Sundays are the best days for Simon, thanks to the bit of time he spends at the cafe near his place. And because every Sunday, SHE is there.
This Sunday is no different… until it is.
Genre: Romance, Drama
• • • • •
“What are you reading?”
Simon thinks the girl didn’t hear him because it takes a while for her to react. Until she moves the book just enough that he can see the cover as she keeps reading. It’s mostly red, with a rectangle in the middle with a
“What’s it about?”
Once again, she moves the book, this time turning it so he can read the synopsis on the back. There’s no way he’s ever going to be able to read that from where he sits. He almost gets up in order to actually see but chooses to act as if he’s reading instead. He squints, blindly moving his pupils over the blur.
Nothing else comes to his mind. Of course, it has to be interesting. Why the hell would she be reading the thing if it wasn’t? With the conversational door now ajar, he scrambles for things to say, questions to ask. Every Sunday morning, for many months now, they’ve both been having coffee here and he somehow feels like he knows her. Even if all they’ve ever shared were polite smiles and furtive glances. Which may be why he has no idea what to say so she’ll get interested in him rather than her book.
He’s scrambling for the perfect intro, something funny and clever. He usually has no trouble finding the right thing to say, yet he’s stomped after three meaningless sentences. He considers coming clean and
The black on her legs, that’s her boots, the ones she always wears even in such a warm weather. Then comes the deep bronze of her skin, going high enough to guess that she’s wearing a very short skirt, black as well. She’s wearing a red tank top, the kind of hue that is blinding it’s so pure. He only knows it’s a tank top because of the brown of the arms he sees moving when she brings the blueberry muffin to her mouth.
It’s always a blueberry muffin.
He hides in his coffee cup when he notices her glancing back at him. Except the brew’s now too cold and he coughs it back in its vessel with a grimace. Her laugh may be discreet, he still hears it. He can’t help the heat creeping up in his face as he tries to save face, glancing at his watch. At least he can see the time all right, he won’t have to fake that too. It’s already close to noon, but he doesn’t want to leave. He gets to his feet and walks up to the counter.
“Americano, please,” he asks the young barista.
As he waits, he pivots to admire the girl again. She’s even more blurry now, looking almost ethereal and it’s making her more desirable somehow. She’s still sitting, engrossed in that book he knows nothing about and it tugs at his heart. At the same time, he can’t help being jealous of those words that get her total focus. Only for a moment would he love to be that novel, to be the only thing she sees.
The young man behind the counter has to pat Simon’s hand to pull him from his thoughts. His coffee is ready and he still has to pay, which he does before going back to his seat. He’s tempted to try and find something to read, if only out of spite. Instead, he keeps his gaze on the shadows moving on the sidewalk, glancing at the black and red form on occasion.
He only realizes that he’s been staring again when she gets up to come toward him. He braces himself, convinced that she will either dump her coffee on his head or slap him. She might even call him a pervert, which wouldn’t be too far fetched. To his own surprises, she sits with him as she deposits her breakfast and book on the table.
“It’s the story of a French girl who goes to work in Japan and is pretty much bored to death… it’s pretty interesting.”
It takes Simon a while to understand what she’s talking about: The book! He lifts his chin, not ready to have his lies put out there.
“I know. Read it on the back earlier.
“You don’t have your glasses.”
“I’m wearing contacts.”
She doesn’t respond and smiles before bringing the coffee to her lips. From this close, he can finally see her. She has a pretty face, but he already knew that. Her afro, dyed almost orange, makes her look like a lioness it’s so big and fluffy. He wonders if that’s what she looks like when she gets up in the morning. He sure hopes so, because she’s adorable.
When she puts the coffee back on the table and picks up her book instead, his blood runs cold. If he doesn’t find something to say, she’ll start reading again and the moment will have passed. Doesn’t matter that she stays seated with him. As if they were old friends, or as if they had just spent the night together. It’s nice, comfortable.
Again, he lets his eyes wander all over her. He tries to think of something to say, but his mind is blank.
“You ever went to Japan?” she eventually says, her nose still in the book.
“Can’t believe that’s how it really works.”
“Not bad, different. What a fascinating country.”
Then she’s back to reading, as if nothing had ever been said. It’s making him crazy. He has a thought for Lucy and how she’s waiting for him at home. They should be leaving soon to go see her parents like they do every Sunday. But he doesn’t want to leave—
Only then does he realize that he has no idea what her name is.
“I’m sorry, I’m incredibly rude. My name is Simon. How about you?”
She’s smiling when she looks up at him.
“Zoey… I had lost hope you’d ever ask.”
All Simon can do is give her a lame chuckle back. Once again, he’s at a loss for words. He doesn’t care about her age, her job, her hobbies. All he thinks about is being with her. Details can come later.
To be honest, he does want something from her. He wants to taste her, devour her. She doesn’t even have to say anything. And if she does, he wants it to be filthy words, trembling sighs, and everything else that would pass her lips once he’s deep inside her.
For a moment, he lets himself believe they are together. His eyes never leave the tiny bit of black fabric of her skirt as she leans toward him. Her smell makes him dizzy, something like apples and cinnamon, flowers and spices, love and danger. He recognizes the fragrance of the woman, the one he’s been looking for his whole life, the one that’s not Lucy.
Even thinking about his girlfriend now doesn’t make him cower back. He waits as Zoey leans into him. He gets ready, licking his lips and having a furtive thought for his breath. He’ll be tasting like coffee, but so will she. With a hint of sugar and blueberries, probably. He waits, taste buds on alert.
The kiss never comes. Instead, her mouth swerves to his ear to tell him a blond woman is standing outside, observing them. The words are like a cold shower and he turns to the large window. Even through the fog of myopia, he recognizes Lucy, the woman who’s been waiting for him for over an hour. She’s pissed, he knows it, and there’s no way he could even think blaming her for it. Although crestfallen, he smiles and waves at her to join him.
“Honey, I was just about to go back home. Come sit, I’m almost done with my coffee,” he says as she approaches the table.
She smiles and sits next to him, her eyes never leaving Zoey. He knows Lucy has seen it all, that she probably felt it all. Her own stare not faltering, Zoey smiles and extends her right hand.
“Hi, I’m Zoey. And you must be… sorry, Simon told me your name, but I forgot. I suck at remembering names.”
And Simon almost kisses her right there, in front of Lucy. He wants to thank her for being so quick, so witty, so utterly brilliant. She plays innocent so he would appear to be. Lucy doesn’t see through Zoey’s lie and smiles, visibly relieved.
“Yes, right! Nice to finally meet you, Lucy. I was actually saying goodbye to Simon, I have somewhere I need to be.”
Simon feels hollow as Zoey stows the book in her bag and walks out. He’d love to follow her, leave everything behind: Lucy, the coffee shop, the town, and even the planet. He wants to run away with Zoey to some faraway country. He thinks of Japan… would it even be far enough?
“Wanna go on a trip?” he asks Lucy without looking at her.
“A trip? Are you crazy? We don’t have that kind of money, Simon.”
It’s enough for anger to bubble up inside Simon’s guts and he decides Lucy is to blame. Isn’t it her fault if he doesn’t have what he craves right now? If Zoey left? It’s certainly her fault if all he wants to do is find Zoey and fly away with her. Lucy, the one who’s been clinging onto him for three years, who made him promise to love her forever. He should have known better.
She made him move from an affordable one bedroom to an overpriced three bedrooms. She keeps introducing him to people he has no interest in. She dangles her sex as if it were a rare and precious gem; as if it were the last he’d ever be allowed to have. Worst of all, she transformed him into a responsible adult and he’s had more than enough.
It only takes a second for his life to tumble over. That they’re in a public setting doesn’t matter to him, it could even be where his sudden courage stems from. He hits Lucy with words, accusations, justifications, and excuses. Then comes the final blow, the one that says it all without saying a single thing.
“It’s not you, it’s me.”
Gobsmacked, Lucy stays seated next to him, quiet. He figures that she’s searching for the words that could make it all better, or maybe hurt him as much as he did her. Her hands hover close to his thighs, but she doesn’t touch him. She’s letting go, he knows it. The words are making their way home and she understands.
He doesn’t try to evade her palm when she sends it flying to his face. It doesn’t matter, nothing really does. Even now, when he should be feeling some semblance of guilt, all his thoughts are with the woman that left. He squashes down that little voice urging him to ask for forgiveness, to go back to the security of a stable relationship. He knows Lucy will never forgive him, and there’s no way he could ever blame her.
So be it.
The next Sunday, Simon is back in the cafe, sad that his obsession is nowhere to be seen. After three whole hours spent waiting for Zoey, he decides she won’t show. What in the world could ever be making her miss their unspoken rendez-vous? It doesn’t matter that he made a conscious effort to look his best, he’s still feeling like crap. Could the woman of his dreams have only been an illusion?
He’s about to leave when she comes in, making a beeline for the counter without ever looking his way. He hears her ordering a caramel latte and blueberry muffin like she does every Sunday, only to go this time. His heart is beating so hard in his chest that he can hardly breathe. He almost runs to go stand behind her in line. He steels himself, then murmurs a tender hello in her ear. She turns around, startled.
“Oh! Hi… Steven, right?”
She doesn’t remember his name.
She did say she had trouble with that, didn’t she? Maybe it hadn’t been a lie to help him out, after all. Still, the little courage he had been able to muster is squandered away, replaced with fear. That intense moment they shared the week before, it couldn’t have been one-sided. She had to have felt it too.
A single word escapes his mouth.
“Sorry, Simon! My bad.” She turns back around to pay and grab her breakfast. “Have a nice day,” she says through her smile before walking away.
Zoey is leaving, taking his heart and dreams along with her. For a moment, he wants to run and remind himself to her, make her remember how they connected the week before. He doesn’t have time to do it, his life tumbling once more when he sees her kiss someone she joins under the harsh midday sun.
More alone than he’s ever been, Simon goes back to his seat without ordering anything. Zoey’s fruity aroma still burns deep in his nostrils, the ache of her kissing another etched deep into his heart. He stays there a long time, thinking of her and all they could have shared today.
He thinks of what they would have done as they made plans for a better life together. It doesn’t matter that he knows nothing about Zoey, he’s convinced he could have followed her anywhere. That she would have followed him wherever he wanted to bring her.
He takes the envelope holding his savings from the inside pocket of his jacket. He had planned it all so well: Leaving the cafe together to spend their first day and night together, getting her suitcase ready, searching for her passport only to find it at the last minute. They would have waited at the airport, huddled together on those uncomfortable plastic chairs, sharing infinite kisses as they waited to embark on any plane that would take them. She would have been so grateful for his love, for his gift of a future meant for nobody but each other.
He keeps sipping on his coffee, not caring that it’s become cold. He can’t bring himself to leave, just in case she’ll come back. Wherever she is, maybe she can feel that he’s still here, waiting for her, filled with love and hope.
He’s prepared to hope forever.
• • • • •
This is something I wrote many years ago, in French originally. I had tried (and failed) to assemble a collection of short stories with other writers where we would create a character together (Zoey), each writing a short story for her. This was my own take on it.
Even though the project was never completed, I still kept this story around because I liked it. I hope you did too. I’d love to know what you think.
Drop me a line, come say hi… I’d love to hear from you. In any case, I will see you again next Wednesday for probably something that has to do with music… or movies… or maybe I’ll surprise you, who knows?
Take care of yourselves, be happy, and I’ll see you soon!