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Jane sat alone on the small, uncomfortable chair, searching the busy street through the snow. She checked the small note that he had written her. "House of the Dragon at 5: 00." Yes, this was the place, all right. Shuffling through her pocketbook, she came up with a piece of gum and began to chew nervously. It had been three years since they'd really talked - almost four since she had last seen him. Thinking back, Jane wondered why she hadn't been more surprised by his letter. But then again, why should she have been? There was nothing unusual about two old friends getting together - yet they were not really like any two old friends.
She took out the note and read it over once more. It sounded sincere enough. " ... I've been looking forward so much to seeing you." Well at least he hadn't been just cleaning out his Rolodex. No, that wouldn't be at all like Tom, so impersonal; he was much ... much warmer than that.
The clock had rung half-past four before Tom remembered where he had to be. It was going to be a great night - he was sure of it. He had so much to say. Had it really been so long? On the way to the door, he glanced at himself in the mirror. He wondered what fantastic stories she'd have about the fantastic places she'd been, the people she had met ... he could hardly remember a time when she hadn't had something wonderful and exotic to tell him.
Tom ran like a child toward the restaurant, jumping through the newly-fallen snow, hardly noticing the cold. He waved to a couple he passed on the street, and suddenly he remembered. This time, he had a story to tell. He stopped for a minute, and took a deep breath of the crisp winter air. What would she say? What could she say? Tom remembered that there had been a time where he had felt that he could tell her anything. Anything. But somehow, this was different.
He began to walk again, but slowly. Why had he wanted to talk to her? He had felt sure that this was the right thing to do - but was it really? He had told himself that he would be rekindling a friendship, but he began to wonder if he really wanted to know her at all. Certainly their last relationship had not ended well, but ...
Tom looked at his watch and saw that it was almost five. Trying not to think about the past any more, he put a smile on his face to cover his doubt. He walked on, past the bustle of the evening, toward the House of the Dragon, toward Jane.
Through the frost-covered windows, Jane could see him walking through the square. She checked her watch: 5: 05. The spicy smell of food distracted her, and she struggled to sort her thoughts. Once or twice she had thought about leaving, avoiding the whole situation, but now it was too late. She felt strange here, not because she didn't like him, but because she remembered the last time that she had. She had loved him and they both knew it would never work. She and Tom were two very different people, just friends. And she wouldn't let love get in the way of friendship again. They had already fallen into that trap once.
When Tom reached the door, he hesitated. He still could escape; he could walk away as if nothing had ever happened. The metal of the door was cold to his touch, and he shied instinctively from it. Looking in, he could see her, sitting, waiting. He closed his eyes, and a part of him wished that she would not be there when he opened them. She was. Half-laughing at his own insecurity, he opened the door and walked in.
There was an awkward moment in which neither of the two knew exactly how to greet the other. They finally managed a feeble hug.
"Hello, Tom. Long time, no see. I was surprised ... to hear from you." He looked just like she remembered him; a little older, perhaps, but then it had been four years ...
A waiter wandered toward Tom and left two menus in front of him. Passing one across the table, Tom broke the silence. "I'm sorry I didn't write you sooner. I've been very busy lately and ..."
Jane looked up from her menu and smiled. "Don't bother, Tom. We both needed a break from each other. You don't need any other excuse. How've you been?"
"Fine. Truthfully, I've been busy." The waiter had come back, waiting impatiently for their order. Tom ignored him and kept talking.
"About six months after I last saw you, I got a job through a friend of mine, running a clothing store in Walville. It seems like I've been there every minute since. It took me three weeks to find someone to cover for me today. I really wanted to see you though. It's been so long." As he spoke, he realized that he was glad he had come.
"I'm staying in town ..." he paused. He thought seriously about telling her. No, not now. It was still too soon to be sure. " ...but only for a few days. I thought it would be good to see you while I was here."
The waiter had given up any effort to disguise his displeasure. He shot Tom an angry glance. Nodding apologetically, Tom glanced over the menu and ordered.
Jane excused herself to make a phone call. Despite his original anxiety, he was enjoying himself. He wondered why it was that they had not kept in touch, and found himself wishing he had written sooner. Glancing out the window, he could see it was already beginning to get dark. He hated how it got dark so soon in the winter. Everything was so gray, and cold. Looking down at his dish, he shivered. What was taking her so long? He picked around his food. How could he tell her?
Jane hung up the phone. She wondered what Tom was thinking. It was not like him - no, it was not like the Tom she remembered - to do something without a reason. What message was he trying to give her? Three years, and suddenly a letter. There must be something, some end to gain? He wasn't acting like he was looking for love. He wasn't really acting at all. He just seemed ... friendly.
Jane walked back and sat down in front of her cold food. When she finally met Tom's stare, she saw concern in his eyes. She composed herself, trying to hide her feelings.
"What's wrong? Who was that?"
"What? Oh, no one. Business, you know. Had to reach a client." Jane was lying and she hoped he couldn't tell. She couldn't help smile - he had been thinking of her. Knowing that she couldn't lie forever, she hoped he would drop the subject. And there was no reason for him to know, anyway. No reason at all. It had nothing to do with their relationship, and she was content to let it stay at that.
Before they had left the restaurant, Tom had offered to walk her home. Home. Certainly then she would have to tell him. And there was no way to turn him down. Tom had been good enough to her, and it was the least she could do. There was no way around it.
Tom began to wish that he hadn't asked to walk Jane home. But she would have expected it - she always had in the past. It would be a long walk home to her apartment, and he was running out of ways to avoid the subject. After all, that was why he had written her in the first place. Or so he had thought. Now it did not seem so clear to him. Three years without thinking of her, and then, all of a sudden, he would want to tell her this?
The winter air hit Tom and Jane in the face, tearing their breath away. They walked slowly to the curb and waited for the light to change as the cars rushed hurriedly back to the warm shelter of home. Jane shivered and looked away into the darkness, hugging herself to keep out the biting cold. Tom looked at her, watching her quietly, losing himself in the silence of the night. There was something in her face ...
Walking apart as if strangers, they didn't talk as they crossed the street. It was Tom who finally broke the silence.
"Jane," he called to her as he scrambled up beside her, "Jane, I have something to tell you. I invited you out tonight for a reason ... or I thought I did. That job ... they ... I've been promoted. They want me to move back to the city, Jane." She was looking at him expectantly, as if she knew what was coming. He hoped she couldn't tell. He forced himself onward, struggling. "I was ...well, I wanted to ... Jane, I want to try again." He sighed. He had said it, and he was sure now, almost sure. He took her by the hand, but she looked away.
The last, persistent snowflakes shone in the glow of the streetlight as they stood. Jane knew that the light would be on for her when she got home. Her heart longed to be there among the gentle sounds of her sleeping house, away from the uncertainties of a winter night in the city. Slowly, sadly, she turned to face Tom ... 1