So yeah, that’s what’s new, he says before taking a sip of his coffee.
Sounds okay, she replies. Her smile is easy and playful.
There’s a lull in the conversation earlier than expected. Both take a moment to stare into their cups. As suddenly as it came, the spell is broken and they talk like old friends; some laughter, some teasing, an admirable effort to make the present feel like the past.
But then they land where they always do – at the end. Experienced here, they stop themselves before they really get started. They’ve been down this road before.
Simpler matters occupy them and she thinks for a moment that the sharp distance might grow softer. But only for a moment.
The jangle of bells at the door announces a new customer who looks around and spots them with a wave. She places her hand on his shoulder as she reaches the table. He smiles broadly, introduces the two women, moves his chair so the newcomer can take a seat. The second woman’s greeting cracks the quiet of the space and the first woman returns it politely but with an emotionless smile, eyebrows raised at the man in an unspoken question.
The first woman waits. Time stops. Distance reshapes itself as a valley between mountains.
The second woman’s smile widens, an almost giddy grin. She opens her mouth to speak and changes her mind.
The pause is too long.
The first woman takes one last sip of her already empty coffee. She checks her smile and finds some warmth. Great to see you. And she means it. Nice to meet you. Take care.
The pleasantries are exchanged automatically, the next steps determined without notice.
When she leaves, it is with the barest hint of hesitation. Bells jangling agin, I follow at a distance. She’s distracted and doesn’t notice. She walks quickly and I stay carefully behind.
She travels several unseeing blocks before pausing to get her bearings. She’s been here before. So have I.
She checks her watch. After some hesitation and with controlled deep breaths, she begins walking again, this time with purpose instead of flight.
A few more blocks and she enters a small bar. I’m not surprised when she takes her usual seat at the high top counter stretched across the window. When a server comes over, she inquires about happy hour, selects a glass of wine, and hands back the menu with a smile that reaches to her eyes.
We’ve been here before.
I sit not far behind and watch her pull a notebook and pen from her bag. But rather than begin writing, she leans back in her chair and stares out the window. Shapes and colors pass. I sip my drink and wait.
The arrival of her wine awakens her from her reverie and her body relaxes. The wine does what wine does and soon she’s writing, writing, writing. I’m sure she doesn’t notice that the glass is empty, but then there’s a second grateful smile to the server who comes to offer her another. She checks her watch.
Her writing slows with the second glass and I watch her stare out at the world in between flurries of pen on paper. I’m nursing my beer. The notebook and pen are put away before the last sip of wine is drained.
For a long time she looks out the window and I don’t know what she sees. Her body is quiet; feet usually restless remain still and hands sit folded on the counter. Occasionally I watch her shoulders move in a sigh. I settle into my seat. We’ll be here awhile.
When she pays the bill, smiling once again at the server, I take this as my cue and follow her out the door. She crosses the street before I’m ready. I wait for one more light and by the time it changes, I’ve lost her.
We’ve met before. I’m sure we’ll meet again.