War and Peace: Chapter 57

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Chapter 57

The chatter in the restaurant was low and dispersed, much like the lighting. The tablecloth was stiff, the menu had no prices, and the napkins were geometric shapes. Classy had seemed like a good idea to August when she made the invite, but she no longer remembered why.

"Sorry I'm late." James slid into the booth across from her. "Got lost. Never been here before."

"Neither have I, and bloody well shouldn't have started now. I'm a fish out of water."

"It's not that bad. You look at home. That's a nice dress."

"We need a check of your eyes. I'm at home in a pub, in a tank top."

"Can't hurt to broaden ourselves."

August rolled her eyes. "Haven't we been quite broadened enough, this last bit?"

They ordered things she didn't even know how to pronounce. James had all the foreign letters down pat and did the talking. The salad was good. The wine was excellent, and more importantly, strong.

August spent a lot of the time just looking at James, imprinting details in her mind: the light stubble on his chin, the cut of his sweater, the lay of his hands on the table when he was deep in thought. He smiled and made jokes. She laughed more than she had since forever.

"You seem ... in high spirits," she ventured, carefully.

James popped a french fry into his mouth. The menu called it something else, but it was a french fry in August's universe. "Were you expecting otherwise?"

"Honestly? Yes."

"A lot happened." James ate another fry. "I don't know. Time doesn't stop." Another. "The only way forward is forward."

"You've changed, I think."

"People do. So have you."

August nodded and drank some wine. The main course came out, something she could neither describe nor identify. It smelled incredible and melted like butter in her mouth.

"Okay, I'll admit. This place has its charm."

"I call it a prostate check," James said.

"Oh, Lord. I have to ask."

"You only go once a year, but it's oddly enjoyable."

August burst out in laughter, muffling herself with a napkin. "This isn't the type of place you should make me laugh this way."

"I disagree."

August took another sip of wine. Then another. A gulp, really. "I wanted to tell you something."

"Go ahead."

"Remember the first night we met?"

"The forest event?"

"And after, in the bar," August said. "We talked and I flirted and I put you on my contact list. I had fun."

"So did I."

"For a long time, I was working you for information. John asked me to, but it wasn't his fault. I did it because I chose to."

"I know. Water under the bridge."

"No, but this isn't. I want you to know that on that first night, I wasn't working. I just thought, in the forest when you played along with me, that you were charming. And fun. At the bar, too. No motive. I just wanted to talk." August drained the last of her wine and looked down at the cup, smiling, fighting off sadness. "It means nothing now, but I wanted you to know that much was real."

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