“Just like old times, huh?” Sana joked as she walked him to his car.
Dinner at the Kurata house was as eventful as he remembered, and as entertaining as a dinner could be with two loveably eccentric personalities, two lively squirrels, and Rei, once again playing the straight man to the shenanigans.
It was nice to have a home-cooked meal instead of a take-out box, and company instead of sitting alone with his Blackberry in one hand and chopsticks in the other. While her mother coaxed the squirrels to do tricks for their supper, Sana regaled him with showbiz stories, complete with impressions of her costars. Impressions he didn’t always get without context, granted, but he laughed in appreciation of her talent if not her accuracy.
Old times? Not really. He’d wanted to feel it, but too much had changed.
“Sure,” he answered instead, “but you know what they say: you can’t go home again.”
She stopped in mid-step and looked at him, confused. “But what about your hat?”
His expression now matched hers, although his was genuine. He wasn’t sure about hers. “What hat?”
“They also say home is where your hat is. You just gonna leave it there?”
Clearly she was joking, if her twitching lips were any indication, and he could continue his ennui, or play along. “It’s summer. I don’t need a hat in summer.”
“Says the man wearing sunglasses at night.”
“Point Sana,” he answered generously. He almost forgot he was wearing them. With the house’s external lighting, he could see just as well as he always could.
But how well was that?
Looking at the world through dark glasses was like watching a black-and-white movie. Once immersed in the story, you forgot that life wasn’t lived in shades of gray. You forgot what colors things were supposed to be.
Sunglasses had dulled the world around him. Nothing was bright or vivid anymore. Whenever he pulled them off, he found himself blinking against the glare like a newborn opening his eyes for the first time.
Sana pulled them off for him now. “These are my fault, of course. So now I guess I have to get you a hat. Maybe a beret.”
They were her fault, a relic of the past, and wearing them, he saw her as that ten-year-old girl, childish and adoring. Without them, he had to face her as a stranger, a beautiful young woman whose career he’d followed from afar for the last seven years.
The dichotomy was unsettling. If he’d met her in the bar that night as a complete stranger, two adults sitting side by side, what would he have thought of her? It wouldn’t have been this complicated, this confusing. It wouldn’t feel so completely wrong to be standing in her driveway after dinner, the house lighting and the stars shining down on them while she looked up at him, her eyes wide and questioning and waiting.
“So…” she said to fill the silence. Sana had never liked the quiet. “Not a beret, then?”
She was still thinking about hats, and he was wondering what happened to the place he used to hang his. This house used to be home; the tiny apartment he was renting felt temporary in comparison. If he didn’t belong in either, where did he?
Damn, was he always this melancholic?
His hand was on her elbow. How did that happen?
“Hmm?” That same innocent expression, that same pure smile, on a face that represented happier times and the long loneliness since. If he told her, would she understand? He wasn’t even sure he did.
And if she didn’t understand, could it be like it was, when she would hug him and say something silly to make him laugh until he forgot whatever misery he’d been wallowing in?
He dropped his hand to his side and took a step back so he could breathe. “Yeah, a beret. Why not?”
In his imagination, a shadow of disappointment crossed her face. In reality, it must have been a cloud passing over the moon. “I’ll get you one tomorrow,” she said with an emphatic nod.
“After the audition. Don’t forget I’m picking you up at eight and we’re heading straight for the studio.” Work talk was normal. It was safe. Business as usual. Like old times, like nothing had changed.
“Slave driver,” she answered, rolling her eyes but grinning all the same.
In that moment, as they stood looking at each other, he knew he wasn’t the only one acting. She was just better at it than he was.