COFFEE DATE • by Wilma Bernard

We sit outside at a white lacy metal table. A fence marks where the restaurant ends — picket, cute. And effective, I’d imagine. Who would have the heart to open the quaint little gate and leave without paying? It’s much harder than casually wandering off from a table that’s just out there. You’ve got no business leaving by a sweet white picket gate if you’re ripping off the establishment. You’d feel like you had to vault it.

I sip my coffee; it’s warm and rich and distracts me from Jeff’s face. I don’t want to look at him. I mean, I just don’t want to really see him. His eyes are the color of coffee with just a little cream, just the way I like it. His hair looks like coffee the way he takes it: three parts sugar, two parts cream, one part coffee, all stirred up.

“Do you want something to eat?” Jeff says. He always asks.

“No.” I never do.

He orders an elephant ear for himself. It makes him sound like a horrible rich snob, calling it that. The elephants will have to wander around Africa in silence, his lordship’s got to have his breakfast pastry. Which is a silly, stupid thing for me to think. I think it anyway.

The elephant ear comes, not looking as if it’s ever been attached to an elephant. Jeff rips off a piece and dunks it in his coffee, which he hasn’t even drunk from yet. What a waste. What a wasteful man he really is.

I close my eyes and drink my own coffee, letting it roll over my tongue. I try to focus on my sense of taste, but my thoughts keep intruding, insisting that I should plan things. What am I going to say to him? And then what? What do I really want? Do I want to see other people or just to stop seeing him? Afterwards, do I want to be friends? Can I just be friends with a guy that good looking? Can I be friends at all with a man so antithetical to everything I am and strive to be? Is he going to cry? Am I going to cry? Can I keep this somewhat tactful? Exactly how stupid am I going to look?

I will not be able to focus on my drink until I get this over with.

I put my cup down and look at him. “Jeff,” I say. “We need to talk.”

“Oh?” He continues eating coffee-soaked bits of elephant ear, but looks at me expectantly.

I try to form my thoughts into something coherent. They come to this: Jeff, you’re too commercial for me, too overdone and frivolous and, and antiquated. It’s not the eighties anymore, and you aren’t fifteen, and God, you know, what are you doing with your life?

That is not exactly kind, so I try a different angle. “What are your thoughts on our relationship at this point?”

“Are you going to break up with me? Because I’d rather not talk about my thoughts on our relationship for half an hour and find out that you don’t actually care what I think and are just having trouble doing the actual, you know, breaking up.”

“Well… um…” I open my mouth to begin a few times before I manage, “You know, you’re right. I’m… um… I’m breaking up with you.”

“Wow.” He slurps coffee. When he sets the cup down, I can see the large granules of sugar from the elephant ear floating in it. “Can’t believe I called that one.”

I swallow and say, “I’d like to be friends.”

“Oh,” he says. “Me too. Of course, I mean, right?”

“Of course.”

“Well. Okay.” He goes back to his elephant ear. He doesn’t ask why. I’m relieved, of course. After all, we’re adults. But I feel just slightly unresolved, too. Like we should have had a scene and I should have gotten off my chest all the things about him that I can’t stand — the careless bigness of everything he does, the utter unchanging normalcy, the complete overlooking of life’s small and perfect pleasures, the…

Instead, I finish my coffee. It’s not great, almost bitter. I am severely tempted to vault that damn fence.

Wilma Bernard writes in New Hampshire, USA.

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