We come across a nice, cosy, informal cafe. It’s nearly empty and there’s a candle on every table. Perfect!
I hold the door open for her. So many beautiful tables shrouded in a romantic glow. She takes a seat at the bar. Damn it!
I walk up to her and say:
“It’s always warmer in the back.”
I don’t know if that’s true, but she gets up. I grin at myself as I follow her. I know how much she hates the cold.
We sit down at a small table in a niche. No one will disturb us here. We, of course, order coffee. There’s genuine gratitude in her face as she accepts the steaming hot cup from the waiter, as if it is a benevolent gift rather than something she ordered and paid for. Wouldn’t you just bend over and kiss her?
Her spirits are lifted a little. Now? I’m trying to work up my courage, figuring out how to begin.
“Hm.” She responds absently, enjoying her coffee as if she’s in love with it. I’m feeling a little jealous. Ridiculous! In any case, I know how she’s going to devour it, cup and all, when she’s done toying. Don’t stall!
“You know I care about you.” A lot. She doesn’t look up. Is she listening?
“Don’t you?” No response. “Daphne?”
Suddenly her face clouds over. She starts sobbing.
What am I to do? How can I make it better for her?
Everything she’s been bottling up the whole day starts spilling out all at once, I can’t even make out every word no matter how I strain.
I just want to get up and take her in my arms, hold her, soothe her until she stops crying. Instead I sit here, listening, while she falls apart. I’m such a coward.
“They say they can’t keep living together as if everything’s alright. They don’t trust each other. I can’t even trust them anymore, either one of them.” She’s looking for something, something that’s not within her grasp. I offer her my handkerchief. Thank goodness I haven’t used it. She accepts it graciously, twisting her mouth into the closest she can get to a smile. “I knew it was coming, that it would end up like this, eventually, so why does it still hurt so much?”
How can I answer that? So much desperation. I can see in her face how much it hurts. Her pain squeezes my throat shut.
“Why now?” I enquire in a raspy voice.
“Because my mother’s a liar and my father’s a slut.”
“Who is it?”
“Our next-door neighbour.” She makes a face at me. I try to picture her, have I seen her before? The image of a sturdy woman in her thirties with thick blond curly hair pops up. A family woman.
“You mean Ann?” I can’t believe it. I would never have imagined... With two young children and all.
She nods. “Among many others.”
She has another sip and stares off into space, tears streaming down.
“Can you believe I actually say hello to that... woman every single day? Well, said.”
She takes a big gulp and starts taking more vigorously. She’s clearly furious.
“So did my mother by the way. She was so shocked, I fear for her health.” She bangs the cup on the table. Did it break? It could’ve. “She hardly ate or slept all weekend.”
“How did she find out?”
“He left his cell phone lying around. She was already suspicious, they’re always suspicious of each other. He was texting all day, he couldn’t wait to get us out of the house, he was acting funny, nervous... The messages made it obvious.”
She turns the cup around between her hands.
“The things they said and did to each other, all these years, you wouldn’t believe if I told you. No one would. It was bound to happen.”
She starts crying. “I’m so sorry to bother you with this. I feel like if I don’t tell someone, I’m going to burst.”
“You never bother me.” I say, from the bottom of my heart. “You couldn’t possibly.”
She sniffs. “Thanks.”
I reach out to briefly touch her hand across the table.
“Hey, it’s okay. I understand. I’m here for you.”
She puts up a brave face, she’s thankful. That knowledge sends a warm glow through my stomach.
“You can tell me anything. I’ll always listen.”
“Thank you, you’re such a good friend.”
Ouch! The warm fuzzy feeling retreats immediately and the anxiety returns.
“I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
“Yeah, no problem.”
I drink my coffee.
We must have spent at least an hour like that, practically in total silence, staring ahead of us, alongside each other. The cafe is filling up. The bartender turns on the TV, the sports channel. Loud, soon to be drunk people have come to enjoy some game. A couple of them are eying Daphne. I want to get out of here. So does the bartender. He’s eying us too. We haven’t ordered anything since that first cup and we’re still here, taking up space. But if we go now, she’ll go home. The men elbow one another and point in her direction. They’re whispering, louder and louder, pushing each other forward. Alright then.
“Wanna get out of here? Believe me, you wouldn’t want to get caught up in a soccer war.”
She looks around, she hadn’t even noticed. “Yeah, sure.”
We leave the cafe with the overwhelming backing sound of “GOAL!!”
Right in time.
To be continued...