She could see him sitting there inside the dimly lit café before she opened the door. There was nothing special about him. He was a tall blonde man with blue eyes. She preferred men with green eyes and dark hair. Tall. Right. He was tall. He was taller than her but she stood nearly six feet, at least a head above most of her friends. Anyway, he stood to greet her when she came through the door. That was when she noticed how tall he was. They met online four months before that night and she had never asked about his height or physique. In his photos, he appeared friendly but was scruffy and unkempt. The boy that met her at the door was clean cut and well dressed. Not attractive, but nice-looking.
“Hey Madison,” he said to her at the door, “you’re really tall.”
He’s a nerd. The girl laughed and displayed her teeth, straight on top and crooked on bottom. She was overdressed and her bobbed hair was pinned to her head. Overdressed. Let me think. It was a cool evening. Not cold. She was wearing layers and a scarf. Everything was left to the imagination. “Hi, how are you?” she asked without breaking the smile.
“Good. This place is cool.” She picked the place knowing he like small coffee houses. After nodding her agreement, she moved gracefully but quickly around him to sit on the bench behind the table where he had been seated before she entered.
“Yes,” she had said while she moved. “This is one of my favorite places.” He could tell she wasn’t physically interested in him, so he pulled the chair at the opposite side of the table with every intention of sitting across from her. The wooden legs of the chair scooted along the floor with hollow squeaks.
“No no no,” she said quickly. The smile had not faded. “Come sit with me.” Her dark golden eyes were fixed on the bright blue of his.
He’s nervous. She watched as he shuffled around the table. He sat with a reasonable distance between them. His body was muscular and his jawline was square. The girl named Madison could see his freckles now, in the low light of the dining room. They were faint on his jagged cheekbones. His hair was lazily combed with a curl falling just off-center on his forehead, above his left eye.
“Thanks for coming to meet me on such short notice,” he started the conversation. “I was supposed to meet someone else tonight but we pushed that back until tomorrow.”
“It’s fine.” Her smile had softened but her dark amber eyes held their gravity. She hadn’t wanted to go out that night. It was Thursday and she had to be up early in the morning. 4:30am.
The boy, who Madison called Patrick, sat deep on the bench with his back against leaning against the rest and his shoulder against the wall. He set his cell down on the small round dining table and was about to speak when the waitress interrupted. “Good evening,” she said. It was just after eight o’clock and the sun had fully set. I forgot to mention that. It was dark outside when she arrived. “Can I get you two something to drink?”
Patrick made eye contact with the waitress and ordered an Americano before his head shifted on his shoulders to face the girl. “Madison?”
At least he didn’t order for me. “I’d like a banana crepe and cappuccino.” She spoke firmly. Authoritative. The waitress nodded and asked if the boy and girl needed anything else. They didn’t, so the waitress went away to the kitchen. “So how did your move go?” Madison asked Patrick. The two had spoken about Patrick’s move into his new apartment two weeks prior. They had spoken about everything over the last few months. Everything that they thought was appropriate to share online, anyway. For the girl, meeting for the first time did not have the feeling of newness. They could have been friends for years and the evening would not have felt any different. She could see that her question and potential for conversation had eased Patrick’s nerves. Good.
“It was good,” Patrick stated. “I never liked my old place. Too far from work, friends, the city, everything. If I hadn’t had the gym down the street I would’ve moved a long time ago.”
Patrick shrugged and leaned his elbow on the backrest. “How have you been? You went hiking last weekend right?” Patrick’s eyes pinched nearly shut and his mouth broadened.
“Yes. They were supposed to have refreshments at the end of the hike so I didn’t bring anything but water. All they gave me was a beer.”
Patrick laughed. “Nice. They didn’t have anything else?”
“No. And I don’t drink.”
“Right,” said the boy. “You mentioned that.”
“It didn’t feel like a reward. I wanted something sweet.” Her disappointment was written on her face.
“I went to the bank this morning and they gave me a lollipop.”
“I wish they had lollipops,” she laughed.
“Well next time I’ll go with you and bring a lollipop.” He considered a wink but held it back.
Her laugh became a giggle. “Thanks Patrick.”
Patrick looked toward the door and back at the girl. “My name isn’t Patrick. I just use it online.”
The boy had laughed and was about to speak when the waitress returned. “Americano for you, and the crepe and cappuccino for your girlfriend.” She placed the food and drinks appropriately in front of the girl and boy. “Do you need anything else?”
Madison shook her head and the boy replied, “I think we’re ok, thanks.” He was almost laughing and his voice had deepened. The waitress nodded, offered to help with anything else and instructed the two to wave for her if the need arose.
“My name isn’t Madison either,” the girl formerly known as Madison informed the boy.
“Oh,” he replied in the newly deepened tone. “Are you going to tell me your real name?”
“I don’t know.”
The boy cracked a half smile. “Ok.”
The girl returned a mirrored grin. The air had thickened. Somehow, the lights seemed to be glowing softer but brighter and with halos, and the black sky outside the café seemed darker with more vibrant reds and yellows streaking down the road as the cars passed. The room was quieter but louder, and the loudness of other voices was indistinct and the boy and girl would never have known if the voices were even speaking the same language.
“Where else have you gone hiking recently?” He asked the question after taking a sip of the near scalding coffee that had been placed before him.
“I’ve been all over,” she answered. “Do you want to see?”
The boy pivoted his left arm at the elbow and the tips of his fingers brushed the girl’s shoulder and upper back, over the thick grey sweater she wore. The touch was barely felt. Ok… She moved in closer to the boy and leaned to share the pictures she had taken. Her cell phone had a clear plastic case, but the screen was cracked. “These are from Yosemite, last fall,” she explained. In most of the images, she was featured alone with the same lopsided but full smile stretched across her face. One side of her upper lip rose higher than the other and her eyes were wide and expressive, shining like fire.
“Beautiful,” said the boy. His fingers were slowly tracing circles on her upper back, and it seemed to the girl that he wasn’t doing it for her, as if he just enjoyed the texture of the sweater. He did, but he was enjoying her company more than it seemed.
“It is,” she agreed and continued to share memories from her travels. Always with the same pleasant and familiar smile, regardless of the pose or angle of the shot. Inside the little coffee shop, the air was pleasant and bright and there was a warm draft. No. That doesn’t sound right. Imagine a small fire burning in an old stove nearby and anytime the wood might pop or crackle, you’d feel a quick warm burst. It was like that, without the fire. This went on for a while, and the girl took a few opportunities to sample her crepe or sip her cappuccino and the boy was always playing with the wrinkles in her sweater. “You have pictures from your last trip?” she asked after a sip of the hot drink.
“Yeah,” he answered smiling and reached for his phone. “They aren’t as pretty as your pictures.” He was laughing when he looked up to see her response. Her lips were tightened and she seemed to be holding back a smile. Her eyes met his and his laugh faded to a deep chuckle and then he paused. “Hey,” he said.
She did not answer but gently raised her chin in curiosity.
“Can I kiss you?” he asked.
His head came closer and her head turned to accept. The room was white and then it was gone. It must have been happening. The kiss. The white lights were flashing on the newly white sky and each flash sent a pulse down the boy’s neck until all of his body was filled with the light and he forgot what he had asked or why he asked it, and the girl was there and he was running the fingers of his right hand along her cheek and then down her neck and back up. The space where his heart used to be had been filled and could no longer contain what had filled it and his left hand dropped down, bumping the ridges of the thick sweater as it went and then it rested at the small of her back, and then he slowly retreated from her lips. Her eyes were wide and she smiled with all of her face, calm and content. But there was something new in her eyes and he had never seen a look like this before. He wondered what she was thinking.
I heard bells.