He was seated at one of those rickety bistro tables that try to look chic in some part of town that tries to look French, or at least multi-cultural.
He had a pipe with him, un-lit, because he thought it might make him more distinguished, but he didn’t know how to hold the damn thing in his mouth. On the side? Sticking out perpendicular to his nose? Or at a jaunty angle to his jaw? And how did it stay in? You couldn’t press gently with your lips like with a cigarette. But pursing his lips made him look like a fish. An angry one. He tried biting down on it to hold it in place and that worked for a time – but his jaw started aching from the clenching.
He set it down on top of the paper he was reading, and looked around the other outside tables again. The street in front of him offered people to watch and laugh at and the noise was a gentle hum – as cliché as that seemed.
He repositioned the pipe at a more pleasing angle and picked at a stray thread on his sweater. He rumpled his hair and rubbed his face with both hands, then sighed.
She wasn’t here yet. Did he want her to come at all? He hadn’t seen her for eight years.
Before he could re-live the past, as he’d done countless other times, and pondered the what ifs and if onlys, she walked up the street.
He saw her before she saw him. A confidence he remembered shown in her walk, but her lips betrayed a nervousness that delighted him. No. But that was un-charitable. He only meant that it was gratifying to know that she was nervous, too. That she’d been thinking of him, as he had of her.
He’d known near nothing of her life after they’d moved on from each other. And that seemed so strange to him. For, once he knew the locations of the freckles on her shoulders and of that one to the left of her right kneecap. That one killed him. He always missed it when her left leg would cross the right and the freckle would be hidden for a time.
He knew what brand of cocoa she liked and what movie reminded her of her drunken uncle. He knew her. Ah. But she knew him well.
It occurred to him that the café he’d picked, because of – what he considered – its Frenchness, would absurdly pale from Lydia’s reality in France. And she’d see through that gesture. It was stupid to have picked this one, and she’ll see the shabbiness in comparison and transfer it to him.
He will now be shabby, and not as good as she remembered.
She approaches the line of black wrought iron tables and scanning, she sees him.
She smiles and warmth floods to his elbows. Her bag slips to the floor and she sits in the chair opposite him, all in one graceful motion. Her short blond hair swings about her jaw when she sits back up. She pulls the sleeves of her tee shirt down over her hands and wraps her arms around her legs, her knees bent up under her chin.
“I like this place. It reminds me of France,” she says. But she doesn’t look around as she says it. She only looks at him.
This might be a good day, he thought, and cleared his throat. His hands trembled, unseen, under the tabletop. But whether from excitement or trepidation he could not tell. But then she often made him feel that way.
“A pipe?” She raised her eyebrows.
Fuck. He shouldn’t have brought the thing. He didn’t even smoke it. It just seemed writerly. Like it would lend credence to his three published articles and the lone manuscript he’d edited twenty-three times and still remained agent-less.
“Oh this?” He flashed what he hoped was a comically conspiratory grin. “It’s nothing.” And he swiped it off the table clattering to the ground. He moved it over with his shoe until he was stepping on it. Invisible now. Like it had never been.
She tilted her head at him in question. Though this also seemed cliché. A waiter came by with a coffee cup, which Lydia nodded at, and a water goblet. He pulled a menu from under his arm, placed it on the table and then expertly disappeared.
The man opposite Lydia – sometimes he thought of himself as Adam, but other times Matt, though neither were very scholarly – just smiled and tossed the quizzical look back.
“So tell me. Where did the world take you?” he asked.
Her answer was slow coming, like deciding where to start with 800 puzzle pieces spread out on the table in front of you. He really had no idea what she’d say, or why, really, she’d called. She’d shared no particulars, only that she was back from some travels in Europe and wanted to see him.
Her finger traced the rim of her mug, and she offered another smile. A coy one this time, but he saw through that right away.
She was terrified.
“It’s brought me back to you,” she said.