They were driving near the old neighborhood.
“Heeeeyyyy,” Geoff said, his epiphany reflected in the rising extension of each letter in the word. “Isn’t that great little Mediterranean restaurant around here?”
Zelda looked up from her phone to study the passing houses, bars, churches, pizzerias, and local businesses, searching for familiarity. “What’s it called?”
“Um… is it Zeus’s or something? I’m pretty sure it’s named after one of the Greek gods.”
“That really narrows it down.”
“The best-known is not a long list. It’s like Zeus and Apollo. That’s it.”
Zelda thought for a moment. “Wait, is this the restaurant that you took me to on our first date?”
“Ding, ding, ding.”
“And you don’t remember what it was called?”
“I was focused on other things that night, okay? Do you remember?”
“No,” Zelda said, shaking her head. “God, that was nearly thirty years ago.”
“I’ll tell you what I do remember. You exclusively wore fedoras back then.”
“And I looked damn good in them, too.”
Zelda scrunched up her nose. “Did you?”
Geoff stopped at a red light and looked over to her with genuine disbelief on his face. “I got you while wearing them, didn’t I?”
“Hon, I liked you despite the fedoras. If you looked so good in them, why did you stop wearing them?”
“I got self-conscious.”
“Because you and my friends made fun of me. I’ll tell you, though, people on the streets didn’t. Strangers complimented me on my fedoras more than once.”
“Well, it’s a good thing you value mine and your friends’ opinions more than those of strangers.” Zelda returned to her phone, thinking the conversation was over.
“We should stop in,” Geoff said, slowly pressing down on the gas as the light turned favorable once again. He seemed far away, like the actual journey he was on was taking place somewhere in his head.
“At the restaurant? We don’t have time.”
“Sure we do. We’re on pace to be at the party nearly twenty minutes early. Plenty of time to split an appetizer or something. It’ll be fun to go back, don’t you think?”
Zelda didn’t. She remembered nothing of the restaurant. In fact, she remembered very little of that first date. “Okay. Whatever. Just don’t make us late.”
“No one will give a shit if we’re a bit late, anyway. It’s not our own funeral, for Christ’s sake.”
“How are you going to find it if you don’t remember the name?”
Geoff shrugged. “I mean, I remember the neighborhood. That Rite Aid used to be an Eckerd, remember? And over there, that was a school.”
“When did they turn that into apartments?”
“Don’t know. Interesting idea, but I’m not sure why anyone would want to live in a school.”
“Says the man that spent more time at school than he did at home.”
Geoff cocked his head toward his shoulder, then back again, like he was loading a gun. “School felt safer than home.”
Zelda ignored the remark, already familiar with his history. She knew she shouldn’t have said it but had gotten caught up in the pace of the conversation. Now, she sensed a change in Geoff’s demeanor.
“On that first date, do you remember what we talked about?”
Zelda put her hand on the door as Geoff made a lefthand turn. He was driving a bit faster than before. A bit more recklessly. “No. Not really.”
“You told me you wanted to open your own restaurant.”
Zelda tried to throw herself back into memory.
“What happened to that? You held onto that dream for a long time,” he continued.
“I don’t know. My job. The kids. The house. Life.”
“If you could, would you still open one?”
She remembered how hard she had held onto that dream back then and wondered when it had actually left her. There was no big epiphany, no breaking point that made her give up on it. Just a slow degradation, like a river stealing from its bank until the whole thing collapses in on itself. “No. I wouldn’t.”
“It’s just not something I want anymore, I guess.”
Geoff looked at her, a mixture of pity and concern written in the scrunched lines of his forehead.
“What is it?”
“Just makes me sad, is all. You really wanted that back then.”
“Yeah, well, people change. I won’t lose sleep over it, so you shouldn’t, either.”
Geoff made a right turn. She remembered the street they were on. The restaurant was up ahead. “Fair enough.”
They drove the next mile in silence. When they pulled into the empty parking lot of the restaurant, they were faced with a boarded up single-story building.
“Damn,” Geoff said.
“Sorry, hon. You seemed excited about coming here, again.”
Geoff shrugged. “Yeah, I guess. Just felt nostalgic, I guess.” He paused, as if he was considering whether he should say what was on his mind.
“What is it?” Zelda asked.
“Do you remember what we did after our date?”
Zelda frowned and narrowed her eyes. Was he insinuating that they had sex in his car or something? And then, a brief flash of the past burst into her mind. She did remember.
Zelda smiled. “We walked around the neighborhood and you carved a heart that held our names into a tree with a butter knife you stole from the diner.”
She followed Geoff’s gaze. He was staring toward the street—at the tree he had carved. Before she could say anything else, he was out of the car and walking across the parking lot. She hurriedly followed him, nearly tripping in her high heels.
When she reached him, he stood silently at the tree. “Is it still there?” she asked, unable to locate where he had carved.
“Yeah…” he said, and pointed.
Sure enough, a heart was carved into the tree with the initials “G+Z” inside. Sometime over the years, though, someone had carved a big X through the heart.