the end of the day, I’ll have the final decision.” He admitted. “But I know I can’t do this thing completely on my own… And I don’t need some stuck-up, white collar business guy bossing me around like last time. I need to work with someone who feels at home in the kitchen like I do. Someone who knows about food and cooking… But who loves it too. Someone who really gets it, y’know? That’s what’s going to make this thing work this time around. And that’s why I came to you.”
Victoria’s drive and passion for the culinary arts had always inspired him. In fact, that was a big part of what had drawn Zayne to her in the first place, back when he was still too afraid of a gas stove to even make a grilled cheese.
He filled her in on a few more of his plans — the suppliers he’d been in touch with, the architect he had working on the building design, some of his menu ideas… To his delight, Victoria seemed more and more interested with each word he spoke, and asked a lot of thoughtful and intelligent questions. Maybe this will work out after all…
“Alright.” Victoria said at last as she finished her third cup of coffee. “Consider my interest piqued.” She smiled slightly. “I’m gonna talk this over with my sister, but I’ll be in touch… probably with a ton more questions.” She admitted.
Zayne laughed softly. “Ask away, anytime.” He smiled. “And uh, thanks for coming to talk to me today. I appreciate it.”
“And thank you for the generous offer.” She replied sincerely. “You’ve definitely given me a lot to think about.”
Before he could say anything in reply, Zayne was interrupted by a sudden vibrating in his pocket. He pulled out his phone, glancing down at the screen curiously.
His eyes flicked upward toward the time. Shit. “Sorry… I’ve really gotta run.” Zayne rose to his feet as he spoke, grateful that he’d already paid their bill a few minutes ago. “But thanks again. We’ll be in touch?”
Victoria nodded. “Definitely.”
Zayne gave her one last nod, then headed for the door. Who the hell forgets their own birthday?! He wondered as he stepped out into the bright afternoon sun.
He was supposed to be at his aunt and grandparents’ house in less than an hour for dinner and cake (both of which, despite their protests, he still insisted on making himself), but he’d completely forgotten until he’d seen Hope’s message. He had a feeling that when he finally got around to checking Facebook that evening, a mass of messages from friends and acquaintances would be waiting for him.
He allowed his mind to wander during the long drive to the outskirts of the city, still marveling at how he’d managed to completely forget the date. Things had just been so busy lately… Between meeting with the architect and contractors, contacting suppliers, and fleshing out the menu, preparations for the new restaurant had been consuming Zayne’s every waking moment, it seemed. And any time he wasn’t spending on the restaurant had been taken up by trying to get himself back in the dating scene… Something Dom and Remi had taken great pleasure in trying to help him with.
Zayne was grateful that wasn’t something he had to worry about that evening. A little family get-together for his birthday, he could handle. But another date with some airhead Dom set him up with? Yeah, no thanks.
As he headed up the steps of his grandparents’ home, Zayne finally felt the fact that he was now thirty years old beginning to sink-in. He could still recall a time when “thirty” sounded so old. But now that he was actually here… Well, he did feel very different than he had back in his twenties. But that was through his own conscious effort. Years of trying to better himself, and finally let go of all the things that had once held him back.
It had been more than six months now since he’d parted ways with Greg. And just as long since he and Hope had decided to stop waiting for each other too. There were still moments where he found himself doubting both decisions, but his meeting with Victoria had helped him feel more confident that he was on the right track. After all he’d gone through, everything was finally coming together for him… For real this time. He could feel it.
His twenties had been such a rollercoaster ride… But with how well everything had been going for him lately, turning thirty finally felt like a chance for a fresh start. A better start. A new beginning.