Jameson's house had become home to Tate, in the short period of time she had stayed there. It was where she had met Sanders, a soulmate. It's where she had met her match, in Satan. More than her match, it turned out. She had left a piece of herself in that house, imbedded in the structure, buried in the foundation. She wasn't ready to get it back yet.
“Of course, no pressure,” Sanders assured her. She smiled.
“You could always come cook at our place. Nick has a really nice, commercial grade stove,” she told him. His lips quirked to the side.
“May I ask you one more question?” Sanders ignored her suggestion.
“Will you ever be ready to see him again?”
Sanders just would not stop with the surprises. She wondered how long he had been planning this; Sanders would never do something without extensive planning, especially if it involved him going out of his comfort zone. This was so far out of his zone, he was practically a new person.
“I don't know. I'm ..., he ..., I don't think I can explain it. I thought ..., I told him I felt a certain way. I didn't ask for anything back, but he led me to believe there was something. It was all a lie. A joke. A game. He didn't care about me, he just wanted to hurt me. Me, my heart. Why would a person do that? Why would he be so cruel to a person, just because she liked him?” Tate asked, wiping at tears again.
“You know when I tell you something, it is completely unbiased, yes?” he asked. She nodded.
“Are you even capable of being biased?”
“No. And I am telling you, it was not all a joke to him. It was not a game. He didn't lure you in to 'falling for him' just so he could play some cruel prank on you. It wasn't like that. He is very stupid, I will agree, and he acted like a child, that is certain. As I said, I am not proud. But I also know that he cared about you,” Sanders stressed.
Tate squeezed her eyes shut tight and tried to remember the pool. Sometimes, she almost thought she could. Coldness, surrounding her, coming from everywhere. From inside of her. Like being dead. She knew that Jameson wasn't the one who put her there – she had done that to herself, she was the only one to blame. She had debased herself, she had degraded herself. She had done a lot of low down, dirty things in her adult life, but that night had taken the cake.
But Jameson had been a part of it. Tate may have been responsible for her drunk driving descent into madness, but Satan hadn't helped, either.
“I'm sorry, Sandy, but I just don't believe that. It's just wishful thinking.”
“You are entitled to think what you want, but that does not make it accurate. So. If you don't believe he ever cared for you, then there is no chance of you two making amends, sometime in the future?” Sanders questioned further. Tate almost laughed again.
“Is this for real? No, Sandy, I don't think there is any chance that we will 'make amends' sometime in the future. I can't even imagine speaking to him, and clearly he doesn't want to speak to me. It's better this way. It was a pretty toxic relationship, whatever it was – I think I need to just calm down for a while. Show a little restraint. Maybe try out a normal relationship for once,” she told him. He quirked up an eyebrow.
“A normal relationship? Like something with Mr. Castille?” Sanders asked. She laughed.
“You know what, yeah. Maybe. Maybe something exactly like that. Nice and normal,” she replied.
There was a very long pause, during which Sanders stared at her the whole time. The table was cleared and the check was brought, but he still stared. She began to wonder if she should pay when he finally looked down to grab the bill.
“Would you like your birthday present now, or at home?” Sanders asked in a lightning quick shift of topics. She blinked in surprise.
“Oh, uh, whenever is fine. You didn't have to get me anything, dinner was fabulous,” she told him, standing up. He came around the table and guided her back to the front of the restaurant.
“A birthday is not a birthday without at least one real present,” Sanders replied. Tate laughed.
“Did you make that up?” she asked. He shook his head and held the front door open.
“No. Jameson taught me that, after I came back to America with him,” he replied. She tried not to choke while he gave instructions to the valet driver.
“It's a nice rule to have,” she managed to croak out. Sanders turned to face her and reached inside his jacket.
“Besides, I bought this long before I made the dinner plans, so it is your real present,” he told her, then pulled a long envelope out of his pocket and handed it to her.
Tate couldn't make sense of it at first. It was just a simple e-mail that had been printed out. It took her eyes a second to sort out the tiny lettering, but when she did, she was shocked. She gasped and looked between Sanders and the paper.
“Is this for real!?” she exclaimed. He nodded.
“Yes. We would leave three days after Christmas, because New Year's -,”
“You bought me tickets to Spain!?” Tate squealed. Sanders glanced around, obviously embarrassed by her outburst.
“I bought us tickets to Spain, for New Year's. The winters here become too much for me, and I thought you would enjoy a vacation,” he explained matter-o-factly.
She shrieked again, startling him, as well as several other customers. Then she pounced on him, wrapping her arms around his neck and hugging him as tightly as possible. He squirmed and grumbled into her ear, but he finally hugged her back.