Coffee steamed with all the commitment of a Swiss foreign policy. The hubbub of conversation around the pair only made their own silence seem all the more profound. Adam felt like he should clear his throat. Emma wanted to bury her face in the coffee mug. Something had gone awfully awry, and it felt like neither of them had been there to witness it.
Daytime had a way of dispelling the romanticism from a tryst. Without the atmosphere enhancers, and the impaired judgement, they were just two people, sat across from one another trying to pull themselves up and over the swell of awkward tension that had somehow barged in between them. Maybe it was a shared history, mutually placed in the past. Or the overwhelming possibility of a future, either apart or together. Whichever, it was proving to be difficult to overcome.
Adam was already regretting bringing the toy, even if it was becoming increasingly clear that he would be doing nothing with it today. It sat in his pocket like dead weight, pulling him further away from being relaxed, and it almost made him feel ashamed, guilty. A small round vibrator, controlled by remote, he’d thought it might be a fun little diversion, if things go well. A way to reignite whatever spark had held them together before, had made the other night so much fun. Instead it felt like he’d arrived at a funeral wearing sneakers, with no idea that someone was about to be buried.
“Well this isn’t quite what I was expecting.” Emma ventured, and he laughed, feeling the tension escape him, air from a balloon.
“No, not really. I guess it’s harder to make it work when we’re surrounded by scarves and sugar cubes.” She tilted her head to the side, looking a little perplexed, and he took a breath. “At least the silence is behind us now.” As if out of spite, the quiet surged up again, held the air for a few moments. “So how have you been? We didn’t exactly get to talk much the other night.”
“No, we didn’t.” She leaned back in her chair, making full use of the indulgent furniture of the coffee shop. She was half lost among cushions. “I’ve been fine. Missed you, the good bits, at least.”
That was an odd choice of words. Or a very deliberate choice. Something felt different, had felt different the other night, but he hadn’t acknowledged it then. This entire situation had put him on the back foot, made him feel reactionary. He sipped his coffee, and regrouped.
“It’s strange. I’m suddenly aware of how long a month can really be. It doesn’t feel like either of us are in the same place that we were.” Each word seemed to step in front of him, so that he wasn’t sure what the sentence was until it was complete, and the truth was standing there between them, bare as anything. She shook her head, but it was in agreement.
“Quite. You definitely weren’t in the same place the other night, although you’re showing shades of it today. Did it take you by surprise?” She leaned forward to pick up her mug, but it felt like she was advancing, minutely threatening.
“What was that?” Oh how he hated this. Being forced to chase her around the conversation, find out exactly what she was insinuating before he could seize the reins again. He wanted to watch her squirm, but be left wriggling himself. Emma smiled.
“You, the other night. It felt like you were as surprised as I was once you started.” She sipped, took her time, and then smiled again. “Before, when we were going out, everything felt considered and deliberate. At Chris’ it felt raw, unadulterated.”
At some point Adam’s hand had disappeared into his pocket, and it was rolling that vibrator around, from one finger to the next. It cupped into his palm, felt snug, but altogether forlorn. He narrowed his eyes at her.
“There was a certain spontaneity to it, yes. You’re making it sound like I was out of sorts, though. I’m perfectly capable of winging it.” God dammit. Fuck. He wasn’t so much on the back foot as backpeddling now, defences up as she just kept swinging. He felt blindsided, but he’d been the one to ask her here.
“So what now, Adam? Fall back into familiar furrows, see if somehow, through some miracle of fate, things might work out this time? Or did you ask me here because you wanted to put that last nail in the coffin?” Another sip of that coffee, another salvo fired. “I’m not really sure either is going to work, just between you and me.”
He didn’t say anything. It felt too weird, to be addressed like that, when he was used to something so different. It felt like he’d been stripped of titles and respect, when he’d been coming here to reassert them. He looked away, trying to find some spark of inspiration that would help turn this all around.
Then suddenly her hand was on his knee. She was close, scooted around the sofa so that he could smell her perfume and feel her breath between them, heating the air. There was something about being so close to her this time, something that hadn’t been there before. He felt like a man on a cliff, watching the tsunami headed into shore. Sunbathing in the shade of a volcano.
“Ok, I’ll just say it then.” Even her voice had changed, picking up a little steel in the interim. “Adam, I don’t think things work between us how they worked before. I think that you don’t quite have it in you.” He started to speak and she smiled, flashing her eyes and he stopped, took a breath. He was angry, but more at himself than at her. “I think things aren’t nearly that cut and dry.
“In fact, I think that things can change, and keep on changing.” The corner of her mouth twitched at that, and she sighed, her free hand coming up to tuck her hair behind her ear. “Ok, I’ll just say it. I don’t think you’re wholly dominant, and I know I’m not wholly submissive. Things didn’t work because I didn’t think you were confident enough to switch, and I think that that was unfair of me.”
She stopped speaking then, gave him the opportunity to respond. And he didn’t, not for a while. For long enough to think about what she’d said, tried to parse what she’d said, and how she’d said it. To get over his bulging, oversized pride, and, if only for half a second, marvel at quite how deftly she’d just defanged him, if he’d ever had fangs at all. He could walk out, toss a tenner on the table like a gauntlet and leave her sat there, her dignity intact and his more than a little bloodied. But he didn’t do this. Instead he looked up at her, narrowed his eyes slightly, and let the ghost of a smile shimmer across his lips.
“And here I was thinking confidence was always one of my strong suits.”
At that, Emma laughed.