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Writing Fiction - Chapter 19
Here's where Chapter 18 left you.
His voice interrupted me, softly. He sounded almost gentle for a moment, “Lady, listen, I get it. Listen. Ummm… let’s have coffee and talk this over, okay?”
I started babbling, “It’s kind of late in the morning for me to have coffee…sometimes when I drink more than a cup or two I get all jumpy and…”
“Alright, okay. Breathe,” he said, “I’ll drink regular, you can drink decaf…”
“Well, you know decaf doesn’t mean no-caf, it means…”
I shut up.
He sighed again, “Yes or no? You can drink water, I don’t care. I just wanted to tell you about Spot? If it’s too much, though, we can discuss this another time over the phone. Or we can just forget the whole thing.”
“Water it is.” Then he named a coffee place I’d seen quite a few times on a busy downtown street. I’d never been there. My husband had always been outraged at the price of fancy coffee, so we’d never gone. Not even once.
I started thinking about everything that had happened with Edgar/Spot in such a short time. I was really curious how this guy was going to justify his horrible behavior. You’d almost think he was…
I had no time to ponder possibilities, though. We were meeting for coffee (and water) in less than two hours and I still had to try and find something I could sausage myself into beforehand.
And now, Chapter 19 begins...
A long time ago, a friend smugly informed me I had ‘unrealistic expectations about life’. Okay, perhaps I should rephrase that and say an EX-friend told me that. As I tried on and discarded all the clothes that hadn’t fit me a few days ago, I wondered if she might have been right.
I’m not sure why I thought the events of a few dozen hours would make me magically skinnier, but I did.
Sadly, I was relegated to putting on the sweat pants with the slimming stripes down the side.
I tried to apply natural looking make-up that would make me appear NOT angry, NOT emotional and NOT irrational. I looked at myself from all angles and was fairly well satisfied that I looked calm, in control, and like a responsible, respectable dog owner.
Since I didn’t want to late for my date…I mean…ummm… meeting, I quickly finished getting ready and headed downstairs.
“Okay, Pearl. Be calm,” I told myself.
Hair combed? Make-up on? Check. Check.
Shoes? Acccckkk! I ran back up upstairs to change out of my slippers.
Feeling reasonably confident that I was appropriately attired, I headed out to my car. For a brief moment, I thought the car wouldn’t start. Then I realized it was only because I hadn’t turned the key all the way.
“Pearl! Focus! Get a grip! You’re acting like a moron!”
I took a few deep breaths before starting the car and heading for the downtown coffee shop. The street was crazy busy and I had to circle the block several times, trying to find a parking place that didn’t require the torture of parallel parking. The minutes kept ticking by and finally, in desperation, I found a double spot! It required only basic maneuvering to park the car and, just to ensure I didn’t get a ticket, I dropped change into both meters.
Before I turned the corner by the coffee shop, I took a moment to compose myself. “Deep breath, Pearl. You can do this!”
I walked confidently through the wooden and glass front door into a sunny room with several round tables, no customers and a perky-looking girl standing behind a long counter. “Can I help you?” she chirped at me. “I’m waiting for someone,” I replied and took a seat on one of the wooden chairs by a table close to the window.
I looked at the list of coffee drinks. Wow! They sounded delicious!
I read the menu board behind the long counter, unsure what half of it even meant.
A lady came in and ordered something in a foreign language. It sounded like “halfa-decaffa-soy-mocha-latta”. I was impressed.
Another lady came in. The chirpy girl said, “The usual?” and after a few seconds of some strange hissing sounds, she handed over a styro-foam cup brimming with foamy milk. It smelled delicious even after Miss Chirpy put an adult sippy cup top on it.
I finally decided to get a drink so I walked up to Miss Chirpy, whose name tag said her name was really “Walden”. Walden? Do you think that’s a last name or a first name? My good manners kicked in and I didn’t ask, but I must have appeared to be totally lost looking at the coffee ‘menu’ because Walden took pity on me almost immediately.
“What can I getcha, sweetie?” Sweetie? I looked around, but no one else was there so I realized she was talking to me. I hemmed. I hawed. I looked confused.
She said, “Well, what are you in the mood for?”
I hemmed and hawed some more.
“Walden,” I said in a hesitant voice, “I’m going to be honest here. I don’t know what any of this fancy stuff is. I guess I just want a cup of decaf. With cream.”
I think Walden took my confession as a personal crusade to convert me to the fancy stuff, because she started asking me all kinds of questions. “Do you like minty? Chocolately? Creamy? Sweet?”
“Yes,” I replied, and before I knew it she was slinging glass bottles around, making machines hiss and foam and then she handed me this over-sized white mug covered in white froth and decorated with little dots and squiggles of creamy brown.
I looked at her. I raised my eyebrows. “Double peppermint mocha latte with extra foam,” she explained and then, without even pointing a gun at me, she told me the price!
I sputtered and said, “I just wanted to buy a coffee, not the whole store,” and she had laughed gaily and retorted, “Oh, sweetie, you are a funny one!”
I took my double something-something back to my table by the window.
But this time while I waited I was transported to someplace wonderful. What was this heavenly concoction Walden had gifted me with? I was enchanted to think that coffee could taste so amazing. I thought I would go on a coffee diet. Coffee didn’t have any calories, right? I could just drink these delicious things all day long and soon my jeans would fit again. My bank account would be depleted but…
My train of thought was interrupted by the little bell jingling over the door. Certain it was HIM, I pretended to be busy sipping coffee and scrutinizing my napkin and spoon. I reviewed all the things I wanted to say, but after a few long seconds went by, no one came to my table.
I peeked up to see two men, neither of them the dog snatcher, ordering coffee. They were chatting away to Walden and holding hands. With each other. At the coffee shop. In public.
I felt embarrassed, so I looked away. The shop was small, though, so their animated conversation bounced around the space. I realized I didn’t know what they were talking about. It was just like the lady who’d ordered coffee earlier. They were speaking in a foreign language. I looked out the window pretending not to listen, but I couldn’t help myself. They talked about ‘hot spots’ and ‘blackberries’ and lots of other things that made me realize they weren’t conversing about Florida and fruit.
I felt old.
When had all this happened? When had coffee developed into an art form? When had men decided to hold hands with each other? When had people started naming their daughters Walden? What had happened to blackberries?
My face felt hot. I felt strange. Out of place. I looked down at my tennis shoes and the stripes on the sides of my sweat pants. I looked at people walking down the street dressed kind of the same, but the differences seemed blinding to me. Their shoes were different. Their pants were different.
I looked at my reflection in the window of the coffee shop. My hair was wrong. It was fussy and frizzy and out-of-date!
I was out of date!
While I’d been raising my family and being a wife, the world had passed me by!
I listened to the background music playing in the coffee shop. I didn’t know who was singing. Was it even singing? It was a woman kind of talking, set to some simple music without much of a beat. When my kids were still at home, I’d kept up with music, but that was a long time ago. I had no idea what ‘music’ was playing in this warm little shop that sold trendy coffee at exorbitant prices.
The now familiar feeling of rage washed over me. My husband had abandoned me to a world I didn’t know, couldn’t find my way through. The safety of my marriage, and a relationship that had created a haven in an ever changing world, had been ripped away from me. How had this happened? How had I morphed into one of those women I used to feel sorry for…you know the ones? Wearing last year’s clothes to the PTA meetings? Looking frumpy and tired at holiday parties? Or maybe I hadn’t morphed. Maybe I had always been that woman…I just hadn’t realized it because I was protected by the security of a relationship built around ‘in sickness and health, until… until… dea…dea… ‘He past his sell-by date’ do we part.”
My coffee no longer tasted good, so I had pushed it away and watched the foam slosh down the side of the mug.
Keeping my head down, I stumbled to the door. Walden chirped out, “Come again soon, sweetie!” I just kept going, without a backward glance.
I was done with coffee shops, done with dogs, done with Mr. Grumpy.
I did all but run toward my car. I was headed home to spend the rest of my life on my couch. I was going to buy some boards to nail my doors and windows shut. I was going to disconnect my phone lines and…
As I was hustling around the corner toward my car, I stopped short. There was the silver SUV. Parked at the curb. The driver’s side was toward me. As I started to pass it, I looked up and saw him sitting there. With his head down.
While I’d been waiting and waiting in the coffee shop, he’d been sitting in his car…probably laughing at the idea of standing me up. He’d been sitting in his warm, cozy, cocoon of a car. And that made me so angry.
I stomped over to his car door and rapped loudly on the glass with my fist. He ignored me.
I hit the glass again, harder this time. And then he looked up.
I was shocked. His face was all scruffy, covered in salt and pepper whisker stubble. But that wasn’t what shocked me. It was his eyes. They were red-rimmed. He looked terrible. He looked like me on the mornings I felt brave enough to actually look in the mirror. Well, not the salt and pepper stubble part, but the rest of his face looked the same…all puffy and beaten and old. After our eyes met, he looked embarrassed. And then he looked away.
I tapped on the window again, a little more gently. He made a “go away” motion with his hand. I saw his other hand reach for the key to start the car and without thinking I quickly ran around to the passenger’s side and hopped in. I think it caught him by surprise. I think if he’d known that’s what I was going to do, he‘d have locked the door. I think if I had known that’s what I was going to do, I’d have taken a moment to think it through.
But he didn’t. And I didn’t.
I closed the door behind me and sat. Now that my butt was firmly planted on his gray leather seat, I wasn’t sure what to do.
To be continued, Tuesday, January 18th.
(c) 2010 Jennifer R. Matlock
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