It seemed to always be raining lately. The skies were drenched with dark clouds and thick winds, bringing the temperature to a chilling forty degrees, a wretched dive from the seventy degrees in the weeks before. She wrapped her jacket around her body a bit tighter, thankful for the snug fit on her thin build. Her hair was damp and beginning to frizz, despite the black umbrella towering over her head.
The bell to a little coffee and snack shop rang sharply as she entered. Surprisingly empty, she took a seat in a corner booth, staring out at the rain as it began to fall harder. She watched the drops pool into the puddles, creating little ripples and spreading to the other side. A car splashed through the mess, sending a wave in all directions. She flinched slightly as dirty rainwater from the street crashed against the store's window, momentarily forgetting that an inch of glass separated her from the impact.
Her eyes drifted to the menu, combing over a few selections before settling on a slice of hot apple pie, complete with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top. The scoop was melting deliciously as soon as the dessert was delivered to her, drops of milky white swimming down the sides of the steaming apples. She smiled and took her fork, ready to take the first bite. It was soft, sending a delightful little shiver down her chilled spine, warming her from the inside out. The fork squeaked against the plate as she took another bite, savoring the perfection wrapped in the sweetness buried under the crust.
The little bell chimed again, and out of habit she looked up, a mouth full of pie and her green eyes wide with innocence. Her gaze connected with a pair of deep chocolate eyes she knew all too well, and a grin came over her instantaneously as he recognized her as well.
"May I sit down?" he asked, hardly waiting for her excited nod as she swallowed her bite.
"Yes, of course."
The pair stared back at each other with happy smiles, the awkward first breath of a conversation where neither party wants to admit how long it's been, and neither party really cares. Just happy to be back in each other's company, the smiles turned silly and a hint of nervous laughter floated on the air.
"What are you doing here?" she asked. She studied his face. It was exactly how she remembered. A bit older, but that was to be expected. He still wore the same smile, the one that made her heart jump when he looked at her. He hadn't yet taken his eyes from her, either. She looked away nervously, only to look back and grin once again.
"I work here." he shrugged, his expression radiating joy. "Man, it's been ages. How are you?"
"I'm good." she said, almost honestly. She had not felt good in a long while, but something about those eyes and that smile made it all okay. "How about you?"
He rolled his eyes playfully, chuckling. "About the same."
"Still living in the city?"
"Sadly, yes. Only a little longer, though. I'm hitting my big break any day now. I've actually got a huge gig lined up for next week."
He played guitar. She hadn't forgotten that. She remembered how she fell in love, listening to him play for hours at his concerts in town until he began to recognize her. A sheepish smile and a coffee date later, and he had realized the feeling was mutual.
"So this is your day job, then?" she teased, taking a small chunk from the vanilla ice cream. It had nearly melted, and rested on the side of the pie rather than on top of it.
"Most days." he replied, still avoiding what he really wanted to know. "How's the family?"
It was her turn to roll her eyes playfully. "Decent. All going places. I'm still trying to figure out what I want to do tonight, let alone for the rest of my life." She made a face and stuck out her tongue, laughing at herself as she did. "I guess things haven't changed much."
He wanted to ask what she was indeed doing that night, but somehow the words escaped him. Instead, he shook his head, stating things really didn't change after all in his light, joking tone. She playfully punched him in the arm, declaring she was doing all right for her time, and he had to admit she was right.
"So what do you do these days?" he said, ordering a cup of black coffee from the waiter.
"I work in a bookstore. It's great, except I spend more than half my paycheck. My book shelf is loaded with all the best, though." she grinned. She was so proud of her collection. It was by no means overly impressive, catering to her taste and no one else's, but that was all she needed. It made her happy.
"Ever publish anything?" he asked, pressing his lips to the hot mug that arrived almost instantly after he placed his order. She had been a poet last he knew her, and a good one at that. He still had the framed poem she had written him for his birthday one year, tucked away on a shelf in his apartment. He had wanted to leave it out, but missing her became too great to bear whenever he caught site of it.
"Not yet." she sighed. "I don't really. . . Write anymore."
He frowned, wanting to ask why not but somehow knowing he was the reason. He chewed the inside of his lip awkwardly, wracking his brain for a new subject, but only able to say, "What made you stop?"
She shifted uncomfortably, placing her hands in her lap. "Life gets in the way. One day, you have to wake up and realize dreams don't pay bills. They don't keep you warm at night. They aren't . . . what you've wanted your whole life. Then reality kicks in, and the story changes. Suddenly, you've got a million things to do and thirty seconds to get it all done in." She sighed again, and shook her head as she shrugged. "I quit."
He listened intently, taking in more than he had expected. The girl he had remembered was optimistic and whole, always gazing towards the future painted by her mind's eye as a promise, not an illusion. He took another long sip of his coffee, ignoring the slight scalding of his mouth, but wincing slightly as he put the white mug back on the table. "You weren't always like that."
"Life gets in the way." she repeated, her gaze hardened.
"I know." she said, more gently. "Sorry."
"No," he replied, leaning back and drumming his fingers on the table. "I get it, I really do. My music hasn't been so great either. My gig? It's a prom. I don't want to play at a prom." he said, his face revealing his disbelief that he had to go through with the commitment. "I went from actual concerts to a prom. How is that possible?"
She laughed, not at his misfortune, but at his sheer disgust at the events that had befallen him. "Kind of like working in a bookstore when all you really want is to fill those shelves with your own work." she mused. "Funny little world, isn't it?"
"I guess," he said, but he was not amused. He was still mulling over his fall from almost certain fame and fortune. "Think we have time?"
"I do." she said with utmost certainty. "I truly do."
He gazed back at her, admiring the little dimple in her cheek that appeared when she smirked a certain way, and the way her eyes sparkled when she laughed. He missed her. Even in this shop, it was hard not to take her in his arms and apologize for taking so long, to tell her he missed her and wanted her back. He dismissed those thoughts, knowing it would be next to impossible. There was no chance she'd ever want him back.
"What are you thinking about?" she asked, that dimple appearing as she spoke. "You're not thinking you're going to sample a bit of my pie, are you?" she asked, lifting a brow, jokingly pulling her plate closer to her body.
He laughed and shook his head. "I am good, thanks. Maybe next time." he winked.
"Sure." she drew out the word to its most sarcastic proportions. "First time I see you in over two years, and you're already trying to get my pie." She let their gaze connect again, this time electrified with flirtation. "Better luck next time."
He snapped his fingers, leaning forward once again. "Drat."
She tucked her hair back behind her ear, unable to hold in a giggle. He was cute, she'd give him that. A pang sprang up in her heart, but she shoved it down. Even if she wanted him back, she knew he'd never take her back. It had been two years since the fight that had ended it. Granted, the fight had proved to be meaningless. She couldn't even remember what it was about. Either way, she knew she didn't stand a chance. He was a good guy, loyal and sweet, but he had more than likely moved on. It wasn't worth getting hurt over.
Her smile fell and her gaze turned away. She managed a sad smile in the corner of her mouth, pushing the last bite of pie onto her fork.
"Tell me," he said gently.
She looked back up, the eye contact sending a shiver down her spine. "I'm just sad my pie is gone. That's all."
He knew she was lying. "Order more."
"Can't." she insisted, saying she was on a diet.
He knew that was false. She was already perfect. There was no need to diet.
"I have to be somewhere." she groaned, noticing the clock hanging over the door. She stood up and wrapped her coat around her frame once more, taking her umbrella. "It was very, very good to see you."
He wanted to tell her to stay for one more piece, on him, just for a few more minutes to work up the courage to talk about the fight that had ended it, to ask for a second chance, to hug her, hold her close, and let her know he had never stopped loving her. "Yeah… you too." he said instead, swallowing his emotions with a gulp of coffee.
She pulled a few crumpled bills from the pocket of her black jacket, but his hand stopped hers before she placed them on the table. "It's on me." he said.
"No," she shook her head. "I can't accept that."
"My treat." he insisted. "It's cool."
She looked at him sadly. "I can't let you."
"Consider it me making up for missing your birthday last spring." He cracked another smile.
She looked at him a long time. "Okay."
He pulled her into a hug, capturing the strawberry scent of her hair in his memories as they embraced. She realized then, as she had so many times, how well they fit together, and how much she still missed him. She wanted to speak up, but the moment was gone- he had released her, and without meaning to, she had waved goodbye and left the shop.
Back in the cold of the rain, she considered turning back, but he was already gone.
He had watched her leave, wanting to call out to her to stay, but the words had died before their spoken birth. He backed up two or three steps, giving her a slight wave when she turned back around. Her face was confused, as if she could not see him, before she returned to the path she was walking. He sighed, promising himself that next time, should their be a next time, would be more than just a casual run in. It would be his chance for a new beginning, and he was determined not to let her slip through his fingers. Not again. After that, he would never need another second chance.