I saw Anna only twice more over the next few years. The first nearly a year after our breakup in the bar at the restaurant where Darcy and Spencer held their wedding rehearsal dinner. By this time I was only working at El Nino on the weekends while I spent my weekdays in school. I still hated going to packed bars just knowing how overworked the bartenders were, so I hung back, waiting for a break in the crowd or an opportune moment to catch the harried young man's attention.
I leaned against a high backed chair that was pushed into the corner. All of the tables were taken and I stood, hands in my pockets, thinking about how long I would have to wait until I could take off my tie. Rachel had forced me wear one stating that as the best man it was, at the very least, my duty to dress up.
A flash of red hair and a smile caught my attention; I was looking out of the arched doorway into area by the hostess stand where people were waiting to be sat. Something about what I'd seen seemed so familiar and I craned my neck over the crowd to catch a glimpse of the girl that I couldn't have possibly imagined in a restaurant like this. The Anna I had known preferred upscale Martini bars, not family owned Italian restaurants with a crowded noisy bar and a seating area for parties.
But it was no mistake- the woman I saw was definitely Anna. Her hair seemed a little darker and it was shorter than I remembered. She stood close to the man next to her, he seemed older- hair tinged with gray, laugh lines crinkling as he smiled down at her. I was surprised to see his other arm looped casually around a young boy- no more than 6 or 7. Was she on a date? A guy with a kid? It seemed the farthest thing away from what the Anna I had known would do.
Whether she noticed me or not I didn't know- I stepped up to the bar and ordered drinks and as I walked back into the back room where the wedding party was, carefully balancing Rachel's wine next to my drink, I cast my eyes around the restaurant, looking for her again. I didn't know why I was so intrigued. I couldn't find her and simply shrugged it off, forgetting later that it even happened. I didn't mention it to Rachel simply because our past relationships had stopped being an issue long ago.
We were still living in the same apartment although Spencer and Darcy had gotten their own place. We used their old bedroom as a guest room and the spare room was now an office where I studied and Rachel worked. She had gotten a job right out of school at a task force for the homeless. She and I had once again volunteered our services to Lakeview High School in their yearly musical production. Looking back I couldn't believe how much had happened to me in only a little over a year. I'd never been busier but sitting back now and sipping on my drink as I glanced around my table full of friends, I realized I'd never been happier either.
I had never fallen so hard for someone as I had for Rachel. Trying to imagine my life without her now was impossible and always made me uncomfortable when I thought about how close I'd gotten to losing the opportunity all together. Seeing Anna again made me feel that and as I sat down next to my girlfriend, I slung an arm around her waist and pulled her into an intense kiss. Carter whistled appreciatively from the other side of the table.
Rachel pulled away, her cheeks flushed. "What was that for?" she asked, smiling.
I shrugged. "Because I can." She brushed my lips with hers again and settled back into her seat, holding my hand in her lap. A few drinks later and I'd completely forgotten I saw Anna at all.
The second time I saw her was almost three years later. Rachel and I were at the West Side Market buying ingredients for our weekend dinner. We'd established a night that was reserved for just the two of us, with no school commitments, no work engagements, and no friends- just us.
Rachel was haggling over the price of potatoes with a seller. I smiled to myself as I perused the produce a few stalls down; she'd become an expert at bargaining for deals and was quite proud of it. I usually left her to her devices while I poked around the other stalls.
"Cameron?" A familiar voice called. I turned, trying to find the source. And there was Anna, waving at me from several stalls over.
I smiled as I approached her but it covered my nervousness as I wondered how I was supposed to greet her. Our last encounter hadn't been particularly pleasant, but she surprised me by leaning in and hugging me warmly. I stepped back to look at her. Her hair was definitely darker now, what I suspected was closer to her natural shade. It was pulled up into a hasty ponytail and she wore just a pair of jeans with a long-sleeved white shirt under a gray hooded sweatshirt. She didn't look bad, I didn't think that was possible, but she looked so plain compared to what I remembered.
"Wow, how are you?" she asked, looking up at me. Now I noticed that her eyes were no longer the unbelievable emerald shade I remembered, but rather a much darker hazel similar to my own.
"I'm great," I responded. "Surprised to see you here, but great."
She chuckled. "I know…I wouldn't have been caught dead here when you knew me."
I nodded. "That's what I was thinking. Not to mention that the Anna I knew had plans to get the hell out of Cleveland a long time ago. You must be her more down to earth twin sister."
Anna laughed. "Oh no, that was me alright. I was so young and stupid then…funny what a few years and a rather cruel kick in the teeth from an ex-boyfriend will do to a girl," she said, although it was with a smile.
I looked down, ashamed. "Anna, look…that was a long time ago…"
She cut me off. "Please don't apologize. I deserved every word that you said to me that night. I haven't forgotten them mind you…or the embarrassment I suffered for the rest of the evening, but it was what I needed." She paused, cocking her head to look at me. "You were absolutely right, you know. I was so self-centered and so stuck on…I don't know, trying to be perfect and take other people with me I suppose." She shrugged. "I needed to be knocked down a peg."
"You know, if it hadn't been for you telling me I wasn't good enough it probably would have taken me a lot longer to get my act together and go back to school," I said, trying to find something to say that wouldn't sound like an insult but at least let her know I knew what she'd been trying to do.
"So you did then?" she asked, genuinely pleased. "That's great, Cameron. Are you finished?"
I shook my head. "It's a long program, I still have another semester. It feels like forever, but I only have student teaching left and then I'll be unleashed into the public school system as a full-fledged art teacher."
"Oh, that's wonderful! My step-son loves his art program and I know a lot of that had to do with his teacher," she stopped and laughed when my eyes must have appeared they were going to burst from their sockets. "Yeah, I got married. And he has a son."
"I- uh…" I stuttered.
Anna laughed. "I do have a heart you know!"
"I guess it was just buried under contacts and makeup when I knew you," I said, dryly.
She grinned. "There's the Cameron I remember." She looked around, pointing to a tall man and small boy who were standing next to a bakery stall. "That's Tom and Aiden," she said with what I was quite sure was pride.
"I'm really happy for you," I replied, surprised to find I actually meant it.
Anna turned back to me. "So, whatever happened between you and…what was that girl's name that lived with you? The one you were so infatuated with."
I tilted my head, wondering if she really didn't remember. "It was Rachel," I said, pulling my left hand out of my pocket and holding it up, the small silver band around my ring finger glinting subtly in the light. "I married her."
Anna grinned and I pointed in the opposite direction as she had. Rachel had moved on to the next stall, clearly not even noticing that I wasn't around. Her profile became visible as she turned and Anna's smile widened as she took in Rachel's obviously pregnant form.
She hit me on the arm, "You didn't say!"
I shrugged. "You didn't give me the chance. Besides, I'm not even sure if it's mine…"
I laughed. "Yeah, she's due in a month. Don't ask, we don't know what it is…I mean, other than a baby."
"I couldn't have stood being with you, I think," she said, smiling as he looped her bag back over her shoulder in a gesture that said to me the conversation was winding down.
I laughed. "Good thing I dumped you then." She laughed along with me and then I leaned in to hug her quickly. "I'm only kidding. I'm glad I ran into you, Anna. You seem really happy."
"So do you," she replied. And with that she turned and made her way back to her family. It would be the last time I saw her.
I walked back to Rachel and slipped my arms around her from behind, resting my hands on her burgeoning stomach.
"Who were you talking to?" she asked, turning some tomatoes over in her hands.
I smiled, kissing her lightly on the back of her neck. "No one," I said, continuing to rub her stomach.
Rachel laughed. "You rub that thing like it's a magic lamp, Cam. I promise, you're not going to get three wishes from it. Unless it's dirty diapers and no sleep," she said, turning around to smile at me.
I smiled back but said nothing, quite sure that I'd gotten my three wishes a long time ago. She slipped her arm around me and we turned, slowly making our way back through the crowd.
AN: Sorry it wasn't full of sex. :) I hope you're not disappointed. I just felt that Anna needed a wee bit of redemption. And of course their had to be love, marriage, and babies!!
To anyone whose made it through to the end, I thank you for reading. I hope you enjoyed it. And a particularly large and heartfelt thanks to Andee Lee and mk985 my two most dedicated reviewers. You guys conistently made me laugh and stroked my ego (in more ways than one, LOL) and you don't know how I look forward to reading what you have to say.
If I have the time and energy (and inspiration) I may be posting something else here eventually. We'll see how that works out.
Thanks again!!! You guys ROCK!