Along with those, Ill have the chocolate muffin, two mint brownies, one of those oat bar things — is that an éclair?
The voice, her voice, was like the life of an ice sculpture, flowing, freezing to perfection, and melting beautifully back into the muted murmurs of conversation, the shuffle of chairs and the tinkle of jazz piano.
Ill take the éclair and a custard puff. And a strawberry tart.
The voice, her voice, washed through Erics head, waking him out of his mulling.
Where was he again? Ah yes, the café. No other restaurant he knew had bright red brick walls, paper lantern chandeliers and a reproduction of Picassos Guernica lining the back wall. No other restaurant he knew was this delightfully quirky — pity the sign outside read Starbucks.
Make it two strawberry tarts. And add another brownie, an espresso one.
Okay, thats everything?
If this was the café, Eric thought, then it must be Monday morning, or Wednesday night. No, it was too bright outside. Monday it was. Damn. That meant he had work in an hour.
Eric shifted his weight between his feet and toyed with the strap of his dark blue man-bag. He played a game in his head, calculating how long he could stay before he had to leave for work. If the walk over took him fifteen minutes, if the man in front of him took five minutes to order, and the girl in front of the man took…
He had nearly dismissed her voice as a dream, but looking ahead, he saw half of her unobstructed by the man in front of him. She wore a short, fluttering yellow skirt that ended at her knees. Nice legs, if the one he could see was any indication. A pale white line of midriff blazed between her belt and tight yellow tank top that crinkled around her waist. She had long, frizzy brown hair that fell over an obscured logo on the back of her top.
Thats it for the food. Do you have any milk? I mean real milk?
Eric leaned to the left, trying to see her face. Her lips were a soft pink on ivory skin. When she spoke they seemed to sculpt her words with soft, deft strokes.
She pursed her lips slightly after each word, as if kissing them before sending them on their way. Snub nose, high cheekbones, and — Eric leaned to his left — a pair of earrings that looked like bronze wind chimes. She was beautiful. Not the conventional imitation, like the beauty of an actress or model, but real beauty of imperfect appearance, frayed edges. She wasnt made of plastic; Eric liked that.
I mean real milk. You know, whole. None of that skimmed crap.
Uhh. What we have is what we have.
The girl crouched to examine the cold food and drink display, and the contours of her skirt did things. Eric felt a blush blossom on his face, and looked at her bag instead. It was dark brown leather and large enough for three hardcovers to peek over the top. A green button was pinned to the strap. Eric had seen them handed out at the university before. Students for Sustainability.
Here we go, the girl said and reached for a bottle of milk hiding next to neon green Jones Soda. When she leaned forward, her shirt… Eric blushed again.
The books. Focus on the books.
He could barely make out the letters of the title. It looked like Cervantes.
There, thats all, The girl said, sliding the bottle and ruffling the edges of the paper bags holding her sweets.
Was she reading Don Quixote?
Was she a fellow English major?
Here you go.
And why was she buying so much food? Why the insistence on whole milk and not on skimmed crap?
She picked up her things and left for a table. Eric saw her entirely for the first time. She was beautiful.
Why so much food? What was she doing? He had to find out. And his heart beat faster at the thought that he might actually try.
The girl took a seat at a round wooden table near the register. The man in front of Eric moved up and placed his order — small cappuccino. Eric moved up, though he couldnt see the girl unless he turned his head and gawked like a stalker.
Sir? the barista at the register asked.
Erics head swerved back to the cashier. Hi, cookie and a small latte please.
Thatll be four sixty-four.
Here you go.
Thanks. Lattes coming up.
Eric nodded and took his cookie. Thanks.
He followed the counter to wait for his coffee. From here he could turn slightly and see the girl. She sat on the edge of her seat, stomach pressed against the edge of her table. Her food sat in a neat semi-circle around her. She was eating.
It was hypnotic to watch her. Alone and totally absorbed in her consumption, she ate with a relish and intensity that let Eric feel shadows of flavour on his palate. Between bites, she took sips of milk, quickly, like she was whispering a secret to it.
Did she do this all the time? Why? How did she maintain her figure? Did she always come here? He would have noticed if she did.
Eric shifted his feet. Would he actually talk to her? He had promised himself that he would before, with other people, in an effort to make friends and be likeable. He had forty-five minutes until he had to leave, and less than forty-five seconds until his coffee arrived. Less than forty-five seconds to build up the courage.
Did she have anywhere to be? Probably nothing professional, not dressed like that. Was she going to a class?
A barista, hidden behind an advertisement for the cafés hot chocolate, handed Eric his latte. Eric took it and shuffled his feet. The tables were occupied, except for a dingy, wobbly one next to the scary human-bull of Guernica.
She was alone at a large table that could easily sit six…
Would he do it? His heart thumped, and he felt it in his fingertips.
Again Eric wondered who she was, what she was doing, where she was going. Only half-thinking, he walked to her table. He realised what he was doing
halfway through, and the floor became the deck of a rocking boat.
What would he say?
Do you believe in love at first sight? Or should I walk by again?
If you were a laser, youd be set to stunning?
Bond. James Bond?
Excuse me? Eric breathed in. He was going to do it.
I dont know who you are but I have to. Its not because youre attractive, although dont get me wrong, you are. Its because I hate my life, and work every day trying to be happy, but then I see you finding this abandonment in just eating brownies and milk — provided its not skimmed crap. I see you and see an escape, an epiphany. Youre mysterious and different and I want to be too. I dont know where youre going, but please, take me with you.
She looked at him. Yep? she asked. Erics words drowned. Her eyes were blank, uninterested. He may as well have been furniture.
Mind if I sit here?
She turned back to her food. Sure.
Eric collapsed into a chair, mute and ashamed. A drop of latte dribbled from his cup and cut a line across his thumb. He pulled a paperback from his bag and tried to read.