He suspected, but he really wasn’t sure. Until last night. She had agreed after all, they would only be friends. He had too much on his plate, the timing was off, and he just wasn’t looking for a relationship. The last few times they went out, he thought he may have noticed a little tension coming from her, but dismissed it. He genuinely believed that she was okay with how things were.
They went out for Mexican. She ordered a giant margarita. She sucked it down and ordered another.
He hadn’t seen her drink like this. He wondered if everything was okay with her. He was chewing the last bite of his chicken chimichanga so his mouth wouldn’t be full when he asked her if things were alright.
She spoke before he could get the chance. “I love how responsible you are. I love your root beer and Mexican food combination style,” she slurred.
He swallowed the food and laughed, “The root beer flavors just seem to enhance the flavor of the food. Everyone I’ve gotten to try it agrees with me and gets a root beer with Mexican now if they’re not drinking.”
“But whenever you take me out, you don’t drink.”
“True, but someone has to get us home,” he replied. “Besides, you know I don’t drink much.”
“I know. So you are taking me home with you?” she said and then laughed quickly to imply she was only joking.
He didn’t answer. Since he was a flirt himself, he really didn’t think anything of it. He was never that forward when flirting just to flirt, but then he never polished down a giant top-shelf margarita in 3 minutes flat either. He assumed it was just the alcohol talking and they carried on their evening as if nothing had happened.
After dinner they walked back to his car in the garage. When they got inside she asked him if they could do something else.
“My roommate has a guy over, and I really don’t feel like being at the apartment right now.”
“Sure,” he responded. “Air hockey?” he asked.
“Hell yeah!” she shouted.
“Okay, let’s walk over to the Nugget and see if their arcade thing is still open,” he suggested.
They got out of the car and walked to the Nugget. They went upstairs and saw that the arcade was open and the air hockey table was not occupied. He got some tokens and she went to the desk to get the paddles. He pushed a couple of tokens into the slot and grabbed the puck from the return. The air on the table started and he set it down. She returned with the paddles and took her place at the opposite end of the table. She floated his paddle over to him. He turned the puck over to the side on which it hovered best and asked her if she wanted to go first.
“Losers first.” she said.
He smacked the puck straight passed her paddle and into the dead center of her goal.
“Were you not paying attention, loser?” he joked with her.
She grabbed the puck and set it on the table. She smacked it hard. The puck careened off the rail and right toward his goal. He moved his paddle to deflect the shot just in time. He didn’t have much power on the save and the puck slowly drifted to her paddle. She slammed the puck straight across the table. He reacted more quickly and fired it back. She sent it back, banking it off the rail and he trap-shot it back at her. The volley continued on that way for some time. They played so hard that the puck flew from the table and onto the arcade floor. Both of them sweating, the table shut down. He had won with one point when time expired.
“Stupid thing shouldn’t run out! You’re supposed to play to seven!” she shouted to the now empty arcade.
“Thank you!” he responded.
They laughed for a minute and then he noticed it. A moment. There was no mistaking it. They were laughing, having a good time, and then silence as they made eye contact.
“Oh shit,” he thought to himself as he quickly looked down.
“It looks like they are closing,” he said. “Are you ready for me to take you back to your place?”
“Yeah,” she replied, seemingly disappointed.
He thought about it on the drive. He couldn’t figure out why he wasn’t interested in her. She was pretty. He liked hanging out with her. She was intelligent, and despite her age, got all of his references. She was in better shape than he was. She made him laugh. They had shared interests. Was it timing? Why wasn’t he interested?
As he pulled into her apartment complex, he put the car into park.
She turned to face him. “Look,” she began, “I can’t do this anymore.”
He knew what she was talking about, but that didn’t stop him from asking what she was talking about.
“This. I can’t be just your friend. I like you way too much for that,” she stated. “I thought I could, and I’m so sorry, but I need for there to be more than this. If not, I can’t. I just can’t.”
“I don’t want to lose you as a friend. You said we could just be friends,” he pleaded.
“I thought I could. I really did. So I take it you don’t want to give us a try?” she asked with a sense of finality.
“I’m sorry. You knew I had no intentions,” he told her.
She got out of the car and he watched to make sure she got inside before he drove home. When he arrived, he saw he had a message on his phone. The message wasn’t from her. It was from the real reason he didn’t want anything more than a friendship with her. As he responded, he realized it.