Dan took sip of his wine. His hand that held the glass felt wobbly. Bu it was a way to keep himself occupied, busy doing something, as he digested the news that was just announced: the engagement of Jessica and Henry. The group at dinner all held up their glasses for the happy couple. Dan looked across the table at Jessica, as she smiled along with the group and avoided eye contact with him. She was the reason he came to London, and it was bad enough that he had to have dinner with her and her boyfriend Henry. But now, it was her fiancé Henry.
The dinner seemed to go on forever. Dan felt tight in his chest, and it was hard to concentrate on the threads of conversation that were going on. She would not look at him. But he knew that she was aware of his gaze.
After the group finished their desserts, Jessica excused herself to go to the ladies’ room. As the woman next to him was speaking to him, mid-sentence, Dan got up and followed Jessica to the bathroom. Dan crossed the dining room, loud with conversations punctuated by laughter, and quickened his step to catch up to Jessica, who had not yet reached the ladies’ room. He almost grabbed her by the shoulder.
“So, I should say congratulations.”
She turned around to look at him, probably for the first time this evening.
“Dan, I’m sorry,” her expression was pained. “I didn’t want him to announce it to everyone tonight.”
“When did you want him to announce it? After I left?” Dan realized that his voice was rising in anger.
Jessica put a finger to her mouth and motioned Dan over to the other dining area, off to the left of the bathrooms. The room was not in use and was dark and quieter.
“Please,” pleaded Jessica, “keep your voice down.”
“Jessica, you can’t. You can’t marry him. Don’t marry him.”
Jessica looked at Dan squarely. “You have no right to tell me that. You don’t even know me. I don’t know you. We had, maybe, a moment…”
Her voice trailed off as Dan moved forward to kiss her. She flinched, but did not push him away. Dan felt his heart beating and fluttering wildly as he put his arms around her. Her mouth opened slightly as she put her hands on his shoulders. His head felt hot as their tongues touched. She smelled like citrus. He had been thinking about her all these months, but this was their first kiss. For a few moments, he forgot about Henry, the dinner, and the engagement. He had no idea how long they were kissing, when two women, apparently drunk, stumbled into room, giggling loudly. Dan and Jessica quickly separated, and Jessica dashed to the bathroom.
Dan returned to the table, and Jessica came soon after. He knew that she would not turn her head his way. She was composed, but the air around her seemed more ruffled. After the check was paid, and the dinner party had convened outside the restaurant, it was time for goodbyes.
Henry shook Dan’s hand. “Great seeing you, buddy. I hope we can meet again, maybe in New York next time.”
“Thanks again for dinner,” smiled Dan politely. “Yes, see you in New York. Congratulations again on your engagement.”
Henry began to say goodbye to the other guests, and Dan turned to Jessica. Words were stuck in his throat. Jessica reached forward and planted a kiss on his cheek.
“Bye,” she whispered.
The tight feeling in his chest came back. Their eyes locked on each other and Jessica looked as if she wanted to say something. But when Henry came to her side, she looked away from Dan and smiled at her fiancé.
The dinner guests, couple by couple, got into cabs. Dan walked slowly back to his hotel.
The evening’s events swirled in his head. The announcement of Jessica’s engagement. The kiss. The goodbye. He was spending only one night in London, and it was over just like that.
When he got back to his hotel room, Dan threw himself on the bed and sighed. He knew he couldn’t fall asleep after kissing the love of his life for the first and last time on the same night. The heaviness weighed on him. He didn’t want to be sober. As he got up to open the mini-bar, the doorbell rang.
“Yes?” Dan called out, annoyed that housekeeping would come at this hour. He went to open the door, and his heart skipped a beat.
“Hi,” Jessica leaned against the side of the wall. “I told him I forgot something at the office and that I needed to get it desperately, tonight.”
“How did you know which room I was in?” asked Dan.
“Oh, I told front desk that I was your girlfriend. And that I wanted to surprise you.”
“Wow, the security is lax here,” smiled Dan. He closed the door behind her and ran his hand through Jessica’s hair. Maybe the night wasn’t over yet.