Dressed in tight sweatpants, high top sneakers with striped socks, and a faded denim jacket with the sleeves long since removed to accommodate his building musculature, he closed his hotel room door and rode the elevator down one flight to the ornate lobby. Classical piano music was raining down all over the giant green ferns and baroque furniture. A concierge wearing a gray suit and matching hat offered him any help he might need, which was none, thanks very much anyway. A pretty young woman behind the front desk smiled and said good morning in a Louisiana accent that just dripped with honey. Everything in the expansive room said elegance. It did not escape him how differently he might have been treated a century earlier.
Outside, the morning was bright but very cool, especially between the shadow-casting buildings, so he eyed an empty stretch of sidewalk and decided to jog a zig-zag path through the French Quarter to reach the coffee shop on Royal.
Finding his rhythm was easy. Though not too tall and heavily burdened with muscle, he had always been light on his feet. Swift and sure. He glided though the bicyclists and pedestrians and admired the tidy, creative neighborhoods that spanned between the hotel and his destination.
He noticed some plastic beads hanging from an iron gate and recalled their meeting last night. He remembered her face, the way her eyes smiled at him, and the gloss of her straight, dark hair reflecting all of that colorful light. Despite himself, he grinned into the open air.
He picked up his pace now, excited to see her again. Come on, man.
By ten minutes after seven, she had scrubbed her face and reapplied a little makeup, brushed her teeth twice, and decided a ball cap was all she could do for her hair. She found soft but snug jeans and the only clean tee shirt still in her suitcase. One spritz of perfume and she was out the door.
The lobby of her quirky little hotel offered a family-style spread of pastries, but she ignored it.
She walked quickly, hastened both by her limited time and the brisk morning. She hugged herself a little and rubbed the outsides of her slender arms. This brought to mind his massive arms, how very different they are, and how he had used one of them to protect her last night. She wondered cautiously how those arms might feel wrapped around her. Why didn't I wear a sweater?
A quick glance down at her watch told her time was running out. 7:26 and the coffee shop was still more than ten blocks away. There was no way she could make it, but since they hadn’t traded any personal information she couldn't very well text him a warning. Oh I hope he’s still there.
A block away from their meeting spot, he stopped running and allowed himself to cool down. He took several long, deep breaths, grateful for the roses and bougainvillea. This picturesque area of the Quarter was a far cry form Bourbon Street, and he tried to memorize the details. As he walked up to the corner coffee shop, it occurred to him that he couldn't remember her name.
He swung open the tall, heavy door on the north end of the shop and stepped inside. Heavy, pleasant café sights and sounds bombarded his senses and stimulated his appetite. Scanning the L-shaped room, he saw no one who might be her. He looked again, even prying to see around newspapers and laptops to find her. Not here yet.
After a short wait in line, where he resisted every tempting confection behind the domed glass case, he paid cash for a chai latte. Then he sat down at a marble table with two chairs, facing both the east and the north entrances. The screen lock on his phone told him it was now 7:41 a.m. He took one studied drink of his hot tea.
Absolutely late now and panicking a little, though she chided herself for it, she was enjoying the rush. She didn't mind admitting how excited she was to see him again, somewhere quieter. And after so much speed-walking and nervous thinking she was glad for the cool air and to not be dressed in warmer layers.
Finally the familiar brick building was in view. She saw the coffee shop shingle hanging at the corner and slowed down. This normally self-possessed woman adjusted her shirt, took off her hat and replaced it three times, and tried to walk as casually as she could up to the east door.
Once inside, her gray-brown eyes searched the lively cafe for her breakfast date. She smiled brightly in anticipation but didn't find him. Her watch now said 7:46 a.m. Had she missed him? There was no line at the register, so she asked the young clerk with the gauged earlobes whether he’d seen an African-American guy with a Mohawk and (she fiddled her fingers in the air near her own face at this) a feather earring?
The young man’s face flashed in recognition. “Oh yeah! Sure did. He said you might ask. Here- this is for you.” He handed her a brown paper to-go bag. On it was the coffee shop logo and a neatly printed personal message in handwriting she did not recognize:
Sorry we missed each other.
Maybe another time.
Inside the paper bag was a spinach croissant, still warm.
“Where?” She muttered. The excitement in her chest was already sinking into a heavy ball of disappointment in her stomach.
The tattooed clerk with the gauged earlobes nodded toward the north door. “You just barely missed him. By like, a couple of minutes.” And he smiled, clearly enjoying this miniature drama.
Does she go after T?
or is she too ashamed,
and shrinks back and goes home?
or something else entirely?