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Tatiana called me early one morning to announce that she and Darren got engaged.

And that she was the one who proposed!

She had been dropping hints for months about wanting to get engaged and she was so convinced that Darren was never going to do it. He’s shy so I knew he probably needed some time and I advised her to wait a little longer but I guess she didn’t want to.

Good thing he said yes though. I was thinking he wasn’t ready to take that step as yet but I suppose he wouldn’t say yes to her if he wasn’t.

I’m really happy for them. Those two are so good together even though they seem like complete opposites. They’re kinda like Michael and me in a way. On the surface, we appear so different but anyone who knows us knows how great we are together even though that list in pretty much non-existent at the moment. Lyra and Tatiana know I’m dating him but they haven’t met him as yet and Lyra keeps pestering me about that.

“So, when am I going to meet this Michael guy you’ve been seeing?” Lyra asked as soon as she bounced into the kitchen.

“Just like that?” The question seemed so random since she never brought it up before.

“Yeah, I’ve been thinking about it and wondering why you never invite him over.”

“We hardly get to see each other as it is unless we happen to work the same shift and once we get off work we don’t want to spend that time hanging out around the house so we go out. Tomorrow night we’re going to have dinner at Chez Llama.”

“Ooh, that fancy place in Willow Creek? How romantic!” She grinned. “I like this guy the more I hear about him. Anyone who can get you out and about gets my seal of approval!”

I laughed. “I’m sure you would like him actually. He’s very outgoing and artistic. Did I tell you he paints?”

“Oh really?”

“Uh-huh. He’s very talented!” I got lost in thought thinking about the last painting he showed me. It was so beautiful. The guy had talent! If only he’d let me put him in contact with an art critic friend of mine. He could totally get Michael his own art gallery showing. But Michael turned down my offer, wanting to take his venture into the art world on his own at his own pace. His self-sufficiency was one of the things I admired the most about him.

Lyra snorted and broke me out of my thoughts. “Look at you girl! You are so in love with him!”

“What? No…no…we’re just dating right now…taking things slow….”

“How slow, exactly?” She asked. “I mean, have you guys…?”

“No.” I shook my head, knowing what the question was.

“No? Really?”

“Like I said, we’re taking things slow.”

“Wow…just think of all those wasted moments where you guys could have hooked up in the pantry or the freezer room!” She joked.

“Ha-ha. Even if we were doing it there’s no way I’d take the chance and hook up with him at work. No one there knows about us and I want to keep it that way.”

“Is it against policy for workers to date?”

“There’s no policy or anything like that. It’s just…I don’t think it’s any of their business, that’s all.”

She then went on to tell me about the latest gossip about two of her band members who were dating and how they had this huge fight in the parking lot outside the theatre and now everyone is speculating on what their fight was about.

See that’s the reason why I don’t want anyone at work to know Michael and I are dating. I don’t want us to become fodder for conversation during their 15-minute breaks.

I told Michael how I felt about keeping our relationship on the down low for a while and it seemed like he understood where I was coming from. Until a couple of days later when he came into the kitchen while Darren and Nestor were there discussing a customer’s order and tried to kiss me.

“What the hell are you doing?” I scolded him in a whisper. Thankfully neither man seemed to notice what almost happened between us as they continued their conversation.

“Uh giving my girl a kiss?”

“Not here. I’m working. We’re working.” I still kept my tone just above a whisper. “You know how I feel about this.”

“Look, this is a little ridiculous. You’re my girlfriend and…”

“…Shh!” I tried to silent him. I was so annoyed but also a little happy since that was the first time he’d ever referred to me as his girlfriend.

 “Seriously?”

“Let’s not do this now okay?”

“Fine. Whatever.” Then he walked away.

I went back to work feeling a little crappy about how I handled the situation with Michael. I could see how his feelings would be hurt. I did shove his face away when he tried to kiss me but he knew how I felt about stuff like this on work so why would he even do something like that?

Still, I felt bad.

I didn’t see him again until both of our shifts were over that evening and even then he ignored me like I wasn’t even there. I practically had to run after him in order to talk to him.

“Hey, wait up Michael. Michael!”

“What?” He turned around, pissed. “What do you want?”

“Why are you snapping at me?”

“I could ask you the same thing about earlier.”

I sighed in frustration. “You know how I feel about that. I don’t want everyone to know that we’re dating…”

“Why? That’s what I don’t understand! I got it in the beginning when we just started but we’ve been together for a while now and I lo…ike you!” He huffed and then looked away and inhaled like he was trying to calm down. “Why can’t they know? They’re bound to find out eventually unless…unless you wanna keep me your dirty little secret forever!”

“That’s ridiculous!”

“Then why don’t you want anyone at work to know about us? Why haven’t I met any of your family members? Or your friends? You’ve met my friends!”

“Oh you mean those drunks at those seedy nightclubs and bars that you take me to?” I honestly didn’t think any of those people was that important to him since the introductions were so casual that it didn’t seem like a big deal in the way meeting my family and friends would be a big deal to me.

“Wow. Now I get it.”

“Get what?”

“You’re ashamed of me!” The look on his face alone broke my heart in two.

“No! I’m not…!”

“You are! That’s why I haven’t met your sister, or your cousins or your friends because you’re afraid of what they will think of me!”

“That’s not true!”

“You’re afraid they’ll think I’m not good enough for you, just some lowly bartender! Is that the real reason why you don’t want anyone to know about us?”

“You know that’s not true. Where is all of this coming from? I think you’re just projecting your own insecurities out on me and…”

“It came out of your own mouth just now Maia!” He yelled. “The places I take you aren’t good enough.”

“No, I…”

“I can’t afford to wine and dine you all the time but I try my best. I had to save up all my tips just to afford to take you to that fancy restaurant you wanted to go to.”

“I never asked you to take me to Chez Llama. That date was your idea!”

“You went on and on about how you wanted to go so I took the hint!”

“I wasn’t dropping hints, I was just saying that I wanted to go. I didn’t need you to take me there. I could have gone on my own. I didn’t need you to spend all of your money on me!”

“That’s my point! You don’t need me for anything so how soon before you decide you don’t want me around anymore.”

“Why are you making this about money? It’s like your punishing me for being independent and financially secure!”

“That’s not the issue!” He closed his eyes and exhaled before lowering his voice. “I don’t care about that, honestly. I’m not threatened by your money or your success at all. I just…I feel like I’m expendable to you like you’re just slumming it with me for a while until something better comes along.”

“Michael, you’re being irrational.”

“Maybe so but I can’t help but feel like you’re just stringing me along. Like when you decide you’re done you can just move on and it will be like nothing happened. When you pushed me away today…it hurt. I felt rejected and not just cause you didn’t want me to kiss you but…you acted like it would be the worst thing in the world if someone you know saw us kissing. Just let me know Maia, am I wasting my time here?”

I was dumbfounded. How could he think that? Of course, he wasn’t wasting his time. Of course, he wasn’t expendable to me. I might not have needed him but I wanted him, I really wanted him in my life! He meant a lot to me! But before I could say all of that, he stormed off.

I hoped he didn’t think my silence was an agreement of all the things he said.

I went home in a foul mood. I was angry that he would accuse me of being so self-centred but sad because I had a lingering feeling that he might have been right. I called Tatiana for reassurance but she didn’t take my side.

“What is wrong with you, Maia? You have this hot guy tripping all over himself for you and you’re pushing him away!” She practically yelled over the phone.

“I’m not pushing him away T, I just…uh…why is it so wrong to want to take my time? This is my first relationship ever and he knows that. All I’m asking for is a little patience and I don’t think that’s too much to ask for.”

“It’s not like he’s pressuring you to move in together or get married or something. To me, it sounds like he just wants you to make him feel like he’s your man. He wants to mark his territory, nothing wrong with that.”

“I don’t understand.”

She sighed. “Maia, it’s what men do when they really like someone. They get all possessive and what not but in a good way, not in the psycho-stalker kind of way which is bad. Michael sounds a lot like Darren. When we got together it’s like he wanted the whole world to know. He changed his relationship status on Simbook, he uploaded selfies with the two of us, introduced me to his parents, his friends, his neighbours even…like he really wanted everyone to know I was his girl. It was sweet. Usually, it’s the girl doing stuff like that. You and I are lucky we don’t have to beg or trick our guys into committing like some females.”

She was right. I had a man who wanted everyone to know he was my boyfriend and I was the one trying to hide our relationship. I truly had no good reason to not introduce Michael to my family and friends by now. And the more I thought about it, I shouldn’t stop him from being affectionate with me at work just because I don’t want people to gossip. They’ll do that anyway even if we weren’t together.

I guess I was just afraid. I’ve been so happy since dating Michael that in the back of my mind I worry that the other shoe could drop at any moment. That’s probably why I’ve been holding back. Why as much as I feel it, I didn’t want to admit….that I love him.

I love him!

And I know he feels the same way. My heart skipped a beat when he almost said it during our argument. I caught it even though he quickly turned ‘love’ into ‘like’ hoping I wouldn’t notice. I did. I guess he was afraid of expressing himself to someone who might not be all in.

But I was all in and I needed to let him know that.

“Hey, I’m sorry about last night.” He said as I approached him. “You were right. I was projecting my insecurities on you and it wasn’t fair to demand that we be more open with our relationship just like that and…”

I interrupted him with a kiss – a hard, deep, passionate kiss that I knew would express everything I felt.

I loved him so much that I didn’t care who saw us. The waiters, the hostess, the customers, let them all see our public display of affection and know how much…

“Get a room!”

Nestor snorted in fake disgust, smiling while squeezing by us to get a wine goblet from the bar before walking back to the dining area. As I pulled away I could see a few people glance our way but they were unbothered. No one was shocked or intrigued. It was like they already knew and didn’t care.

I was hiding our relationship for nothing.

“See, I told you it was no big deal.” He chuckled as we pulled away from our embrace.

“I guess you were right.” I agreed.

“I really am sorry for last night.”

“Me too, and I know a way for us to make it up to each other.” I looked into his eyes and said. “Tonight, after your shift ends, I want you to come over to my house.”

“Really?” He grinned widely. “You’re gonna finally let me meet your sister?”

“Uh-huh, but she won’t be home though. She has a performance with her band at a charity event. But um…I was thinking…you could spend the night…with me…and then maybe meet her in the morning?” My cheeks reddened out of embarrassment for how lame that sounded. Ugh! My proposition sounded so much more enticing when I practiced it in my head.

His eyes widened “Are you sure? I mean, are you sure you’re ready?”

I nodded. “Positively.”

“Alright. I’ll be there.”

I was jumping up and down inside but I played it cool because I didn’t want him to know how giddy I was over this. I was ready to spend the night with him. I was ready to consummate our relationship.

I probably should have told him I loved him right then and there but I wanted that moment to be special. I wanted the moment to be just right when we would both express how we felt, and next to the bar in front of the crowded dining area at the restaurant didn’t seem like the right time.

Tonight would be it. I would tell him how I feel and then I would give myself to him completely and tomorrow would be a new beginning for us as a couple. I just knew it!

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