I hear the two brass bells above the door as I walk into the café, the tiny one nestled between streets. I see him look up at me and notice, later than I should, that he melts something. Instantly, he takes the place of my favorite table, my beloved sandwich, the novel I'm reading, the ice cream I plan to have for dessert.
So tiny there are only four tables in a row. He is second from the right, my spot. I turn and ask the girl for the smoked salmon sandwich so craved a few seconds before, almost as an aside, while I remember his jeans and blue shirt, open at the collar. "You're early," the girl says. "It's only noon. You usually come at one."
"Yes," I reply.
"You look great today," she adds. I thank her. There is a large mirror behind me, and I glance at it before I take the table next to him. I confirm the white top that blends appeal with class, the lips rose without being obvious, the cropped blonde hair streaked by summer. A modern woman.
I take an obscure novel from my purse, wishing I had brought something more popular. He says nothing and I take care not to look, only noticing out of the corner of my eye that he is writing something in a binder that looks like business, and that he is wearing black leather shoes, unusually large. His limbs reach out while mine settle neatly onto my upholstered chair. Also unmistakeable is his scent. He smells older than I remember him looking, like roasted chestnuts and brie.
The bells ring again as the door opens. He looks up and I do, even though I wouldn't have looked had he not. A family enters: husband, wife, toddler, folded carriage. He is entranced. I imagine him craving fatherhood, and though I don't know what I crave, I find it sweet that he does. The toddler tries to make a break for the door. He laughs.
"Children," I say.
"What?" he asks, addressing me for the first time.
"Funny how little control you have over them."
He has nothing to add, so I return to my book and take bites. I read without understanding, and smell with barely more. He too eventually looks down.
And too eventually, he closes the binder and puts it in a briefcase. He stands. I look up.
"Do you mind?" I ask as I lean my head towards where he sat. "It's my favorite table."
"Oh no. I'm leaving."
He takes his bill to pay. I move over. I wait until he finishes the transaction, then stand up and walk towards the counter. He turns to me, then realizes that I am about to get something else. He turns back as I face the girl. I don't see him leave, but I hear the ringing of bells.
"Dark chocolate ice cream please," I tell the girl.
She scoops as I return to my chair. I turn and rest my cheek against the upholstery as I draw a breath. There he lingers. I turn back to meet the girl's gaze as she brings the cup of ice cream to my table.
"He always leaves by twelve-thirty," she says.
About the author:
Meredith Ramirez is a writer and visual artist living in New York. She received a B.A. in English from Harvard University and an M.F.A. in Visual Art from California College of the Arts. She is currently working on her first novel, an excerpt of which will be published in the Winter 2005 issue of Driftwood.