“Zayne?” Hope’s soft voice called out over the murmur of the other diners and scraping of their forks on their plates.
Zayne looked up from the game he’d been playing on his phone, smiling as she drew closer and took a seat beside him. A warmth washed over him at the sight of her beautiful face. He hadn’t seen her in person since the night of his birthday. That was already over a month ago.
“Hey.” He smiled. “I’m really glad you came.”
“Of course. I was just a little surprised when you told me where you wanted to have lunch…” Hope took a moment to look around at the near-empty dining room. “But I was happy you called.”
“Guess I was just feeling nostalgic.” Zayne shrugged.
The Bistro had barely changed since he’d first been hired as a dishwasher there all those years ago… In appearance, at least. But none of the staff members Zayne knew were still around. The manager who’d hired him retired a few years ago, and last year, so did Denise. He’d sent her a card and some flowers when he found out. Despite their differences, she taught him a hell of a lot about cooking, and how to run a kitchen. He wouldn’t be where he was today without her. Part of him wished he’d recognized it sooner.
“It really is a blast from the past, huh?” Hope’s voice called him back to the present. “You worked here for such a long time.”
“I did… But that’s not exactly what I was talking about.” Zayne lifted his arm and pointed across the dining room before speaking again. “Look at that table over there… That’s where it happened. Remember?” Zayne smiled warmly as he spoke.
“Of course! How could I forget?” Hope laughed. “I remember it like it was yesterday… My first ever visit to Windenburg, and my mom was embarrassing the hell out of me in front of the cute dishwasher. That’s the kind of thing that scars you for life.” She teased.
“Well, the cute dishwasher thought it was pretty damn funny.” Zayne replied. “And… He also thought you were the most beautiful girl in the entire world.”
He watched as Hope’s cheeks reddened slightly. “You know, that cute dishwasher was the first boy I ever had a crush on.”
Zayne’s lips stretched into a soft smile. “And you were the first girl that cute dishwasher ever loved. The only girl.”
“He’s the only guy I ever loved too.” Hope’s voice was barely above a whisper.
“Here you are! One order of garlic noodles, and one lobster tortellini.”
Both of them nearly jumped at the sound of the waitress’ perky voice. She placed the plates in front of each of them before practically skipping back toward the kitchen.
“That was… unexpected.” Hope muttered, amused.
“Oh yeah.” Zayne almost laughed at the waitress’ poor timing. “I forgot to mention I ordered for you…”
“My favorite.” Hope smiled, looking down at her plate of tortellini. “Good call!”
“I figured it was a safe bet.” He replied as he took a tentative bite of his noodles. They weren’t all that bad, but they were so much blander than he remembered them being when he made them.
Across the table, Hope seemed similarly dissatisfied with her own meal. “I’ve been spoiled on yours for too long.” She laughed. “This is… okay. But it doesn’t even come close to what you make.”
“I had a feeling that might be the case… Next time, remind me to invite you to LuzLicht instead.”
“Oh, I will.” She assured him as she took another bite of her mediocre meal.
Neither of them said anything for a few moments after that, until Hope broke the silence at last. “Zayne… I know you didn’t invite me here just to trash-talk the bistro’s new chef.”
He couldn’t help but laugh. “True.” He admitted. “You caught me.”
“So… What’s going on?”
Zayne placed his fork back on the table and took a deep breath. It was finally time to stop beating around the bush, wasn’t it? “I wanted to talk to you.” He confessed. “About something I’ve been thinking about ever since I broke up with Abigail.”
The woman across from him suddenly seemed so terrified and excited all at once. But she said nothing, so he continued.
“I meant what I said before, about you being the only girl I’ve ever loved. And I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what we talked about last year… About waiting until the timing’s right to try again?”
“I’ve been thinking about that too.” Hope replied softly.
Zayne’s heart pounded nervously in his chest. “It just feels like… Like something always brings me back to you. And I guess maybe instead of trying to run from it this time… Maybe it’s time to embrace it?”
Her relief was apparent on her face. “I was hoping you’d say that.” Hope smiled gently at him. “When I came back to Windenburg, I was feeling so lost. I just wanted to be somewhere safe and familiar, I guess. Home. But once I got here, I realized that it wasn’t this city that was home to me, Zayne. It was you.”
Her words made his heart flutter in his chest. “I was so happy you came back… Even if it complicated things a little.” He admitted.
“Or a lot.” Hope almost smiled for a moment, but it vanished almost immediately. “I’m really sorry for ruining things between you and Abigail.” Despite everything, it truly sounded like she meant it. And Zayne believed that she did.
“You didn’t.” He assured her. “Honestly, I didn’t end things with her because of you. Not completely, anyway.” Zayne hoped learning the truth wouldn’t offend her. He studied Hope’s face for a moment, but she appeared unfazed.
“Abigail and I were just too different, I think.” Zayne continued. “It wasn’t fair to me or her for us to stay together. But I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about things ever since I broke up with her. ‘Re-evaluating’, as Dr. Hall would say.” He paused. “It never would have worked out for me and Abs… But I think maybe it’s finally time for things to work out with you.”
Hope did not immediately reply.”Well, I’m really sorry things had to end like that.” She said seriously. “But I’m so happy you want to try again… We just really have to figure out how to do things right this time around. We can’t mess it up again. We can’t lose each other like last time.”
“I know.” He agreed. “Remember what you said about perspective though? I mean this whole thing with Abigail… It hurt so much. For both of us.” Zayne said sadly.
He’d spent most of the last month mourning his relationship with Abigail and working up the courage to move forward. But the pain still lingered a bit. For a moment, he couldn’t help but remember the look on Abigail’s beautiful face when he’d broken her heart. He did his best to chase the thought away.
“I guess it helps me appreciate how you must have felt back when I was fucking everything up.” Zayne continued. “And how hard it was for you to decide to end things.”
Hope nodded. “And it was my turn to be jealous this time around, I guess.” She admitted. “I was so petty and immature and… not myself. I want to apologize for how I acted. It was so childish. It wasn’t fair to you or Abigail. And it was so hard to get it under control. I guess it made me understand how hard it must have been for you back then too.”
Zayne tried to hide his surprise. He hadn’t realized just how deep Hope’s jealousy over Abigail had gone. “Yeah.” He said at last. “This whole thing really sucked for everybody… But I guess it kinda helped us understand each other in a weird way.”
“I think it did.” She agreed.
Zayne was silent for a few moments before speaking again. “So do you think we can do it? Start over? Like, seriously start over. No moving in with each other or sleeping together or anything like that yet. Not for a little while, at least. Just… dating a little. Reconnecting. Seeing where things go?” Zayne eyed her nervously, waiting for her reaction.
To his relief, Hope nodded seriously. “I was thinking the same thing, to be honest. I’m all for taking it slow this time… As long as we’re in this together.”
Zayne smiled. “Together… I like the sound of that.” That was how it was always meant to be, wasn’t it? From the moment they met. Maybe part of him had always known it, deep down. “I guess… it was always kinda inevitable, wasn’t it?” He continued softly. “You and me, I mean.”
Hope nodded, smiling, then glanced down at her plate of lobster tortellini for a moment. A bright burst of laughter passed her lips as she did so. “This is perfect… You’re my lobster.” She said at last.
Zayne raised an eyebrow at her. “Your what?”
“You know. Ross and Rachel? From Friends?”
He simply shrugged.
She laughed again. “Ever since Fangs ended, I’ve been watching lots of old Friends reruns.” Hope explained. “And there’s an episode where one of the characters claims that lobsters mate for life… And she tells her friend Ross that Rachel is his ‘lobster’.” She smiled warmly at him. “The one he’ll always go back to, no matter what. The person he’s meant to be with forever, y’know? His soulmate.”
Zayne couldn’t help but chuckle at her explanation. It was so bizarre… but he loved it. “So… I’m your lobster, then?”
“And… you’re my lobster too?”
“I hope so.” She replied softly.
“Sounds perfect to me.” His lips curled into a smile. “As long as neither of us ends up in a plate of tortellini…”