Mila said goodbye to her boyfriend Michael. She didn't just say, "Goodbye, I'll see you tomorrow." No, she said, "Goodbye, I don't want to see you again." Well, it actually came out more like, "Michael, I don't think we should keep seeing each other."
Michael flinched, nodded and walked away.
In her heart, she told him goodbye.
But she wished she never had.
Mila watched a man who was completely wrong for her walk away because she asked him to, but she always wondered what might have happened if she'd not taken a chance on goodbye.
That was five years ago, and now Mila is sitting across the table from a new man, the latest in a string of new men over the past several years, none of them lasting more than two dates.
New Guy taps his fingers on the white linen table cloth and says, somewhat anxiously, "Do you know what'd you'd like to order?"
He doesn't call Mila by name. Mila has noticed this, that being called by your own name, let alone by a pet name, takes weeks, months, years. These first dates are a series of nameless conversations. She doesn't try to change this, try to alter this. She doesn't call these guys by their names, doesn't say, "No, Peyton, I'm not ready to order." That seems too intimate for a first date.
She orders her usual first-date meal, the linguini with clam sauce and a diet coke. The linguini is delicious at this local eatery, and its white color doesn't stain her teeth. It's also fatty enough to excuse the diet coke - she doesn't want her dates to worry that she's anorexic, nor does she want them to tell her what good eater she is. She hates that.
New Guy orders a dish layden with spinach and garlic, and Mila mentally dismisses him and prays for a fast end to the evening.
For the most part, he's harmless enough. He's wearing a polo shirt (aren't they all?) and khakis. She can tell that he combed his hair and she can certainly tell he put on cologne.
It's not that she wants Michael back, certainly not after all these years, not after she's the one who said goodbye, but she does want someone who just isn't so not Michael.
Mila talks to New Guy about her work as a pre-school teacher. She relays a tail of a curious youngster who ended up getting himself locked in the supply cabinet. She laughs her fake laugh, the one she reserves for time spent with those she hopes to never see again.
Their meals arrive, hot and steaming. The waitress smirks at them, as if she thinks they're a couple just about to leave for an evening of exciting lovemaking. Mila glares at her and asks for the parmesan cheese.
New Guy looks up from his garlicky meal to ogle Mila's breasts, somewhat on display in her low-cut dress. Mila notices and shivers, "It's cold in here." She takes her violet sweater from her seatback, puts it on, and buttons it up almost to the top.
New Guy returns to eating, pausing only to tell a brief story about his next-door neighbor who refuses to mow his lawn.
Mila yawns, apologizes and flags down the waitress to ask for a box, "It's getting awfully late."
"Yeah? Do you have to be at work early?"
Mila refuses to lie, "No, tomorrow's my late day, I don't have the kids until 2, but I'm exhausted. It's been a long week."
"It's only Tuesday."
"I know. It's crazy isn't it? You'd think it's easier to work with kids..." Mila ends the sentence abruptly to provide her fake laugh.
"Oh, so you're ready to go?" New Guy gestures at his still unfinished meal.
"Go ahead and finish. No worries. I'll just go to the restroom."
When Mila returns, the bill lies waiting on the table. She hates this part, hates taking a meal from someone whose calls she's not going to return. She also doesn't believe in paying for her own date.
New Guy reaches for the bill just as Mila takes her seat, "I've got this one."
"Oh, thank you. Did you want me to get the tip?" Mila always asks if she can pay the tip.
"Sure...it should be..." New Guy peruses the bill, hestitating over the amount.
Mila keeps herself from rolling her eyes. The meal couldn't be more than $25. "Don't worry. I know how much to leave."
"Oh." New Guy slides his credit card into the plastic sleeve.
Conversation stalls. Not that it ever really got started to begin with. Mila tucks a strand of her curly black hair behind her ear, "So..."
New Guy glances up, "Yeah," He's interupted by the waitress returning with his credit card and a receipt. He signs and says to Mila, "I'll walk you to your car."
Mila hesitates, "Uhm." It's only 9:15. She wants to run into some of the other stores in the shopping center, but she doesn't want him to tag along.
They stand up together, tuck their metal chairs under the glass table, and he lets her lead the way out of the restaurant.
Thankfully, he doesn't push the issue, "I had a nice time. I'll call you."
Mila smiles, "Goodbye."
She walks out of the restaurant, towards the import store where she can buy a birthday present for her best friend.
A few days later, when New Guy hasn't called, Mila briefly ponders what might have been, had she liked him. She goes over his good qualities in her mind. She feels a tiny bit of regret at not having made more of the opportunity. He might not have been such an awful guy.
This little bit of regret, while nothing like what she felt about Michael, is still the chance she takes every time she says goodbye.