On not kissing J.
It was the way J put the book down on her table that made her think of kissing him. Standing behind the counter, he had thrown an old chewing gum wrapper to get her attention.
“What are you reading?” He shouted over the blender.
She picked the book up and showed it to him.
“Must be really engrossing, you can’t even remember what it’s called,” he yelled with a grin.
Moments later he walked by and put Mrs. Dalloway by her elbow. “I like this one better,” his voice returned to normal volume.
“You read this for fun?” She asked, scoffing at him playfully.
“Yeah, but she’s so…,” she trailed off, waving her hand above her head, not knowing the words to give to her feelings about Virginia Woolf.
“So you like about 62% of her stuff then?” He enquired quite playfully, so she thought.
“Well it’s not like I’ve read a lot of it. So I guess 62% of this book has been good,” she waved the paperback in front of her face.
“Great, well you can borrow this if you want.”
And that was it. A brief encounter, the longest one she’d had with him in all the time she’d been going to the cafe. He got distracted by new customers and went back to work cleaning the place for closing. She returned to her book, but her mind was elsewhere. Turning the pages, she became lost in the text, rereading the same paragraph, her thoughts imagining what it would be like to kiss J.
She imagined that when she left the cafe, he’d be out back, sitting on the Vespa scooter she’d seen parking there earlier, pretending to ride. She’d ask if it was really okay to borrow his book, asking, “isn’t this the one she wrote just before she killed herself?” He’d say yes of course she could borrow it but then ask how he’d get it back, to which she’d say “I guess I’m just going to have to give you my number,” which she’d scrawl onto a scrap of paper and press into his hand.
Then she’d stand a half-foot from his nose and plant a short and soft kiss onto his lips. She would kiss him, not passionately or romantically, but out of gratitude, not only for the book, its yellow cover tattered, worn by use, but also for his good humor and ready smile and the gallons of coffee he’d probably slung for her over the years. Then she’d walk back to her car and leave him alone in the parking lot, his sense of pride swollen within him slightly.
Instead, she ground down the pages left of her book to a mere thirty five. Fighting off restlessness and tiredness, she collected her things as J came by to collect her used coffee cup.
“I’ll bring this back,” she said holding up Mrs. Dalloway.
“Oh yeah you will, it’s bad karma if you don’t.”
“I’ll be sure to. Thank you.”
“Sure, no problem. Have a good time with the beginning of grad school.”
He plopped her now empty chair on top of the now empty table. They said simultaneous “goodbyes” and she turned to leave, regretting slightly that she did not carry out her plan, gravity gently grabbing her ankles and pulling her back to earth.
Next time, she though, next time.