He hated the smell of coffee.
By the time he realized this, it was too late. He had already stepped into the coffee shop. The dark, nutty smell was so strong that it could knock his socks off.
His upper lip curled unstoppably. He sat down in a free table and waited.
Ever since he’d gotten in that damn car accident, his life had revolved around waiting. Waiting for his doctor. Waiting in the kitchen, eyes squinted shut, temples throbbing, as if he was about to sneeze. That everlasting feeling of reaching but not grasping—frustration. He would moan: a tiny bubble of a sound. Orgasm without the pleasure.
Oh yes, he had certainly changed since his accident.
He leaned back in his chair. His foot tapped restlessly.
His doctor made him carry around a tape recorder to record his thoughts. During their sessions, they would wind back the tape and listen. He would always be surprised at the things he said—psychotic things. Crazy things.
Together, they would listen to his mumblings (“My mother’s an imposter…oh, yes…this woman’s taken my mother and chopped her up out back and now she wants me to stay for dinner and I don’t know what to do.”).
His head hurt. The smell of coffee didn’t help.
And sometimes, he would forget things. It made everyone angry, which in turn made him angry, too.
He was jolted out of his thoughts as the chair across from him squeaked. A woman sat down and waved over the waitress. She wore a deep red scarf that matched her hair.
“Excuse me,” he said as politely as he could. “But I’m waiting for someone.”
She looked over at him, red eyebrows arched. Then, she smiled. “I’ll be out of your hair, soon.”
The waitress arrived, looking very smart and eager in her white shirt and black apron. “What can I get the two of you?”
“One latte with a shot of hazelnut and one hibiscus tea,” she ordered crisply, glancing up at the waitress.
He regarded her suspiciously as the waitress hurried off. She was familiar with this place. When she looked at him, he quickly looked down. He wished he brought something to read.
“I ordered for you,” the woman said. Her hands were folded neatly on the table.
He looked up and frowned. “You didn’t need to.”
“Do you like hibiscus tea?” she asked tentatively, looking like she had hoped to please him.
“Better than coffee,” he grunted.
“I’ll pay,” he added.
She smiled. He noticed that she did that a lot. It made her face look nice. “So this is kind of like a date,” she commented.
He hadn’t offered to pay for hers. It was a misconception that he didn’t bother to correct. It would have been rude to. “I’m waiting for someone,” he told her purposefully.
“I’m waiting for someone, too,” she nodded understandably.
This surprised him. “Then why are you sitting with me?”
“It’s good to have some company while we’re both waiting, isn’t it?” She unwound the long red scarf from her neck. She smiled at him again. “You looked like you really weren’t enjoying yourself.”
Their orders came on a round, black platter. The hibiscus smelled sweet and familiar, like a perfume he had once loved on someone. He paused, eyes squinted as if about to sneeze. His lips thinned in concentration. A small moan, but no release.
“Is something wrong?” Her eyes looked especially wide over the rim of her latte.
“I’m trying to remember something,” he told her truthfully. Her words had broken his concentration. He shrugged and sipped the tea.
For a few moments, neither of them spoke.
“It’s a beautiful day outside,” she sighed. Her face was reflected in the glass window of the shop.
“It is kind of nice,” he nodded, looking outside, too. “If you’re into that gray, misty weather type of thing.”
“This kind of weather is a little grouchy, but it has its charms,” she grinned, looking at him.
“It’s a bad day for driving. Kind of foggy—bad visibility. All types of accidents happen in this weather.” He took another sip of tea. It made him feel better and forget that the person he was waiting for was very late.
“Spoken from experience?” she asked conversationally.
He nodded. “I was in a car accident last year. It was pretty bad.”
“I was in a car accident, too, last year. A big one. My fiancé almost died in it.”
He raised his eyebrows. He felt oddly sulky at the mention of a fiancé. He wondered if they were still together. She was rather pretty. “How is he now?”
She shrugged, taking a gulp of her latte. She breathed in deeply the scent of it. He wondered how she could do that without throwing up. “He’s neither here or nor there.”
“I know how that feels.”
She smiled. “I don’t know how you can stand it. Sometimes, I feel like I can’t even stand him when he feels like that.”
“It’s nothing we can help,” he said, slightly defensive.
“Oh, I know that.” She set down her mostly empty cup. Absently, she ran her finger along the rim. “You know, we were supposed to get married this past summer.”
“Winter weddings aren’t bad, either,” he said.
She looked up at him. “You really think so? Don’t you think the winter weather’s a bit…gray?”
“You said yourself the weather’s beautiful today.”
“But what do you think?” she pressed.
“I think the weather doesn’t have anything to do with the wedding, frankly. A wedding is about love. And a fiery downpour sans ants may be even better than a summer’s day.”
She smiled, though she looked a bit sad. “Well, I think I’ll wait until next summer anyways. He’ll be better by then. I want the wedding to go smoothly. Wedding day only comes around once.”
“Unless you get married a second time,” he pointed out.
She finished her latte. “I don’t think so. I really love this guy so I think I’ll stick around.”
“He’s lucky to have you,” he told her sincerely. “Is he the one you’re waiting for here?”
“Yeah,” she nodded, then sighed softly. “But I don’t think he’s going to show up today.” She pushed back her chair and stood, rewrapping her scarf around her neck. She moved her hair out from under the scarf as she said, “You promised to pay, right?”
He hesitated, but nodded in the end. “Yeah, sure.”
“Thanks.” Smiling, she turned and walked out of the coffee shop. He watched her wavy red hair move as she did. The bells on the door jingled.
There was a faint scent of hibiscus flowers. He finished his tea. After waiting five more minutes, he called for the check.
As he flipped open his wallet, he noticed a picture inside of a pretty red haired woman.
He squinted. Moan and release. Quickly, he put some money on the table and ran out to the street. There were some busy Christmas shoppers, but no sign of flaming hair.
Finally, far down the street, he saw an incarnadine dot.
“Claire!” he called, chasing after her. He used his elbows mercilessly to get through.
The woman turned around.
He paused to catch his breath, then leaned forward and kissed her. “Sorry I’m late.”