Jane waited in line. Usually the cafe wasn't this packed, but there were twelve people in front of her. Finally, after what seemed like two forevers, Jane ordered her usual cinnamon latte from the old french man who always called her “sweets”. He and his wife had opened this small cafe decades before. Jane waited for her order and watched, marveling at how they still worked side by side.
Thankfully, her usual little metal table in the sun was open. The space was meant for two but she always had a few to many things and managed to use all the space there.
Damien sat writing in his own usual spot, right across from her beneath a yellow umbrella. They had passed countless afternoons this way, so close yet they had never spoken. Not a single word. She had seen “Damien Brown” scribbled on the inside cover of his notebook. That was all she knew about him; his name was all they shared.
Taking a pencil from her bag she started writing in her small leather journal, pausing now and then to play with the little ring and its blue stone on her finger. She wrote about the night Finn gave it to her.
I sat on my couch with my cinnamon latte, four blankets and my book. It wasn't cold inside my apartment but facing that large window and looking out into the cold November evening, I felt freezing. I was writing about my weekend with Finn at the Hamptons and how extra it was. Every. Single. Night. We had caviar and coffee imported from some tiny country I didn't even know existed. It’s funny, I never used to like coffee. But I mean who’s going to pass up an experience like that? Well, as I was writing Finn came in and sat beside me. He didn't say anything and I was too focused on my journal entry to notice him anyways. “Jane,” he tugged on my shoulder. “One second Finn, I’m finishing this up.” “Jane,“ he said again, grabbing my hand. “Just wait, come on. You know not to talk to me when I'm writing.” God, I was annoyed. I continued writing but felt his persistent gaze on me. “Jane!” I looked up this time full of rage but than what I saw on his face defused it all. “Marry me,” Finn said with his eyes full of tears. “Please.” My heart was so warm. Finn held out the little ring with a blue stone. “Took you awhile,” I smiled.
But things are different now.
After the proposal we both just went back to work and rhythms we had with one another and the world. It’s like nothing has actually changed. Ugh. I hope he isn’t getting cold feet.
Back in high school he was one of those guys who tried so hard. His socks had to match his shirt. He never had a hair out of place. He had an in at Brown so he knew where he was gonna be after high school and everything about him was clean. Super clean. And boring. It’s funny ‘cause my socks never matched. And my hair was just all over, like my plans for the future.
Then he asked me to get coffee. My friends drooled and insisted I say yes. And he did have a super cool Jimi Hendrix vinyl collection… So I said yes, even though I didn't even like coffee. I ordered tea and fell in love with Finn a bit. It was then that my mom got really sick. It was scary. I was fragile, and Finn helped me keep things together. After she passed, I need him more than ever. That’s when my feelings for him multiplied out of control and continues to do so.
But these days he’s just a complete mystery to me. What does he want? Why does he want to get married when it seems like he always has one foot out the door?
Sometimes I feel like I’m missing out on life. My old friends from high school are doing what they love or traveling or working hard towards a goal or something. And me? I hate my job, I have a fiance I barely know after years together and my happiest moments are spent writing in the sun beside I guy named Damien I’ll never even speak to...
Jane sipped her latte and watched a homeless man approach Damien, asking for change. She wondered how much Damien would give him this time. The man came every few days knowing Damien would always give. Jane knew the man was only using that change to buy alcohol and thought Damien should know better. She wondered what kind of person he actually was? Did he like his job? What’d he even do? Jane made him up in her mind to be a struggling writer from New York who wanted a change so he moved west. He had a cool composure and she had never heard him talk but imagined his voice to be like maple syrup. His light brown hair curled around the bottom parts of his ears and he always wore the same brown and white striped flannel. He didn’t care what people had to say about him because people of cynicism weren’t worth his time. But he wasn’t all confidence. Something about the way he sat in his chair made it seem like he was afraid he was going to break it. Still, Jane thought he should think highly of himself. He probably knew how to fix leaks under the sink and read Dostoyevsky for fun. And for some reason Jane felt lucky in his presence. She finished her latte and headed home.
The next morning the old man behind the counter was excited to see her.
“Hey Sweets! You're Jane, yeah?”
She nodded her head. They had never spoken like this before.
“A man named Finn asked me to give this to you. He described you and I knew he was talking about my Sweets!”
He handed her a folded note. Jane took it, blushing. What the hell was Finn up to? He used to leave her little notes in her high school locker. “I hope you're having a good day. See you later love.” But not for ages.
Jane did not order. She made it to her sunny table before the note sunk in.
I’m saying goodbye. I am really sorry Jane. I hope you find the right person. You deserve the best, and that’s not me. I am leaving us behind altogether. You should as well.
An hour later the sun had gone behind clouds and she was still sitting there. Jane had not taken out her notebook. Finn’s cell had gone through to voicemail four times. And Damien had not ever shown up and sat down beside her. For the first time in her adult life Jane was alone.
Four months went by and winter wasn't quite ready to call itself spring. Finn had never answered and Jane had stopped calling. But she’d kept her spot at the cafe, and even traded her lousy job for a slightly better one. And Damien had not stayed away long. She sipped at her latte, opened her journal and spied on him while she wrote.
A note? Are you kidding me? I don’t know what to write. This isn't supposed to be my fall from grace. But did I even know the likes of grace before this? Before love? Is to be in love to be in the graces of humanity? If so, then why does it hurt so goddamn bad? Damien, tell me why this hurts. Love was supposed to be the experience of infinity but Finn and I dead ended. I used to get bruises from playing and building forts in the rain when I was young but never remembered how I’d get them. My mom would take off my muddy socks and yell at me in the kitchen saying, "You need to quit bruising your little body up Jane, you only got one. I know it’s fun playing in the rain but you seem to lose yourself in it." I wonder what she would've said to me now. Did I lose myself in Finn? Did I bruise myself up so bad this time that it's going to take forever to heal? I just need a way to figure this out I'm so in my head right now. You're a prick Finn, a prick and I hate you. So. Much. Of course you left a note. Of course you couldn’t just talk to me. I guess the saddest thing for me is how much of me he took with him. I don't even remember what kind of music I liked before I met Finn. I mean literally five years and you just decide I’m not the right person? Yeah right. There’s got to be someone else in the equation. When I had returned back to my apartment later that night I was given the note, I found his side of the closet cleared and the air conditioning blasting. Damn you Finn. He always leaves the air conditioning on. I turned it off and decided to go back to the cafe. So here I am, months later. I never go home much, because I don't want to stare at the awkward emptied spaces throughout my apartment. You left me a wreck Finn. Couldn't you have just called me, talked to me, before you just completely disappeared into oblivion? You owed me that. I want you to know you really hurt me. But I also hope you never get hurt this way. And when you love someone new again, I hope you remember to hold onto your pieces. The pieces that make you, you. Because if you don’t, you'll have to spend a long time picking them up like I am going to have to do.
She used up the last pages of the journal Finn had given her for her 19th birthday with an entry about him leaving her. Jane found humor in the fact that their relationship ended on the last page.
Well spring turned into later spring and the lines in the cafe were even longer. They were filled with strung out people mad for coffee and the occasional tourist who took way too many pictures of their drink. Damien sat at his usual spot across from Jane and she studied him.
You look tired Damien. Have you been having late nights too? I bet you had some sort of deadline for work or no maybe your friend called you asking for relationship advice and you stayed up all night giving it to him because you’re so insightful and wise and have love figured out. Haha I can just imagine Damien calling me late at night to talk about love and philosophy and why the world was so unfair sometimes. We would talk for hours. And he would come to this cafe looking this tired because we had spent so much time on the phone last night. I’ve always wanted to have those kinds of conversations with someone I love. Finn would never call me much, and when he did it was mostly to talk about how great his work day was which I found annoying. I miss his voice though. I wonder what Damien’s voice sounds like.
She wanted to ask him for the time just to hear him say “Sorry love, I don't know.” He never wore a watch. She wanted to ask him, “Why does it hurt so bad when someone leaves you? Have you been hurt like this before?” but she knew he had. He probably had been left by a woman who he gave everything too. I would never leave you, Jane thought. She laughed at herself a little. For the first time in awhile, Jane was a little happy. She looked up at Damien and saw he was looking directly into her eyes. She was startled. She thought she should say something. “It’s so hot for a May morning isn't it?” Or something. Anything. But then he adjusted his gaze to the brick finish on the corner of the building. Jane, a bright pink, buried herself in her cinnamon latte and realized he was never actually looking at her.
Is life supposed to be a climb? What if you’re okay with being on a flat plane? Wanting to be
happy is a goal we have as humans but can that be easily achieved if in the right mindset, right? Is love a mindset?
She wondered what Damien was writing about. Maybe he was writing and comparing Shakespeare's Twelfth Night to his earlier plays or maybe he was writing about his childhood and how his mom or dad left the family. She couldn't decide which one it would be. Or better yet maybe he's writing about me and the reason he was looking at me was because he was describing my face in great detail and wanted to make sure he got everything right.
One morning she ordered her cinnamon latte and turned to go to her spot outside but instantly rammed into someone. “Watch it Cinnamon” it was Damien. “I’m so sorry Dami-I mean I’m such a klutz sorry” he laughed and stepped around her. Oh my god. I almost said his name. How creepy would that have been. But she smiled, his voice did sound like maple syrup.
It was Tuesday morning and Damien wasn't there yet but she sat in her corner thinking about him. She saw herself spending time with Damien and when she would feel down about Finn he would say “you could spend your whole life sifting through his lies Jane, or you could stop analysing what went wrong and you could move on” When was the last time she had made a reckless decision or taken a chance? Probably not since high school. She laughed. She didn't even like coffee. She didn't like The Hamptons and fancy dinners every night, that wasn't her. Finn had done her a favor, he had set her free. Even if that wasn't what he meant to do. She grabbed a piece of paper and a pencil from her bag and she wrote:
I want to wish you a life full of lavish surprises and real love. You don’t know me, and honestly I don't know you really but you're the reason I’m doing okay. I hope that when the snow falls on the ground you embrace it. Because it doesn’t snow everywhere. I hope that when that man who asks you for change every morning comes up to your table you give him one of your wise conversations about life instead of giving him the validation to get hooked on another bottle. I hope that when you feel a bit like theres nothing for you to be happy about in the world you find happiness in making others feel that way. Because Damien, life is too short to worry about the small things. To worry about where you’re gonna be in 10 years because you get to decide. And I hope you remember that love is never what you think it is. It isn’t logical or easy, it's impossibly achievable. I hope that you remember that when you’re falling in love you never think about what it's like to fall out. I hope you remember that the fall out hurts. But, you’re going to be okay in the end. Happy is worth the heartbreak. That's why we read books and watch movies, to remind us that it's gonna be all good in the end. Commit to yourself and only to others when you do so. I know you have commitment. Because I saw you shivering outside at your table when there were plenty of seats inside. Because I watched the leaves fall on your shoulders and you absently ignore them while you continued writing. And then when it was 80 degrees in May, which was so weird, you never left your seat and you kept on writing. And I watched the sweat run down your neck as you seemed to finish your last page. It was then that I realized that so had I. I had finished my last page months ago and now I need a new book. Thanks for showing me where to find one. I am going back to the city. Not like this is something you need to know, but I wanted to say thank you because it was your idea. Okay, not directly but I saw that painting of the New York City skyline in your book. Did you paint that?
Thanks for reminding me that I am in complete control of what happens in my life. Knock life out of the park for me, will ya?
She folded the paper and put it in a little yellow envelope and placed in it on the table Damien always sat at. He wasn't there yet but she would wait and its okay, she thought, he was up late last night on the phone with me talking about love, philosophy and why the world was so unfair sometimes. He would show. But on her third hour of waiting she decided that she had waited long enough to start her life, so she gathered her things and left the sunny corner she had made a home out of. She went inside and waited in line and when the old French man asked “the usual sweets?” Jane shook her head, and ordered a large tea to go.
Copyright Raena Jade Hardison 2018