It was that time of the afternoon when it’s still okay to wear sunglasses inside. No one looks at you like who’s that dude think he is.
I sip my coffee. Look at my watch. Look at the door for the twentieth time in five minutes. Tell myself I’m not nervous, why should I be nervous, there’s nothing to be nervous about and why the hell did I pick this table—
She walks in. Walks in like she owns the place. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not pretentious. It’s just who she is. You know those people who walk in a room and everything stops for like this millisecond? There’s an infinitesimal shudder in the air, and you convince yourself it’s nothing because how do you explain that? It doesn’t make sense. And you’re right—it doesn’t make sense. It’s just the way things are.
I watch her for that moment before she sees me—that fraction of a moment before her guard goes up, before she becomes the person she is now.
The moment—that fraction—is gone almost before I recognize it.
My legs move beneath me. I’m walking toward her.
Unplanned. Unplanned. Sit back down.
We watch each other from behind mirrored lenses.
I lean in. Kiss her on the cheek. It’s normal. She’s wearing the same perfume. It’s five years ago . . . .
Get it together.
“Just let me grab a coffee?”
I sit. Why the hell did I pick this table? Pull out my phone. Put it back in my pocket. Adjust my glasses. I unconsciously rub my eyebrow STOP IT.
She sits. Smiles.
I want to say you look amazing. Tell me everything that’s happened. Tell me about the last three years. Tell me where you’ve been and do you remember? Do you remember everything? And a razor sharp memory: lying on the hood of the Jeep watching the fireworks, wrapped in a blanket because it was a cold July, and how she’d had the hood of her sweatshirt pulled way up over her head so only the tip of her nose was sticking out, and how I leaned over and kissed her under the sonic explosions, and it was like kissing ice, and how she started laughing and couldn’t stop, and how we both almost fell off but I caught her at the last second, and how her bag left a lightning bolt-shaped scratch on the Jeep—
“So how are you?”
She smiles—that easy, relaxed smile. The room shudders again.
She’s good. We talk. She tells me about the last three years, and I sit and watch her, and it’s easy—easier than I’d hoped. The sun reflects off her glasses and it’s hard to imagine that her eyes haven’t gone gold. And then I’m tipping back my cup, standing for a refill, reaching to take hers habit and catch myself at the last second, she laughs, pushes it toward me, smiles.
The walk to the counter is somehow easier. I can’t tell exactly what’s changed. Hand the cups over, wait, wait, realize I still have my glasses on, take them off, grab the coffees, turn, and see her sliding her glasses into her purse.
I set the cups down.
I push her coffee across. She looks out at the sunset. The light hits her just the way I remembered, her eyes glimmering sunset on the beach, the salt taste —
“I don’t know . . . for inviting me. I wasn’t sure—“ She takes a drink, looks directly at me. “I didn’t know what you wanted.”
She squints. I squint back the same way we used to do when one of us would be keeping a secret—the famous staring contest. Surprises rarely worked with us.
“I wanted to see if you were good.”
She tucks her hair behind her left ear the way she always does when she’s buying herself a second.
“I am.” She nods, “I really am.”
“Then my work here is done.”
She reaches across and touches my hand. Another shudder.
“You know I have infinite tenderness for you.”
The sun is gone. Nothing but clarity in those eyes.
“And I always will.”
I want my glasses. But I sit. I sit and look at her and see what truth looks like, and in the moment she releases my hand she releases something else in me—something no number of sleepless nights, benders, tortured miles, and crumpled diary pages could ever give—myself.
I am free.
I sip my coffee. Look at my watch. Look at the door for the twentieth time in five minutes. Tell myself I’m not nervous, why should I be nervous, there’s nothing to be nervous about.