She sat in her corner and he sat in his.
It was like this every day. Or every day since May 12th. That had been the day after she’d last worked for the library and they’d given her that big, fussy party. It had been very nice of everyone, of course, but she’d been unbearably embarrassed with all that attention. And the cake had been something from Kroger’s. Pure sugar and tasting of chemicals.
The only time she indulged in baked goods was here, at the co-op. Here she could be certain of what was in what she ate, and everything tasted better, too. She really didn’t have a taste for refined baked goods anymore.
And now this was part of her routine. While she’d been a member of the co-op for twenty-odd years, she’d never frequented the café much until May 12th, but she found that she liked the young people in their long, colorful skirts and piercings and yearnings. The coffee was strong and the muffins were fresh and packed with fruit, and she could read her paper before going off to volunteer with the puppies.
But he was always, always talking. He might sit in a corner, but he lorded it over everyone. He was big – he filled not only his chair, but it seemed he filled his whole table. Not with flesh, but with his personality. And he flirted with those nice young girls behind the counter. And he had to be at least her age. But at least the girls just laughed him off. And he didn’t seem to mind.
He read a paper, too, but he had to announce every interesting thing he read, in case anyone was listening. As if anyone cared about what he thought about a teacher’s strike in Bloomfield Hills, 45 minutes from their town. And he usually had a brioche. Sometimes two. Not a smart choice for a man of his size.
“You wanna know what it says now? So Bush is calling out Iran for World War III. How many more days left of this asshole?” his voice boomed across the background music, which was vaguely Peruvian.
“Okay, Ed, you figure it out. We all know: 1/20/2009. Today’s the 17th,” Ari, of the pierced nose and blond dreadlocks called back to his corner as she floated behind the counter, mixing lattes and the café’s signature spiced mochas, all made with fair trade coffee.
“Four-hundred and ninety fuckin’ days.” He slammed his hand down on the table. “That’s how many. Four hundred and ninety.”
Emily wanted to shake her head in disapproval. Not that she disagreed with his sentiments on Bush, but she just didn’t need to hear that kind of language before finishing her coffee.
Or even after finishing her coffee, come to think of it.
She looked at her Timex. She liked the security of it, the soft, worn, black leather against her left wrist. And it was time to go. She carefully wrapped up the rest of her muffin and put it in her Guatemalan purse. She was proud of this purse – she’d bought it from Ten Thousand Villages, and not only had she helped a small community of craftsmen, but she felt it looked pretty sharp. It made her feel younger.
As she stood up, her hips twinged a bit, but she knew she’d feel better after taking a few of the pups for their walks. She just wished that the Humane Society wasn’t so far from where she lived – gas was at a premium these days.
She swung her purse up over her shoulder and across her back and walked as quickly as she could towards the entrance. Suddenly, she remembered that she’d left her mystery on the table and turned back for it. She grabbed it off the table, stuck it in her purse and headed for the entrance again, her face down, as she tended to walk when she was embarrassed. And being late made her embarrassed. So she wasn’t looking ahead when she crashed into something solid.
“Hey, slow down! Stop to smell the roses!” The booming voice was unmistakable.
“Oh! I’m sorry,” Emily mumbled. She didn’t want to actually address him, but it would be impolite not to acknowledge him. She looked up.
“Nothing to apologize for, Sister! It was probably big, old me with my big, old body!” And he laughed, his belly shaking like Santa Claus.
And despite this, she couldn’t help noticing what crinkly, happy, sea green eyes he had. And she just had to stop to smile.
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