“Hi Sera, welcome back,” the host said over-eagerly. He eyed up the guy on her side with significantly less enthusiasm.
“Hey Max,” Sera greeted her one-time co-worker with a smile. “How’s things? Is the good table free?”
“For you? Of course it is!” He ushered them outside, gave Lorcan one last cold glare and disappeared back into the building.
The pair stared at each blankly other for a moment.
“Have you eaten in my dad’s restaurant before?” Sera took the initial plunge.
“No. I don’t usually eat out.” Lorcan replied curtly.
“It’s nice to treat yourself sometimes,” Sera wasn’t deterred. “Besides, I guess I’ve never viewed this place as being out, you know. It’s like an extension of my parents’ place.”
“Hm.” Lorcan nodded stiffly.
Sera examined his face. He seemed different. They’d never had forced conversations before. Lorcan would act peculiar on occasions, sure, but for the most part, their exchanges always felt natural. They once chatted through an entire night, for crying out loud. And now that it was their first official date, they were sitting here like two complete strangers.
Did Lorcan even want to be here? He was practically frowning…
He was probably nervous, Sera decided.
“I did tell you I used to work here as a teenager, didn’t I?” She tried again.
“Yes.” Lorcan cleared his throat. Sera waited for him to add something, but apparently that was all he had to say.
“I can’t really picture you as a teen,” She said desperately. “Well no, I can. You were probably all brooding and mysterious.” Sera smiled. “Though what do I know. You never really told me what you got up to as a teen.”
“There’s not much to talk about.” Lorcan muttered evasively.
“Don’t tell me we’re playing this game again.” Sera raised her voice. “You would have been a teenager for a fair few years, surely there must be something worth mentioning!”
“I lived in Oasis Springs.” Lorcan said finally. “In an orphanage. Not a particularly nice one, like Hallie’s. It was a miserable place, so I don’t really look back at it often. I just… came there when I was 14, and left at 18. That’s it.”
Sera’s throat felt dry. She cursed herself.
Lucikly, their food arrived at that moment, giving her extra time to figure out how to clean up this mess.
“Lorcan, I’m really sorry…”
“Don’t worry,” he interrupted. “We don’t have to talk about it.”
They ate their meal in silence. The waiter gave them a peculiar look when he cleared their dishes. He’d seen plenty awkward first dates at the restaurant, but this couple had him wondering if they even came here together voluntarily.
“Sera, please don’t feel bad.” This time it was Lorcan’s turn to break the silence. “It’s not a sensitive topic or anything. I just don’t bring it up because it makes people feel awkward. Like you just now. You always ask me why I don’t talk about myself much. Truth is most of the story isn’t exactly rosey.”
“I’ve gathered as much,” Sera sighed. “I didn’t mean to interrogate you. But you didn’t give me much of a choice. You’ve been acting off all evening…”
Sera sighed. “Maybe we should just go.”
They made their way out of the restaurant.
“I’ll walk you home,” Lorcan told her.
“Oh.” A look of surprise flashed on Sera’s face. “You want to?”
Lorcan frowned. “Did you expect me to just leave you in the middle of the street?”
“No. Of course not.” Sera almost laughed.
She slid her hand into his. Lorcan gave her a fleeting smile as they walked towards Newcrest. He didn’t let her hand go.
Perhaps tonight wasn’t that much of a disaster, Sera figured.
They reached her house before she knew it. Lorcan grabbed her other hand.
“Look, Sera, I’m sorry I’ve been crappy company tonight. I know this wasn’t what you’d hoped for.” He told her. “I wasn’t trying to be difficult. I was just… I got so nervous that I’d say something wrong and plum it all up I couldn’t really be myself. And plummed it all up.”
Sera let out a soft chuckle. “So you weren’t trying to deter me on purpose? I figured you got cold feet and were trying to push me away…”
“I was trying to avoid saying something that would push you away,” Lorcan smirked. “Clearly that worked out well.”
Elated, Sera leaned towards him. “Well, you know, we don’t have to end the evening here. Why don’t you come inside? There’s plenty of room for you to… spend the night.” She said seductively.
Lorcan immediately backed away from her.
“Why do you do this, Sera?” He wasn’t shouting, but he sounded angry.
“You’ve told me about some of your… history with guys.” Lorcan said awkwardly. “Didn’t you say you originally give up dating because you were tired of getting taken advantage of? Why are you so desperately trying to fall back to the same cycle?”
“Because I didn’t think you’d take advantage of me,” Sera burst out angrily. “Or that you’d try to use the stuff I confided in you against me!”
“I’m not trying to use anything against you,” Lorcan pleaded. “I just see that your gut reaction is to fall back to that toxic pattern. We both know this was a terrible date, it makes no sense for you to try to push it there tonight. Sera, I care about you. You have so much more to offer than just woohoo. Let’s take it slow. Let’s do this right.”
“Were you even serious about wanting to be with me?” Sera asked him. “Or is this just an extended mentorship project? Are you just trying to fix me, like you trying to fix everyone else? So that you don’t have to think about you can conveniently avoid your own problems?”
Lorcan’s face twisted into an ugly grimace.
“I cannot believe you would say that after everything I told you in Granite Falls.” He clenched his fists. “Do you think I open up to people just like that?”
“I don’t know what to think anymore, Lorcan.” Sera took a step back. “I just know that you don’t really seem to want me!”
“You think I don’t want you?” He pulled her close to him abruptly.
“Lorcan no,” Sera pushed him away. “Whatever happened to doing this right?”
She placed her hands on her temples. “Wow. This whole evening… it couldn’t have gone worse, huh?”
“I told you, Sera. I’m no good at this stuff,” Lorcan shook his head. “I tried the only thing that’s been working for me in the past few years, I tried to be in control. But then I was like a robot. But when I let go… things explode. You saw it. I’m sorry. I don’t know what to do.”
“I don’t think my own baggage helped there,” Sera said quietly. “I know you meant well. I do. I just… I don’t want to lose you, Lorcan.”
She pinned her gaze to the ground, not daring to look him in the eye. “Maybe we were wrong. Maybe we’re better off as friends. Things have been so good with us before we did this. We both decided to avoid dating for a reason.”
“So this is it?” Lorcan’s voice croaked.
“I don’t know,” Sera replied. “I just know tonight almost drove us apart. I know we said we’d take this risk, but… it’s not worth not having you in my life. You’re my best friend, Lorcan. I can’t lose you.”
“You won’t lose me.” He said quietly.
“So… do you think it’s for the best too?” Sera stalled.
“I guess so.”
“Well, I guess I better go.” Sera stepped from one foot to another uncomfortably.
“See you at the retreat.”
“Right. See you there. Night, Lorcan.”