He was walking east. She was walking west. The ribbon of sidewalk was only so wide.
They’d seen each other a few times before, at the cafe where she worked, the new place downtown where he’d park with his newspapers to drink coffee and maybe make a friend.
He’d been feeling old and unconnected, living the lonely existence of a workaholic newspaper man. To compensate, in recent weeks, he’d been shopping for a BMX bicycle. He wore baggy pants and was growing quite a collection of colorful, unworn, outlet-mall sneakers in the closet of his tiny apartment up the street. When the cafe opened, he saw an opportunity to reconnect with humans that don’t live on the pages of his books and magazines.
She knew none of this. Not even his name. She knew only that he needed a new haircut and was probably into computers and took his caffeine without cream or sugar. She and her girlfriends had taken to calling him Black Coffee.
But there was something about him she found appealing. So on that chance late-night sidewalk passage, as their shoulders missed by inches, she drew in a quick breath and growled and the noise that escaped her lips hung in the hubbub of a Central Avenue Saturday night.
Opportunity presents itself in many ways, in high school halls and bathroom stalls, at festivals, in vestibules. It finds the aimless and beer-buzzed lovesick in the Florida night and spins him right ’round, makes him follow a stranger with a tattoo sleeve, makes him order extra courage in a jug the size of his face and sway in her direction.
East meets west. Boys meet girls. Some stories start and never end.
What happened next? Heat lightning.
He asked her to a wedding. In North Carolina. What color should I wear? she said. He thought maybe she was joking. “Guest: Lauren E. Bernard,” she texted. “What does the E stand for?” he asked. “Electric,” she said.
He suggested maybe a date first. Saturday, she said. She read his story. He wore a sweater vest and new Nikes and drove her home without questions. He smelled of Old Spice body wash and she of smoke and vanilla. They fell against the furniture. His sweater vest was lost.
He followed her to the cafe the next day and drank a barrel of coffee just to see her fill his cup.
When can we hang out again? he asked.
Tuesday, she said.
He told her he couldn’t wait until Tuesday, and so they didn’t, and then there was no longer a need for silly questions.
I think I’m falling in love with you, he said on Thursday, as they sat beside her swimming pool and talked of how strange the week had been.
She felt like he balanced her, tamed her, and he was genuine.
“Why do you love me?” she asked once.
“I care for you more than I care for me,” he said.
Love? Love looks like a college reunion in North Carolina, our rational man alone, earnestly telling old friends that he’s in a serious relationship with a woman he just met. Love looks like our logical man, who folds his dress socks down and reads with a red pen, trying to explain that he can’t explain why he feels the way he feels. Love looks like a $50 change fee for a Delta flight that puts him home two hours earlier, because two hours is too long to be without her. Love looks like a man who has lived in Florida for five years feeling like he’s flying home – home – for the very first time.
“Be with me forever,” he said some months later.
“Of course,” she said.
And here they stand, in love in the sawgrass, sidewalk beneath their feet, footfalls from another chapter.”