She took one last drag of her cigarette before she extinguished it into the cigarette tray that was already overflowing. She had always meant to quit but it was always under certain conditions that she made for herself. I’ll quit when I start running more. I’ll quit after Christmas. I’ll quit when I get a new job.
She pushed the door to the coffee shop and heard the familiar bells chime above her. The barista looked up and gave her a nod as he returned to his customer. She was surprised to see him working, even though she knew he worked every Friday afternoon. She looked around and was happy to be back. The white walls looked to have been repainted with a fresh coat and the framed photographs were rearranged against the far wall. While it looked a little different, it still felt the same. She chose the small round table next to the front window: the same spot she always sat in. She placed her bag down on the opposite chair and swung her jacket onto the back of her chair. Making her way up to the counter, she briefly scanned the menu even though she already knew what she would order.
“Hey Mags. Long time, no see. What can I get for you?” the barista asked. She didn’t realize that her absence had been that noticeable, but chose to ignore it. “Hey. Yeah, I’ve been really busy,” she uncomfortably replied, “Can I just get a medium coffee?” “Sure, $2.50. It’s good see you again,” he said, choosing to ignore her evasive replies. “Yeah, thanks. You too,” she quickly responded, as she pushed her change across the counter.
She walked over to the side of the counter, waiting for her drink. “Here you go,” said the barista, as he handed her her drink. She grabbed the mug and and then slid into her chair. She stretched across the table and grabbed her computer from her bag. Pressing the on button, the familiar melody of her computer coming to life resonated as she took a sip of her coffee. Dark, bitter, and robust. It had been awhile since she had tasted these flavours and she missed it.
Meanwhile, the barista had been watching her from behind the counter, trying to figure out why it had taken her so long to come back and why she even chose to come back at all. He leaned back and rested his lower back against the cabinets and decided that he would find out. He grabbed one of the last chocolate chip cookies–it had always been her favourite–and put it on a small white plate and walked over to her.
“Hey, I know these are your favourite. It’s our last one and I thought you might want it. On the house. Think of it as a welcome back,” he cheerfully said. Startled, she looked up from her computer and gave him a half smile and replied, “Thanks. You didn’t have to do that.” She was surprised at how much he hadn’t changed. He had the same haircut and wore the same plaid shirt he always wore. He even smelled the same: a woodsy musk that was masked by the aroma of coffee. She quickly looked away, afraid he noticed that she had gazed a little longer than she should have. He noticed.
“No worries. So what have you been up to? I hope you weren’t trying to avoid me,” he jokingly asked, knowing that perhaps that was too soon. She shifted in her chair and didn’t like that he was so casual and forward about it all. She looked up again and blushed. “Oh you know, I’ve been pretty busy with writing and I was out of town for awhile, so…” she trailed off. She actually hadn’t been out of town at all, nor had she been particularly busy with work. In fact, it was quite the opposite. She was stagnant. Stuck. She frequently stayed at home or when she did feel adventurous, she tried to find other coffee shops to do work in. “Where’d you go? Was it for work?” he casually asked. He seemed genuinely interested. Fuck, she thought. “Well, um… you know, I went…” she stammered. But just then, the bells chimed. A customer had walked in. Disappointed that he wouldn’t get to hear her answer, he sighed: “Guess I better go.”
Relieved, Mags returned to her work but felt him watching her. It was distracting. Who knew it would have ended like this? It had been months since it happened and yet the residual uncertainties and regrets lingered. They never dated. But something was palpable between them. She had always loved him and he had always loved her, but the undulating lives of two very different people meant that the timing was never right. She wanted to go up to him and apologize, but she was embarrassed and unsure if an apology was even appropriate.
She finished her coffee and walked up to the counter to return her mug: to be polite and for another chance to talk. But he wasn’t there. His shift had ended and he never said goodbye.
She packed up her bag and went outside. She lit a cigarette and deeply inhaled. She closed her eyes and she knew that that was it for them. Even though they cared for each other, she decided that she could never return. This place was his. With that, she extinguished what would be her last cigarette and walked home.