"It's hard not to stare, isn't it, Cadence?"
I turn to the left to look at him. He's wearing faded jeans and a black T-shirt. A Red Sox ball cap covers his hair. It's pulled down low enough that I have to lean forward to look into his brown eyes. They're filled with resignation.
"I didn't know if you'd be here, Chef."
He smiles at the greeting but it's fleeting. It's gone almost as quickly as it appears. All that's left in its wake is the same empty expression that's been there since the fire.
"I knew you'd be here," he counters with a nod. "You didn't make it to my place last night."
I wanted to. My intention was to meet Tyler at his apartment at midnight but my body had plans of its own. I was watching television when I fell asleep shortly after ten last night and didn't wake up until an hour ago. I showered, dressed and then let my curiosity take the lead. That's why I'm here, staring at the charred remains of Nova. I did the same thing when I woke up yesterday and the day before that.
Just like both of those mornings, Tyler is here too. The only difference today is that he's alone. Yesterday he was talking to Maribel when I got here. The day before that it was a fire official. I hadn't interrupted either time. I'd just stood and looked at what the fire had left behind before I turned and walked away.
"I'm sorry about that," I say gently. I don't add an explanation. I know he doesn't need one. I'm pretty sure the only reason he asked me to his place last night was because I'd texted him twice yesterday afternoon telling him I wanted to see him. He reluctantly agreed to meet me. Since there wasn't a text message or a voicemail from him waiting for me when I woke up today, I knew that he likely felt some sense of relief that I'd stayed at home.
My desire to comfort him may not be coming from a selfish place, but it feels that way. I want to tell him everything will be fine. It's taken me the last three days to realize it might not be.
The only real loss I've suffered in this is a job. Tyler has lost virtually everything he's ever worked for.
His finger moves a strand of hair from the side of my face. "It still feels surreal to me."
It feels that way to all of us to varying degrees. Any person who worked at Nova before it was destroyed by fire is experiencing the same thing. It's a combination of grief, anger and disbelief.
Heavy silence had consumed the gathered crowds early that morning when an explosion leveled the building. I watched, in stunned horror, with dozens of strangers as the restaurant, and the apartments above it, were destroyed. I'd stood frozen in place when the firefighters turned away from the building after it collapsed.
My heart was somewhere in my throat when they pulled off their masks. It was a silent signal that they weren't going into the burning structure. Word spread quickly, through all the people and the press waiting for news, that whoever was in the restaurant wasn't going to make it out alive.
That's when I tried calling Tyler again, and then Brendon.
My heart sped with each unanswered ring.
I needed to talk to Tyler to know that he wasn't inside. I wanted to speak to Brendon so he could tell me that Tyler was safe. I didn't realize my motive for wanting to hear my ex-boyfriend's voice until he answered, finally, the third time I called.
He was at home eating his breakfast as if it was any other day. I couldn't tell if he was surprised or not when I told him, over the sounds of sirens and street noise, that Nova was gone and that someone was still inside the building.
Instead, he gave me a fucking play-by-play of his morning while I stood on that street corner watching water being sprayed on the flames.
I listened when he told me that he waited for Tyler on the sidewalk in front of Nova for close to thirty minutes before he gave up and left. He said he circled back toward his place and then decided to have a coffee at a bodega. After that he hopped on the subway, went home and showered.
I didn't feel any sense of relief that he hadn't met up with Tyler. I was pissed. I was angry that Brendon stole Tyler from my bed when he demanded they meet. I was livid that he was still interfering in my life even though we broke up so long ago. I was mostly upset that I couldn't find Tyler.
As Brendon went on about how I'll never make it without him, I turned toward the people standing next to me who were talking about Tyler and how hard it would be to rebuild the restaurant.
That's when I saw him. I dropped my phone in my bag, even as Brendon kept talking. I didn't give a shit about a word he was saying. None of it mattered.