Cafe

So there I was. In the cafe again. And he walked in. My heart beat a little faster. His eyes looked past me as he gazed across the room. Tilting my chin down, I felt disappointed. We’re both in here, and though he doesn’t even know my name, I wish I knew him well enough for him to say hello. I’d settle for a nod. Some kind of acknowledgement that we both exist in the same place would be ideal. Hello, my name is Eric. That would be nice. I only know his name because the staff all say, “Hey there, Eric. Usual?” Each time he walks in, I hear those words. I also know his usual is an Alaskan Crepe and soy latte, hold the foam. Sometimes he jokes with the barista about how she might hold the foam, and how long she could work with a pile of foam in her hand. He’s funny. I think I want to know him because he’s funny. But I don’t know him. I just know he comes in every morning at the same time. I know this because I am here at the same time as well.

I’m young. Too young to be pining over someone I don’t know. But I do know when chemistry exudes from across the room. And we have it. Or I have it. He’s radiating chemistry, and I’m feeling it. I doubt he’s feeling anything. Except maybe hungry for salmon wrapped in a crepe. Each day is the same. For us both. I’m here when he comes in. I write. An advice column actually. I thought it was odd when I was asked to write advice for young teens, because I’m still a teenager myself. I don’t believe I know anything more than they know. I just have a few years on them. There’s a small magazine in the area that advertises fun things for teens to do, that’s how they make their money. Every now and then there are small articles on exciting happenings for teens, and there are a few of us that write for the mag each week. I am one of them. We have a cook, she likes to call herself a chef, but I’m not sure she knows more than how to do neat things with common processed foods. She’s given us recipes for pizza using dinner rolls, and tacos using Doritos. Not exactly exotic foods, but I guess it’s what our teen scene is looking for. We have a sports guy and a make-up artist that both write each week. I do the advice column. I get questions each week. I choose three and write my mature worldly response. I usually write those responses sitting in this café. I keep waiting for a question to come up that I could relate to. Something like, ‘The same guy walks into the same café I am in each day, and I’d like to talk to him because, from afar, I love him. What do I do?’ I’m sure I’d have some grand advice, like, sit at his table and engage him in a conversation about art or classical music. But in my real world, I’m not doing anything like that.

This morning, something with Eric seemed off. Different. He kept watching the door from his usual table. He was expecting someone. And it didn’t take long for her to show up.

“Daddy!” The toddler ran into his open arms, and Eric’s eyes lit up. I smiled as I watched them. For six months, I’ve watched him. From afar. And I’d never seen a daughter before. I watched him hug her, holding her tight as if she’d leave him. Behind the little girl, stood a woman. She was stern. Cross. I thought she was angry. Who could be angry at this scene? What I was witnessing was happiness. Joy. Incredible love. Eric moved his hand down his daughter’s hair, smoothing out her curls. He didn’t wear a wedding ring. One piece of advice I’d given a teenager once was not to trust a guy that wouldn’t be honest about his life outside of their relationship. As an adult, or up and coming adult at least, I didn’t trust a married man without a ring.

“You look so beautiful,” Eric said. That made me smile. I looked at his face, hoping for a small moment he was looking at me as he spoke. He was looking at his daughter.

“She knows that. You tell her all the time. You need to stop with this princess crap. Here’s her bag. I’ll pick her up at your house on Tuesday.” The girl’s mother bent over, kissed the girls cheek and walked out of the café. I looked down at my notebook. Chewing on my pen, I was reminded at just how little I know about dishing advice. I had no idea what just happened.

Of course I didn’t know what just happened. My notebook stared up at me. The one thing written on it was the topic of the day. “How do I make friends and keep them?” I thought this one was going to be easy. I’d walked into the café thinking about being yourself, making good choices, simple acts of kindness, and asking questions to people to get them to talk. People loved talking about themselves.

‘The best way to make a friend is to ask them to share something about themselves,’ I wrote. That was just an immature response, I thought. I chewed on the pen more and stole a glance at Eric again.

His eyes were sparkling. Did he have that sparkle before? His smile rose on one side of his face as he looked at his daughter with admiration. The little girl was pulling something out of her bag, asking Eric to put it on her. She said, “Daddy. Every girls has to wear one, while she sips her tea.”

“Okay, honey, you put it on, I’ll go order your tea. Do you want a raspberry crepe too?”

“With whip!” She laughed while she said it, and I wasn’t sure what was so funny. Maybe she thought her daddy was silly too.

Eric disappeared to the back of the café where the barista was waiting to take his order.

“Do you like to sip tea too?” I heard the question, but I wasn’t sure who had said it because I was watching Eric walk. He lacked his usual confidence today. His shoulders were slumped over. He looked tired.

I felt something resting my leg and looked down. A small plastic tiara was resting on my knee, ready to topple over and hit the floor. “Do you like tea?” She’d been talking to me. And she gave me a tiara.

“It’s mine, but you can wear it. I can’t seem to get mine to stay on. Could you help me?” She looked up at me with big blue eyes. Eric’s eyes. Her blonde hair curled up at the ends. And she was smiling. I smiled back at her. Taking the tiara from her hands, I placed it on her head and clipped the attached barrettes into place so it wouldn’t fall off the top of her head.

“I think it should stay now,” I said to her.

I looked up and Eric was standing over us with a tea cup in his hand. “Sorry about that,” he said to me. My heart skipped again.

“Oh.” I was flustered. I didn’t know what else to say. “Oh. That’s okay. She just needed some help.” I handed the tiara that was resting on my leg back to her and smiled. She was so cute.

She took it from my hands and said, “You don’t want to wear it?” I watched her eyes look down toward the floor. No one wants to disappoint a child.

Before I could respond, Eric, jumped in. “Honey, it looks like your new friend has some work to do,” he looked at my notebook. Immediately embarrassed, mortified even, I tried to cover the question that was boldly written on my page.

“Oh.” I said again. Good grief. Eric probably thought I was trying to make friends and taking notes about how I should go about doing it. “Work. Uh–” I just stared at him. He was older than I had originally thought. Crow’s feet peeked out from around his eyes. Laugh lines formed along his mouth as he smiled down at me.

“I’m Eric,” he said. “And I guess one little girl and two tiaras is one way to make friends.” He smiled again.

I was struck with fear. Dumbstruck. Starstruck even. For six months I’d watched this man, wondering what it would be like to talk to him. Wondering who he is. And the moment he was in front of me, talking to me, I couldn’t find words to say.

“Oh,” I said again. “Yeah, she’s so cute.” Yes, that’s a great ice breaker. Tell him the obvious. I tried to dig my way out of a hole. “And yeah, friends… I’ll have to write that one down. In my column. I write for an advice column. For teenagers.” I was pausing between every thought that was coming out of my mouth. “Bring tiara, make friends.” Eric laughed when I paused. “I might want to stay away from bringing little girls. My advice column is for teenagers. We try to keep them from having little girls.” I smiled at him.

“Probably a good idea.” Eric pulled two chairs over to my table, and set his daughter’s food next to my notebook. “You mind? I figure if you’re going to be sitting here wearing a tiara, you might not want to be alone.” He held up the tiara, and I tilted my head as he placed it in my hair.

“Yeaaaa.” The beautiful golden curls bounced as she clapped and bounced up and down.

That’s how I met Eric and Leslie. Today, that bouncing little blonde is graduating high school, and her two siblings are entering high school. Eric is only four years older than me. I was nineteen when we met that day in the café. After watching him for six months from afar, all it took was a smile and a tiara to start a friendship. Today we are married. But we always wear our tiaras when we sip tea. Which is almost never.

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