"For the record," Sara said to Neal, "I still think this is weird."
He squeezed her hand. "We can turn around if you want. You don't have to do this, you know that. We can just -"
"Pretend this isn't happening?" Sara suggested. She shook her head, staring at the back of the cabbie's head to avoid looking at Neal. "I don't think I can do that any more."
"I know," Neal said quietly. "Look, it's dinner and a show, with friends. That's all it has to be."
"It's a group date, Neal. I'm on a date with you and so are they! So no, it's really not just dinner and a show with friends."
Neal was quiet, briefly. "Sara, you're clearly not comfortable with this," he said at last. "Maybe we should just -"
"No," she said firmly, then stopped and took a deep breath. "No, I'm not comfortable with it, Neal. But if we're going to keep going with this, whatever this is, I need to know if I can be. It's not fair, what we've been doing." She forced herself to look at him. "To anyone."
Neal nodded. "If it helps, Peter's just as freaked out as you are."
She raised her eyebrows. "And Elizabeth isn't?"
Neal frowned thoughtfully. "El has total faith in her relationship with Peter. It's easier for her.”
"And what about you?" Sara asked. "Aren't you nervous?" She supposed there wasn't any real reason he should be; he was the one getting to have his cake and eat it, too, in this scenario.
"Not nervous," Neal said. "Terrified." She glanced at him, startled, and he shrugged. "I love you, Sara. And I love them. It's not like if tonight goes badly I get a consolation prize of having one of you. Don't think for one moment that having them would make me feel better about losing you. It wouldn't."
Sara stared at him for a long moment, then leaned over and kissed him gently. "It probably shouldn't make me feel better to hear that," she murmured, "but it does. Thank you."
The cab dropped them off in front of the small, intimate bistro Neal had selected for dinner. They were slightly late due to traffic in Midtown, and Peter and El were already seated at the corner booth in the back that Neal had reserved. Sara could feel her heart beating wildly in her chest, which was patently ridiculous. It was just Peter and Elizabeth, she reminded herself; she'd had dinner with them at least half a dozen times before. She liked both of them a lot.
But that had been before - before she and Neal had broken up, before he'd admitted, to himself and to Peter and Elizabeth, how he really felt, before he'd given up a billion dollars worth of art and treasure to stay in Manhattan. Sara still didn't think that decision had had much to do with her, no matter what Neal said. But he said he loved her, too, and she believed him. And so she squeezed his hand hard one last time when they reached their table and then she let it go.
Peter kissed her cheek, smiling cautiously. Elizabeth hugged her. She hugged Neal, too. Sara watched covertly to see what Peter and Neal did, but they kept themselves to a warm handshake that lingered just a shade too long. But that didn't matter. Peter glowed just a bit when he looked at Neal, and Neal looked at him like he'd hung the moon. He'd never looked at her like that, Sara thought, with a sudden, sinking feeling. He'd looked at her with desire, with pride, and even with love, but he'd never looked at her like she was his whole world. She never had been.
She held herself together while they had drinks and ordered, making small talk about Peter and Neal’s latest case, about El’s next event, about the unseasonably warm weather without remembering a word. Then she excused herself and left for the ladies room, where she stood at the sink and struggled with the desire to sneak out the window. What was she doing here, she wondered. What good could possibly come of this?
Sara raised her head and caught sight of Elizabeth in the mirror. "Hey," she said, turning on the faucet to wash her hands, hoping against hope that Elizabeth had just come in to use the restroom.
No such luck. Elizabeth leaned against the counter. "Are you all right?"
Sara turned the faucet off and braced herself on the sink. "How can you stand it?" she asked, staring down at the droplets of water beading in the sink. "They quite obviously adore each other. How does it not make you crazy?"
"Because I don't let it." Sara raised her head to look at Elizabeth. She shrugged. "If I wanted to, I could let it make me crazy, I could be possessive and jealous of all the time they spend together, at work, on stake-outs. Peter sees more of Neal than he sees of me, most of the time. I could be angry about that. But what would that do?"
Sara shook her head. "You make it sound so easy."
"It was easy for me," Elizabeth said. "I had ten years with Peter before Neal came along, and three more of learning to live with him in our lives before we fell in love. I had time. You and Neal haven't really had that."
Sara turned her back to the mirror, leaned against the counter, and let her shoulders slump. "I just saw them together tonight, and the way they look at each other . . ."
Elizabeth laughed, briefly. "Sara, you should see the way he looks at you. Peter is so scared we're going to lose him to you, and I don't blame him."
Sara stared at her. "He's - what? But -"
"There's so much that Neal could have with you that he can't have with us," Elizabeth said, pointedly twisting her wedding band. "And Peter is - well, deep down, Peter is a very traditional man, and so part of him wants that for Neal. But he's also terrified that Neal will decide this is just too hard and choose you."
"Never," Sara said, shaking her head, astonished that Peter could think such a thing, "he'd never -"
"He might," Elizabeth said, very calmly, "if we make him. But I think we'll all be happier if we don't, don't you think?"
Sara hesitated. "I do," she said at last. "I just don't know if I can do this. I don't have ten years of marriage to stand on."
"I know," Elizabeth said. "But fortunately, you're not in this alone. We're not on different sides, Sara. It's not you versus us. If you think of it that way, it'll never work. We're all in this together."
"Really?" Sara said, faintly disbelieving.
"Really," Elizabeth said, smiling. "We don't want to take him from you. He's a better man when he's with you."
Sara had to try twice before she was finally able to speak. "Thank you," she said. "That's an amazing compliment."
Elizabeth shrugged. "It's true. Now, shall we get back to them? God only knows what they've cooked up in our absence."
"God knows," Sara agreed, with a laugh. "Thank you, Elizabeth. I still don't know if I can do this, but I - I do want to try."
Elizabeth smiled. "Call me El," she said. "Peter and Neal both do."
Their wine had arrived by the time she and Elizabeth returned. Sara slid into her seat beside Neal and allowed him to pour her a glass. He glanced at her, covertly asking if she was all right, and she smiled, squeezing his hand under the table. "I'd like to propose a toast," she said, holding up her wine glass. "I never thought I'd be in this situation," she said, looking from Peter to El and back again, "but I can't imagine better people to be in it with. To being all in this together."
They clinked glasses. Sara thought she might have imagined it, but she thought Peter's smile in her direction grew a shade more genuine and a shade less cautious. The kiss Neal gave her afterward was entirely genuine.
The situation was still really very strange, she thought. But for the first time she thought it might be the sort of strange she could live with.