I wrote a short story. It’s a little romantic.
They walked to the doorway of his white ‘92 Explorer, their matching boots clunking in the parking lot. He wrapped his rugged arms around her back, stroking her long, white pony-tail. Naturally her arms were over his shoulders, though she ran her strong fingers through his white beard before settling at his nape. They hugged, kissed, whispered and laughed. Standing in the doorway, draped over the front seat, or sitting on the tailgate, they couldn’t decide where best to say goodbye.
She knew he had to be on the road by 8:00. That’s why they woke for an early breakfast: fried eggs on a corn tortilla, avocado and homemade salsa, and kiwi for dessert. She brought garlic and pink Brandywines from her garden and he picked his jalapeño and Walla Walla sweets.
“Six letters for ‘desk drawer item.’” She sipped her coffee.
“That could be anything. Could you open the page?—I want to read Pearls.” He moved his chair closer to hers.
“What about: ‘Dr Seuss’ Yertle, say.’” she asked unfurling the lower section.
“Yertle the Turtle, but I don’t know what she says.”
“Thank you, it was ‘TURTLE.’ I knew you’d know Dr. Seuss.”
“Heh heh, ‘McWhiskey Barrel.’ I love Rat. Ulmas rubra—what’s ‘“slippery” trees’? He took her plate to the sink rubbing her shoulder with his as he stood.
“I was hoping you could help me with that one too.”
“I don’t know. Why is ‘slippery’ in quotes?” He cleared the rest of the table, leaving her the last slice of kiwi.
“You’re the tree man.”
“It’s four letters?”
“Three—it’s plural. You know that—’trees’. Oak, elm—”
“—Red, ash, fir. Maybe yew, or fig. I don’t get the ‘slippery’ part. Madrones are the slipperiest trees I know but I forget the latin. Maybe ‘box’ for box elder? Or ‘tea’.”
“Oh, of course. There’s no way that’s it. ‘Slippery as an elm.’ Is that a saying?”
“I think that’s a ‘greased pig.’” he said with a halfway grin. “I have to get going.”
“Did you get enough to eat. I’ll fix you another egg.” She said, suddenly getting up from the table.
“I don’t want to leave either, Jan.” He said with a heavy breath. His eyes were covered with joy but sadness and longing stood nearby waiting to take its place.
“Then let me take you to coffee. You’ll want it for the road.” He would. They didn’t sleep last night. They laid legs tangled, breathing into each other’s noses, speaking in whispers or stares, smiles only. Communicating with grunts and moans.
“We could hit Con Leche? One last time.” He knew she’d say yes. They met there. He was trying to find a happy, busy place to write; people-watching gave him inspiration for his vignettes. And so he found her; found her the most inspiring. With grace in her heart and flowers in her hair she worked the counter. He became a regular.
“They remodeled.” He noticed an open couch next to the eight foot square community table: black walnut with steal legs and a succulent garden centerpiece.
“Grab a seat, I’ll get your coffee.” She smooched his cheek and walked behind the counter to the back like she owned the place. He heard yelling. Some pans crashed to the floor, then laughter. She returned to the line, ordering a french press and mushroom spinach pastry to-go. She found him on the tweed couch and sat next to him like it was a crowded subway bench.
“Thanks for the coffee, and thank you for the pastry. You didn’t have to do that. Did you scare Javi?” He set the coffee on the table and took her hand.
“Finally.” She smiled, looking at the kitchen. “He’s the kitchen manager now. He deserves it. Just look at the food variety now; Art should have given him that responsibility years ago. He’s been here long enough.”
“Yeah, the boy at the counter gave you quite the look. It’s been two years since you worked here.”
“Oh whatever. What is he, fourteen?”
They weren’t looking at each other; saying I love you with their hands—knuckles white and fingers swollen red. A car horn and a cool, morning summer breeze came in through the trees. A peloton of cyclists jockeyed their way to the counter. She kicked off her shoes and their legs and ankles became a German pretzel. The counter-boy interrupted as he scraped the aluminum tables, chairs, and umbrellas into a new position. A finch followed, coming in from the open-air windows, looking for unearthed crumbs. He moved his free hand above her elbow, gently stroking her strong arm. Two young men crowded the entryway, hugging like bears; like kin. A woman in her early thirties pushed her infant in a stroller. Her toddler son said hello to every other person in line, then to everyone behind the counter. Then said hello to every cyclist, the college students pretending to study, the finch, the bears, and the pretzel, causing the morning to pause and smile back.
She moved her hand to the back of his head, rubbing out tension between his ears. “You’re going to be late.” she said almost inaudibly.
“I’ll be fine.” he said in the same tone.
“I don’t want you speeding on the freeway.”
“You know it kills my mileage.”
“Which is why I know you’re going to be late.” She poked him in the stomach and straightened her legs. They stood, working the rust out of their joints. With his arm over her shoulder the noises of the happy, busy cafe faded. They became invisible as they walked across the parking lot to their separate vehicles. She pulled a handwritten letter from the passenger visor of her white F-250 and came to him in the open doorway of his Explorer. He was singing a song about a river that spoke of love and trees that danced.
“The falls are falling for you
The rocks are rolling for you
The breeze is hugging you
and I am singing for you.
The river knows the code for love
Trees reached down from above
Squirrels try to steal your heart
like the sun and moon we will never part.”
“I was sure you were going to say ‘fart.’” She laughed with a tear in her eye. “Jim, what song is that?”
“Give me a break Ruth, I am making it up on the spot.” he grinned.
“Oooh, you’re so the best ever.” she said squinching her face and throwing her head back with a smile. She slid her thoughts and scent into the center console.
They loved their time saying goodbye. Though soon, the world faded back in to focus. They turned their backs reluctantly to their own wheel, pulled out of the parking lot and headed for the road. But he stopped at the first sign exiting the lot. He opened his door with urgency and ran to hers.
She started,”Ji—” he leaned in and stopped her words with a kiss; one final embrace through the window. They were both speechless and with water filled eyes he turned and walked back to his truck. Putting the vehicle into gear, he went left, she went right.