by Ligia de Wit
The café is half full when I step inside. My eyes wander, looking for him, as I do every day. The intense aroma of java fills me, making me happy and anxious at the same time, though not because of the sweet treat I’m about to drink. No, today I will attempt to catch a beam of light in my hands, but I’m scared it’ll burn me.
I know his name. I heard someone yelling it in here, and yet I can’t bring myself to say it, to even think of him with that name, since it doesn’t belong to me. How can I utter that beautiful word on my lips when all I’ve received from him is a tentative smile and a careless wave of his hand?
To me, he’s Henry. Henry is a name I can use since I gave it to him. It’s mine.
Purse held close to my flat chest, I head to the Black Hole section—the one behind a bookcase that traps Henry’s light out of my sight. There, my fingers skim over the cheap books that the café provides for free reading. The paperbacks are the reason I picked this place a year ago. Certainly not the reason Henry, or other young people like me, linger after work hours. They come because of the lounge, the great music, to chat and enjoy, tired of phone conversations. Or read and sigh behind a book, trying to find the nerve to catch a supernova.
A yearning grows within me when thinking that the bright beam of Henry’s presence might touch my face today.
After a moment of consideration, I tug at the chosen book, then lean slightly to my left, heart pounding. My eyes scan for him and, not finding my quarry, I sigh and head to the counter, cradling the book tightly as if the words could spill from the pages.
The barista hands me my frappe, with Mildred sketched on the mug in fast, careless streaks, the last “d” barely visible, as though the barista couldn’t wait for me to return to my chair.
I sit in my usual corner, and the door opens with a jangle of the wind-chime. Heart leaping, I turn to look, but it’s just a couple, hand in hand, laughing at some private joke.
I sigh and take a long gulp of the sweet treat.
The door jingles open again. Henry walks in—a comet dazzling me and leaving the rest of the world in darkness, my Henry-filled eyes aglow.
“Americano, two shots, please,” My lips move silently behind the mug as he orders his coffee. No sugar, of course.
He engages in a brief conversation with the cashier as she takes his order. Me? I only order, pay, and try to be as inconspicuous as I can. If you ask me the baristas’ names or what they look like, you’d meet a blank expression. He calls them by name and remembers details of past conversations.
By chance, his gaze sweeps over me and his eyes light with recognition. He briefly nods his head and, while not a full-fledged smile, his lips attempt one. Mine mirror his and then cover themselves with the whipped cream and chocolate sprinkles.
If I can’t relish a sweet kiss, then I’ll indulge myself with a sweet frappe.
His eyes forget that they met mine. Their owner clasps hands with a friend, leaving me at ease to delight my own eyes on him while I skim my fingertips on the forgotten page like a statue braille reading.
Relishing the wondrous sight in front of me, I hide behind my book, just a mop of frizzy hair and glasses. And always a romance novel, because love must exist somewhere. Love for me is of the inky kind, where the hero looks like Henry.
Slick, wavy black hair that never gets to brush his shoulders, yearning to reach that strip of firm flesh, but never close enough. Short bristled beard encircling soft full lips.
And a sparkling smile. Ah, that smile! The first time he flashed it at me was a few weeks ago. Our eyes met, and he smiled so radiantly I was sure it wasn’t for me. He seemed so happy I wondered if he got lucky the night before.
So I ignored him and returned to my book.
I so wanted to kick myself! But he repeated the deed the next day, though softened. It was a “Hey, I’ve seen you, you’re a regular so sure, I’ll notice you” sweet smile. Henry knew I existed! The unimportant mousy faced girl, flat as a stick, who sighs after the hunk in the café.
Sometimes I wonder how he makes love. I’ve never pictured me with him because it would feel so wrong. No. It must be a beautiful woman, all curvy and shiny hair and olive skin. Maybe she’s named Isabella. Nothing at all like a Mildred with a pale skin full of freckles, and frizzled dull brown hair. Not me. Never me.
Would he be tender? Smiling slightly as he kisses her? He caresses, I know, and takes his time, nibbling Isabella’s neck. That fortunate bitch.
That’s what makes it so hard. If he were a jerk, it would be easy to brush him away. He’s not. He’s handsome and smiley and his arms are so firm and his biceps so beautiful, I can’t help to keep coming back here for those seconds to fill me all day.
But today could be the day. That tanned hand and long fingers might brush my arm as his eyes fasten on me. The yearning grows stronger while my eyes insist in deciphering the words of the novel in vain, those phrases never reaching my Henry-filled brain.
He walks away, and I bask in him, unrestricted. No longer a statue but a girl with flushed cheeks and bright gray eyes.
Now or never.
My frappe empty and the book mostly untouched, I jump to my feet like a forgotten Jack-in-the-Box, and I force myself to enter the Black Hole section.
Just a “Hi.” Just a bright smile from the dashing beam of his soul. That’s all I want.
Behind the bookshelf, I turn into a statue once more, but the marble countenance doesn’t bask on Henry. The soft eyes of my being fasten upon a very real Isabella, gorgeous as I imagined. The beauty laughs and grazes her fingers over those beautiful biceps of his. He tenderly brushes away a strand of her lush raven hair and leans down to capture her full mouth with his.
A solar eclipse at noon blinding me with its burning power.
It isn’t a surprise, yet the Black Hole takes over me, and all the light’s gone. There will be no Hi’s, no warm fingers brushing mine either. I take a step back without even noticing the movement until I bump into someone, a short guy with thick glasses.
“Hey,” he says.
My cheeks flush, and I stammer, not sure in which direction to go.
I rush to the door, trying to forget that Henry exists outside of my world and that I won’t see him again until I go back to the fringes of his own.
“Mildred!” someone exclaims behind, before reaching the door.
It’s not Henry, I know, but I turn around nonetheless. The short guy ambles toward me, a shy smile on his slightly chubby face.
“You, ah, forgot your purse.” He looks back to my usual corner.
“Thanks.” I blink, trying to remember if I’ve seen him before, since his face looks familiar. “Do I know you?
He laughs nervously and rakes a hand through his messy dull-yellow hair. “Er, well, I, ah …” He slumps his shoulders and buries his hands in his pockets as if he has no idea what to do with them. “I’m John…Jack! I, ah, I usually come here too.” He remembers one of his hands and offers it to me.
His feet shuffle, and his gaze lowers to the ground.
“Hi, Jack.” I take his hand, which is warm and friendly, and give it one shake.
“Yeah, I, ah, I’ve seen you around.” He shoves his thumb over his shoulder. “And I was wondering, uh, can I invite you to coffee?”
For a moment, I stay there in my statue-form, my eyes the only movement from Jack to the Black Hole section. Henry’s supernova has blinded me to anyone around. But now that the bright beam is enclosed far away from me, the dark shapes take a more defined form. And I remember Jack. He’s smiled at me before.
“Sure,” I say. Another sweet treat to forget about the eclipse.
He places himself next to me as we walk to the lounge, and opts to shove his hands again in his pockets. “I’ve noticed you like to read. Romance, right?”
“Oh, yes.” I sit in the comfy chair and, after a brief hesitation, he sits next to me. “I read too. A little. Though what I love is to watch the stars with my telescope.” He blushes. “It’s, ah, dumb, I know.” His gaze drops to his hands.
I reach into my purse and take out my astronomer’s guide, a book I never leave home without. “It’s not. I’m not an expert, but I enjoy watching them too. This book has helped me to know which stars to look for.”
The shy smile peeks again, and I smile back. He stammers, jumps to his feet, and scampers to the counter, then returns with two frappes, both covered with whipped cream and chocolate sprinkles.
My eyes sweep the Black Hole section before I take the offering, the sweet treat that eases down the Black Hole within me, and sparks a tentative warmth.
“Can I see that book again?” he asks.
We both lean over it. As we read, he seems delighted at some of the highlighted sections. My cheeks flush, gratified that someone likes the same topic as I, who doesn’t make fun of my quirkiness of carrying a book with me.
And as days go by, we walk under the twinkling stars we both admire, taking our time and getting to know each other. And I realize that comets aren’t the only bright things in the universe.
Henry is my sweet unrequited, no matter how many Isabellas come and go. He’ll always be.
But the Jacks in the world also have a place and a light of their own. Like stars.
Ligia de Wit is a bilingual writer who aims to balance fantasy and romance, two genres she fell in love with. When not concocting stories, she works at a global leading distributor company as a business analyst. Married for more than half her life, she is mother to two wonderful teenagers who have surpassed her in height, although she hopes, not in wisdom!