Damien pulled into Joyce’s driveway at 7:09 pm. She asked him to be there at 7, but he knew better after last time. He knocked on her door; she opened with her purse over her shoulder, fully dressed for an outing.
“Hey,” she said.
“What’s up?” he responded.
“You’re late,” she half-joked as she locked the door behind her.
They got into his car. He took a good look at her as she sat beside him.
“I like what you’re doing with your hair,” he said.
They pulled out of her driveway and 12 minutes later they were at Ruby’s, their go-to restaurant. Damien attempted to make small talk as they read their menus.
“They got Cajun chicken tenders,” he pointed out on her menu.
“Mmm, that sounds good,” her eyes lit up.
He smiled. He knew she liked spicy food.
“I’ll try em’ if you do,” he said.
A few minutes later, they were each eating their own plate of Cajun tenders, with a side of fries and honey mustard dipping sauce. Even Damien thought they were pretty good, despite not caring much for spicy food.
“Better than that soup you had last time?” he asked.
“Mhmm,” she responded. “Reminds me of how my Aunt cooks. She uses a lot of spice in her cooking.”
“Are these better than hers?”
“Hmm… close, but no.”
Joyce wiped some mustard off her lip and sucked it off her finger. Damien felt a tingle in his spine.
“So,” she resumed, “how’s proposal writing going?”
“Going fine,” he responded. “Did I tell you that we actually won a bid a couple months ago?
“You didn’t. That’s awesome! Congratulations!”
“Thanks,” he blushed. “Bet it’s not as fun as insurance though,” he teased.
“Oh stop,” she smiled. “All I do is process paperwork. The agents do the fun stuff.”
They both chuckled.
They went back to eating. Damien ate a mustard-dipped fry and washed it down with a sip of coke. He hesitated a bit before finally asking her,
“How are things between you and Lukas?”
Joyce stopped and looked at him for a moment, not looking particularly pleased at him bringing up this subject. She gave an airy smile and told him,
Damien wasn’t convinced.
“So, he’s started spending more time with you? Can he spend a little less time trying to build the next big startup, and more time building a relationship with his girlfriend?”
Joyce didn’t answer. There was a moment of silence between them before Damien asked her,
“If things aren’t working between you two, why don’t you just end it?”
“It’s not that serious,” she responded.
“Serious enough for you to be dating someone else.”
“We’re not dating.”
“Then what are we doing?”
She went back to eating. Damien was at a loss for words. What was she holding on to in her ‘relationship’ with Lukas? What did she see in a guy who was so busy pretending to be an entrepreneur, that he could only make time for her once a month?
He idly drew circles in his dipping sauce, wondering where he went wrong before Joyce broke the silence.
“Listen,” she said, “I really appreciate you caring for me, but it’s okay if couples don’t see each other every week. He’s trying to build his career; we can all relate to that, right?”
“I guess,” he shrugged, conceding. “Still, I’ve known you for a while now. I’ve seen how things turned out between you and those guys who somehow always had more important things to do.”
“They were both losers,” she responded. “Lukas is actually doing something worthwhile, trying to make a way to provide. So, it’s okay if he’s not around all the time.”
Is that what it was? Was she only with him because she thought he could take care of her?
“I mean,” Joyce continued, “That’s how my parents were.”
“Ah.” Damien didn’t know that.
“Yeah. Anyway, he does surprise me sometimes with his sudden visits, so it’s not like a never-ending cycle of absence.”
“Yeah, he surprised me too. I thought you were home alone last time.”
“Sorry,” she chuckled, trying to be apologetic. “It turned out fine, didn’t it?”
She lowered her voice to more of a whisper.
“I don’t think he knows.”
“Let’s hope not.”
They eventually finished their meal, just in time for the restaurant to start shutting down.
“I can cover the bill,” Damien offered.
“You sure?” Joyce asked. “I can pay my own way.”
“I don’t mind,” he said.
“Okay,” she shrugged.
As Damien got back to his car, he realized how dark it was getting. Joyce yawned as she got in next to him.
“How long were we in there?” he asked.
Joyce looked at her phone.
“Close to an hour,” she said. “It’s 8:03.”
“Guess it’s past your bedtime, huh?” he joked.
She shot him a look that was somewhere between a smile and a glare, and then she chuckled.
He just started the car when she continued,
“You can stay over, if you want.”
He looked at her. She winked at him. He knew what that meant. He wasn’t about to pass that up.
Thirteen minutes later, they were back at Joyce’s place. She let him in and led him into her bedroom. She set down her purse and took off her jacket, leaving them both by her desk.
“I see you’ve been taking good care of Sammie,” Damien nodded to a potted plant on her nightstand.
“Mhmm,” she said. “I actually remember to water this one.”
She walked over to him and slid his jacket off. He gazed into her eyes and felt her gentle hands slide from his chest down his shoulders. He wanted to wrap his arms around her, pull her in close and kiss her; there would be plenty of time for that in a moment.
She gave him a knowing look and went to her nightstand. She opened the top drawer… she seemed to be having trouble finding what she was looking for. She checked the second drawer, and the third drawer. She turned back to him.
“Well, I had a box-“
She froze mid-sentence, her mouth hung open and her eyes widened with fear. Confused, Damien turned around to see Lukas standing in the open doorway, his arms crossed over his chest.
“Looking for these?” he asked, holding a box of condoms in his hand.