It’s just after five and cloudy out. The wind never died down overnight. The few leaves that have already fallen hold fast to the tufts of cheat grass in the yard. One has snagged in the laces of my sneakers. I have one hand in my pocket, and the other wrapped around a mug almost too hot to hold. Coffee belches steam into the breeze.
In half an hour I’ll open the coffee stand and make lattes until noon, but right now I’m enjoying the chill around my ears. I’m in the all black outfit I usually favor, which my coworkers tease me for. They tell me I look too much like a waiter, but having waited tables before I don’t see how that’s supposed to make me embarrassed. Besides, when you spend half your day around staining, used espresso grounds, you learn to dress for the occasion.
My phone chirps and I look at the screen. “We’re landing now. See you tomorrow night?” I work late tomorrow and early the day after.
“Totally,” I text back.
I sip my coffee. I see people at work start to gulp it when it cools, but coffee only works when you drink it slowly. Gulp it, and you’ll be out like a bad light. Drugs almost have personalities of their own. I take another sip. My heart beats heavy, but I don’t think the caffeine has hit me yet.
When I left we hugged for a good five minutes. We’d hold each other, kiss intermittently. We just stood still in the kitchen, the only sound our breathing and the hum of the refrigerator. I stayed for two days to help her unpack. My car, filled to bursting, sat in the driveway. When we text I avoid the temptation to ask if she’s been seeing anyone lately.
The only other person up and out is the neighbor two doors down. He’s a contractor and he works early. He kisses his wife and climbs in his truck. The thing seems to scream compared to the hum of the crickets, but the diesel engine fades away, and the wife stays outside, also sipping coffee. It’s the cool thing you do.
She waves at me and I wave back. She’s in a huge tee shirt and baggy flannel pants. She pets her dog while he sniffs around for a place to shit.
When I moved away, I left behind the boxers of mine she liked to sleep in. The last time she flew in from Louisville she slept at my place, in the boxers and an undershirt I’d forgotten about, a ratty thing with holes and paint stains.
The neighbor and her dog go back inside, and I’m alone. I catch myself wishing I’d bought smokes the other day, then remind myself that thoughts like that are exactly why I didn’t pick a pack up. I’m halfway through my coffee. My cat is in the window, dividing his attention between watching me and swatting at the moths on my side of the glass.
Sunlight is starting to shine through, in gauzy patches through the clouds. The even gray of the past two days won’t break today. I’m glad. Work feels smoother, when the colors outside mute the customers’ moods.
Before I came outside I’d checked my email. “While your scores are impressive, we are unable at this time to offer you a placement among our graduate student body. Please do not be discouraged by this. We encourage all interested applicants to…”
Seeing her again won’t make everything better, but it shouldn’t. It isn’t my place to objectify her into an emotional McGuffin. Needing her was what made me so intolerable, I think. There is no sentence, no period of proving my worth. I don’t play the childish game of believing we’ll get back together. I’m just here, as she is there, and I’m satisfied with that.
Seeing her won’t make everything better, but it’ll be good enough.
Another text message. “Yay! I’m excited! I’ve missed you!”
I tell her I’ve missed her too. I finish my coffee. Before going inside for my nametag, I stand for a minute and stare at my phone. I used to think we made each other whole, but that’s how every addict talks. She’s flying in from an assignment in San Diego, and she tells me she has a ton of stories. I won’t have anything to share, from my sleepy patch of the southeast, but that’s okay. A child seeks to match. An adult seeks to grow.
I stand there alone, as she flies in alone. Separate, we are both greater and less than the sum of our parts.