The weatherman missed the mark again. Sitting in his cozy tv studio this morning while I readied myself for another day at the office, he claimed that today the city would see the mid 50's and its fair share of sunshine. In other words, it was supposed to be a gorgeous autumn day. That's the last time I listen to him. I'll be damned if it was more than 35 degrees in the city this evening. The wind picked up again, a cold hand sliding over my face and through my hair on its journey through the streets. I sighed, pulled the collar of my well-worn pea coat up a little higher, bowed my head down a little lower and squared myself against winter's early arrival. As I passed another shop window, my slender figure was bathed in warm light for a fleeting second. "Just another block to go," I reassured myself and quickened my pace. The downtown streets had emptied quite a bit since the workday ended, its daytime inhabitants scrambling for the comfort of home and loved ones. As the sun finally gave up its fight and disappeared somewhere behind me, I turned the corner and opened the door to my home away from home, my favorite café. The gust of warm air and the strong, sweet aromas that greeted me when I entered the shop were both comforting and compelling, luring me ever inward, away from the cold concrete of the streets and towards the supple leather of my usual seat near the window.
I used to come here maybe once a week after work, sometimes with friends, but usually alone. It got me out of the stifling quiet of my apartment and gave me a break from cooking dinners for one. The only drawback here is the persistence of the local males. For some reason, guys around here just can't comprehend why 'such a cute young thing', as they insist on calling me, would want to come all the way down here and sit by herself. They think that obviously I must just be waiting for a man to find me here amongst the cappuccinos and pastries and sweep me off my feet. Right. Wonder what they'd say if they knew that it wasn't a man I was looking for...but a woman. I had been in a serious relationship that ended about 6 months ago, and since then I just hadn't found another woman I was interested in.
Until about two months ago.
It had been another long day at work, and I didn't feel up to cooking dinner for myself, so I walked down to the cafe and slid into my usual table, lost in thought. Who knows how long I sat unmoving, distracted by the world outside my window.
"Umm...excuse me? Miss?" I was pulled from my daze by a soft voice. I looked up hurriedly, carelessly. I suppose I had a startled look about me because she apologized for disturbing me. I guess she had tried to get my attention two or three times before I finally heard her. My eyes met hers...and my heart stopped beating in my chest.
This was most definitely not my normal server.
My usual waiter was an openly gay 22-year old guy named Erik. He had me pegged as a lesbian the first time he waited on me, although I'm far from obvious to most people. I've become used to being greeted by his "Hey girl!" over the months. Such a friendly, outgoing guy. He's been good to talk to, especially during my break-up, and to my surprise we've confided in each other quite a bit over the months.
But this, this was most definitely not Erik. After a moment of staring stupidly, I came to my senses and smiled at the beauty before me. Her hair was pulled back in a careful ponytail, but a few strands had managed to escape their imprisonment, instead hanging down in front, framing her olive-skinned face. I turned into a schoolgirl in her gaze, my cool demeanor disintegrating in record time, my complex thought processes grinding to a halt, unable to do anything but smile a shy smile back and stare.
"What can I get for you this evening?" she had asked me, but I was far too caught up in the surprise of seeing someone so gorgeous in this place to respond immediately. She had such an easy, unassuming smile on her face. Genuine...you can always tell a genuine smile because they smile with their eyes as well as their mouth. And god her eyes...a penetrating blue with flecks of gold and gray, a miniature Jackson Pollack peering at me.
My heart skipped a beat, and somehow I found my voice, placing my usual order with all of the charm and politeness I could muster. Honestly I was so intimidated that I was lucky my voice didn't squeak or catch in my throat halfway through. 'Cos that would have been just my luck.
I watched her walk away, I watched her as she tended to her other customers, never too confident in her actions, but always pleasant. First night jitters I guess. I'm sure she'll find that the customers here, at least the regulars, are pretty laidback...no need to worry about any of us. Someone a few tables away was giving her some flak for some trivial thing or another (must have been a new customer, too), and even with my back turned I could hear her voice falter a little in her dealings with them. As she walked back by my table on her way to the back, I leaned out and touched her lightly on the arm, an action that unexpectedly sent shockwaves rolling under my skin from my fingertip on up.
"Don't let them get to you...you're doing fine," I reassured her with a warm smile.
"Thanks...I really appreciate it. It's my first night. You can probably tell, huh."
"Ha...maybe a little. But really, don't worry about it, k?"
That at least got a little grin out of her before she went back to her duties. The rest of the night seemed to go pretty smoothly for her. When I got up to leave the warmth of the café for the cold of the streets, she caught my eye from the other side of the room.
"Thank you!" she mouthed silently.
I nodded my head in her direction on my way out the door, but as soon as my back was turned a huge grin spread over my face from ear to ear. It was the kind of mood that made you forget you were tired and made you want to turn cartwheels down the street. Well, I never could do a cartwheel, so I settled for a few skips on my way back home...something to let out that excitement and energy I'd just so unexpectedly found. The cold didn't phase me. Neither did the late hour. I returned home lost in thought with dreams in my eyes.
Since then I've found myself returning to that place more and more often, usually three times a week now. It can't be helped. I won't even pretend I came here for the food. It was her. Of course it was her. Every time after that first night, she has always smiled at me when I walk in, said hi, or has come over to see what's new with me. Of course it was usually Erik that waited on me, but a few times she has filled in for him when he was out sick, and those nights were fantastic.
At one point along the way, I was sitting at my usual table, writing in my notebook and stealing glances of her every time I could. I've found ways to be creative with my glances. Using the window to watch her reflection. To look without seeming to look. Apparently I wasn't as subtle as I had thought myself to be. One night I turned to find Erik staring at me, a knowing grin spreading slowly across his face. You could practically see that light bulb, like the kind they use in the cartoons, come to life over his head. I could feel his eyes studying me. And then...slowly, methodically, torturously...he swung his gaze over at her as she worked, exactly where my eyes had been just seconds before. The only gesture he made to let me know that he had me all figured out was a sly little wink. Great. I was sure that he would be the kind to tease me endlessly about my little crush. It felt like I'd been caught cheating on a test. Dread filled my stomach, my throat...it was heavy in my mouth. Wonder if anyone would notice if I crawled under my table to hide.
Well as it turned out, that night happened to be a slow one, and when Erik slid into the seat across from me to talk and pass the time, I must have looked like a deer caught in the headlights. That same smile. That smug, knowing smile. It was in his eyes, too. And there she was, following right behind him, sliding gracefully into the leather seat across from me.
So, we talked.
Erik kept getting up to go take care of his one or two remaining customers (and hers, too), leaving us alone together to chat and get to know each other. I've got to hand it to him...he set us up right from the beginning, always bending over backwards to make sure that she and I got some uninterrupted time together almost every time I walked in the door. Wasn't even superficial chatter, either...I don't have much patience for such things. No topic taboo, anyone who happened by my table when she was with me would have overheard a debate on politics and the latest news out of D.C., a discussion on the finer points of world religions, or even, on occasion, one of us talking about our own past. She knew I was gay, she knew about my family, my work. Several times we lost ourselves in conversation, forgetting that we were two girls in a mediocre coffee shop, forgetting the millions of things we each had on our to-do list, forgetting our responsibilities to the world...we were simply there. Talking, learning.
And the things I noticed about her as time went on. When she laughed, she had a way of rolling her eyes that made me laugh in response. When she was thinking, she had a way of pulling at the loose strands of hair that hung in her face. When she was being playful, she had this mischievous little grin that was to die for, that made my heart pound a little harder in my chest and created a little flutter in my stomach. And when she was happy, I got to see that smile I saw when I pulled her aside on her first night of work. The genuine one, the one where she smiles with her eyes.
Since I usually dine alone, I always bring one of two things with me: either my little notebook or a good book to read. Of course when I was lucky enough to have her or Erik sit down with me, these two things were put away, but in the meantime, they kept me occupied (and they kept me from staring too hard). But usually any patron of this place could find me alone at my table near the window, scribbling notes (or if the mood hadn't hit me that night, lost in a book). More and more over those past two months, my writings revolved around her. It's a very strange feeling, writing about someone who was there in the same room with you yet completely unaware of your observation and your thoughts. I wrote often. I wrote of my attraction to her, and increasingly of my feelings for her. I wrote all that I felt for her and all that I wanted to do with her. All that I wanted to do to her. She's asked me a few times what I was always working on, and all I could manage was a sly grin and a "nothing much" in response. Hard to say if I would ever actually let her see all of these things, all of my thoughts. If I would ever give her an invitation to my every personal thought. Maybe. Then she would know that she was my muse.
And that brings us to tonight. Tonight, just like every other night, the little bell above the door announced my entry into the warmth of the eatery. A bevy of "hey's" and "how's it going's" greeted me as I walked to my table. Erik rushed over to me as soon as he saw me. He was so excited...he had that look on his face that little kids get on Christmas morning. Instead of rattling off whatever was on his mind, he simply handed me a note and walked on by, still smiling, still giggling, still looking like he was ready to start skipping through the café at any moment.
A little perplexed, I opened up the note. As my eyes took in every word he had scribbled down on the back of the receipt, my fingers began to shake and my knees went a little weak. Scrawled in a hurried hand was: "She's been talking about you a lot you know—getting giggly, blushing when I teased her about you. Just like you do every time I tease you about her! Just thought you should know!"
I'm not sure how I ended up at my table. I certainly don't remember walking after I read his note. Everything else just kind of went away for a second. The blood rushed in my ears, drowning out the noise of the café. My vision blurred, but every word persisted in my head. There was only me and that note.
The rest of the evening ran much like the others. I wrote, I ate, I talked with my friends. But interactions took on a whole new meaning in this new light. Little things, little smiles, little glances, little smirks, all could be construed as innocent, as simple, black and white, but tonight they were a million shades and they were one. Tonight anything was possible.
Now growing up, my parents taught me to be polite. To be helpful. To be chivalrous. I hold the door open for strangers; I say "bless you" when people sneeze. And when the gorgeous woman I'm interested in complained of having too much to carry home at the end of the night when her shift was over, naturally I offered to help ease her burden. I guess she had stopped by the grocery store on her way to work and didn't have time to stop by her apartment first. One of her coworkers had helped her get them here, but she didn't have the strength after a long night's work to walk all the way home weighed down.
And so it happened that I walked her home that night. We were two girls alone in the glow of the streetlamps, talking and laughing on our way. That night there was no one in the world but us, no conversation but ours, no road but the one under our feet. The world didn't exist outside of our light.
I noticed the way her hair bounced with every step. I noticed the way her giggles echoed off the deserted buildings. And I noticed the way she walked close to me, too close to be accidental. Our arms brushed against each other again and again, but neither of us made to move away to get more space for ourselves. Instead we let our space meet. We let it coexist. Mingle. I loved it. The thick material of our coats managed to keep out the cold, but the electricity of her touch still found its way through to my skin. Her spark coursed through my body, robbing me of my breath but leaving me with a smile. I wanted her. I wanted to hold her hand. I wanted to stop her in her tracks and kiss her, to feel my lips against hers, to feel our bodies pressed together. I wanted her heat.
Our conversation flowed from one subject to another as we walked. Soon, however, we ended up talking about ex's. We'd broached the subject before, during one of our many talks in the café, but superficially, neither of us coming away knowing much more than that the other was single. So as we walked I told her about my last relationship and how it met its demise. In no way was I prepared for her response.
"You know, we all go through things for a reason. They shape us, make us who we are, for better or for worse. At least that's how I see it. But really...it's your ex's loss. She should have known better than to let someone as sweet as you get away."
I colored. My heart leapt into my throat. My tummy fluttered deliciously. But I couldn't think of one coherent, intelligent thing to say in response...so I didn't. I kept silent. I didn't have to speak—my body gave me away. One look at me and she saw my little grin and my red ears and cheeks. She smiled that mischievous little smile that I've come to adore, and we walked on silently. The world was gone. There was only me and her, my breath and her breath, the touching of our arms beneath our coats. And the heartbeats. Loud. Fast. Clear. Incessant.
As we approached her doorstep, the light of the streetlamp illuminated her statuesque frame for a fleeting second. I was struck again by her captivating beauty. Her strong, confident walk. Her glowing skin. Her attentive eyes. The way she moved with a grace I simply couldn't fathom. Before we moved out from beneath the light into the dark of the night again, I couldn't help but notice how flushed her cheeks were. And I wondered...was her mind wandering to the same places as mine? She glanced askew at me. She caught me, lost completely in her brilliance. No excuses...all I could do was smile back at her as we took the last few steps towards her door.
I took the bag she had been carrying all this way for her now while she got out her keys and opened the door to her place. Now with both loads filling my arms, I followed her clumsily to the kitchen, blind to my surroundings, mesmerized by the vision of her. Her hips swayed temptingly before me, in an almost hypnotic way.
The apartment was cozy, the kind that seemed like it would make a nice retreat from the chaos of modern living. Soft lighting, which I was thankful for...don't know if I could have handled walking in to a place lit up like a 7-11 at this time of night. When I had deposited the bags on the kitchen counter, my aching muscles thanked me for the relief.
"Do you want some hot chocolate? To warm you up?"
Sounded perfect to me. Within minutes we were sitting side by side on the barstools in her kitchen, relaxing and warming our bodies sip by sip. There were some Netflix dvds sitting on the counter that I thumbed through, as much to give my hands something to do as to check out what kind of films she was into. One of the sleeves she happened to have sitting on the counter was "Lost and Delirious," something I hadn't seen in years but had always liked.
"Oh this is a good one!" I said, not particularly expecting an answer, just kind of talking as I read. At least she has good taste in films, I thought.
"You wanna hang out for awhile and watch it with me? I get bored watching movies alone all the time...I'll be happy for the company."
Despite myself, I couldn't help but think "god it's late." She must have read it in my face.
"Oh god I'm sorry, I forgot how late it is! I'm so used to staying up and unwinding after work that I forget other people don't always keep the same schedule I do. I'm sure you're ready to get home."
Was that disappointment I heard in her voice? "Actually, I'd love to stay for a while. I haven't seen this movie in forever...it's just...well...even better that I'll have someone to watch it with."
I would have jumped at the chance to watch "Barney" if she'd asked, as long as it meant a few more minutes around her. My only request, I told her, was another cup of hot chocolate. The relief and excitement on her face was unmistakable. It delighted me to no end to know that I was the one who put that captivating smile on her face tonight.
She told me to get the movie started while she got out of her work clothes. I must have blushed again because she grinned—that mischievous grin—and left the room. My heart pounded in my chest as I did what she had asked and sat down on the loveseat. In a few moments she came gliding into the room wearing jeans and a tank top. The tight fit of the tank accentuated her feminine curves and gave me a teasing hint of her cleavage. The sight of her bare arms and more of that gorgeous skin made my temperature rise, and the denim of her jeans clung to her in all the right ways.
Without missing a beat, she snatched the remote and sat down on the loveseat next to me, close, closer than most people would sit. But neither of us seemed to mind...we stayed put, preferring the mutual space in the middle. The movie started, and we watched attentively, laughing together, making comments to one another. Anyone could see that we were enjoying ourselves, but there was an undeniable tension in the air...a suspense. No more than 20 minutes into the film I began to shiver. The temperature inside the apartment had dropped considerably since we had first arrived. Noticing my discomfort, she asked me if I wanted a blanket, saying that she was cold, too...not too hard to believe given her outfit. She ran off down the hall and returned seconds later, blanket in hand.