This story is by Lori Paradis and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
It wasn’t a perfect relationship, but it was theirs. He was going to love her until her dying breath…
They had been in a fight and, like most fights between them, he didn’t know what he had done wrong. She didn’t smile at him anymore or ask him about his day. He didn’t want, didn’t need space, but he gave it to her… For a time at least, because love is patient.
Today was different. There was a bounce in his step. He was almost skipping. His joy emanated from him and seemed to touch the world around him. Leaves were falling and he saw each and every one in bright, loud colors. He was determined to break down any barriers that might keep them apart and, what he did this morning, was a big step towards pulling them back together. He had a gift for her.
It was a beautiful pink cashmere sweater wrapped up carefully and tucked under his arm. He could picture it on her; the light pale pink of the sweater contrasting perfectly with her dark chestnut hair. The sweater had a small stain on it but he didn’t think she would mind. After all, the stain represented how deeply he loved her and how far he was willing to go to fight for their relationship.
There was still something nagging in his mind though. A small voice telling him the sweater would still not be enough to mend the rift in their relationship. His pace slowed and the corners of his mouth drooped as the thought entered his mind and resonated, repeating over and over again like the lyrics in a song you can’t forget. His feet stopped moving and beads of sweat began to form on his forehead. He held the package out in front of him with sweat-slick hands. The moment lasted only a few seconds but in it he overcame the myriad of doubts that had built up in his mind.
He started moving forward again, but that slight nagging still weighed down his feet so that the bounce he once had only a few seconds ago slowly died. The bright colors of the leaves falling around him began to fade. He continued moved forward with a quiet determination fueled by a confidence he did not altogether feel.
He swung the door to the café open as he had so many times before the cool air hit his face. He was hours early, he knew, but he wanted everything to be perfect. A smile spread across his face when he saw his usual booth was empty. He would hunker down here and wait for her.
They had first met at this cafe on a similar fall evening almost a year before. That night he had retreated to the café after a particularly hard “conversation” with his father. It was cold that night and he had sat shivering in this very booth. He had ordered a hot chocolate, he remembered, from a man with a sour look on his face, but she had been the one who brought it to him. She noticed him. Their first moment together had been brief but she had tilted her head a little and smiled. He had smiled back and, her simple acknowledgement marked him in a way he knew could never be erased.
As he sat reminiscing in his corner booth she came in. She was right on time. Her stride seemed to miss a step as her eyes drifted to where he was sitting. Her body folded in on itself; shoulders slumped forward as she headed to the back room to get her apron.
So that was how it was going to be, he thought. With a heavy sigh, he shifted nervously in his seat. He purposefully lifted the gift from the booth seat next to him to the table and eyed the door leading from the back room behind the counter. He would wait. He had always been good at waiting and, love is patient.
Finally, she came out and took her place behind the counter. She was working with Andrew tonight. She worked with Andrew every Tuesday night. He liked that because Andrew was on his phone at every opportunity. Andrew minded his own damn business. She still looked sulky but each time a customer came up to the counter she would brighten up. She could be so fake sometimes, such a slut. But at least she was pretty. She needed him in her life to give her more depth and shape. Without him she would be stuck in this meaningless life forever.
Every couple of minutes her eyes would drift back to his booth and the crease between her eyes would sharpen. At last he grew impatient and began making his way to the counter. She saw him coming though and ducked into the back room and Andrew had to take his order. Andrew held his cell phone and glanced at it every few seconds.
“We have to brew more coffee. Just sit down and I’ll bring it to you when it’s done,” he told him. As Andrew fumbled for change he absently knocked over an open ketchup bottle and the red fluid dribbled over the countertop. Ignoring the mess, Andrew set the change on the counter – never taking his eyes off his phone.
As he went back to sit at his booth his hands were visibly shaking. His shirt was soaked through with sweat. He shut his eyes and took a few ragged, deep breaths to calm himself. His eyes snapped open again as the silence was broken. The lyrics of ‘She Keeps Me Up’ by Nickleback started playing.
Andrew answered his phone with a “Hey bro, what’s up?” as he ducked under the counter and out the door he yelled back, “This guy’s coffee is ready and I’m on break!”.
She emerged slowly and poured out a small cup of coffee. Some of the ketchup Andrew had spilled earlier got on her apron and she blamed herself for the mark it had left. He sat straight up in the booth and clenched his hands in front of him. His foot was bouncing underneath the booth and shaking his whole body. This was it.
She gave him a faint, quick smile as she crossed the room and placed the coffee down beside him with an outstretched arm in silence and turned just as quickly to make her way back to the counter and the barrier between them. He reached his hand out to stop her.
“Why are you treating me this way?” he whispered.
She turned, eyebrows raised and mouth hanging ever so slightly open. “I’m sorry the coffee took so long. We had to brew a fresh pot. Would you like a discount?”
Her coy evasiveness confused and irritated him. “I don’t want to fight anymore”, he said.
“I’m sorry?”, she asked.
“Here, I brought you a present”! His clenched fist pushed the package toward her.
“What? Why would…?” Her voice trailed off into silence. Everything within her was pulling away but her arms reached for the package out of an ingrained politeness and picked it up. She looked at him with the same surprised, confused look on her face then back down at the package in her hands. With trembling fingers, she undid the packaging and let it drop to the floor. She gasped and stared at the sweater in her hands, inspecting it carefully.
“This, this is my sweater! It even has the small hole at the neckline where I snagged it on a hanger. I left it on the floor at my boyfriend’s house yesterday.” Her feet began backing up automatically. She suddenly held the sweater up to the light to examine the new stain. Her eyes widened as she looked up at him. “Who are you and what did you do to him!” She pivoted and started running, plunging herself against the front door and pushing her way out. Her hands, soiled from the stain on the sweater, left red marks against the glass.
He sat still in his booth in shock. They had never had this much interaction before. Never. And now nothing would keep them apart. They would be together. He would make sure of it. It wasn’t a perfect relationship, but it was theirs. He was going to love her until her dying breath.