The Direction of Greatest Courage

"You didn't have to get the cheapest thing on the menu," Beth said to me once we were seated back at our table.

I shrugged. "I never got into the whole 'frappe-mocha-latte-cino' thing. I've tried them, but it's not for me. I just like my coffee to be coffee."

"Fair enough." She took a long drink, and then sighed. "So, now that you're settled with your coffee, I have a confession to make. I sort of... left my phone behind intentionally, hoping you would find it."

My cup paused halfway to my lips as I tried to process that statement. "You wanted me to take your phone?"

Beth blushed a little and looked down. "Well, no. I wanted you to call me, and this seemed like the best way."

"And what if I had just turned it into the lost and found at the store?"

"Oh, I'd have just swung by in the morning and grabbed it."

"But..." I was stammering, and my mind was racing. I took a sip of my coffee and forced my thoughts in order. "But what if I'd just... taken it?"

Beth thought about that for a moment, and then shrugged. "Sometimes, you just have to take a big risk to get a big reward."

I shook my head. "I'm sorry, what parallel universe did I wake up in this morning where I'm a big reward?"

She whapped me playfully on the shoulder. "No putting yourself down. That's rule number one around me."

"Really? And what's rule number two?" I asked with a smirk.

Beth mirrored my expression. "Guess you'll have to take me to dinner and find out."

It took a little negotiating with schedules, but we finally agreed on the following Friday night for dinner. We talked a little more after that, mostly boring stuff that needs no reproduction and that my mind neglected to adequately record, being so giddy at having a date after a long dry spell. I didn't really check back into the conversation until Beth said, "Oh, so you're not surprised when you pick me up, I'm married."

I'd heard the phrase 'my heart dropped into my feet' before, but never understood the feeling until right at that moment. "You're looking for an affair," I said numbly.

"Oh, no, it's not like that!" she replied quickly. "We have an open marriage. He knows I'm here with you, and he knows why. He knew even before I left my phone. He was in the store with me, but he went to the car before I checked out so you wouldn't see us together."

This was too much weirdness for one conversation, and I clenched my eyes shut as I tried to digest it all. "So, you're... what? Polygamous or something?"

Beth made a non-committal sound. "Polygamy is a legal term that deals with marriage. We prefer 'polyamorous', which is more to do with relationships and love." I still hadn't opened my eyes, but I suddenly felt her hand atop mine. "Hey, Jason, if that's an issue, I understand, and I'm sorry for not saying something before I asked you out. We can just go our ways, no harm done."

I took a deep breath and let it out slowly before looking at her. She was visibly upset by my reaction, and my chest ached at the hurt in her eyes. "This is all very new to me," I said carefully. "I've never done anything like this before, never even knew anyone who did. But, like you said, it takes a big risk to win a big reward, right?"

"And I'm a big reward?" she asked, almost echoing my tone and inflection from earlier. But her expression instantly relaxed and softened.

"Powerball Jackpot big," I told her, earning myself a laugh and a blush. We shared a little more polite small talk while we finished our drinks, and then headed out, she home to her husband, and I back to my empty apartment and microwave dinner.