I just want coffee. Caffeine. Warmth! Energy!
Please, dear god, don’t let there be a line. I trudged through the snow, head down, one mittened hand covering my face against the artic chill in the air, the other hand grasping my lap top bag weighing me down like an anchor. It was my fervent hope to grab a table and thaw out with some writing time and a large cup of dark chocolate cherry espresso before moving on to the boring work stuff. I would have stayed home except dark chocolate cherry was worth a bit of frost bite.
I grasped the handle of my salvation and bring my eyes up to face the lights, blinking back tears from the windy assault. Ahhhh, the smell of ambrosia. There was a line but there were tables free so I grabbed one and piled my stuff on top of it, hiding my bag under my ginormous coat and assortment of cold weather accessories. I scanned the loiterers, looking for any suspicious lap top grabbers. Everyone seemed to ignore my presence, absorbed in their own conversations and tasks so I felt safe enough to get in line. I was close enough to the door that I could tackle anyone trying to steal my property anyway.
Should I try something new? I wonder, looking at the menu. They have a white chocolate caramel…nah too sweet. I could get a S’more ice blended coffee. Ooohhhh I wonder how they get the marshmallow flavor in there? I wonder if they can make it hot? Maybe I’ll splurge and get some mini donuts too or a croissant. Can’t write on an cold and empty stomach.
I bring my hand up to warm them with my breath, subtly bopping to the coffee shop groove when I hear a noise. There are lots of noises in the shop and really I shouldn’t have been able to hear this noise over everything else. I shouldn’t have been able to hear this noise again EVER in my life. But my ears were acutely tuned to it, trained for years to respond to it like a Pavolvian Dog. It was a raspy cat meow coming from the voice box of a human, loud enough to be heard over a crowd. It was a call; a call to ME to come hither and serve.
I hated how my spine stiffened, the way it always did in response and I just barely prevented my head from swiveling around to locate the owner of the annoying proclivity. Nope, I think. Nope, of all the towns in all the states, it’s impossible. It was a ring tone notification, I told myself. A cat meow to throw people off. Relax! I stepped forward purposefully and gave the coffee barista a big smile, swallowing the lump in my throat and ordering my coffee, a banana and three mini donuts.
Rrraneow! It came from my left, farther away by the window. Not a ring tone. No one would put that obnoxious noise on their phone. It would put their teeth on edge after the first day. Or maybe they would think its adorable and endearing like I once did. Fools. I swiped my card after collecting my treats and stepped out of line. Shit, I had toward the noise to get my drink. My heart drummed a staccato rhythm against my ribs and my eyes furtively swept the area. I felt a simultaneous stab to my gut and my back when I saw her familiar hazel eyes staring right at me.
At first I didn’t recognize her. Gone was the long coppery brown hair tied back with barrettes and jeweled head bands and in its place was a red curl that looked wrong with her tan skin. It was too brassy, making her look sallow and ill. She would have looked better with a wine color or burgundy to make her eyes pop and bring out her natural tan. I self-consciously swept a stray pink tinted lock behind my ear. But who cared? Making the wrong choices was always her forte.
The barely-there tank top she wore (that hadn’t changed in the least) exposed smooth skin that was now covered in colorful tattoos. I recognized her art style in some of them. When she stood, her paint splattered shorts nearly exposed her lady bits they rose so high up her legs. It made me wonder if she still didn’t wear panties. Yikes for her then. I saw that most of her legs and thighs had been inked as well. She must be doing well for herself then because that was well over a two grand in ink. But I guess if she ended up in a ditch somewhere then someone could identify her by her tats alone.
When she moved, she jangled, dragging several pairs of eyes to her. Just how she liked it. She didn’t see that it was in annoyance. Naturally. Her wrists and neck were layered with metal jewelry and when she turned to step out from behind the chair I saw her ear was loaded up with studs as well. And that’s when my brain clicked and I realized she was coming over.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
I was in a creative rut. The canvases hated me, the charcoal broke in my hand, the ink smudged—I needed a break. I needed a fresh perspective. The bars weren’t open yet and my weed supplier wouldn’t wake up for another two hours so to the coffee shop I went. If I took my drawing pad and sketched in public someone would probably come by and strike up a conversation. I hoped it was someone interesting.
I sat facing the window, drawing long imperfect lines for the skeleton trees across the street. A quick rectangle for the bus bench, a blobby stick figure for the man walking by in a red hat and a furious sweep of downward strokes to represent his dog. Lord, this was shitty. I hate snow. I sighed and sat back, tossing my pencil down and taking a bracing sip of my green jasmine tea with a hit of Tennessee Honey Whiskey. It was my second cup and so far there was nothing and no one interesting. Not on the page or talking to me.
I turned to get up and order a sandwich, maybe strike up a conversation with the cute barista, when I saw her. Chunky white sweater, jeans, knee boots—as if she’d stepped straight out from one of my high school memories. The half pink, half natural gold hair was new. I think I approved. And was that a tattoo behind her ear? I quickly looked down at her left hand. No ring. I sat back in my seat with a surprised plop. What was she doing in my city? How long had she been here? Where was she staying? Did she have a boyfriend?—a girlfriend? She looked fatter than I remember but who could tell from the baggy clothes she always favored?
My body flushed with adrenaline. No matter. This day just got so much better. My throat vibrated instinctively with the sound meant only for her; the sound that had brought her to me so many times. Rrraneow! I watched her closely and a fissure of satisfaction opened when I saw her straighten. She only just managed to keep from looking around for me. She stubbornly fought the instinct. Was she still mad? After all these years? Someone needed to let a grudge go. Or maybe she thought she was hearing things. I tried again after she finished paying and this time—finally—she looked for me.
I’m glad I opted for a tank and shorts even though it was below freezing outside. I stood and I watched her take me in from head to toe. The curly red hair, the tattoos, the jewelry, the body hugging clothes. Do you see how much I’ve changed? I made it, just like you said when you shoved me away. Look at me. LOOK AT WHAT YOU’VE CREATED.
She pinned her gaze on my face. I swallowed and felt my lips curve in a tentative smile. Those intense green eyes never failed to make my heart sing. Even after everything, I bloomed under her attention, like a flower under sunlight. My muse. I don’t know why she was here but she is exactly what I needed. Perhaps she always has been. I took a step forward.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – –
How does one react upon seeing an unpleasant ghost from their past? Ignore them and give them the cold shoulder and be a dick in public? But then that would make me the bad guy and I certainly was not. It would be a victory to her in her twisted imagination that I refused to speak to her. It would mean that she knew I still harbored some sort of feeling for her and she still affected me. It wasn’t a pleasant feeling but that didn’t matter did it? It was still something. So should I act friendly and unconcerned and casual? I shuddered and curled my metaphysical lip at the prospect of inviting any sort of friendliness between us. That left me with what…unemotional freak show? Polite citizen?
I was neither of those things. I wanted to hurt her with my tongue and watch those eyes shutter closed in pain. Karma clearly hadn’t wasted its time on her, deserving wretch. But that would spark more of those damned abandonment issues to life and she would know just how much she’d been on my mind since she left. She would love that. I would hate that.
I decided I would just grab my stuff and leave. I would be a coward and give her the satisfaction of a victory to save myself from humiliation (or a public homicide). Why did I disrobe first? I could have grabbed my coffee and ran because I was “late for an ‘insert-blank-here’”. She took a step forward and my muscles shifted away from her, dying to run away. I tried to make the movement casual, like I was switching feet and I grabbed my elbows. My lips returned her smile with a pinched rebuttal.
God I was screwed.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – –
She was guarded. Impersonal.
“What are you doing in my neck of the woods?”
“Oh, you know. Life.”
She looked away from me but I couldn’t look away. Her tattoo was of a treble clef and base clef shaped into a heart. For a former lover? A current one?
“Funny how that goes some times. Do you think it’s kismet?”
I wanted to hug her so badly my arms kept twitching. I wanted her to feel me, to see me. I wanted to break through her God-damned polite wall. I wanted to paint her lips red and release her pink hair from its messy bun. Gold and pink and verdant green, all for me . A thousand images of her overlapped in my head like a flip book until it stopped on the one I could never bear to look at for long. The last look she ever gave me with blood shot eyes, cracked and bleeding lips and my hand print forming on her flushed cheek.
Vanilla. Beige. Ecru. Bland. Boring! I stepped purposefully over to the pick up counter in front of her and leaned against it, challenging her. I jangled and stood like an art piece statue. Look at me, I urged silently. She didn’t. She gave nothing away. An ice princess where my warm amber jewel used to be. Looking at her this closely, my hands itched now to pick up my pastels and brush creamy peach onto the page; to dot it liberally with shades of brown—adorable. Blush for the curved lips and a scratch of white for the scar. MY scar. I’d mix three different greens in a star burst and then anchored them in a dark brown-black. A riot of orange, red, yellow—and now bright pink framing everything in curls and life and sunlight.
How long had it been since I painted this beautiful face? Years. Eons. Too long.
– – – – – – – – – – – – –
She was in my way. She was always in my way. She blocked me from the things I wanted; took more than she should and took things she never should have touched in the first place. There was a moment, staring at a stylized bird on her shoulder, that I allowed myself to be filled with the trapped feelings from my past. A slurry of betrayal and blame stirred up in me and my throat swelled with the need to word vomit it out. Almost. It was right there and she was right there. A conversation. Closure. The end of this nightmarish chapter of my life.
No. It wouldn’t make a difference. Not for me or for her. There was no end. Just distance.
I would have to touch her if I wanted my coffee. She planned it that way. I shifted the banana and bag of donuts in my hand. She’s nothing. She’s been nothing. She is nothing. She will be nothing. I can do this. I can do this–
I looked up over her head and my coffee was there clutched in the hand of a sympathetic barista. Had he seen what she could not? How typical. I reached up and grabbed it. He had already sleeved it for me and put a stopper in it. Ready to go. I didn’t have to linger. I clutched the beverage to my chest and half turned away.
“Well. Bye then.”
I tossed it over my shoulder like a used rag, limp and unwanted. I turned and felt my jaw unlock to let out a relieved breath. I didn’t run. I took measured steps toward freedom. I heard her move. I didn’t care if it was toward me or away. I made a beeline for my stuff and started to layer myself in protective gear once more. Distance. Calm.
I kept my eyes on the floor as I wound my scarf around my neck and jammed on my beanie, settling my messy bun in the hole at the top. She smelled faintly of paint thinner and whiskey and her signature musk oil. Her thin graceful hand was resting on my lap top bag. I saw more scars there than I remembered and a ruby ring—MY ruby ring—on her ring finger. My inner snarl turned into a roar and my gut tightened with a need for action. Stop! I’m almost free. Don’t give in!
“Hey! So that’s it? Just ‘bye then’?”
I shoved the food into my pockets and jammed on my mittens, coffee in one hand and the handle of my bag in the other one. Finally, one last time, I looked into those shrewd hazel eyes, just managing to close the door on my true feelings so she wouldn’t see. I would give her nothing. She deserved that most of all.
“What else can there be?”
My bag slid from under her hand. Her bracelets were a disbelieving cacophony on the table top. I turned toward the door and claimed my freedom in the cold.