She watched him lament about his terrible day at the office, the traffic he’d endured on his way to his apartment, his out-of-control neighbor in 4B. She wasn’t really listening — she simply knew, because that’s what he always talked about. As long as she nodded along, he couldn’t tell whether he was being heard.

His voice was low, accommodating to the soft atmosphere of the upscale restaurant. Flatware and glasses brimming with expensive wine clanked. Conversation hummed. She absently fooled with one of the straps of her black dress as she came to a sudden revelation.

I don’t want to be here.

Not only here, the restaurant. Here, with him. It was the same thing every week. Dinner alone together, dinner with his friends, talk of a future that she increasingly wanted nothing to do with. He was the man everyone expected her to end up with, the man she was expected to eventually marry. But he was not the man she wanted.

A waiter approached the table with a towel folded over one forearm and a tray held aloft. He reiterated their order as he set the tray down and distributed their plates respectively. They thanked him, and he bowed slightly before pacing away.

He picked up one of the forks and poked at the shrimp on his plate. “Hope they didn’t burn the shrimp like last time.”

She inhaled, held her breath. She didn’t have to do this, to let this be the rest of her life.

“Excuse me,” she said, pushing back her chair before her mind could catch up with what she was doing. She stood and grabbed her clutch from the corner of the table, ignoring his puzzled gaze on her. She turned away from him, from the stuffy climate that she’d never gotten accustomed to, and strode away — slowly at first, then gaining conviction as she neared the coat check.

Outside, with her long jacket hanging loosely from her shoulders, she raced to the curb with her arm raised in signal to the numerous yellow vehicles present on the road. The venues lining the boulevard acted as street lights in the night. She stood on the front end of her heels, her head turned in the direction of traffic, a zephyr gently swishing her skirt and hair. Standing there, she decided where she wanted to go. It may have been nearly nine o’clock in the evening, but she knew he would be home and awake.

A taxi pulled over in front of her. She opened the door and got in, rambling off the address as she settled into the seat. They smoothly pulled away from the curb. As they rode, anticipation grew within her. Would he want to see her after how she ended things? Would he believe her if she told him she wasn’t afraid of living her life the way she wanted to now, that she was through with giving in to the pressure that led her to spend the past few months with the man she’d just abandoned?

She leaned one arm against the sill of the open car window, watching the lit buildings roll by, feeling in control, and hopeful, for only the second time in her life.

K.G.