I hurried down the block toward the cafe, in escape of a forceful, frigid wind that had been in hot pursuit of me. I barged through the cafe doors upon arrival, then quickly shut it against the wind. Within the walls of the cafe, the toasty air enveloped me with soothing warmth and reassurance like the embrace of an old friend. I peeled away my winter armor — the long wool coat I had worn to brave the cold — while looking around the cafe to see if Friend or Suitor had arrived; neither were in sight. I draped my scarf and coat over my arm and walked decidedly toward an empty table near the center of the room. Amid transferring my scarf and jacket from my arm to the back of one of the chairs, a greeting came to my ears.
I turned around.
The Barista stood before me, armed with a cleaning cloth and a brilliant smile.
“Hey, how’s it going?”
“It’s going great. I’m really glad I caught you today. I have something to give you.”
I was perplexed, yet curious. “Oh really? What is it?”
He reached into his back pocket and produced a small envelope. As I received it, I examined it carefully, wondering what it could possibly contain. If it’s marred appearance was any indicator, whatever it was, had endured a great deal in order to get to me.
“Sorry, it’s bent. I’ve been carrying it around for a while.”
“…Oh.” I was all the more perplexed and became hesitant to even open the envelope; after all I hadn’t the best of luck with mysterious envelopes in winter.
“I’ve been holding onto it till I saw you.”
“What exactly is it?” The expression of deepening concern on my face must have been glaring.
“Oh! It’s nothing weird, don’t worry! It’s just an invitation to my graduation dinner.”
“Oh! That’s a relief.” We both laughed while I proceeded to open the envelope with confidence. “Wow, this is a very nice invite.”
“Thanks. Just RSVP using the info at the bottom.” He came closer to me to point out what he was referring to on the invitation.
“Okay, great.” Although elucidated on the contents of the envelope, I became confused as to why I had received this invitation at all. I wasn’t sure our acquaintanceship warranted my presence at his ‘graduation dinner.’ I concluded however, that my asking him ‘why’ might cause him some embarrassment; therefore, I withheld the question and said, “congratulations, by the way.”
“Thanks. I hope you’re able to make it.”
“Yeah, I’ll be sure to RSVP.” I smiled, pointing to the bottom of the invitation as he had done earlier.
“Alright, I’m gonna get back to work now.” He turned in the direction of the service counter, took a step forward, stopped suddenly, then turned back to me. “Hey, we’re working on a new drink, can I get your opinion on it?”
My first thought was ‘no!’ The response to spill from my lips was quite contrary. “…Sure.”
“Great! I’ll bring it to your table.”
He started to turn away, but lingered a moment longer. “What happened to your table by the way? I haven’t seen you sit there in a while.”
Instead of a recurrence of the rabid pain I had felt when Friend tore me away from ‘my table’ months earlier, I felt triumph surging in my soul; what I had imagined would devastate me — departing from the familiar in order to acquaint myself with the unknown — hadn’t the power to do that at all. “I’m trying new things.” I said with a smile.
“Good for you,” he responded proudly, then walked away.
I started down into my chair when I was interrupted by the sound of Friend’s voice.
“Hey.” The Barista’s invitation still in hand, I greeted her with an embrace.
She peeled off her jacket and draped it in over one of the chairs across the table from where I sat.
“Have you ordered yet? I’m definitely gonna need something warm. It is harsh out there today.”
“I haven’t, but The Barista’s about to bring me something that he wants me to try.”
“Yeah. They’re apparently working on a new drink.”
She took a seat. “He wants you to try something new…as in something experimental that they’re working on?”
“And he wants you to try it?”
“And you agreed?”
“Yes…That’s what I just said.”
“Oh, I know what you said. I’m just surprised that you said it.” she chuckled.
“Why is it so surprising that I would offer my expert feedback on a new beverage that our favorite cafe is working on?”
She stared at me incredulously.
“Okay! You’re right! I’m horrified by the thought of actually drinking whatever he ends up bringing out here.”
We both laughed.
When our laughter dissipated, she tapped the top of the envelope where it sat on the table. “What’s this?”
“An invitation to The Barista’s graduation dinner?”
“Why the question mark?”
“Nothing really. I’m just not sure why he gave it to me. Did you get one?”
“I didn’t. I don’t imagine I will either.” She began to snicker.
“What is it? What’s that look on your face?”
“There’s no look. It’s just my face. My face is always like this.” Humor swelled in her chest and her shoulders began to shake.
“B.S. What is it?!”
“Oh Gracie, you’re so clueless! He has a crush on you!” She erupted with hearty laughter.
“Absolutely not! I think he knows I’m old enough to be his mother.”
“Don’t be dramatic. You’re old enough to be his older sister maybe, but hardly his mother.”
“I was wondering when he gave it to me.”
“You were wondering what?”
“I was wondering why he’d invite me at all.”
Her laughter was revived. “Oh Gracie!”
“So what? Do you think I should tell him I can’t make it?”
“Is that the truth?”
“Does it matter? I mean it’s not like I’m looking for a relationship.”
“Whoa! You’re jumping so far ahead. He may not be looking for a relationship either.” She reigned in her laughter after a moment. “Speaking of relationship though, how is–”
“Friend, could you stay focused.” I lifted the envelope and shook it with urgency in front of her. “What should I do about this?”
Suitor had entered unnoticed. “That depends on what it is.” He said.
“Hi Suitor,” Friend greeted him.
“Hey, how’s it going?” he replied.
I lowered my hand and quietly slid the envelope under the plastic fixture at the center of the table.
“I’m doing great, how are you?”
“Not bad,” he responded. His gaze shifted intently from Friend to me. “Hi,” he said with a smile.
“Hi.” I responded, still somewhat distracted.
He threw his jacket over mine unto the back of the chair next to me, then took a seat in the same. He leaned in close to me and waited. “Hi.”
The weight of Friend’s fixed gaze upon us, admiring as it was, inhibited my desired response to close the slight space between our faces. “You said that already.”
What I would not do, he did. He drew closer and gave me a modest peck on the lips. “I’m happy to see you.”
I could see Friend beaming at the corner of my eye. “I’m happy to see you.”
He placed an arm across the back of my chair and turned out. His free hand went directly to the fixture at the center of the table. He lifted it away from the envelope.
I was stunned.
“What is this?”
Inspired by a wild burst of mischief, Friend interrupted me. “An admirer of Gracie’s invited her to–”
“What? I think it’s endearing.” She grinned interminably.
“You’re terrible.” I shook my head in disapproval.
Suitor turned to me. “An admirer huh?”
“No!” I negated emphatically. “Just a–” I stopped speaking abruptly as The Barista appeared within arms length of our table, carefully carrying a sizable mug on a small round tray.
“Here you go.” He looked around the table, surprise emanating in his gaze as he took in Friend’s presence, then Suitor’s. “Sorry it took me so long.”
“That’s alright, thanks.”
“Hi!” Friend greeted him. “Are we all getting free samples today?” Her gleeful salutation was nauseating. I suspected a covert intention to instigate trouble. “Or are they just for special people?”
“Friend!” I came short of kicking her underneath the table.
The Barista was becoming visibly flushed. “…uhm…”
Suitor seemed mildly amused, but restrained himself from smiling too broadly.
“What?! I’m just asking.” Friend insisted.
I glared at her.
“Alright. No need to serve me any death stares.” She turned to address The Barista. “Forgive me. The cold outside must have gotten to my brain.”
“No worries,” The Barista replied. He turned from Friend to me and Suitor. His eyes distractedly darted from mine, to Suitor’s arm on the back of my chair, to Suitor’s fingers resting on top of the envelope, then finally landing squarely into Suitor’s. They scrutinized each other for what felt like an eternity, until Suitor spoke.
“You all seem to know each other. I’m Suitor.”
The Barista cordially shook his outstretched hand. “Nice to meet you man. I’m The Barista.”
Their voices got noticeably lower during their brief exchange. Friend and I silently spectated.
“Nice to meet you,” Suitor said.
“Yeah,” The Barista uttered in response, after which an intolerably awkward, voiceless showdown ensued between them.
I slid the envelope quietly out from underneath Suitor’s fingers. “I’ll let you know, okay?” I slipped the envelope into my coat pocket and almost simultaneously pulled the mug The Barista had set down closer to me. “And I’m definitely excited about this,” I feigned a smile.
The Barista’s eyes isolated mine once more. “Okay, great.” He smiled with a brilliance reminiscent of earlier — prior to my being joined by the present company. “Thanks,” he added before turning to walk away.
Friend waited till he was out of ear shot, then let out a burst of laughter.
“You’re terrible,” I scolded her.
“I’m guessing that was your admirer,” Suitor remarked, concealing his own amusement.
I turned to him. “He’s not my….” I retracted the end of my statement mid-speech because I did not believe it. “Can we just drop it?”
Suitor was not ready to ‘drop it’. “I can see now why it took you so long to agree to go out with me. You were weighing your options.”
“That’s hardly the case.” I picked up the mug and displaced the wisps of smoke dancing atop it’s piping hot contents with a breath.
“Even so, I could see how you could be a total heart-breaker.”
I set the mug down. “The display of…interest that you just saw is not the norm for me–”
Friend chimed in on a whisper; “It is, she just doesn’t notice.”
I spared myself the wasted energy of scolding her and continued addressing Suitor instead. “I’m not a heart-breaker.”
“I hope not.” His words were underscored by an arresting sincerity.
“What does that mean?” I asked.
“Nothing…just saying.” He smiled reassuringly, then asked, “Are you gonna try whatever’s in the mug?” His smile persisted, but his disposition had altered.
Friend spoke. “While you decide if you’re actually gonna consume that, I’m gonna use the restroom, then place my order.” She stood up. “Suitor, should I get you anything?”
“Okay. Be right back.” She left.
Although I felt tension mounting in my chest, I started with a smile. “So…what did you mean?”
“What did I mean when?”
I patiently waited in hopes that he would deduce what I was asking without me having to explicitly ask it.
He looked back at me silently perplexed.
“…Just a moment ago?…When you said you hoped I wasn’t a heart-breaker?”
“I told you, I didn’t mean anything….I was just kidding.” He gently stroked my cheek. “Now, take a sip, the suspense is killing me.” He lifted the mug to me.
Perhaps I should have, but I could not let it go. “You sounded kinda serious. And that was the second time that you tried to change the subject.”
He released a sigh along with the manufactured smile and turned more fully toward me. “Look, It’s just that…you’re not the only one who runs the risk of getting hurt here.”
I was stunned. “What does that mean?”
“I mean, I really enjoy spending time with you…and when we’re not together, I can’t wait to see you again…I just hope you realize that this isn’t just a thing for me…I’m not just looking for some good times. I…”
I listened as patiently as I could, but he kept me dangling off the edge of his unfinished thought. “You what?”
“I don’t want to scare you off…”
“I also want to start building an actual connection with you Mary.” His gaze was replete with hesitation; there was a question he was withholding and the uncertainty that fueled it ravished his expression.
“What do you mean? Isn’t that what we’re doing?” Annoyance arose to defend me against his indirect demand.
“In a way yes, but…”
“It still feels like you’re holding back…We’re spending all this time together, but it feels like you have me at arm’s length…I just can’t get close to you.”
“What are you talking about? I’m right here. I’m sitting so close to you I’m practically wearing your shirt.”
“I’m not talking about that.”
“Then what? Is this a sex thing? I–”
He cut me off sharply. “No. This isn’t a conversation about sex. What I want is…I want you to…”
“I don’t know anything about you! I mean with all the time that we spend talking, do you realize you never actually share anything about your life?”
“I never share anything about my life?!”
“Except for what pertains to your work, you never actually share anything with me.”
I contemplated his accusation.
He looked at me in patient anticipation of what I might say…of what I might ‘share’.
My heart pounded, I didn’t know how to begin.
Remorse overtook the anticipation in his eyes. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to get upset with you.”
I went through a thousand scenarios of how I might begin to share with him what he wanted to know. Yet, I could not make the transition from thinking to speaking. Finally, I aborted that mission altogether and responded to his apology instead. “That was you getting upset?” I groped for humor with which I might conceal myself from the discomfort of the moment, but it was fleeting. I was forced to confront the subject of his curiosity, while standing naked in my inadequacy. “Well, what do you wanna know?”
He approached with gentleness. “Anything….tell me about your childhood…do you have any siblings? What are your parents like? How do you spend the holidays?….”
Every question dealt an excruciating blow to an already tender wound. And while each question provided a road map for me to start ‘sharing’ I remained unable to utter a single word.
Friend’s voice arrived at the table before her physical presence. “So, I talked The Barista into making me one of the mystery drinks, It’s actually pretty good. Did you try it Gracie?”
Suitor and I both looked up.
Friend took her seat. “Whao. Why does it feel like I’m crashing a funeral? Are you two okay?”
Suitor reached in front of me for the mug and took a quick sip. “You’re right Friend, that’s pretty good.” He presented the mug to me. “Here, try it.” Beside the grief of not knowing me as longed to, there was safety in his eyes.
I received the mug from him and took a sip. “Wow. That is pretty darn good.”
“I’d say your admirer did pretty well.” Suitor had found the humor that eluded earlier.
We all laughed, each of us uniquely inspired.
“I was thinking, it would be great for us to get together sometime. We could do a couple’s game night or cook dinner and watch a movie.” Friend proposed.
Suitor consulted with me. “ What do you think?”
“I think that could be fun.” I said.
“Perfect! I’ll talk to My Husband and get back to you guys.”
“Great.” Suitor said. He then stood from the table. “I’m sorry, I need to get going.”
“That’s right,” I began. “Tell your brother I said hello.”
“I will.” He bent down and kissed me on the cheek, then stood upright to address Friend. “See you at the office on Monday,” he said before turning to leave.
She waited, then pounced on me the moment his hand touched the cafe door. “What happened to you guys when I left the table? You seemed so different when I came back.”
My gaze remained fixed on the door long after it closed behind Suitor, my thoughts pursuing him beyond the cafe walls. Friend’s words became slurred in the background of my thoughts until they dissipated altogether. Inspired by fear and longing I bolted from my seat and made my way quickly out the door. Once outside, I squinted through the unabated wind. I Looked in one direction and saw no sign of him. I looked in the other and saw him in the distance, nearing the corner. “Suitor!” I called out, running toward his drifting shape. “Suitor!” I called again.
He stopped and turned around.
I came to a forcible stop just in front of him.
He held me by the shoulders to steady me. “What are you doing?”
“My childhood was really great at first, but then my mom left because my dad was really abusive and it got really hard. I don’t have any siblings that I know of, but I have two younger cousins that I grew up with who are like siblings to me. I recently met my mom again after twenty years. You might not remember, but I was meeting her at the cafe the day that you gave me your business card…I don’t really know what she’s like anymore, but I’d like to, if I can talk to her again…I spend the holidays with my extended family and close friends, like most people…And when I get alone, I cry because I realize how lonely I really am…”
For a moment, he stood still, speechless. Then finally, he said, “you can’t keep doing this.” He decidedly removed his jacket.
“I thought you wanted to know.”
He covered me with his jacket, then held me. “I can’t have a relationship with you if you freeze to death.”
“I promise you, death by freezing isn’t what I’m going for here.”
He pulled away from me a bit.
I looked up into his eyes.
“Good.” He kissed me sweetly – a thing that I was developing an increasing fondness for. “I’ll walk you back to the cafe,” he said, then took my hand.
When we got to the cafe door, we were met by someone unexpected. Arriving from the opposite direction, she reached for the door handle seconds before Suitor did.
“Pardon me,” she said, looking up from the door handle.
“No worries,” Suitor responded, taking a step back. Then it happened; uncanny recognizance, sparked by instinct, produced a profoundly brilliant smile that filled his eyes and warmed his cheeks. “Hi,” He greeted her cheerfully.
“Hello,” she responded. She was quite confused. She received his outstretched hand as an extension of my presence, but looked to me for clarification.
“Aunty, this is Suitor.”
“Oh,” My aunt perked up, turning from me to Suitor. “Good to finally meet you young man.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you also.” He turned to me. “I thought it was your mother.”
“No,” my aunt quickly corrected him.
“She’s my mom’s sister.” I took off his jacket and returned it to him. “They have a strong resemblance.”
“You’ve met Gracie’s mother?” my aunt asked.
“No, but I’m looking–”
I stepped between them, directly in front of him. “Aren’t you gonna be late?”
He seemed thrown. “I guess so. Although–”
“I’ll talk to you later, okay?”
“Sure.” His gaze subtly became less like summer and more like the overcast winter sky. “It was great to meet you,” he said to my aunt.
“Maybe Gracie can bring you to the house for dinner sometime, that way I can actually get to know you.”
“Aunty, please.” I pleaded.
“I’d like that,” Suitor responded, his smile re-surging. “Talk to you later,” he said to me, before turning to leave.
My aunt and I entered the cafe; I led her to the table where Suitor, Friend, and I had been sitting.
“So that’s your friend huh?” My aunt asked as we walked.
“I meant what I said you know.”
“What you said about what?”
“About him coming to the house for dinner. For all that time that you’ve been spending with him, I need to know who he is.”
“You don’t need to worry…He’s a good guy.”
She caught my wrist in an assertive grip. “I’d like to judge that for myself, thank you.”
I had no chance of winning an argument against her expressed wishes. “Okay. I’ll find out when he’s available.”
Friend, who was no longer sitting, presented me with my coat and scarf the moment I came within arm’s reach of the table. “What was that? Are you guys okay?”
Before I could produce a response, she acknowledged my aunt. “Hi, how are you?!” She embraced her warmly. “I didn’t know you were joining us, I would have made plans to stay.”
“I’m well, thank you. I hadn’t planned on coming myself.”
The latter part of her response delivered a poisonous prick to my imagination; anxious thoughts rushed with abandon unto the stage of my mind. “Aunty is everything okay?”
“Everything is fine,” she responded.
My curiosity was aroused even more.
“Well, that’s good,”Friend commented. She turned to me intently and lifted her hands to hold my face. “Are you sure everything is okay…”
I in-turn held the image of my aunt’s face in my peripheral vision.
She was performing an inspection of the chairs in order to determine which one to sit on.
Friend continued. “…with you and… you know who?”
“Yes. Everything’s fine.”
“Fine according to the old Mary’s standards or…”
“Everything’s fine.” I gently lifted her hands away from my cheeks. “I promise.”
“I’ll call you later.”
“You’ll need to take a number, but sure.”
“Okay. Love you both, I gotta go!” She waved a final goodbye to my aunt, then dashed out the door.
I turned to my aunt. She had settled into the seat that I had been sitting in, so I sat across the table from her.
“What was Friend asking about just now?”
“Nothing. She was just–”
“Did something transpire between you and that young man?”
“No. Everything’s fine. What are you doing here?”
“Everything’s fine, yet your coat was in here while you were out there in the freezing cold.”
“Look, I don’t wanna talk about it right now, okay.”
She straightened her back, stuck out her chin, and adjusted her purse on her lap. “Okay.”
“What are you doing here? I was about to come over.”
“I thought we might try a different setting for dinner this week.”
I stared at her intently, silently awaiting a more in depth explanation; none came. “Is the rest of the family meeting us here then?”
“No, it’s just us. Your uncle had to take care of an emergency at work and your cousins made plans with their friends.”
I stared at her. She remained committed to her response. “You know, this isn’t a full scale restaurant. You’re probably not gonna find a satisfactory meal here.”
“That may not be the case. Where are the menus? Let’s take a look.”
“Aunty, there aren’t individual menus. There’s just one and it’s on the wall back there.” I pointed to the wall behind the service counter. “What’s going on?”
Hands still clutching her purse, she leaned forward and squinted to see the menu. ”…How does anyone manage to read that? The text is minuscule.”
“Well usually people look at it while standing at the counter….why are you here?”
She relented in her efforts to read the menu by straining and found her glasses in her purse. After affixing them on her face, she leaned back in her seat. “Alright, let’s see….”
“You hate cafes,” I remind her frankly.
“But you love them,” she muttered, her eyes still glued to the menu behind me.
“Okay…” I waited for her to demystify her odd behavior.
Aligning her gaze with mine, she removed her glasses, folded them, returned them to their case, buried them in her purse, then set out to address the elephant that she had attempted to shove off. “I don’t trust her.” One hand lingered in her purse as she spoke
“She is inconsistent, irresponsible, unreliable, and not to mention self-destructive–”
“Who are you talking about?”
She lifted a folded piece of paper out of her purse and clutched it with grave determination. “Giving birth to a child does not make a woman a mother Gracie. Being a mother has everything to do with being there day in and day out and doing the work. Mothers aren’t always perfect…I know I haven’t always been perfect, but they stick it out long enough to learn from the mistakes they make. Being a mother is about sacrifice…It’s about picking yourself up so that you can hold your children up. It’s about being relentless in making sure that your children have the best possible shot at having a successful life…”
“Aunty, why are you saying all this?”
“I know that I didn’t give birth to you, but aren’t I your mother by all those other qualifications?”
“What?” I asked, unable to utter the truth that this had not been enough.
“You know, you came to your uncle and me at a time when we were told we couldn’t have children. But the moment I saw you standing on the front porch that day, something came alive in me! The part of me that had always dreamed of being a mother and providing all those amazing things for someone else woke up. You were my daughter from that moment.”
“That first year that you were with us was difficult.” Her eyes began to glisten with steadily incoming tears. “You must have asked about your mother every single day. You kept asking if your father had dropped you off at our house so that she could pick you up from there…Do you remember that?”
The sorrow which overwhelmed her was contagious. I succumbed to it. “…Kind of.”
“After some time, you stopped asking about her. I made myself believe that it was because you had accepted me as your mother and that that was enough–”
“Aunty, I am so grateful for you. I don’t even have words for how grateful I am for everything you’ve done. The only reason I have the life that I do is because of you.”
She spoke in continuum to what she had been saying prior to my response. “The truth is, no amount of my love could cure your desire for the one who gave birth to you. The day that you stopped asking for her was the day that the light went out in your eyes. That light was the evidence of your dream.”
A single tear slid down my cheek.
“You were my dream come true, but she was always your dream.”
“I don’t know if I would say that…In fact, so much of this year has felt like an endless, confusing, nightmare.”
She loosened her clutch on the folded paper in her hand. “They say that ‘hope deferred makes the heart sick’. I suppose that’s equivalent to a ‘nightmare.”
I chuckled. “Yeah.”
She flattened the paper against the tabletop, then lifted her hand away, revealing it’s true form; It was a standard letter-sized envelope folded in half.
I laughed aloud in utter disbelief; some power beyond me thought much of taunting me with these envelopes.
“What is it? What’s funny?”
“Nothing. What’s that?” I eyed the envelope, but didn’t dare touch it.
She slid it across the table toward me. “Your mother…” A momentary struggle ensued to release the words that came next. “…my sister… dropped it off at the house and asked me to get it to you.”
Fear and pain hopped unto my shoulders and began to whisper into my ears. “Oh really? She couldn’t have come to my place and given it to me herself? I mean it’s not like she doesn’t know where I live…Unless this letter is meant to take back everything she claimed she wanted in the first letter. Is that what it is?”
“Go on and see for yourself.”
“No…I’m tired of being disappointed. ”
I too began to cry. “No, forget it! If she decided she doesn’t want me, even after all the shit she said and did to make me believe that she did, then forget it. I don’t want it.”
My aunt urgently unfolded the envelope then proceeded to open it.
“She and this letter could both go to hell. I–” What I saw stopped my mouth suddenly. “What is this? Where’s the letter?” I pushed streams of tears off my cheek.
“There isn’t a letter Gracie.”
“What am I supposed to do with an empty envelope?”
She closed the envelope and turned it over to reveal the text that had been hidden within the fold. A few lines, centered on the face of the envelope stared back at me. The top line contained my mother’s name and the following two, an address in my city…one rather close to the cafe.
“What? She wants me to write her a letter?”
“No. She wants you to know where to find her.”
Where my mind and tongue together failed to produce any expression of my sentiments, my eyes welled with relief, which gradually gave way to joy. I received the envelope from my aunt and stared at the text on it for what seemed to be an eternity.
My aunt reached across the table and carefully touched my hand.
I looked up at her.
“What do you think?”
“Will you come with me?” I asked without a moment’s thought.
She withdrew her hand. “…I have forgiven your mother, believe me I have…For undermining her potential and making ridiculous choices when we were kids, for ripping the family apart with her stubbornness, for wasting her life away on men and…things that could never satisfy her…for leaving you the way she did. I have forgiven her for all that, but I don’t think I can trust her.”
“Are you saying that I shouldn’t reach out to her? That I shouldn’t trust her?”
She reached across the table and gently held my hands in hers. “No! I’m saying that I can’t take that step with you, but if you decide to take it, you have my support.”
“You know, at the beginning of the year, I thought of a million ways to end what I was sure would be a train wreck with your mother coming back into your life, but in spite of how it killed me to acknowledge it, I couldn’t help but notice that little glimmer of hope in your eyes. It’s the same one that’s here now…the same one you had up until that first year that you lived with me and Uncle.”
“That’s funny, I was sure that when people looked at me, all they saw was…I don’t know.”
“Pain….And a girl who was so lost she no longer knew what she was looking for, much less, how to look for it.”
She moved her purse from her lap to the table and came to sit in the chair next to me. She took my face in her hands, then lowered my head to plant a kiss on my forehead. Afterward, she lifted my face to align my gaze with hers. “You, my darling Gracie are as bright as the sun. You are not marred by pain or abandonment, not ever again…I love you, and you will always be my only daughter…no matter what.”
“My mother used to say that to me when I was a little girl.”
My aunt smiled, releasing her hands from my face, carefully into her lap. “I bet. Your grandmother used to say it to us when we were girls.”
“Thank you Aunty.”
She wiped away the traces of a tear steam from my cheek.
“Will you be okay here if I leave?”
She took in a deep breath and looked around the cafe. She exhaled as her gaze returned to mine. “I think I’ll try to be.”
“Are you sure?”
Just then, The Barista appeared at our table. “Hey Gracie, you’re hanging out for a while today, huh?”
“I’m actually on my way out.”
A veil of melancholy cascaded over his face. “Are you okay?”
“I’m okay, thank you for asking.” I quickly diverted his attention to my aunt. “This is my aunt, can you take care of her for me? It’s her first time here.”
“Sure, I can do that!” Addressing my aunt he said, “It’s nice to meet you.” He extended his hand to her.
She hesitated to take his hand, staring at it anxiously for a moment.
He began to ashamedly withdraw his hand.
She seized it mid-motion and gave it a firm shake. “Thank you. Good to meet you.”
“Great! I’m off. I’ll see you both later.” I threw my scarf around my neck and marched toward the exit.
The bitter winter winds seemed irrelevant as I stood in front of Mother’s house, frozen with hesitation rather than the chill of the wind itself. The sound of my own breath beat thunderously inside my ear as I stood on the sidewalk, panting, my gaze locked with the foreboding glare of Mother’s front door. In my hesitation, the same anxiety that had contended with me all along my brisk walk from the cafe made a final stand. Alas, with every blow dealt to me by the trepidation of marching up the stairs toward the door, I was unable to regain my breath. Hard-pressed, my face turned leftward. I saw an escape from the grip of anxiety, a path away from her front door.
The chill of the winter air was suddenly displaced by a forceful burst of warmth that cloaked my shoulders and masked my face. The thundering of my breath ceased, as it was, in an instant, arrested and reset.
It was with me; the presence that was beginning to make a home in my life. “It’s only a door Mary,” it said through a resounding whisper that quickly pervaded my chest, disarming and driving out anxiety.
I turned my face back to the door and spoke with conviction into the air around me what I had heard on a whisper inside my chest. “It’s only a door.” The words, when I spoke them, pulled me forward. my arms were strengthened within the warmth of the presence around me. I pounded brazenly against the door, once, then again, and again, and again, a desperate demand for the fulfillment of a deferred dream.
Personified impatience finally yanked the door open, it’s face looked a lot like Mother, a lot like my aunt… a lot like me. The presence departed, leaving my back vulnerable to the winter air. This was however, of no consequence as the delightful warmth from within Mother’s house rushed out to shower my face with kisses. The impatience in her eyes was quickly overcome by surprise. She stood firmly in the doorway with one hand on the door.
“Hello.” She said.
“Hi,” I replied.
She stood firmly, silently before me, her eyes fixed on mine.
“How are you doing?” I asked.
“I’m well thank you. How have you been?”
“I’ve been okay….I have been wondering where you were.”
“I’ve been here.”
“Okay…Well, I’ve been calling you.”
Her lack of empathy began to irritate me. “You know? Why didn’t you ever call me back?”
“You made it clear that you didn’t need or even want me in your life, Mary.”
“Well, the fact that I called you as many times as I did…didn’t that let you know that I at least wanted to talk to you?”
“You wanted to talk to me?”
She released the door only to cross her arms in front of her. “Go ahead, I’m listening.”
I paused, my mouth agape in disbelief. “Can I come inside?”
“No, you can’t.”
“I can hear you just fine right here.”
“Are you serious right now? It’s freezing.”
She stepped out of the doorway and unto the landing with me, pulling the front door firmly shut behind her. “Yes it is. What did you come here to say?”
I stared into her unyielding gaze for a moment.
“What…do you want me to beg you?”
“You said you had been calling me because you wanted to talk to me, what did you want to say? You have my full attention.”
“What the hell?! What happened to the woman who was so sorry she left me? The woman who was so devastated that she wasn’t a part of my life? What happened to her?! Huh?!”
“You mean the woman you rejected, didn’t need, and didn’t want in your life?…She’s right here Mary.”
“Well I’m here too aren’t I? I got the empty envelope with your address and I came to find you didn’t I? What, do you still want me to beg you?”
“No, that’s not what I want! I want you to understand that, I’m a person with feelings like you and that there’s only so much rejection I can take.”
“You rejected me first!”
She quickly stepped toward me and placed her hands on my shoulders. “No I didn’t. I rejected the way your father was treating me, I rejected having to live that way…I even rejected myself sometimes for not being different, for not being better and making better choices…but I never rejected you…I never rejected you.” She seemed to waver between her impulse to embrace me and her uncertainty as to whether I would be accepting of this. “I came to find you at the beginning of the year because I wanted to be a part of your life and I was finally in a place where I didn’t think I would mess it up.”
“So why are we standing out here?”
“I still want to be a part of your life, but before you come into this house, I need to know that you want the same thing. I’m not perfect and not going to do everything perfectly, but I’m not going anywhere. If you come inside, I need to know that you intend to stay for a while.”
I looked past her to the door behind her.
‘It’s only a door, Mary,’ The presence spoke with the warmth of a smile.
“So, do you still want to come inside?”
I realigned my gaze with hers. “…Yes.”