He sat in the little café sipping a latte while watching the people walk past the window in the late afternoon sun. It was a cool day in March with enough hint of spring in the air that some people were just wearing shirts while others still had on jackets. He didn't really see them, though, because he was thinking about the conversation with Carole from the night before. She just didn't understand. She came into the den interrupting him again because she wanted to talk. So fine, they talked. She wanted him to be happy, why was he so glum all the time? He thought it a fair question and proceeded to tell her, only she wasn't really interested in any kind of deep conversation. She never was. She just wanted to go out. What she was really saying was, "I'm tired of you hiding in this little room. Come out and let's have some fun together." God, if it were only that simple, he thought. They had engaged in a nice polite conversation and after ten minutes or so, she left and he was able to get back to his "work". He stayed in the den, and they hadn't gone out. Part of him regretted that, yet he seemed unable to do anything about it.
Looking out the window, he saw all the people walking by that he would never know. Humanity was all around him and he had no one to talk to. No one to have any kind of a meaningful conversation with. He took a sip of his latte just as the waitress, he couldn't remember her name but she was a twenty-something woman, came and sat down by him. "How you doin' Hun?" she said. He unemotionally studied her for a long second and she let him. Her phrase, while common enough, surprised him a bit because he was used to hearing it in a different setting.
"I'm fine," he said, trying to smile as he did so.
"You don't look fine," she said, "You look like you haven't a friend in the world." She studied his face as she spoke. She had intelligent eyes and looked at him with a compassion that while genuine was at first unrecognized by him, only because he had so rarely encountered it.
He thought the statement too forward and replied with some anger that slipped out before he could stop it, "Yeah, well it's been a hard day, OK." More like a hard life, he thought to himself.
"Wow, easy there," she said, "I'm just trying to be a friend, but it looks like you don't need anyone." She got up to leave as she spoke.
"Please," he said somewhat contritely, "I'm sorry. I was rude just now." Both hands were out, palms down and he was motioning her to stay. He continued, He sighed. "It seems I'm always on edge lately, I don't know if it's my job or what."
He continued talking because he wanted her to stay. He liked the feeling of another person sitting next to him, listening to what he was saying and responding with some comprehension and intelligence. Her head was leaning to the side slightly and she was studying him intently as he talked. He sensed he was running on and perhaps getting too personal with a perfect stranger. He began to falter in his talk, losing his train of thought as he tried to segue into another, safer line of conversation. He was saved by a guy behind the counter yelling, "Hey, I could use some help here, Princess."
She glanced in the direction of the voice, then turned back, lightly touched his hand and said, "Look, I gotta get back to work, but you come here a lot, right?" she said, and not waiting for a response continued, "Let's pick this up later, you would like that, right?" Her smile was genuine and he felt her sincerity. He had become very attuned to people's feelings towards him over the years, if only from self preservation. He was used to being mistreated.
He studied her. It was an invitation to bond with another person. He sensed no underlying romantic messages here, just an invitation to talk. It made him feel good, and not in any romantic way, but as a fellow sojourner, walking the same path on this miserable ball of rock. "Tru that," he said unconsciously slipping into a different dialogue, the other one, he thought to himself.
She gave him a questioning look at his word choice even as she smiled, letting him know she understood. A voice behind the counter ended the moment, "Anytime, your ladyship."
"I gotta go," she said smiling, and getting up, she was gone. He was left with his latte which he picked up and took a sip of. It was warm enough to still enjoy and not so hot that he couldn't take a long swallow. He glanced over at the bar and saw her working the customers, chatting with them and serving their drinks. He glanced out the window staring at nothing and thinking about her words. It made him reflect that he didn't really know many who he could really talk to. There was one, years ago that did, but he had been forced to walk away from that. God, he hadn't thought about that in years.
He took one long last sip on his latte and got up to leave. He tossed the cup in the trash can at the side of the door when he heard her voice behind him, "Safe journey friend." He turned to look and saw her smiling behind the counter. Still intrigued by her choice of words he mechanically forced himself to smile and wave, and unconsciously whispered in reply, "And Tunare be with you."
He walked out and down the street and sat down on his motorcycle, a little Kawasaki Ninja. While everyone else in town had a loud noisy Harley, he was one of the minority with a "rice rocket." It was yet another thing in his life that set him apart from everyone else, he thought. It was quiet and fast, and he loved to ride it. He put on his helmet and gloves slowly thinking now about the conversation with the waitress. She was friendly and he had enjoyed the chance to talk and have someone listen with understanding for a change. He forced himself to put her out of his mind, though, before he convinced himself she was his soul mate or anything foolish like that. God forbid he form any kind of attachment to another person.
He pulled out into traffic, turning right at the corner towards the Watchung Reservation. Taking its tight curves always gave him a thrill. By the time he got home he had a silly grin on his face, that no one could see through his helmet of course, and was singing some song from the 80's. He walked up the steps to the house, noticing that everything was dark. It wasn't until he was inside that he remembered Carole was working late tonight. When he got in he was greeted by the same trashy mess that he had left in the morning. He took time to pick it up, and rewarded himself with a budget gourmet lasagna mini-meal which he nuked in the microwave. He topped it with a thick slice of cheese and some sour cream and called it dinner. He sat down in the living room and ate with only the news on the TV for company.
When he finished, he tossed it in the garbage, so much for doing the dishes thank you, and headed for the den. He sat down in the chair and relaxed as he automatically entered a sequence of keystrokes on a pad on the arm. He smiled contentedly as he felt himself sinking into the chair.
Almost forty of them stood at one end of the valley. Sheer walls of ice rose up on either side a mere couple hundred yards apart ...
To be continued ...