What was he doing here? He wasn’t allowed in here. This was my place. He didn’t know that this was my place–my sanctuary really–but he didn’t have to. You should just know these things about the people in your life. Like the high school basketball star has the park down the block from his house, the one with the courts that he can occupy himself in the quietude of the early weekend morning before the rest of the world rises. Or the surfer who always finds herself at the surf shop on the boardwalk just outside the ocean, even though she has no intention of getting a new board anytime soon.
Much like these dignified people, I–Clementine Schwartz, writer, reader, coffee drinker–have Gideon’s Cafe and Bookstore. Okay yeah, it is a public space which does technically make it up for grabs, but that doesn’t discount the natural urge within man to claim his space in the world.
When I approached Steve I placed a couple of fragile fingers on his warm arm, in fear that too much contact would give away that my hands were shaking a little nervously. He turned to me so vacantly that I worried his lack of surprise to see me meant that he saw me ordering my latte, rummaging through my purse to find the loose bank card that I had tossed into the tiny bag moments before leaving my house. I was hyper aware of how impatient the barista/cashier at the counter was getting with me and how I kept apologizing to her, one hand shoved into my purse, because I knew Steve was just right across from me quietly browsing a shelf labeled New Releases. And if he had witnessed that atrocious transaction, then he must also have had no intention in greeting me. He was to let me on my way, ignoring the universe’s grand attempt at bringing together two stars that normally orbit different parts of the galaxy.
“Hey,” he said breathily, extending his arm out like it was already in his arsenal to brace me in a hug (the kind of equipped when you’ve already seen the person).
I pressed myself against his chest, wrapping my small limbs around his narrow body, feeling the hardness of his thinness. It gave me the sensation that I’d crashed into a wall. I pulled away.
“How are you doing?” he asked. Then suddenly he wasn’t looking at me anymore, but at the front counter. “Sorry,” he told me. “I’m looking for a book.”
“Which one?” I asked, as if I could offer him a hand. “Actually, I can’t help you,” I corrected in case he thought I was serious.
“Do you work here?” he joked and made his way to the counter, just as an artsy looking barista/cashier (a different one from the impatient woman for which I’d dealt) was steaming milk from a silver cup.
He told the barista/cashier (his name tag read Mike) about this book he had reserved. Then he gave his name, Steve Munson. Mike informed Steve that they had set a copy aside for him, and he proceeded to pull the book off a little rolling cart behind him.
“How’s your sister?” Steve asked me as Mike rang his book up.
He may as well have asked, “how’s the only thing I know about you?” Everyone knew that my sister was sick–stage IV leukemia–but Steve was the only person I had confided in that she may not have much time to live and that she would be be going in for surgery in a week’s time. That was two months ago. She was doing okay. Alive, but just okay.
“She’s well,” I informed him. I felt a surge of anger at Steve’s question. He was merely trying to make conversation, and perhaps he was concerned about my sister’s aliveness, but it bothered me that he’d made no attempts to ask about it for two whole months. It was just another reminder that our kiss meant little to him. The kiss where he held me close so that our noses touched even after our lips broke away from one another, his fingertips sliding down my cheek as he exhaled a breath that felt warm amidst the coldness of that January night. It was a reminder that my hand in his didn’t incite the fluttering butterflies in his stomach as it did in mine. And when he drove away after dropping me off at my house for the last time, that I wasn’t on his mind like he was on mine ever since.
He was completely unaware of the way he made me feel. That he had more power over me than anyone, to some extend even myself. And I know that I should be careful about who I hand over such power to. I was reminded of this when the very sight of him sent me crashing into a madness of my own doing.
“That’s good,” he said and grabbed the book from off the counter. “How’s the coffee here?”
“It’s okay.” I shot my eyes over at Mike, hoping that he wasn’t expecting me to hype up Gideon’s mediocre coffee simply because I was here almost every every day after school.
“I truly have to go,” Steve said. It was just like him to use words like truly, an otherwise unnatural adjective that sounded perfect coming from his lips. The way he spoke could be its own unique form of poetry.
“Yeah,” I said. “Me too actually.”
“I’ll see you soon,” he said, even though the moment we parted ways meant we were returning to our respective posts on opposite ends of the galaxy to serve our roles in orbit, he thinking little of me, and me thinking very much of him.