She should have learned her lesson, because everyone knows once a cheater, always a cheater. That phrase was going to be thrown at her repeatedly at drinks and dinner with her friends. Her friends back then didn't like Rob sixteen years ago when he swept her off her feet, literally, as the head stock boy while she tended the cash registers at the small grocery store they both worked at in high school. "He's a player," Joanie said, "had like 10 girlfriends last year alone." She knew that, but he was gorgeous, and funny, and smiled at her in ways boys never smiled at Gina. They dated for a month, each week more wonderful than the week before, until suddenly, he just stopped inviting her out. He still smiled, still flirted, but was conveniently busy with each suggestion she made to spend time together. She learned a couple weeks later, he had moved on, spending his November with the new girl hired in the deli. Gina put a brave face on at work, and cried at night after the shifts they had to work together, until she too, had moved on.
Now, a lawyer, working for the city as a their data practices official, her life was comfortable, if not exciting. She had been married, briefly, to her law school boyfriend, going their separate ways when he was drawn to the even bigger city and moved to New York. Still, she had her friends, and family, and great relationships with nieces and nephews that filled the hole of not being a mom herself. She met Rob again by literally running into him coming out of a computer store, sheets of rain pouring down. She nearly dropped the empty laptop case, and he did a valiant rescue before it hit the ground, not knowing it was empty. Pushing the voices of her friends out of her head, she was happy to accept his offer to grab some coffee. A quick catch-up and they learned both were single now; his young marriage crumbling shortly after his daughter, now 13 was born.
"Honestly," Rob began, " my child has been the only girl in my life for the most part for some time." He reached in and pulled out a picture of a beautiful, smiling young girl, with almond shaped eyes. It was evident the child had down syndrome. Rachel, the girlfriend from fourteen years ago, walked out on Rob and Lilly, when at age four, she had barely developed beyond an infant.The hour they talked went by too quickly. He needed to pick his daughter up from school and get her to swimming lesson. She was a fish he told her, and would be pacing by the door if she thought he might be late. They exchanged phone numbers and promises to get together again.
Later with her friends, friends that had never met Rob, but knew the story of her last break up with him, she shared her afternoon meeting. "You aren't seriously even considering getting involved with an ex boyfriend two times over!" exclaimed Susan. "I thought you were the smart one. Because, everyone knows, once a cheater..." Gina wasn't listening. She heard the beep of her phone indicating a text and looked down. It was from the newly entered number Rob had given her three hours before. It said, "Dinner tomorrow?" Her mind ignored her 16 and 22 year old self and the heart break each had. One was a child, and one was afraid of starting life on her own. At 36, she knew she didn't need a man in her life, didn't need this one, but wouldn't close the door on possibilities. She texted back, "Why not," putting the phone away after hitting send.