© Agneta Nord. May be shared as long as the content is not altered.
October 10, 2013
More stories at http://agnetanord.com
He glanced toward the waitress and nodded. “Half, thanks.”
“Writing a book?” She took his empty plate and smiled at him in vain.
“Thanks for letting me occupy this table.” He let his pen down and thought she was nosy while his eyes were on the text. “No, I’m an editor. This is a book under works.”
“I kind of like it having someone here all afternoon.” She chuckled and before she turned for the kitchen, she said, “next round’s on me.”
His eyes followed her shapely contour through the door. He took a deep breath, closed his eyes and let the aroma sink in. For a few seconds, his imagination carried him away. Since the divorce, only two flings had passed during those six years of what he called freedom. They were both authors. Classy, educated ladies.
It wasn’t her shapely behind that made him lose his focus that afternoon. It was the third whodunit that month and he was bored to the bones with the genre. His boss had thrown the typescript at him that morning three days ago, when he finally deigned to show up before her desk. That woman’s a menace, he thought while his eyes hopped between the heads passing outside the window. Sky was dull and afternoon rain was upon San Francisco. He shivered and returned to the bleak character, supposed to be the detective in the so called novel.
Wednesday afternoon, a woman stood beside his preferred table and excused herself. “May I use a corner of your office for my coffee?” Her tone revealed a pinch of sarcasm but it was intriguing at the same time.
He looked at her and then around the café. It was crowded and the only obvious chair was by his table. “Ohh, I’m sorry.” He cleared a portion of the table for her. “Of course. I didn’t notice this place was so popular.” His pad and pen went over the edge and he muttered when he picked them up. All the noise suddenly reached his mind and he realized his work would be affected for a quite a while.
She hung her jacket over the back of the chair and sat with the purse in her hands on the table. His mind were darting around in its own wake when the waitress came up to take her order and to refill his cup for the tenth time that afternoon. The thoughts on his ex-wife were shouting from a dark corner of his mind when he was brought back to the table. “Half again?”
“Oh. Yes. I’m good on credits?”
“Yes. I’d be surprised if you manage to drink that much coffee today. I got fifty bucks from you, remember?” She was gone before he had a chance to answer.
“You drink a lot of coffee?” The mysterious lady in front of him smiled.
“It weighs out this,” he hinted to the binder, “though it seems it’s not much of a help today.”
“And that is?” She leaned her head to the side and her brown hair slid over her shoulder.
“Yet another good cops and bad guys story.” He saw tiny wrinkles deepening around her hazel eyes.
“You’re an author who’s intent and fire has vanished?” She stretched her back and clasped her hands on the table.
With his back to the chair, he sighed and shook his head. “Editing, and it would be better if it wasn’t written.” He tapped the pen to the binder. “I’ve done too many and this has nothing particular or new. Same old. But in all honesty, I’ve just started with this one.” He shrug his shoulders.
She smiled and dove into her purse. He studied her hands while her fingers unfold a piece of paper. She read it and put it back before she took her card out. There wasn’t a ring on her finger and his mind took another path. She’s about my age, he thought. Maybe a couple years younger. Twenty-nine, thirty? Average with a slightly skewed face. Interesting look in her eyes. One’s a little smaller than the other. He noticed a thin scar on the left side of her forehead. Her voice was dark for a woman and calm, quite low too. It was like a warm blanket to his scarred mind.
After she left, the story loosened up and he thought he saw a hint of potential lurking behind all the oddly formed sentences.
It was Friday when she showed up again. There was plenty of empty tables but she still asked for a corner in his office. He once again made a part of the table available for her and thought it was strange that he didn’t felt disturbed. The break she caused was welcomed.
Making herself comfortable, she asked, “Is it still the same old?”
“I actually found some small gems in there. It need a lot of polishing but it could be alright.” He put his work to the side and ordered a sandwich after his unsolicited company finished ordering.
“I hope I’m not intruding.”
“You are but I need a break and I find your company pleasing. So thanks for disturbing me.” He smiled reassuringly.
“Good. I pass this place almost every day and I got curious when I saw you looking out the window the other day.” She looked at him with her face slightly to the side.
Curious, he thought. About what? He swallowed and felt hot. She’s interested in me? I’m a dull guy spending my days in a café, editing. I’m unable to even come up with a story for a novel. Curious? I have to thread carefully here if I’d stand a chance.
“Christine.” She still watched him in her side-looking way. Like she was hiding her scar.
“Stephen.” He let his left hand up to adjust his glasses, showing he was available. “What made you curious?” He had to restrain himself from gobbling her up with his eyes.
“Why someone like you choose to sit here every afternoon.”
“Ohh, like me?” His left browse went up.
“Yes. A handsome man, alone in a café every day. I get it you sit here until closing?”
Their eyes met.
“It eludes me why an attractive woman would find any interest in a man like me.”
Her eyes left his for the outside view. “Maybe the view out the window was special.”
He hadn’t noticed her dimples until then. They deepened from her smile. She left him hanging in a void when she finished her coffee. It seemed to him she was in a hurry or suddenly wanted out of there, fast.
Monday was the same. Christine had her coffee, a few short exchanges of words that only sparked questions, and then he was left with his feelings. A small hope kindled inside him. He was looking forward to the next time she’d show up and bought some new clothes on his way home.
After a week, he already had her spot ready for her when she arrived. Her casual clothing told him nothing about her occupation and he dared not ask. He liked the mystery and the guessing. Had she lived here all her life? If not, where did she come from? Was she involved with someone? Would he dare ask her out for dinner?
His focus was off and the story seemed better and more interesting every day. His work was slower than usual and he constantly had to reset himself to get to the end of each page, despite the illusion of the story having potential. Eventually, he found himself doing nothing but waiting for her, looking out the window to see her walking down the other side of the street. He ordered for her so what she wanted was served right when she sat down.
They still didn’t exchange many words and since he ordered for her in advance, her visit was shorter. We don’t seem to have mutual feelings, or she’s just left a bad relationship, he thought. He wanted to know more but felt he couldn’t ask her. The longing he felt disrupted his work. Just like before. Just like in the beginning of his marriage. The longing for touch, warmth and the commitment that he couldn’t live up to. The commitment that he wanted to give another chance. His work demanded his presence and it wedged itself between him and his wife back then.
At the end of the second week in her company, he reached the typescript’s last chapter and thought it was a fabulous piece. When she showed up, he decided he’d ask her out for dinner.
“Christine, you seem to have a shine today. Something happened?” He placed the binder a bit too far to the side.
“Yes. I’ve might get a new job. A better and more fulfilling one.” Her excitement shone in her eyes. “They liked my CV and there’s no other applicant close to my experience.” She held the cup with her hands and let her nose hover above the coffee with closed eyes.
“That’s good news. I can’t recall I asked you about your profession, did I?” He pushed his glasses back and thought that if she didn’t like his questions, she would let him know.
“No, you haven’t. It’s… I’m a consultant.” She got quiet and read on a piece of paper again.
“Which requires a great portion of education and experience. Am I right?”
“Yes. It does.” Her eyes escaped through the window.
She don’t want to talk about it, he thought. “This might seem inappropriate, but I’d like to ask you out for dinner.” His stomach was suddenly a knot and his throat tightened.
Her eyes wandered over the table, met his once, and then further around the café.
“I’m sorry. I’ve embarrassed you. Forgive me. It’s just that I find you… I like your company and I’d love to know more about you. I’ve started to look forward to… meet you again.” His hands tried to hide but hit the binder that fell to the floor. When he picked it up, her laughter sounded like birds, singing in his head.
Her face had a trace of blush and she tittered, to the side. “I’d like that but right now, I think I should focus on landing that job. It’s important to me and… well, it’s important that I can focus. Could I come back to that dinner later?”
“Of course. I’m looking forward to our afternoons and I don’t mind waiting.” He felt like he was on the top of the world. She didn’t reject him and that was all he needed at that time.
A week went by without another glimpse of Christine. He didn’t get any new assignments so he spent his mornings in his favorite book store. A new book every third day and he kept reading at his table in the afternoons.
Two weeks later, he decided to forget about Christine and wanted a change in his life. He asked his boss for something else to do or maybe a new position at the Sunspot Publishing.
She told him to sit. Now she’s menacing again, he thought. At first he didn’t understand what she wanted but it eventually dawned on his obscured mind. “You’re firing me? Why?”
“The typescripts you’ve been working on the last two month has turned out a complete failure. You should have seen how bad they were and reject them no later than after the first chapter. What were you thinking? What’s up with you? What happened? I can’t let you stay. I have no use for you. I have to let you go. Finish up whatever it is that you’re doing and my recommendation is that you try to teach writing to an evening class. You may stay afloat with that but your reputation as an editor is too tarnished right now. Hibernate it for a year or two, get your life in order. You’re too lonely. It’s not good for you.”
Stephen cleared his desk in two minutes. The only thing he bothered to keep was his book with contacts. The afternoon showered like clockwork. His mind was elsewhere but his wet feet took him to the café were he dropped on his chair like his life had gone out.
The waitress came up with a cup and filled it almost to the brink. She sat in front of him with her chin in her palms. “Bad day?”
“Sort of. Lost my job and that mystery woman is… well. A mystery.”
“You’re still welcome to sit here.” She tried a smile.
“Thank you but I have to find a job pretty fast or I’ll be homeless.”
“Enjoy your coffee now and relax. Good things use to come to me when I relax. Why don’t you try it?” She left the pot on the table and disappeared into the kitchen.
His pad was quickly filled with ideas for a writing course. Places he had to check for availability. People he had to consult and those that owed him and what they owed. He might need to cash in on them. It turned out he had a wealth of possibilities. Maybe, at last, he could write his own novel.
A couple of days later, he felt like a total reject while passing a bookstore. His eyes automatically scanned the shelves in the window and like magnets, they stuck on a picture of a woman. It was Christine. “My God!” He pushed his glasses back and went in to check. He found out that Christine was a new editor at Sunspot Publishing and that she had his old job, beside writing her own novels. His shoulders crawled upwards, lips turned to a thin line, and his knuckles whitened.
It didn’t take long before he was back at the café and dropped like last time. The waitress took her time. He looked for her but didn’t see or hear anyone so he shouted, “hello? Anyone here?”
One of the swing doors opened and her head showed up. “Be right there.”
It took another ten minutes of watching the by-passers before he heard her pacing up to his table. When he faced her, he got concerned. Her eyes were red and her face swollen. “How are you? What happened?”
Her green eyes had lost their shine and glow. She had been crying a lot and her voice was thick. “I got a call this morning. I lost my brother in a car accident.”
He pushed his problems aside and spent long into the evening with her. She told him about her brother, about when they grew up and everything of importance in her life.
He was quiet for a long time before it hit him that he didn’t know her name. “I’m sorry, I don’t even know your name. I’m Stephen. I’m unemployed and a loyal customer of this fabulous café. The best in San Francisco if you ask me. I’m sorry I never considered you more than a waitress.”
She looked him in his eyes and a hint of a smile lingered. “Thank you, Stephen. I’m Linda. I own this café, the house even. How about a sandwich?”
He felt dumber than dumb. “Oh. Yes, I’d like a sandwich. I’ll help you.” He got up and felt ready to help her with anything.
“No, you don’t. But tell me how you’re doing. Any ideas? Any hope?” She wiped the last tears from her cheeks.
He sat again and shook his head. “I’ve got a lot of friends that owe me but they’re in no position to help me right now. No library have any possibility to let me hold writing classes during evenings and bookstores are booked months ahead with signings and book clubs. I’m still at square one, looking for alternatives and options everywhere. I feel lost, confused, and… mostly unwanted. I’ve been a fool.”
Her eyes suddenly sparkled. “Ever considered a café?”
“A café?” He took his glasses off. “No… I haven’t.”
“Why not?” She looked around. “Here you have tables, chairs, coffee and sandwiches. A lot of bakery to choose from.” She leaned forward. “Think of it. I close at seven and clean up, you can start your class after that. Say, seven thirty or eight. I’ll give your class a discount but I’ll still make a little extra. It could work, don’t you think?”
“But, don’t you want to go home and be off with this?”
“This is my life and I live here. I have two apartments upstairs. I live in the larger one so I’m already home. You can have classes twice a week. Or three if you want. I can be here and serve coffee and what else until nine. You close when you’re done. It would be great. Why not try?” She got up. “Think about it. I’ll make us a sandwich. Be right back.” She left him to consider her offer.
This is the best opportunity I’ve had in ages, he thought while he scribbled a draft for an ad. Twice a week and here’s room for eight. Sixteen pupils for two courses, lasting eight weeks. Twelve hundred for each is ninety-six hundred a month.
He scratched his scalp and looked at the numbers with a smile. “I can live with that. I can do it. Depends on Linda’s fee of course, and then it’s taxes.
The first class was filled in two days. The second took another day to fill. Two weeks later it all began. They had fun together. It didn’t feel like working and for the first time he had time to write on a novel of his own. Late that spring, his fourth class finished and he’d already built a reputation for excellent writing courses. Autumn classes were filled. His life had taken a new path and most of it was in order.
The summer lay before them and one day after closing, Linda asked for a word. They sat at a table with a glass of wine.
“Stephen. I’ve had a great spring. This is fun and I want this to go on. Have you any plans on going back to editing or writing full time?”
He was surprised. “No, Linda. I’m fine with this. I love it too and my novel is far from ready so writing full time has to wait for… I don’t know how long. My work will probably be rejected everywhere with my reputation.”
“Here’s the thing, what I make from your rent builds up. It covers my expenses and allows me savings which is good. Now, Simon just told me he’d be moving to Montana next month so I’ll be needing another tenant.”
“Montana?” He pushed his glasses back.
“Yes. Something about another job and that this town is too big for him. He wants to be in the woods and he’ll be a Forest Ranger there. He’s excited about it. I was wondering… would you be interested in it?”
“The apartment? I don’t know. What’s the rent and size? Would you stand it having me living in your house?”
“Of course I do. I’d love to have you around all the time. I like you. Haven’t you figured that out yet?” She laughed and for the first time he saw her red hair was let out and couldn’t take his eyes away from her. Her beauty hit him like a brick wall.
“I’d… yes. It would be nice but I don’t know if I can afford it.”
“It has a… well, it’s almost a kitchen, bathroom with shower, and one room big enough for a bed, desk and a wardrobe. I’m charging six hundred now but you can have it for five hundred.”
“That’s ridiculous. There’s no chance an apartment can be that cheap here. I pay almost sixteen hundred for mine and it’s also only one room.”
“You want to see it?”
“He’s moved out already?”
“No but he agreed on letting you see it. He’s there now. Come on.” She got up laughing and took his hand.
He felt her warm hand in his and electric streaks surged through his body. He was a teenager again when he followed her up the stairs. She knocked on the door and pulled him close to her, snickering. The smell of her filled his senses. Being a head taller than her, he leaned over her to enjoy her scent. She looked up in his eyes and smiled. “You’ll need new glasses soon.” Her hand went up and pushed them back on his nose again when the door opened.
“Hi. It’s a mess but I’m packing. Come on in. Have a look.” Simon backed into the room and stretched his arm out.
It was smaller than he liked but the rent was a bargain. “I think I could adjust to the size. Actually, I don’t need it to be more than this if I’m honest.”
“One get used to it but… I want that job in Montana. Wildlife, forest and fresh air.”
“I can understand that and this is really good. Not much of a kitchen but the rent allows me to eat in a restaurant almost every day. I take it. It’s good.” He went up to the window. “View’s like what I have already. A street and houses on the other side.”
Linda clapped her hands. “Great. Problem solved. Thank you for your time, Simon. We’ll leave you to your packing now. Good night.” She turned to Stephen. “Let’s crack a new bottle to celebrate.”
Back in the café, Linda pulled Stephen into the kitchen. “I was thinking… why not have dinner at my place? Let’s order Thai and eat on the roof.”
He was mesmerized by her enthusiasm and laughed. “Well, I like Thai but the roof?”
“You’ll see.” She picked the phone up and dialed. She ordered a lot and he could only laugh.
He followed her finger to a shelf with wine bottles.
Linda hung up, went up to him, and wrapped her arms around his left arm. “Chose one and wait for the delivery. They already charged my card. I’ll set things up on the roof and I’ll be down when it’s ready. OK?”
“Perfect. I’m starving.” His eyes followed her when she backed out of the kitchen with a smile and eyes glittering like stars.
He went through the bottles and gasped at the collection. “They’re all expensive and… Here’s a Riesling. It’s from… wow. It’s perfect.” He placed the bottle on the counter and went up to a cork board. It was littered with notes and a long list with numbers to people she occasionally called for help. To the left, pictures of her and her brother was nailed in sequence. One with her and what he suspected was her mother and a couple of her when she was a kid. At the bottom, one was nailed front to the wall. He turned it around and looked at a man slightly younger than him. He looked angry but he thought it must be his facial features. He was muscular, not as thin as he was. He carefully nailed it back. Maybe he’s an ex, he thought when someone knocked on the door. It was the food.
When he closed the door, Linda stood behind him. She’d changed into jeans, and a sea green, knitted pullover, way oversized. She was barefoot.
He held the bags up. “You look great, Linda.”
“Right back at you. Roof’s ready for us. Come on.” Her hands made a sweep toward the stairs.
“The wine. It’s on the counter.” He nodded toward the kitchen.
“I’ll get it.” She held the bottle up when she came out. “You’ve got great taste, Stephen. Ready for the roof?”
He stepped out on the small space on the roof and stared at the arrangement and all the candles. A small table stood in front of a couch. A huge cactus and two small trees, each in a huge pot. Two glass on the table, suggesting where they would sit and candles everywhere. “Did you clean out every candle store in the entire city?”
Her shoulders dropped. “Don’t you like it?”
“I do. I’ve just never seen anything like this before. It’s crazy but cozy. I love it.”
“There’s a first for everything. Do you mind if I think about this as a date?”
He turned slowly to her. “Do I mind?”
Her face was hidden by her hair when her head sunk.
He took a deep breath. “No, I don’t. You think I would?”
“Not really but I figured it be kind of late to ask for a date now.” She weigh on her left leg and wrapped her arms around her waist.
“I love that thought.” He placed the bag on the table while he looked at her. The light from all the candles flickered in her hair and her freckles seemed dancing in her face. Her lips parted and her teeth shone with her smile. He float away in her green eyes like he was a bubble in a pond and his head shook slowly. “You… take my breath away, Linda. I’ve never actually seen you.”
She covered the few steps between them and grabbed hold of his sweater by his chest when she looked up in his eyes, whispering, “could we eat now?”
They woke up in her bed right after nine the next morning. Two months later the two apartments were merged resulting in one huge apartment with a room for Stephen to work.
Fall came and his courses were all filled out. Days went by and before they knew it, they had a lovely daughter and made a good living on Stephen’s writing alone. They sold the café and moved to a house with a tiny vineyard in a famous valley.