Two years earlier.
I stood with two packages of popcorn in my hands, debating whether I should go for the garlic and butter variety or the pecan truffle. It was Friday night and I had just dropped off Bethany at my ex-husband Geoffrey's house. Yet another long and lonely weekend loomed ahead of me.
It had been six months since we had formalized the divorce, and while I had to admit I'd come away with the majority of the spoils -- the house, primary custody of our daughter, not to mention a sizable portion of Geoffrey's inheritance -- I couldn't escape this nagging feeling that something was missing.
I knew it wasn't the sex -- I had already gotten used to not having that, as Geoffrey had stopped coming home at a decent hour months before he first dropped the "D" word. As for the companionship, well, I had gone on a few dates in the first month after the divorce, all of them without exception orchestrated by my best friend, Colleen, but they hadn't gone anywhere.
And so here I stood, single again at 37, still reasonably attractive, and contemplating whether to get the garlic and butter popcorn or the pecan truffle popcorn.
"You should go for the garlic and butter one, it honestly can't be beat."
I whirled around, almost dropping the packages. "Oh, you startled me," I said with a breathless laugh, staring at the stranger standing in front of me. He was of average height, with a trim waist and nondescript features. But something about his smile was quite agreeable.
"The pecan truffle is a bit too sweet, for my taste."
"Oh?" I said archly. "I didn't know Mr. Buttersmith sent its representatives into grocery stores to help market their products."
"Ah, you've figured me out, you have."
"I have, have I?" I was aware in some dim part of me that I was flirting with this stranger, but all I could think about was why I didn't realize straight off how handsome he was.
He held out his hand, his blue eyes sparkling at me. "I'm James Merridew. It's a pleasure to meet you."
"Victoria Bradley. Vicki." Our hands met and there was an electric spark conducted between the two of us. I withdrew my hand with a shaky laugh.
"So have you decided which of the two you're going to buy, Vicki?"
"Hm? Oh, yes -- you know, I think I'll go for the pecan truffle. You see, I've a bit of a sweet tooth. But thank you for your help all the same."
I smiled at him, wishing I'd thought to wash my hair that morning, and turned away. I wasn't entirely surprised when I heard his voice again --
"If you don't mind me asking -- and I know it's short notice -- do you have any plans for this evening?"
I repressed the smile that sprang, unbidden, to my lips before turning back to face him. It seemed I had another decision before me now, one more weighty than which popcorn to buy: should I be honest and say I had no plans other than watching a video at home in my pajamas, or should I say I was already occupied? Was it better to say the shameful truth or the barefaced lie?
I didn't want to seem too eager. However, it was obvious that this James Merridew, whoever he was, was asking because he wanted to spend some time with me. That had to count for something... right?
The Victoria of before would have lied, would have wanted him to chase me a bit. Make him want me more.
But I had changed. I realized now the impermanence of things, how something you counted on, someone you thought you knew, could change overnight. If you wanted something, you had to seize it and enjoy it in that moment, because tomorrow it might not be there anymore. Carpe diem and all that.
Oh, why not, I thought to myself. The worst that could come of it was another failed date and I'd just be back to where I started. No worse for the wear.
So I took deep breath and made my decision.