She sat across from me, her almond eyes seemed a shade darker than I remembered. Stirring her drink, she stared out of the window. I watched as her nose wrinkled when she brought the cup to her lips, same as she’d always done. I handed her the sugar dispenser as I knew this would be her next action. She reached to take it from me at the same time. We were still in sync even a year after we had broken up. “Are you going to tell me what you’re doing here or are we going to continue to sit here in silence as If there’s nothing to be said?” I asked, my curiosity making me impatient and uneasy.
She’d callously left me without explanation a year ago and now here she was sitting in front of me as if nothing had ever happened. Sipping her coffee, she’d drawn me into the routine we had become so familiar with in the years we were together. A few of our mutual friends had told me that not long after she’d moved to Atlanta things had started to go south between her and Camry but that didn’t explain why she was here now. “You look good.” she said when she finally drew her attention from the window and looked me in the eye. “I know that, but it’d be helpful if you told me something I don’t know like what you are doing here Michelle?” I asked growing more irritated by the minute. Angry that the sight of her still evoked such powerful emotions and just wanting her to hurry up and leave my café.
“I know I didn’t leave things on good terms but I was hoping that since I’m going to be moving back into the city that we could at least try to be friends.” she’d said. “Friends? You walk into my café a year after you left me with no explanation to say you want to be friends? Girl, have you gone crazy? The fact that I’m even sitting here entertaining this conversation is more than you deserve.” I said as I started to get up from the table. She reached for my arm and my heart skipped a beat. Even her touch still had power over me. “Please, just hear me out.” she said, her hand still resting on my arm. “I’m only going to ask you this one more time Michelle, what are you doing here?” I asked as I sat back down.
With a sigh she told me she’d been doing well for herself in Atlanta when she got the call from a network here in Houston to come down and help out. She explained that she was planning to use this opportunity to step into an Executive Producer role and planned to go back to Atlanta when the assignment was done. That had all changed when she found out that the reason she’d been told she was being sent was not the reason she was needed. As a result, she decided to stay in the city and try to fill another position that would be coming up soon. I couldn’t believe my ears while she sat in front of me carrying on like we were long lost friends reunited. I started to tune her out until I heard her loop back around to her thesis statement. “We used to be such great friends and I don’t really know that many people in the city. I was hoping that we could bury the hatchet and try to be civil with each other. Besides, where else am I going to get my coffee fix?” she added with a smile.
Done with pretending to be present for the conversation I replied, “Look, I’m sorry to hear that your plans fell through but I don’t see how you can just walk in here and expect us to be friends after everything that has happened between us. If you want to come in here to get your coffee or whatever, feel free but let’s just leave it at that.” I said as I stood to leave the table. “Now if you’ll excuse me.” I turned and walked away before she could respond.
I had been so wrapped up in my conversation with Michelle that I didn’t notice that the café had gotten insanely busy. I started bussing tables as I made my way back to the bar where Marcus was struggling to keep up with the demand. Grateful for the distraction, I jumped right into the swing of things and began taking orders as soon as I reached the counter. During a break in the madness I was able to send a message to Jasmine. She should have been here by now and we really could use the help. She text back saying she was on her way so I stepped away from the rush to get my bearings. I’d left Michelle sitting at the table hoping she’d take the hint and leave but she’d done the opposite. Still sitting where I’d left her, she was watching my every move around the room. With things starting to settle into a steady pace, I went back to my office hoping that by the time I returned she would be gone.
It wasn’t until I was back in my office that I realized I hadn’t been breathing. I sat down in the dark room, my thoughts swirling in my head. The one that seemed to be on a loop was, “Why did she come back?” I must have stayed sitting in that room for hours replaying the day she walked in and broke my heart before Jasmine came and turned on the light. “Yo! You know Michelle is out there?” she asked, her eyes wide with concern. Jasmine and Michelle were once great friends. I used to joke that they were so close I was afraid they were going to run off together. After Michelle and I parted ways Jasmine had been right there with me, helping to pick up the pieces. Out of loyalty to me, she cut off all ties to Michelle and never looked back. I knew her seeing Michelle had shaken her up about as much as it did to me. “Is she still here?” I asked. “Yeah, she is. Do you want me to ask her to leave?” she replied.
“No, it’s fine.”
“How are you doing? Did you talk to her?
“I’m okay, I don’t want to get into it right now. Can you hold down the fort for a while? I need to get out of here.”
“Yeah bro, anything you need.” she said.
I chose to walk out the front because I didn’t want to give her the satisfaction of thinking I’d snuck out of the back because of her, when I spotted the two fine women Jasmine had sent me the picture of a few weeks ago. Not wanting to miss the opportunity to show her I’d moved on I went to the table to check on the women. They were more beautiful than I’d remembered, especially the chocolate bombshell that hadn’t taken her eyes off of me since I walked up to their table. “Are you ladies still doing okay?” I asked. Their drinks were nearing the need of a refill so I topped off them off as the stunning woman in the tropical dress replied “We’re fine, thank you.”, “Well, let me know if there’s anything you need.” I said, not able to take my eyes off the beautiful brown skinned woman with the amazing green eyes. “I will.” I heard her say as I began to walk away. I looked toward the table where Michelle had been seated to find that it had been newly occupied by a group of spoken word artist that were gearing up for the show they were going to be putting on tonight. I took the opportunity to leave before anything else could prevent me from doing so.
At my car, a note was tucked under the windshield wiper. I opened it to find a message from Michelle that simply said “I miss us” followed by her phone number. I crumbled the paper and threw it in a bag on my passenger seat that I’d planned to throw away once I made it to Victor’s house. Who the hell did she think I was? She knew me better than most other people. She had to have known that just showing back up in my life after the public humiliation she’d caused me was not going to get land her back in my good graces. Before I pulled off I took the paper back out of the bag and looked it over again. Even her hand writing gave me pause. As if a sign from my guardian angel my phone rang and Victor’s smiling face flashed across the screen. I return the paper back to the bag and picked up the call as I put the car in drive. “Hi Miss Zoe, are we still going to play baseball today?” asked the seven-year-old boy. “Of course guy, I’m headed to your house now. Are you going to be ready when I get there? “Uh huh, my mom wants to know if my brother Jared can come too.” he asked. It wasn’t uncommon for single mothers like Victor’s to ask if siblings could also join in on the activities I had planned. “No problem bud. I’ll see you in about twenty minutes okay?” “Okay! Jared get ready to go Miss Zoe said you could come.” I heard the boy yell before the call disconnected.
Victor’s mom had the boys in matching outfits and they were playing outside in the parking lot of their apartment complex when I pulled up. Victor ran up to the car and gave me a hug as soon as my feet hit the pavement. “How’s it going today my guy?” I asked the excited boy. “Good” he’d said. “Jared, come say hi to Miss Zoe.” Jared came running at us full speed carrying a red rubber ball like the ones I used to get pelted with in gym class. He stopped just short of me and offered a short “Hi.” before he threw the ball at Victor and yelled, “You’re it!” Hey guys, I’m going to go tell your mom we are leaving, do you want to come tell her you’ll see her later?” The boys ran around for a few more minutes before they came to meet me walking up the stairs to their apartment.
Inside Victor’s home smelled heavily of cigarette smoke as his mom puffed away while looking for the rest of the baseball gear I had given him a few weeks ago. “I don’t know why children find it so hard to put their things back when they are done with them.” she complained. Victor and Jared played with foam swords in the living room while their mom searched their rooms for the equipment. When she emerged, she appeared out of breath but smiling. Proud of herself for completing the task. “Come boys, give your mother a hug before you go.” she said. The boys still playing with their swords ignored her as she approached to kiss them farewell. “Zoe, thank you so much for letting Jared join. I know I should have him signed up for his own mentor but I just can’t afford the dues for both of them.”, “It’s really no problem.” I told her as we walked out of the apartment. “Let me make you dinner to thank you for all of your help.” she offered. “Okay, let me know when and I’ll be there.” “How about tonight? I’m making my famous spaghetti and meatballs.” she said. After the day I’d already had I couldn’t imagine adding more to it by staying over for dinner at Victor’s house. “I actually have plans for tonight but any other time would be great.” I said. As we started down the stairs. “Well we’ll figure something out.” she’d said with a waive before she closed the door.
Back inside the car, I set the GPS and we took off. I zoned in an out of the spirited conversation the boys were having in the backseat. They were debating about what superhero was the best. I half listened envious of the carefree life they were still living as we made our way to the park. One thing was for certain, seeing Michelle had definitely taken my mind off of my neighbor.