I could swear that the stool across the table creaked when she sat down.
Or maybe it was something as simple as the way the sounds of the room changed, the way they had to take a different route as they bounced around the room. Or maybe the lights dimmed, just a little bit.
Whatever. Something happened.
I braced myself. Though I knew that it wouldn't do any good, though I knew that I never had been and never would be prepared, I braced myself for the sound of her voice.
"Hi, stranger," she said.
And there it was.
"Hi yourself," I said.
It was the best I could do. My mind was already racing. Why is she sitting across from me, and not next to me? Does she know? What will I say to her?
I bowed my head and closed my eyes. I didn't dare open them. I didn't dare look up. I couldn't look at her. It would ruin everything, if she saw my eyes.
"Haven't seen you around here in a while," she said. It was a question phrased as a statement.
"I was out of town last week," I answered. "And before that I was a little busy."
I held my breath.
"Busy?" she asked. "Doing what?"
She already knew. I could hear it in the crack of her voice.
"Who is she?" she asked softly.
I took a sip from my beer, and I swirled it around in my mouth.
This was my chance. I could put a stop to this right then and there. With one tiny little lie, I could finally end it.
I swallowed my beer.
I couldn't do it. I couldn't lie to her. Not even for this. Not even to set us both free.
"She's nobody," I answered.
"Nobody?" she asked. "Are you sure?"
"I'm positive," I answered. "Nobody at all."
It was amazing, how effortlessly those words left my lips.
"Why should I believe you?" asked. There was, however, no accusation in her voice. She already knew the answer. She just wanted to hear me say it. To hear me admit it.
I raised my head. I could see her. She sat not three feet in front of me. I could smell her. Feel her heat. I could almost touch her.
I opened my eyes.
"Because you're here," I said to an empty stool.