He could hear the river traffic now. the barges and the ferry, the seagulls screaming and spiraling wildly. Just another quarter-mile. As his feet fell rhythmically, his solid arms pumped and ached through every emotion as if their physical strength was holding him together mentally. Man, I just wanna go home.
He slowed to climb a hill. At the top, a streetcar was filling with downtown commuters and about to slice across his path. So he waited. He laced his gold-decked fingers together on top of his mow-hawk and drew several long, deep breaths, pacing in easy loops. Summoning to mind the rocky slopes next to the Mississippi river bank, now only yards away. I just wanna go home.
Out of the corner of his eye, he sees a burst of activity just downhill, behind him. It looks like someone trying to get the attention of a streetcar passenger, but the streetcar is gone now and the guy's gestures are getting bigger and bigger. It's someone on a bicycle, waving one arm- which holds a small paper bag- and screaming, "Hey Mr.! Hey, T! I'm supposed to find you!"
Mr.? T?? man, is this fool yellin' at ME? T turned a dramatic semi-circle and looked quizzically at the fast-approaching messenger.
"Oh man, T, you are not easy to catch up with, but you sure are easy to spot! Can I call you T?" The guy was wearing corduroys with a wrinkly button up shirt and a narrow orange neck tie. He laughed generously at his own remarks but enjoyed no response, just a studying gaze. So he combed his free hand through his curly, moppy hair then thrust the small paper bag forward. "This is for you. The girl- the girl at the coffee shop? She wanted you to have it." The orange-tie comedian was panting. It must have been quite a ride.
Feather earring still gently swaying from his run, T accepted the bag. It was the same one he'd left for her with the spinach croissant inside. It was empty now and boasted a brand new message:
I was such a jerk to be late.
I'm leaving town today, around lunchtime.
here is my number...
thank you for breakfast!
T furrowed his brow a little extra to conceal his grin from the panting messenger.
Could Zane possibly have found him yet? She felt ridiculous for caring so much. As soon as the young clerk with the gauged earlobes had told her "T" was gone, and pointed to which direction, Olivia had flown out of the north door, yelling the dumbest thing anyone has ever, ever said on a first date, ever: Thank you for the spinach croissant! It was still warm!
When she didn't hear his gruff voice in reply, she tried once more: Thank you!!
This time someone from an upstairs balcony a block away in the wrong direction answered her, "You're so welcome, dahlin'!"
This little outburst had garnered the attention of a few people. Zane, wearing his orange necktie and laptop messenger bag, riding by on his bicycle. Carly, a redheaded girl dressed in so many layers of patchwork cotton and hemp that she was probably headed for a fortune-telling gig on Decatur. And Anthony, a local Italian limo driver dressed in a black suit, black shirt, and black tie. He was not quite on duty and freely explaining to other coffee shop customers the differences between cold press brew and traditional hot drip.
They all circled around Olivia and wanted to hear the story she was happy to tell, short though it was. She so convinced the three that she and T were meant to be acquainted, that she might have even felt love at first sight, that they sprang into action. A passionate, spontaneous, well oiled machine of human nature:
Anthony, the limo driver, in his bizarre Cajun-Italian musical accent, rapidly explained to Zane, the bicyclist, how best to navigate the labyrinth roads at rush hour. Olivia interjected to describe T to a, well, to a t. And Carly shoved an ink pen into Olivia's hand, saying, "Quick! Your number!"
Carly's swift, affectionate movements wafted their little sidewalk air space with patchouli. And maybe something else.
Loaded with the empty, message-bearing paper sack, a mental image of T, and a ride plan, Zane checked for cars behind him and launched his bike, orange neck tie flapping. "Wish me luck!"
"This is for love at first sight!"' Anthony bellowed. "Find T!"
That same balcony voice from the wrong direction sang out, "That's a'more!"
Now, a little while later, Carly and Anthony still kept Olivia company. They all three nibbled at the spinach croissant, though it was no longer warm. And they took turns going inside for more coffee. The clerk with the gauged earlobes was greedy for updates every time. "Any sign of the big guy?"
"Nope, not yet."
Olivia must have checked her silver watch two dozen times. Eventually she grew worried that she had sent her cell phone number with a total stranger.
Around 8:15, Anthony received a text beckoning him to the Windsor Court hotel downtown. Some clients needed to arrive at breakfast in elegance. He extended his best southern wishes, and Olivia believed him. He kissed her hand and was gone.
Carly offered Olivia a sisterly little hug now, though they too were strangers, and said, "I'm sure he'll come back or at least call. I've just got this feeling!"
"I basically stood him up. If it were me, I'd be pissed."
"Well, yes." And her face bloomed with enjoyment. Something in Carly's unfiltered agreement was very comforting. Either way, it would be alright. They both laughed and laughed. Then Carly's eyes flashed with mystery and she said, "Come on with me. Lemme show you somethin' you won't see anywhere else..."