“You disappeared,” she said.
“Yes,” I said. “Not for long, though.”
“Where’d you go?” Lily asked. Most of her accent was gone. Some of it remained.
“Far from here,” I said.
“Couldn’t leave the city for that long though, could you?” she said, crushing mint and limes in a glass. A couple of business types waited for their Mojitos. They were the kind of men who drank Mojitos on their lunch break.
I met Lily when I first moved to Manhattan. Many evenings passed by the window of this café in the Village. Lily was happy I was one of the few Americans who spoke French.
Lily poured the Mojitos, washed her hands clean in a white towel, and leaned towards me. “You take the same drink? Dirty Martini?”
“This early. Why not?” I said.
“One special coming up,” she said. “I’m glad you’re back.”
It was good to see and be seen, I thought, especially by her.
The only murmurs were from the brasserie lunch crowd. Couples lined the walls of the small, French cafe. The banquets were filled with women, while their male dates sat across on wooden chairs. Hosts were trained by management to sit woman facing the floor of the cafe. Men didn’t care for atmospheric sights. The women were the atmospheric sights. Women required a little more stimulation.
“Are you happy to be back?” Lily asked. “You seem less than plussed.”
“I love New York,” I said.
“It does get in your blood, doesn’t it?” she said.
More people surrounded the bar, watching Lily make the drinks. She looked good doing it.
“So what’s new?” I asked.
“Too much,” she said.
“Too much good or too much bad?”
“Well, we rented a car in California and drove across the States. It was beautiful.”
“We?” I asked.
Lily greeted the customers at the entrance. Another couple waited in the doorway behind them.
Some raindrops fell on the window. People outside scurried at the sight of rain. I couldn’t figure out what the commotion was about. It was a warm kind of rain and the breeze was very pleasant.
Lily entertained the crowd at the bar.
“You like Marseilles?” a bald man asked loudly, finishing his Mojito.
“Ah, Marseilles, yes, of course. I don’t like it very much.”
“Oh,” he said, “too rough for you?”
She smiled. “No, chère, I’m from Paris. Please. There is a good fish market in Marseilles. Very good.”
“What are your plans?” I asked her, guiding her away from the men.
“Plans? Like today?” She asked.
“Like future,” I said.
“Oh, of course, that. We want to go to Nicaragua and start a tourist trap,” she said. “I’ll take photographs. He’ll give surf lessons. It’ll be a paradise.”
The rain let up quickly. The breeze carried the smell of baked bread through the café.
“I’m getting married,” Lily said. “He proposed.”
“It was fast. But it was good,” she said.
Lily poured some drafts for the men next to me with a look of serenity on her face.
Marriage, I thought to myself, was a good thing. Everyone I knew was divorced. At least they tried. Marriage was like war—it starts for all the right reasons and ends in unwanted casualties.
“Another drink?” she asked.
“I better go. I’ll take the tab, Lily,” I told her.
She hit the buttons on the register and tore off the receipt. It read zero dollars. I smiled. She did too.
“Cash only,” she said.
“Well, good luck,” I said, putting down a twenty dollar bill.
“You don’t have to,” she said.
“It’s for luck,” I said, knowing it wasn’t was true. No one had to do anything in life. People made choices. It wasn’t about luck. Just timing.
Lily looked out the window. “It’s not raining anymore,” she whispered. I looked out through the open sills.
“No, Lily. It’s not—not anymore,” I said. I smiled and left the café.
Matthew D’Abate is the creator of LITERATE SUNDAY, an anonymous international book club, and is the editor of the literary journal CATALOGUE. D’Abate is also the creative director of Le Chat Noir, a film, music, and literary collective based in Brooklyn. His novel, The Other Killers, is out to agents at this time. D’Abate is currently crossing his fingers. He was born in Smithfield, Rhode Island and lives with his wife in Brooklyn, New York.