Mina King walked out of the apartment on a chilly afternoon and headed toward the taxi driver, waiting outside the gated fence. She took a step inside, one heel pressed against the brown-stained ground as she sat on the back seat and closed the door when she fully got comfortable.
The driver peered at her, waiting for a demand.
"Acquerello—that's where I want to go," she requested.
He moved the clutch and headed toward the direction where the Italian restaurant laid. Traffic was minimal near the residential area. However, that began to change when he took her inside the main city, stopping at every traffic light as cars buzzed back and forth in a hurry. He made a left-turn on Main Street, a business area of every type—hotels, restaurants, and grocery stores.
He stopped behind a red Ford truck, waiting for traffic to lighten to make a turn. The blinker was heard playing in the air, ticking every few seconds. Soon, the truck moved quickly across. Her driver followed after, although more cautious and slow. He pulled up near the entrance of the restaurant and parked.
Turning back, with a hand resting on the wheel, he said, "We're here."
She pulled out two twenty-dollar bills from her handbag and handed it to him.
"Keep the change," she said as she opened the door, slamming it behind, and moved quickly toward the entrance, each step of her heel clicked right after her.
A man, in his late-twenties, opened the front door for her. He sported short hair, cut close to his scalp. Hazel eyes brightened at the sight of her, and his plump lips stretched into a wide smile. His dark uniform blended well with his olive skin, enhancing his beautiful lips and hypnotic eyes.
"Welcome," he said to her. His tone of voice sounded soft, a little rough, but hypnotic that made her wink at him. He snorted lightly and watched her strut toward the receptionist.
"Hello, miss," a dark-haired receptionist greeted. She moved toward the pedestal and grabbed a menu by the stack near the cash register. "Will it only be you today?"
"No, I'm here to see Shields."
There was a sparkle in her brown-eyes that made Mina smile faintly. It seemed her friend had captured the heart of this young woman. Looking at her slender face, high cheekbones, and thick legs, Mina noticed that she was rather pretty for a greeter.
"Ah, yes, Mr. Shields. I'll take you to him."
She moved away from the pedestal and into the semi-bright restaurant. Chestnut-colored, black-padded chairs were laid in front of rectangular tables. White tablecloths covered each table; a vase of fresh flowers sat in the middle. At the sides, red-leather booths were aligned, a hanging light accommodated each table. The room was filled with high voices, each entrap in a heavy conversation, as smiles became to bloom on a few guests. Mina looked at each guest, watching as they admired the expensive meal and clank their wine cups together.
The receptionist led her to a booth near the window where Darien sat. He looked like a fine-looking man that he was, wearing a black-suit, a white, dress-shirt underneath, a black-tie around his neck, and dress shoes. He brought his glass of wine to his lips. The clear color went down his throat, satisfying his hunger for the divine taste.
"Here you are, miss." The young woman moved her hand toward the table, motioning her to sit. Mina took the empty side of the booth, straightening her spine against the red-leather seat.
"Your waiter will be with you in a moment."
She moved away from their table, bashfully looking at Darien, looking for some indication that he saw her lustful eye, before she headed toward the front, greeting the next guest. Mina looked around the restaurant, admiring each detail that made it immaculate. Her eye caught the menu in front of her when she looked on the table. She opened it and examined each foreign meal that she never had tasted before in her life.
"I'm so glad that you made it, Mina," Darien spoke.
She pulled her eyes away from the menu and met his calm expression.
"I'm glad you showed up," she said. "There is no way I can afford this."
Darien touched the rim of his cup with an index-finger. "Don't worry about the bill. Whatever you want, I'll pay for it."
"You're such a doll," she complimented. "Still I can pay half."
Before she left Billy, she secretly had a bank account open in her name. She never once took money from her husband. On the contrary, she sold some of the items he gave her that was worthless to have. She didn't need them anymore, anyway. Not when she was plotting to get away.
"Don't worry about paying," he repeated, sternly. "I'll be glad to pay for your meal."
Just then, their waiter—Peter as he proudly announced—came up to their table. He went back to the wine section and brought a red wine bottle at Mina's request. Waiting for their order, he gave them a dazzlingly smile.
"I'll have the grilled octopus soup." It was the only thing, she thought, she would probably muster down in her throat. And her curiosity of how octopus tasted plagued her mind with relentless pursuit.
Darien ordered his meal and handed their menus to the young waiter. He gave them one last dazzlingly smile and ensured to return when their meal was ready. Alone with her close friend, Mina turned her attention to him and folded her arms across the table.
"I heard from a little birdie that you saw Serena not too long ago."
Darien shifted in his seat, uncomfortably.
"It's not something that I would like to talk about."
She pulled her arms off the table and rested a hand on her lap. The other grabbed for her glass of wine and brought it to her lips. She then brought the glass to rest.
"She misses you."
His expression hardened at those three little words. It was not something that she should've said but she desperately wanted Darien back together again with Serena. Then again it was her fault to begin with for pushing Serena to get Darien's attention back in the day.
"I don't know, Mina," she remembered Serena say. "We can't stand each other already. I crash into him all the time. I rather not go with your plan."
Mina had turned to her and grabbed her by the shoulders. "Look, Serena, Darien is a good man. Just give him a chance. Trust me when I say that I know when the arrow of love strikes, and girl, it's pointing at you and Darien."
"I don't know. I mean, I don't even like the guy that way."
"Serena, Darien is hopelessly in love with you," Mina had blurted out to convince her, "Trust me."
"He is?" She doubted once more.
"Trust me. I know."
She regretted pushing Serena to act on her feelings. Darien, at that time, hardly considered her that way. All he saw was a childish girl, crashing into him every morning. But something happened in the arcade that made him look at her as a woman. Mina didn't know what but she noticed the change in his character.
Relentless, Mina paid attention to the present and began to tap her foot, desperately wanting to hear his thoughts about Serena.
He moved his hand toward his cup and grasped it, lazily.
She sighed quietly and examined the man in front of her. He never seemed to change since the day she met him. Before she pushed Serena to get his attention, Mina met Darien when she was thirteen. At that time, he was working at some grocery store for a heavy man who reeked of sweat. She remembered her mother was visiting a few relatives nearby and asked her to head toward the store and grab a gallon of milk for a baby of theirs.
She had skipped toward the little store and pushed the glass, metal doors. There was a shingle from the bell hanging on top. Darien had noticed her for a moment before he resorted back to his duties, putting the rest of the package of bread where it belonged.
Mina clearly remembered that she was struck by the arrow of cupid, believing that Darien was the love of her life. How she tried to win his heart, but he had other sex-craved ideas that she never gave in to. Somehow, in some strange way, she ended up visiting him from time-to-time, even at his worn-down apartment.
He was a good friend—even though, he had major issues about himself. But still he was a good friend in the end that she felt compelled to call him every once in a while. Sometimes, she called him to gossip; other times, she wanted to make sure that he was still around and not dead in some ditch.
Darien scared her at times with his odd way of thinking.
At that moment, their waiter, Peter, came back with their meal. She looked at her octopus soup, bringing the tip of her fork to stab at one of its legs. Looking across from her soup, Darien had an elegant plate of seared breast duck with beets, roasted turnip and strawberries. For a small meal, ninety-five dollars was a joke. But she supposed since the plate was designed immaculately, and the produce and meat was freshly brought, she could see why the restaurant charged from ninety-five to a hundred a plate.
Cutting a small portion, she brought the octopus leg to her mouth and chewed. It didn't taste that bed, she supposed. It was a bit tough, chewy, and tasted a lot like fish. Not something she would eat again, though.
She set the fork down and took a gulp of her wine. The waiter came and poured her some more. She smiled and thanked him for the second round. As their waiter left, she turned to Darien, who sat quietly, eating his meal in a trance.
"Serena has changed."
"Doubt it," he muttered impassively. He placed a sliced strawberry in his mouth.
"She has," Mina insisted. "She's determined. She's independent. She's—she's different."
He laid his fork to rest and took a sip of his white wine.
"Darien, she's not that girl who cried for every little thing. She doesn't even let her parents control her life anymore. She's—she's, um, different, in a good way."
"The issue is not with her parents. It's with her," he clarified. "She has a lot of problems, Mina. Someone can't say that they changed in six months. Give it a year or more than I'll believe that she has changed."
"Darien, she really has changed."
"Look—" He stared directly into her eyes, washing away his serenity with a rising hot temper. "—I'm not going to get fucked over again like back in those days. I did everything, everything," he emphasized every syllable, "for her. She was never happy with what I did. Even when we began dating, she was never happy. She's chronically depressed, Mina. Face the reality of that."
She messed with her soup, the fork clanking against the bowl.
"I just—" She stirred up the topic again when a few seconds of silence past. "—I just think Serena was meant for you."
He rolled his eyes in disbelief, turning his head to a side. "Don't start with that bullshit."
"I'm serious," she said sternly. "She's meant for you. Just push aside her depression and her lack of self-esteem, she's really a good girl and she loves you—a lot. She's just going through a hard time with herself. And don't go shaking your head, and start blasting her with rude remarks, when you, yourself, have similar problems."
"Look, Mina," his voice turned soft, and pleaded for the topic to rest, "I just don't want to deal with that anymore. Deep down, I love her, but not as much to take her back. I need some time still."
"But what if the opportunity were to rise again, what if Serena, let's say three months from now, wanted you back? Would you go back with her?"
He shrugged and toyed with his leftover strawberry. "I don't know. Maybe, but at the moment, no." He took in a gulp of air and let it out, slowly. "I don't know why you keep bringing this up. You make it seem as if Serena was my soul mate."
"It's not that. It's just that you were very happy when you were with her. And Serena was happy as well. She's just needs to let go of her problems."
As the last sentence began to sink into his mind, Peter, their waiter, approached the table, hands clapping together in joy. Darien looked up with a smile barely touching his lips.
"Is there anything else you would like to order? Dessert, maybe?"
"For me, no." He turned to Mina.
"I don't want anything else. Thank-you," Mina said with a smile as well.
"In that case, we're done for today. I would like to get the bill," Darien said.
The waiter moved his hand forward, grabbing the empty dish from Darien. He then proceeded to grab Mina's discarded soup as he wandered back to the kitchen, dumping the dishes near the rest, before he came back with the total price in hand. He handed Darien a slim booklet and moved toward the next awaiting table.
"So," began Mina, moving in her seat in dreaded curiosity, "What's the damage?"
"Don't worry about it." He took the pen and wrote the estimated price on the line, adding a tip along with his payment. He placed his debit card in the booklet and closed it before Mina had the chance of snatching it from his hand.
"I can pay half, Darien. It's only fair," she insisted.
"I said don't worry about it. You deserved to be pampered."
"Let me make it up to you then," Mina said.
"Just relax. Don't worry about it," Darien reassured calmly, putting an end to her insisting.
"Thank-you," she muttered under her breath.
He smiled at her and watched as the waiter took the payment and return with his debit and receipt.
"Do you need a ride back home?" he asked. He looked at his silver watch. It was 4:17. He still had time to spare. "Or do you want to go somewhere?"
"Actually, I have a ride." She picked up her handbag and began to move her legs out of the booth. Suddenly, she stopped and turned toward Darien. "Are you alright by yourself?"
He gave her a confused look. "Why wouldn't I be? I've been alone before."
"Yeah, I know. But what I mean is: are you really alright by yourself?"
He rubbed a palm against his forehead, tired. "If you're asking if I own a gun, or if I might kill myself, the answer is no to both."
Mina relaxed at his harsh reassurance. She merely wanted to make sure.
"I trust you, Darien. I really do. But I don't trust that mind of yours." She stood up from her seat and looked at him. "Call me for anything."
"Mina…" He pinched the bridge of his nose, tired of her doubts. "It's been eight years. If I didn't do it in the past, what makes you think I'll do it now?"
"You scared me that day, Darien. I can never forget that afternoon in my parent's garage. The way you held that pistol I knew it was no joke."
"I was drunk."
"You were serious," she bit back.
He remained silent in his seat, intertwining his hands in front of his mouth, elbows resting firmly on the table.
"Don't push me out, Darien. I care for you. Serena cares for you. You all I got as family."
She moved away from the table and headed toward the front. She never looked back, not once, not even to see if he chased after her. She knew he wouldn't. Because as she headed toward her awaiting vehicle, she knew that he was thinking about the past as was she.
She jumped in the passenger side and stared at her lover.
"Take me to your place."
He obediently took her as she watched the cars buzz back and forth, horns blaring and tires screeching with every passing second. Slowly, the sounds began to disappear and she was left with nothing but that dreadful memory of eight-years-ago, the same memory that plagued her mind until this day.
Mina closed her eyes and began to remember that afternoon. The weather was particularly hot. She had worn her favorite pink t-shirt along with a pair of jeans. She remembered her black converse shoes, a fad that most of the kids at school wore.
Her parents had gone to work. They wouldn't be back until eight at night. She had taken the opportunity to pull out some beers from her father's mini-fridge. Her old man would probably assume that Uncle Jerry had come and took some with him—and he did when he returned and questioned her. But by that time, she was all shaken up that she agreed to everything.
She remembered that she needed to take a bathroom break, leaving Darien all alone in the garage with her father's pistol that she had wanted to show off, as some song from the station played in the background. Returning back, she put on a smile, ready to spend some time with her close friend, but what she saw next scarred her for life.
At first, she thought it was a game. She had laughed and told him to stop waving the pistol around and pressing it against his temple. But Darien didn't listen.
She had tried to coax him to lay the gun down but he kept teasing her that he'll pull the trigger like some sick joke that he loved to play. He had laughed and pulled it away, listening to a song that he had begun to like.
"I love this song," he had told her.
She had begun to grow somber when she realized that he had finished four beers. That buzz feeling in her system had begun to flee from her body when she had come to her senses on how bad Darien was drunk. She had always imagined that he would be the funny type, laughing at every silly thing. But she came to a startling realization that Darien was the depressive type when it came to alcohol. And he liked to laugh, a lot.
He had looked at her, eyes hard and wild. "I hate this fucking world, don't you?" He had tapped the barrel against his temple, shutting his eyes for a moment.
"Why do you hate it?" She had tried to ease the nervousness in her voice, but she remembered that she couldn't stop a few tears from rolling down her cheeks. She had promised herself that day that she never wanted to see Darien drunk again.
"Because nobody gives a shit about me," he had snapped. "It's like why am I fucking here! Why! Why! Why!" He had harshly slapped a hand against the concrete ground, repeatedly. He had stopped for a moment and she had noticed how red his hand was. It became swollen the next day, which he believed that she did something to him.
Pressing the gun against his temple, he had made the sound of a bam and had begun to laugh. At that moment, she was by his side, reaching for the gun, but he held a firm grip. And she remembered clearly how he had looked at her when his eyes narrowed and his lips turned into a scowl. He looked insane at that moment.
Then, like a miracle from the man up above, Darien's hand began to grow slack. The gun had eased from his hold. She remembered she took it away quickly and held it close to her chest as he keeled over and vomited everything that he ate on that day on the concrete ground.
She couldn't stop shaking, not even when he had looked at her and begun to cry.
She opened her eyes as the past began to fade. She turned her head to her lover and began to listen to the song playing in the background.
"Change the artist," she demanded and turned to the window.
"Not a fan of Radiohead? Creep is a good song of theirs." He changed the artist to her request anyway, and put on a different band.
She settled into her seat and watched the scenery outside begin to sweep away in flurry of colors.
"No…" She began to close her eyes again. That song, even when her lover turned it off, began to play in her head. "Not a fan at all."