I turned, distracted from the fruit in front of me. "Hector!" I exclaimed at the sight of my closest friend. "What are you doing here? How have you been?"
"Well I couldn't let you run off to this town all by yourself could I? Besides, there's a couple of business mergers taking place up here that I'm overseeing. I'll be here for at least a couple of weeks."
"And of all places, you ambush me at the market?" I grinned.
"Well, I was planning to ambush you at your new office on Monday, but I never expected to run into you here. I didn't think you ever came to markets."
"I'm doing some cooking tomorrow and the stuff needs to be fresh." I answered casually.
"You. Cooking. Yourself?" Hector glanced at me sceptically.
"Yes, I can cook." I responded indignant.
"I've never seen or heard you cook before. And you know, we've only known each other since university." Hector pointed out.
"I cooked at uni."
"Microwaved is more what you did."
"Yes, well. I've decided to do a kung pao chicken, being back home and all."
"Ah parents coming over?" He asked.
"Not exactly." I responded, quickly turning back to the fruit, though I could still feel Hector's gaze in my back, burning a hole.
"It's a woman isn't it?" He said with a straight face, though I could see the glee in his eyes.
"So what if it is?" I took the bag of peaches from the stall owner, handed them the money. "I'm allowed to cook a meal for a woman."
"You are," Hector conceded, "I'm just a bit surprised. After all, I thought you were still hung up on your childhood sweetheart. The one you told me you regretted not confessing to? Obviously I've seen you date, but you always ended up talking about her, especially when drunk." He raised an eyebrow at me.
I tried to ignore a lot of what he said, focusing on the latter part." You never told me I spoke about her when I'd had too much to drink. "
Hector shrugged." You'd go on about her a lot after getting plenty of alcohol in your system, sometimes ending up in a right drunken emotional state. When you'd sobered up, we didn't want to bring her up in case it brought up some painful memories. Most of the time, it sounded as though you were lamenting your lost love. If you brought her up when sober, it was a different story, because you'd made a conscious decision that you wanted to talk about her."
"Huh." I didn't really know what to say in the face of such information.
"But hey, you've got your new woman who you're attempting to cook for, so she must be special. It's good to see you dating again."
I was going to have to tell him." You got any plans for lunch?" I asked.
"Let's grab something to eat, the whole saga is going to need food and a pint."
"Alright." Hector said, although I could hear the slight concern that had entered his voice. "There's a pub near the hotel I'm at. Does decent enough food. How about there?"
"Sounds great." I uttered, as my mind wandered, imaging the various reactions he could have when I told him the woman was in fact the childhood sweetheart I'd apparently lamented the loss of all throughout my uni years. Wonderful.
The walk to the pub wasn't long and before I knew it, I found myself settled on a table with Hector, complete with a pint each. I took a swig as Hector stared at me impatiently. "So..." He began, "This woman you're seeing."
I sighed, putting my beer back on the table. "It's Nerissa. Nerissa Reed."
This time Hector picked up his beer and took a huge gulp, before placing it back on the table. "How in the heck have you managed to score a date with your childhood sweetheart?"
"Well, this is more like the second date."
Hector blinked at me.
"Let me start from the beginning..." I told him everything, from the letter on my desk to the dinner the night before. He was mostly silent, occasionally asking the odd question. By the time I'd finished, our food had arrived.
Hector stabbed a chip with his fork."You know you've been given a second chance here mate? Like the odds of her still being in town and finding out you were back is just..." He trailed off, shaking his head.
"I know, I know. That's why I'm secretly terrified. This my second chance and I don't want to blow it like before when we were still kids. If I mess up, then there's no coming back from it. And I think..." I stopped, running the thought over in my head.
"You think..." Hector prompted.
I sighed, cutting through my steak. "I don't know mate, I just, it seems like she's hiding something. Almost like she's afraid of something and then it's gone, like the emotion was never there in the first place and I wonder whether I've imagined it."
Hector chewed, contemplating. "Lots of stuff could have happened between when you last contacted each other to when she reached out the other day. She's not going to spill everything straight away. Maybe she had an asshole ex who treated her bad and she's afraid of the same thing happening?" Hector suggested. "Or maybe it's something less extreme, like a phobia or something. Point is, she'll tell you when she's ready."
"Yeah, I guess you're right." I murmured, shoving a chip in my mouth. The idea of Nisssa being mistreated, it was too much to even imagine. I could already feel anger bubbling in my blood at the very notion of someone hurting her. If that was the case, I wouldn't push her. I wanted her to tell me everything when she felt comfortable and until then, I'd just have to show her I was not an arrogant asshole, like the ex I'd conjured in my mind. I could do that. Show her that she deserved to be treated like a queen.
"Of course I'm right, when have I ever led you wrong?" Hector proclaimed with a smile.
"How about that time with the fountain and the town square?" I countered.
"OK, OK, but any other time?"
"What about with the chilli peppers and you had the heat scale confused?"
"You know what? Never mind."
I laughed as we continued eating and catching up, feeling a little more confident about my kung pao chicken tomorrow and proving myself to Nissa.