Since you returned after your mysterious disappearance, you’ve been in the coffee shop on a daily basis instead of the usual three to four times per week. The sense that something is off-kilter, wrong, continues to hang over you, even after a week. You haven’t ordered that straight black coffee again, now you almost exclusively ask for a hot caramel latte. Often, I look up from my work – because, no, of course I don’t spend half the morning gazing at you in fascinated curiosity – and see that although your book lies open on the table, your eyes have a faraway, even a sad glint. The single phrase answer that you gave me the first time that I asked what was wrong has been enough to create a thousand more questions in my head.
Yesterday, I was busy working out a problem with our coffee grinder when you walked in. My coworker Lily got to the counter before I could. You blinked at her and put on a half-smile, but I noticed when you looked past her to catch my gaze. There was a hint of fear behind your eyes, but all I could do in the moment was simply to nod encouragingly at you while trying to make it seem to everyone else as if I was very busy with the grinder.
As you ordered your caramel latte, the hand you had laid on top of the counter slowly drifted over to the display stand. As Lily was ringing up the order, you almost picked up one of the chocolate chip cookies, but drew back again, hesitantly. I had noticed you eying the fresh cookies during your previous visits, so I made up my mind in an instant.
The moment I had fixed the coffee grinder, I rang up two of the cookies on my own personal tab, then walked across the little shop to where you were just starting to open your book.
I didn’t say a word in greeting. Instead, I just walked up beside you and set the cookies down beside your cup. You looked up, a little startled at first, but your face softened into a quiet smile when you saw it was me.
“I hope you like them.” I smiled back, not certain whether I should back away now. I definitely didn’t want to.
“Are you busy right now?”
“Not particularly. The rush is over now.”
She reached for one of the cookies and offered it back to me. “Sit with me for a few minutes? It would be nice to chat.”