The door creaked gently and softly as he turned the antiquated metal knob and walked into the quaint little cafe on Main Street.
Two steps and he was practically on top of the counter, which would have been appropriate for a bar dance, but not a little cafe in the middle of this tiny and historical city. He wondered what the crowds were like during lunch time when all the doctors and lawyers in the area ordered their caramel macchiatos and their venti double shot french vanilla cappuccinos. And as he waited to be waited on, he tapped his right foot, his brown and dark brown Georgio Brutini Thornton chukka like Morse Code on the maplewood floors; imagining those same doctors and lawyers impatiently tapping their toes while making sighing sounds as their lunch-times quickly evaporated like water in the tea kettle.
And as he considered what to order he smiled as he heard “I think that possibly maybe I’m falling for you,” softly playing on the radio.
“Hey! Good afternoon sir! Can I help you with anything?” the male barista asked almost too politely, not with the words he spoke but definitely with the tone of his voice.
He looked like the kind of guy who cared more about the planet than about money, though he could have also been the unassuming owner of the establishment. His light blue t-shirt overlapping his trendy jeans just enough to be a little more than barely. He also wore a wool hat, which probably concealed dreadlocks in the winter, but his hair was clearly shorter now.
“No thanks, I’m just looking for now!” He said almost too excitedly back because of the extreme politeness.
“Okay, well let me know if you need anything!” He replied calmly as to not scare the new patron away.
“Yes there’s a chance that I’m falling quite hard over you.” He listened and softly whispered.
As he walked slowly around the u-shaped counter he saw various homemade muffins and cookies. He quickly assessed that this was not a full service cafe, but simply a place for a quick bite to eat that catered to; a college crowd, an on-the-go professional crowd, mom’s who needed a quick caffeine boost in between soccer practices (he wondered why it was always soccer practice and soccer moms and not karate practice and karate moms or magic practice and magic moms), and friends who wanted to meet up, or people who were meeting for the first time, maybe on a date or maybe a casual interview.
“I see the roads that your eyes wander down, I wanna come too,” like his own little theme song was playing for his life as he had recently known much hardship and this song recognized how he still felt.
The smells followed him like a lost and hungry puppy and crept up almost timidly as he walked slowly by. It was almost like a scratch and sniff sticker or smelling-on-demand as he could practically taste the blueberry muffin as soon as his eyes looked at the blue dots that bespeckled it. The same thing happened with the chocolate chips and the banana nut muffins; as if an incantation had been placed on his nose and eyes.
He continued to walk and look until…
His pocket vibrated
“I never knew just what it was about this old coffee shop, I love so much,” the song continued as he really began to appreciate the atmosphere, as if the song had been planned to coordinate with the ambiance, manipulating his senses with ease. Like she once did and did for so long he had forgotten what it was like to not be completely under her spell.
He stopped for a moment. Because if he had continued walking while he took his phone out the statistical probability of him breaking either the display glass or his nose by tripping into something was high. He was known in his immediate circles as being prone to accidents, both in his recent past and his distant past. He reached into the right front pocket of his dark brown straight fit khakis and pulled out his iPhone 6 with it’s black leather Apple case. He only pulled it out slightly to read the text.
“Be there in five minutes. Traffic is crazy, though it’s partly my fault!” He read from a number he immediately recognized but that wasn’t added to his contacts yet. Even if he hadn’t recognized the number though it wouldn’t have been difficult to figure out as he was only meeting one person for coffee.
“I think that possibly maybe I’m falling for you.” He continued to smile as the song seemed to ever so slowly play just for him. It reeled him in like a fish being lured to bite, the slow turning of something so visually appealing, it was mesmerizing. The song lured his ears to listen.
He met her online. Match.com. It was soon after his divorce when he realized with extreme confidence she would never be his again, as one day his friend called him and said “I wanted you to hear it from someone close to you, but she just got engaged.” So he tried his luck on a real dating website. Though in his ex’s defense he had been on dating websites during their separation. This was his first legitimate attempt to find something apart from her rather than just friends. He was trying to move on, but he was as skeptical as an atheist in a Pentecostal church.
“I’ve seen the waters that make your eyes shine, now I’m shining too.” He thought about Her eyes and how they shone when the sun hit them just right. He often referred to them as his sunflowers, the green harvest-ready fields surrounding the bright orange sun-like clusters that tightly hugged Her pupils. It was as if the sun was burning up the fields by personally visiting them, and it set him ablaze too.
After he slid his phone smoothly back into his pocket he walked to a wall across from the coffee station and attempted to read the little coffee educational poster that discussed the different smells coffee has and what it means. He quizzed himself as he read because he enjoyed coffee and figured he might be able to impress someone in the future with his new coffee-identifying skills, or use these skills on Jeopardy one day. Apparently if the coffee smells a little and tastes a little like cucumbers it has an earthy taste. Unfortunately for the poster, this fact seemed rather obvious considering cucumbers might taste and smell fresh but they were also earthy. The poster also read that the same cucumber coffee had probably been aged a little too long; that part interested him and was not so obvious.
He tried to keep reading, but the gay couple that also seemed to be having their first conversation over coffee was talking about the differences between “SoCal and NorCal.” Normally this wouldn’t distract him but they were a little too loud for the size and current volume of this quaint little place in addition to their conversation being almost pretentious. The one who loudly controlled the conversation compared the cultural and geographic differences between “SoCal and NorCal” to the differences between North Jersey and South Jersey; and as he continued to read he thought this comparison was vaguely fair but more misguided than anything. He also thought it was ridiculous that someone was actually saying “NorCal.” He hoped his partner would decide to find a more suitable match.
“If I didn’t know you, I’d rather not know. If I couldn’t have you, I’d rather be alone.” He stopped reading as the words pierced like daggers. Like scalding hot coffee on bare skin. What was he doing? Thinking? Feeling? Why was he doing this? Why was he here?
He sat down on a stool nearby and pulled out his phone again, now in a seated position, this ensured that he didn’t accidentally break something or smash his face against something that might be inclined to shatter on impact. He read the newest tech leaks regarding Apple and other companies and did a quick peek at the news via the Apple News app and then got a text from his sister. Usually he didn’t open links, they were like group texts, annoying at best, but this was buzzfeed and he was still waiting so he opened it. It was a list of Twitter hashtags where people were posting what God was saying when He created animals. They included “Make it an evil bag,” about a jellyfish, “I want a cow bear,” for a panda bear, and “how about an angry sock,” for a snake. He LOL’ed.
After this brief entertainment by way of Buzzfeed he took a short quiz that compared the land areas of nearly identical countries which he did terrible at. Some of them were very small differences in land area, like 100,000 miles, and he used this fact to rationalize his scoring so poorly on a topic he thought he knew more about. He even questioned himself saying “really? you taught Geography.” But he dismissed it for more important things.
“All of the while, all of the while, it was you.” His eyes creaked open like the door and let a small drop of salt water carve out a spot for itself down his cheek. He immediately thought of Brendan Frasier in Bedazzled where he says in an overly emotional and sensitive way “I never wipe my tears away, I wear them as little wet badges of courage.” So he immediately wiped it away not wanting to be like that character. The words from this Landon Pigg song ripped his already broken heart into smaller pieces.
And as if God was moved with pity toward him over his 2 out of 10 correct and his heart aching yet again, she walked in.
She was fast, like she was delivering an important package. She wore a blue and white striped dress, like a sailor on holiday from a trip aboard the USS Indianapolis. And she immediately recognized him and walked up to him, her fast stride almost ignoring confidence and almost lacking style, almost purely missional.
“Do we hug or handshake?” He asked nervously, laughing in a moment of uncertainty regarding rules he knew nothing about.
She extended her hand but he half hugged her anyway.
And that’s when it happened. Like flashbacks in shows happen. It was immediate and abrupt. It was intrusive and invasive and there was nothing he could do about it. Like a dream suddenly turning into a nightmare without warning. Like an Asian carp, but less hoppy.
He saw Her for the first time. Her long curly dirty blonde locks as clear as day 1 which was exactly what they looked like the first time he saw Her. And suddenly he felt every hug that they had ever exchanged. He suddenly saw Her on their wedding day and he felt their kiss and their first embrace as a married couple. He suddenly felt every sweaty hug after a run and every congratulatory hug after something major happened. He felt them all and he pushed it all away as if trying desperately to wake up from this horrible nightmare.
“Hey, it’s nice to meet you.” He said politely backing out of the embarrassing embrace.
“Thanks, you too! Did you get coffee yet?” She asked as if already in a rush.
He didn’t like her tempo but she just came from work, so he excused it because she didn’t mention the awkward hug.
“No, I waited for you,” he said like a gentleman and then adjusted his non-existent top hat to prove his gentlemanliness. She didn’t notice and he smiled at his own mime, almost glad she didn’t.
“Okay, I like cold coffees in the summer,” she blurted out. He wasn’t quite sure if that was a recommendation or an inability to control herself, but he smiled and agreed nonetheless. “You should try Wawa’s iced caramel latte,” he added to avoid seeming dismissive.
And then it happened again… He was suddenly forced into a familiar world that he didn’t want to be in. It was home, but he didn’t want to be home anymore, or home didn’t want him. “1/3 low fat french vanilla cappucino, 1/2 french vanilla coffee, 1/6 french vanilla creamer, and 3 splenda” he repeated in his head as if it was the only thing he’d ever ordered in his life. It was his muscle memory. His reflex and his knee had just been tapped by the knee hammer. It was his coffee mantra. And she was his Coffee Mate.
“Sir, can I take your order?” A different man asked. He had a hand crocheted beanie with a light gray t-shirt and jeans as well, and he reached into these nightmares and pulled him out. “What can I get you?”
“Oh, I’m sorry, I’d like a iced caramel macchiato please,” he asked with a brief period of confusion.
“I’m going to use the bathroom,” she stated and immediately disappeared behind a door as if walking no longer existed, as if it was too inconvenient to even consider a valid option for bodily transportation.
Another invasion like Normandy… Without warning his brain was storming strange beaches in foreign countries and was taking him along with it… This time he waited for Her. He waited in the car patiently. He waited in the kitchen impatiently. He waited while he made the salad. He waited by the door with his bible knowing that they’d be late for church. He waited with the dog and the leash in hand. He waited and he smiled. He waited and he bit his lips. He waited and he paced. He waited and he gently clenched his teeth. He waited. And he was happy he got to. Fortunately for the sake of embarrassment though this flashback was over before anyone really noticed that he was gone again. The goofy smile could have been explained away by anything, he didn’t worry.
She emerged like a Tazmanian devil about to eat and stood next to him also waiting.
“That will be $9.58,” the guy behind the counter stated as he began punching things into his iPad. She went for her card, but he looked over menacingly and told her he had this one.
“Thank you,” she stated with a smile.
But unfortunately even a simple smile was another trigger. And like a Bipolar man, his brain flipped a switch and he saw Her smile. He walked down the path with Her and they joked. He held Her hand and kissed it and he saw Her lips make room for Her inner beauty to shine. As if the red carpet was leading to the most beautiful woman that ever existed and she was standing in a perfect white dress. He saw Her walking down the isle that perfect day. He saw Her after they made love and they couldn’t help contain the joy of God making two people for one another, or at least God giving two people to one another. He saw a million flashes of light, like watching lightning overwhelming a distant valley from a mountaintop high above it. It was beautiful and it captured him. It enraptured him. It seared itself into him. Into his heart. Branding itself onto his soul. He thought of a quote “she was thunder and lightning and rain, and he was the Earth that drank up the storm.”
“Thank you sir,” he stated as he gave the card back, snapping him back to the cruel reality that he found himself in. He wanted to stay in this storm. He wanted to sit out on the balcony and spectate. He wanted the hairs on his arm to stand as the mere thought of Her produced electricity in his body. She was the cool breeze that he wanted to dance around in. She was the rain and he wanted to be the overflowing watering-can that the forgetful kid accidentally left out in the yard.
The counterman turned the iPad around and had him sign with his fingertip as she walked around and began fixing her coffee, the urgency diminishing from her step and a more relaxed pace beginning to take over.
After signing he walked around to the side she was on and saw her begin to clumsily balance things in her hands while she also attempted to juggle her coffee.
“Can I grab that for you?” He asked as he grabbed her jacket. He thought that it was far too hot for a jacket, but then another invasion took control of him as he watched Her prepare Her coffee like only she could. Her swishies, Her t-shirt, Her wet hair underneath Her baseball visor. He adored it. He watched as methodically as she prepared. Taking off lids and pulling out stirrers, pouring coffee and then taking sips to make sure levels were balanced and things were done as they should be. He watched Her and smiled, he had seen it a thousand times but it always entertained him.
“I can take that back now, thanks so much,” she said as she yanked him back to the cafe via her denim jacket. Like that scene in an action movie where that one character is dangling off a building and their jacket rips and they are hanging by a thread, and then all of a sudden, right before the building collapses they use that same torn jacket to pull them to safety. Except this was not safety, this time he’d rather let go and be left to whatever fate awaited him in the rubble.
“Let’s go outside, I like drinking along the garden,” she stated bubbly bouncing out the quasi-creaky door.
“Okay,” he said as if automated. His body and mind fought to keep him grounded in reality, but his heart wanted nothing to do with it and it was winning.
They sat down after briefly discussing which table to sit at, the dark olive metal chairs grinding against the pink bricks they rested upon as they both pulled out their own.
“So why were you partly the reason you were late rather than just traffic?” he questioned, leading back to the text he received about 15 minutes prior.
“Well… I was tutoring my student and…”
It didn’t matter what he asked, or what she talked about, he kept hearing different stories, Her stories and seeing Her face. He saw Her teeth, which they both knew were a little bigger than Her mouth should have allowed them to be, but he adored them because they made Her cheeks cute. And he remembered the few baby pictures she had shown him, those cute little cheeks he wanted so bad in a daughter of his own. But every word this strange woman formed through lips and teeth that were too foreign to appreciate fell on deaf ears. Every syllable through a mouth he didn’t want to kiss. Every sound through a smile that didn’t warm his heart. And oh how it groaned for bygone days.
“Do you know who she is?” She asked.
“No, I’ve never heard of her before,” he stated not even sure what topic they were on anymore, he just let the flashbacks run their course and began to try to incite them somehow.
“Oh my gosh, I love the introduction, it just makes me so happy, I think everyone should listen to this every day,” she stated with such excitement. “Here, let me play it for you.”
And as the stranger got her phone out of her purse he saw the purse he bought for Her and he saw the last iPhone she had. It was a 5c and it made him fall even harder. He missed sharing things on phones. He missed texting. And as she played the song for him he didn’t hear the introduction of the podcast she listened to daily. He heard Her singing to him. He heard the recordings she made for him. He heard Her voice and he didn’t know what to do anymore. He was falling in love with Her all over again.
She kept quickly switching topics, as if she knew that his mind was unfocused and even unconcerned.
“I just love teaching and making a difference in the life of a student,” she stated passionately. And usually this passion was contagious to him because it fed his own. Usually this passion fueled his own fire, but he didn’t care that she adored her profession. He longed for a conversation about trigger finger. And all of a sudden they were in a sketchy part of Mays Landing, NJ and she described, using his own hand, how you give therapy to a person who has trigger finger. She had just started a job she loved but they lived too far away and were trying to move. And as they walked, she showed him what drove Her.
That’s the passion he missed. He didn’t want another teacher. He didn’t want someone who was like him. He wanted Her. He wanted Her passion about therapy, about helping people with physical impairments. He wanted the procedural brain to analyze situations and solve problems. He wanted the perspective that he could never give because his brain didn’t work like that. And he sang what he had just heard “if I couldn’t have you I’d rather be alone.”
She questioned him like she had ADHD, feverishly moving on, hoping that one would resonate with him.
“So what do you think about Trump and Clinton?” she asked with a laugh knowing how loaded a question that was. He smiled and asked if she had all night but then the conversation became like the kind from a Charlie Brown movie. All he said was “Wah wah wah wah wah,” and then that faded like music during a calm part of a movie, and he heard Her talk about God, and he heard Her prayers. And he heard Her philosophies on life and love and volunteering, things they didn’t get the time to do together, but ideas he wanted, ideas that were engrained in him. Things that couldn’t be taken out. Things that he loved and he missed so much.
And he fell for Her, but…
She wasn’t there. She was with another man. And he was on a date… an actual date.
But it also didn’t matter. And it never would. Every time he looked into these eyes, he saw his sunflowers. These crimson lips were no match for the light pink natural lips she wore everyday. This body was incomparable, he had no thoughts about slowly exploring, no thoughts about wanting to kiss her, no thoughts about her hair, he didn’t even want to compliment her, and so he didn’t. Because he was falling in love with a ghost. With an apparition. He was falling in love all over again with the woman he gave up. And it was the most painful realization of a life that had been marred by pains that most people could and would never know.
“Where have you visited?” She interrupted his increasingly deep thoughts and asked really intrigued and wanting to know. And he felt bad that he couldn’t reciprocate her interest.
But he couldn’t stop it anymore. And he just thought about their own trips together. It was as if she was controlling the conversations he was having with other people because his heart was still her marionette, his thoughts and emotions were just strings that she commanded. Their trips to Disney. Their trips to the mountains. All of them. He didn’t care about Greece. He nearly hated South Africa by now. He just wanted to be on vacation with her. He needed to be with her. And as he sat there at the cafe, and he heard this stranger excitedly sharing her vacation stories, his brain played a slideshow of the pictures they took of Disney as they were placed one by one in front of his mind’s eye. He saw the dolphins they swam with and he saw the smile on Her face. He saw the speed boat they once took out to sea and he looked across the boat as he got soaked and she sat on the dry part, a clear contrast between his adventurous side and her conservative side, they were like Yin and Yang, they balanced one another.
And in all these things he saw something that he couldn’t describe. He saw a love that was not diminishing. It couldn’t and it wouldn’t. It was only growing. It was weeds. It was invasive vines that somehow applied personification physically and they climbed and they gripped and they choked everything else away. Its’ tendrils wrapped around him. This was a survival love. This was a kill all at all costs love. This was a desperation that would not let go until it was dead. And then in death, it’s fingers still had to be pried off.
Here he was. On a date. And falling in love with the only woman he’d ever want to call his wife. Hoping that she would realize that she missed him. Hoping that she would realize how much he really loved her. Hoping she’d sit down one evening and watch a show they used to watch and then all of a sudden, like a torpedoed boat, everything would come crashing in on her and she’d realize that she either wanted to live with him or drown with him, nothing else would do. Hoping she might also be singing “if I couldn’t have you I’d rather be alone.” Hoping she might be falling back in love with her husband. Hoping that she was falling in love like he was… Falling in love at this little coffee shop. All over again.