She smiled at the smell as she entered the shop. Fresh baked bread always made her think of Sundays at her grandmother’s farm.
“Good morning.” She turned to see the gray-haired man behind the counter finish wiping his hands on his apron. “See anything you like?” He spread his hands over the display of baked goods.
“Too much,” she laughed stepping closer and bending only a little, at the knees since she wasn’t very tall, to view what was inside. The slightly curved reflection on the glass seemed of her younger self. So many things in life are seen through it, she thought; when we’re outside looking in or inside looking out. She remembered window shopping, on the main street outside, with her grandmother. Looking at all the things they couldn’t afford but loved to see and dream of. They’d laugh, never bitter that their means were limited. Instead, they were happy that their needs were few. Grandma and grandpa had always been able to provide all that she really needed. Mostly love.
The man gestured at the coffee station, with two brewers and a row of canisters, behind him. “Can I get you a cup? It’s on the house.”
She looked up and nodded. “That sound’s great. Thanks.”
“How do you take it?” He held a large yellow and blue-glazed coffee mug with the store logo, Beans & Buns, on it.
He poured and slid the steaming brew across the counter. “Just ground the beans this morning.”
She picked up the cup and passed it slowly under her nose before sipping. “It’s rich…” she crinkled her nose and drank. “And good.”
“Best in town.”
Drinking and nodding at the same time she turned toward the large window that faced the street. Sunlight poured in. In the corner of the window, next to the Bixby Real Estate office, a man stood his back to the sun and face in shadow. Her eyes passed over him as he shifted from foot to foot as if waiting for someone.
* * *
He’d seen her leave Marie’s Courtyard B&B. The years between 18 and 33 hadn’t changed her as they had him. He rubbed his jaw and left cheek; finger tracing the ragged scar that plastic surgery hadn’t been able to fully smooth. Through the glass he saw her smile and though he couldn’t hear it her laugh had to be the same, too. It was like someone stepping on his heart. He focused again and saw her look right at him. He twitched. I’m a damn fool, he thought and quickly walked away.
* * *
The sun caught the man’s face in profile for a second and she felt it; something about him. She walked to the door and stepped out looking down the sidewalk. A young woman with a baby in a stroller was all she could see on this side of the street.
“You okay?” The man from behind the counter was at the door.
She nodded. “Just someone I thought I knew.” He held the door and followed her inside.
“How about an apple turnover to go with that coffee?”
“Sure.” She sat at the small table, in the corner, by the window where the man had stood outside. Clouds covered the sun as she remembered who she’d thought she had seen. She rested her head on the cool glass and touched where his shadow had fallen.
* * *
The lights in the trees sparkled as a slight breeze filtered through branches with orange and yellow-brown leaves already falling from them. She picked up one from the chair next to hers and held it in her hand. It wasn’t dry and crumbly, yet. It still had that resilient feel that there was still life in it. She heard steps on the flagstone of the courtyard coming closer. Assuming it was other diners choosing a table she didn’t notice when they stopped.
Startled, she looked up. The arc of light from the lantern on the small table didn’t reach as high as the tall man’s face. He stepped closer. She pushed her chair back its legs catching on the stone as she stood. “Mark?”
The lights from the lower branches swayed just above his brow; his hair brushing them. He put two large hands on the back of the chair across from hers. “May I?”
She looked at the crushed leaf in her clenched hand and sank back into her seat nodding. “You never called me back.”
“I couldn’t.” He sat slightly aslant and not squarely in front of her.
Her face paled even more in the candle light. “Okay, maybe I understand not then. Not right after… but it’s been ten years.”
“I loved you,” he turned more toward her but tilted his face down.
She shifted her chair forward and leaned across the table. “Then why…”
“This…” he raised his head into the circle of light. His right eye glistened with pain as he turned his head. She saw the scar, a lightning bolt of a rip that struck under the patch that covered his left eye and trailed down to under his jaw. “I didn’t want you to see me like this—when the bandages came off.” He sighed and a shudder shook the broad shoulders under his chambray shirt. “I wanted you to forget about me.”
She slid out of her chair and into the one closest to him. “Mark, that didn’t matter to me.”
His laugh was full of pain. “Everyone loves a wounded soldier home from war but how could I ask you to marry one.”
“You’re who I wanted, Mark. Before Afghanistan and after.” She took his hand. “It still doesn’t matter to me.”
“My mother told me about your grandmother. I’m sorry. She was such a sweet lady.”
The candle in the lantern flickered. “She was.”
A young girl approached the table with two glasses of water. “Can I get you drinks?” She set two menus on the table. “No? Okay, I’ll check back in a minute.”
“I knew you’d come home for her service.” He took a drink from the glass and set it down. “I remember how she’d stand there on the sidewalk with you—looking in the bike shop window—and not say a thing… just look over at you with a smile on her face.” His laugh seemed lighter.
She smiled at him. “She knew I liked you.”
“And then one day she made you come in and talk to me.” He looked at her hand in his and sat back in his chair. “Best day ever.”
“She told me that I wouldn’t get too far in life if all I did was watch… and not act.” She tugged at his hand for him to lean toward her. He did and she raised her right hand to his chin tracking the line of the scar. He didn’t flinch, but she felt the tremble underneath her fingertips. “There’s never been anyone I love as much as you, Mark.”
He closed his eyes and rested his cheek in the palm of her hand. It felt so soothing. “Still?”
“Still…” She brought her left hand up to cradle his face and lifted it to kiss him. “You can’t live your life on the outside looking in.”
A Year Later
Sunday, October 2, 2016 – Newburgh, New York
Amelia Crystal Lee and Mark William Roberts were married this day. The ceremony was held at Newburgh Community Church, with Rev. Thomas Lindstrom officiating at the ceremony. Given in marriage by her grandfather, the bride was attended by Lisa Wood as maid of honor. The best man was Ralph Jenelle, who served with the groom in the United States Army. The bride graduated from the University of Southern California and holds a Bachelor’s degree in Dance. She was employed as a freelance choreographer in Los Angeles before moving back to Newburgh with her husband where they recently purchased a local baked goods store and coffee shop. Mr. Roberts has a Bachelor’s degree in English from the State University New York and also serves in the US Army Reserve. The couple is expecting their first child in February of next year.
A NOTE ON THIS LITTLE STORY
One of my readers sent me a picture, one she liked from a photographer friend of hers, and asked me to write a flashfiction piece for what I saw in the photo. I obliged with what you just read. Here’s the picture by photographer Paul Howard that she sent me: