In a Coffee Shop

    “And when we went out for coffee the other day,” she says.  “I could hardly hide the way I felt.”

    I listen to her quietly and squint from the steam rising off the mug that I bring to my lips.  The noise of the coffee shop, our regular haunt, is kept at bay by this bubble that surrounds us.  That always happens when I’m with her.

    She is smiling as she talks.  Despite her words, there is a dreamy glint in her eyes and a nervous delight in her voice that betray her mask of embarrassment.  She is confused but I know her well enough to realize that she relishes this.  She needs this uncertainty that she is going through, this ambiguous and even dangerous relief from the comfortable certainties she had held on to for so long.

    “I can’t figure out what I’m going through, Martin,” she goes on.  “I wish I could but I can’t.”

    Sarah has been married to George for over a decade now, a couple of years longer than I have been to Joanna.  Then and now, Sarah and George were the ideal couple.  They were both attractive.  They were successful in their careers.  They were proud and loving parents to their three children.  I once remarked to Joanna how great it was that Sarah and George still held hands when they walked to their car from church or a restaurant.

    What I didn’t tell Joanna was that, for last couple of months, Sarah had fallen in love with another man although she had not acted upon this.  How could I tell my wife this, after all?

    “Maybe this is a just a phase,” I say to Sarah, grimacing inwardly at the obvious cliché one uses for these sorts of things.  “Maybe it’s something that’ll pass in time when you are able to sort things out with George.”

    “But that’s what’s weird about this,” she replies, frustrated yet thrilled.  “There’s nothing to sort out with George!  It isn’t as if he did anything wrong.  It’s just…”

    “… it’s just that way that you feel about him that’s changed,” I conclude for her.  We both laugh at this knack we have of finishing each other’s sentences.

    Sarah turns the tables on me with a mischievous smile on her face, “You know what I mean!”

    I smile sadly and take the brownie that she offers me as she sips her coffee.  Joanna and I are not doing too well either.  Sarah once told me that maybe I wasn’t listening to her enough, but she knows that that isn’t right.  Sarah knows that the years after Joanna’s father’s death were hard on my marriage.  Competing with my father-in-law for my wife’s affection was hard enough when he was alive.  It’s almost as if her obvious preference for her father over me was sealed with the finality that only death can bring.  I’ve lost the competition with this other man in her life, and my wife and I have been together but distant ever since.  Sometimes though I wonder whether this had ever been otherwise.

    “Don’t make this about me,” is all that I can say to Sarah.  This is all old news to her anyway.

    “Okay, okay,” she backs off gently, knowingly. 

“But honestly, isn’t it crazy?” she returns to her reflections.  “I mean, I’m happily married.  I love my husband.  I love my kids.  And yet, I have all these really intense feelings for someone else.  How screwed up is that?”

“Maybe it isn’t supposed to make sense,” I wax philosophical at this point.  “Maybe it’s all about feelings.  And you know, Sarah, for people like you and me, that’s not necessarily a bad thing—that we let go from time to time.”

    “I suppose,” she replies thoughtfully.  “It’s just that stakes get a little higher the older you get.”

    “Or the more married you get,” I joke.

    “Fine!” she laughs, throwing up her hands in mock defeat.  “I  give up!  Not everything has to make sense right?  Like you and me?”

    “You mean, unhappy married people on the verge of an affair but too cowardly to actually do anything about it?”

    We laugh and toast mugs.  Our laughter trails off to an awkward silence after a while.  For a few seconds, we both contemplate our drinks.

    “You know,” she says with a sigh.  “I do think I am in love though.  I just can’t stop thinking about it.”

    There is a wistful expression come over her face for a few moments, that dreamy expression again.

    “God, Martin,” she says. “I don’t know how I could go through all of this if you weren’t here.  I mean, who else can I talk to, right?  I tell you, you and I were brother and sister in a previous life.”

    She always says this and I always reply, “Yeah, I feel the same way.”

    “So,” I take a deep breath and hope that it does not sound like a sigh.  “When are you going to have coffee with Ben again?”

    She smiles sheepishly but I can tell that she is excited, “I may catch him tomorrow.”

    “Which reminds me,” she goes on.  “I may not be able to meet you here because I’m hoping to see him at about the time you and I usually get together.”

    “That’s fine,” I say.

    “But what about you?” she asks.  “Everything okay with the way things are going with Joanna?”

    “Hey,” I protest, perhaps a bit too strongly.  “It isn’t as if I’ve gone hunting for another woman.  The problem with Joanna is still there but I guess I’m just going to have to ride this one out.”

    “Maybe we should both should just see where all of this will head, Martin.”

    She mentions my name and we look at each other for a moment.  She has an impenetrable expression in her eyes that I do not dare read or hope for.  It is too much for me.  I cannot hold her gaze for fear of being discovered.  I look away quickly, awkwardly, and call for the waiter to ask for our bill.  I do not see if she is still looking at me while I do this.  By the time I turn back to face her, the moment is over.

    As we leave the coffee shop, we make our usual pretension of goodbyes.  We both know that we will most probably talk again later in the evening and definitely in the days and weeks ahead.  I walk to my car and watch her drive away, feeling both complete and alone. I feel complete because I am fortunate enough to have found a kindred spirit in Sarah.  I feel alone because I know that I cannot tell her about the one thing that matters most to me.  I cannot tell my best friend that I do not think she and I were siblings in a previous life.  I think we were lovers.

(Note: I wrote this as short story.  Names are different but it's all true.)
Montagar Montagar
36-40, M
3 Responses Jul 19, 2007

OMG this is so so so beautifully written!! I can't believe I just read this on the internet and not in a book, love the way you told your story!! Besides that, it's sad that you have to hide all these strong feelings from her, wish you luck, really, be happy

This is beautiful, and comforting. Thank you for sharing.

You have a knack for describing the scene.