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And then she reaches into her little clutch purse to grab her credit card and wave it at the bartender. "I’m done, Vaughn. And for what it’s worth, I do believe you about that girl on the TV. Thank you for the charity money. I will make sure it goes to worthy organizations and send you the receipt so you can claim it on your taxes."
The bartender shakes his head at me as he takes her card and I cup my chin with my hand and rub the shadow covering my jaw. My mind races with ideas, desperately trying to find a way out of this.
But Grace has made it clear she’s not interested in my games.
"Grace," I say softly as she signs the credit card slip and tucks her card back into her purse. "Would you like to have dinner with me? Here?"
She stands up and straightens her dress and then looks me in the eye. "No, Vaughn. I would not."
I reach out and touch her shoulder, gently, and this is just enough to stop her from turning away. "Grace, please don’t leave. Just listen for one more minute, OK? Because… because… I might not be your prince, but I think you’re my princess. I swear, I never knew I was looking for one. I just always knew that the women I was with before didn’t mean anything to me. But Grace, when I was up in that private suite and you were sent away, I realized something. I realized that I like you. A lot. And I don’t know what that means or where that leads, but I like you and I want to keep seeing you. I want to know you better. I want a chance with you. I’d like another chance to be your prince. I realize I’m a pretty bad substitute, but I can be fun. I can joke. I can make you feel all those things you crave, Grace. I know I can."
She looks up at me with a tear in her eye and shakes her head. "I don’t think so. I think if I give you another chance you’ll break my heart, Vaughn. I’ll believe in you because that’s the kind of girl I am. I’m hopelessly naïve. You’ll tear me up and leave me, just like you do all your girls. And I don’t think I can survive that. I really don’t. I think…" She swallows hard. "I think if I invest in you, and believe in you, and give my heart to you…" She looks up at me and the tear slips down her cheek. "And you broke my heart? I think I might never recover from that."
"So it’s better to just never take a risk at all, then? It’s better to turn me away and protect your heart, even though what I give you might make you whole and complete? Because I don’t think that’s right, Grace. I think that’s worse than living with a broken heart. Even if we fail at this and that fairy tale ending eludes us, we will be living it for as long as it lasts. Isn’t it better to live?"
She smiles, but it's strained and filled with sadness. "No, Vaughn. It’s not always better to live. I know better than most. Sometimes living is the worst thing that could happen to a person."
“What?” I’m not sure that remark makes sense but she turns away and I react by grabbing her and pulling her close. Pull her right up to my chest. "Grace, please. One dinner. There’s no risk, sweetness. None. Just dinner. You need to eat, let me feed you." She looks up at me and I know we are both imagining our date on the roof of her apartment. "Not like that, Grace. Just a normal dinner. With normal dinner conversation. I owe you a secret, remember? Tell me about your day and I’ll tell you about mine. I think we both had a pretty bad day. Don’t you want to talk to someone about it?"
She shakes her head no and I’m desperate here. I’m failing. I’m f**king failing. She’s dead set on walking away and there’s nothing I can say to stop her. "Please, let me tell you about mine, at least. OK? I need a friend, Grace. I have none to talk to."
"I don’t want to hear about your problems, Vaughn. I have enough of my own."
She tries to turn away again, but I hold tight. "OK, fair enough. No problems. Then… then… let me tell you about my dreams. Dreams, Grace. Did you know that all growing up I wanted to be a surfer?"
She laughs and I have a glimmer of hope. "Yeah," I say. "A f**king surfer."
She cocks her head, maybe interested. "Do you surf?"
Now it’s my turn to laugh. "No. I mean, I did try, but holy shit, I was terrible at it. And to be honest, I sorta hate the ocean."
"I’ve always wanted to snorkel and dive. But I’ve never had the opportunity."
"Dive, huh? I tried it once but it was for a movie role I never got, so I never did it again. But I bet… I bet you’d be great at it, Grace. I bet I’d like it if we did it together. We should’ve gone diving on Saint Thomas instead of… well, what we did."
Her shoulders relax but I respond by clutching her tighter. "Have dinner with me. Please. Let’s talk about dreams."
She’s shaking her head no before I’m even done talking. "I’m afraid to do that, Vaughn. I really am. Because that might breed hope and I don’t want to get my hopes up about you. I just… I just don’t trust you. I think that the minute I get comfortable, you’ll leave me."
"I don’t know how to fix that, Grace. I can’t tell you anything that will make you believe me. I can only show you, and you won’t give me a chance to show you because you don’t think I deserve it. So how can I change your mind if you don’t give me another chance?"
"Even if I did give you another chance tonight, and even if it was amazing, there’s no guarantee that tomorrow will be just as good. What if we wake up and things are worse? I can’t do it.”
"Just listen. No one has guaranteed happiness, Grace. That’s absurd. Your bar is impossibly high. How can I predict the future and promise you good days for the rest of your life? It’s not reasonable. And you know that. You’re only telling me these things to make excuses. To make me go away. If things suck tomorrow, then we deal with them. Like people do. One date, Grace. Right now. We’ve never had a real date. In public, I mean. We’re in public. This restaurant is cozy and quiet. And I bet they have good food here. Have dinner with me. If you don’t want to talk about your dreams, listen to me talk about mine." She bows her head into my chest and I rest my chin on her head. "One dinner. Just give me a few hours of food and conversation. That’s all I’m asking."
She’s still and silent in my arms. Very wounded. Very suspicious. Very vulnerable. And so very, very, very much in need of a win.