Strangers in a coffeehouse

Roasting coffee beans and the smell of a working oven greet me as I enter the coffeehouse. A brief, but definite tingle of excitement dances down the back of my neck: something’s different.

I wait in line for my hazelnut latte (I am predictable to a fault), and notice with some annoyance that my window seat’s been taken.

A young woman, seemingly in her 20’s, braided hair down to her waist, with topaz cat-eye glasses and a septum piercing that I secretly thought was très chic.

The more I look at her, the more it feels as though she is frozen in time.

But not the present, no.

She is far too entitled for the present.

I feel a little tug, gently grabbing me by the finger and pulling me to a different time, a time where I’d sit across from her and we’d discuss the pile of books on our coffee table; a pile that only grew higher with each passing day.

A time where her hair would be pulled back in an effortless bun that I could never, ever perfect and she’d have little half-moons below her eyes because she’d stayed up all night, perfecting her essay on Homer.

She would clutch her tenth mug of coffee so tight, her knuckles would turn bloodless and she rarely smiled because she didn’t like her teeth.

Her gray eyes sort of defined her; she wouldn’t stray far from a bleak existence.

But now, I see an almost firefly-like twinkle in her eyes, still grey but with little ripples breaking the surface, as she looks out the window, amused at something she’s read in her novel.

Her smile is wide and disarming, with dimples I’d never known about.

There is a pink in her cheeks, like she’d forced the color into her life.

Traces of the person I knew still lingered: in the earnest tightness with which she clutched the pages of her book and the peach iced tea on her coffee table.

But there was an air to her that made her seem almost foreign, unreal.

When she looks up a second time, she finds me staring and my cheeks flush with embarrassment.

Her smile appears almost as quickly; she calls my name, waves me over and wonders if I’d like a hazelnut latte.

I realize then, what is so different about her: she is unmistakably happy.

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