Five

Maple and Fin meet here every Monday for lunch. This, in fact, is how and where they met. The location is the corner cafe. They always sit in the same position – like they did the first time. If that table along the left wall, overlooking the street, is full -they’ll wait. Both have Mondays off, so it’s never been a problem. Sometimes, the best fun they have is during the long waits.

Today, the table is open and the pair take food to the table and sit. Maple brushes salt and pepper curls out of the way, over a shoulder, in preparation of this Monday delight. Fin sits down, squirms, gets back up.

“I have to pee,” and the departure is swift.

There is this brief consideration of waiting. It lasts about thirteen seconds before Maple shrugs and bites full-force into a veggie sandwich. Thin slivers of carrots spill out as the sammy compresses far flatter than it ought to. Maple chews while picking up carrots and stuffing them back into the edges of the sammy. A brown booted foot tucks up under the other leg. A sign that Maple is really enjoying this. A chip tossed in between grinning lips crunches.

Maple is half done by the time Fin comes back from the bathroom. Fin takes one look and nods, slipping into the black rain slicker that wasn’t really necessary for today.

“All done? I’ll take mine to go.”

At which brown eyes pout up at Fin. “I’m sorry,” mouth still full of half a bite of lettuce and tempe.

“No, it’s fine. Let’s go.”

Maple starts at this, fingers awkwardly reaching up to twirl a necklace. What Maple is thinking: let’s go? What does that mean. This is a terminal experience. They’ve never departed together. That would spoil something, wouldn’t it?

The expression on Fin’s face seems to be thinking the same thing. As if the words came out of their own accord.

“Sorry, I-” Fin tries to backpedal.

Maple is happy to assist. “No, it’s fine. I…” but there’s not much to say, is there? This is uncomfortable.

“This is uncomfortable,” Fin goes ahead and admits with a nervous laugh.

Maple readjusts the color of the wool sweater that it’s way too warm out to be wearing. All manner of polite, genial things go through Maple’s head. Ways of smoothing this over, being suave, recovering. Instead, all that leaks out is an abrupt. “Yep.” Honest is the best policy, right?

Fin coughs a nice fake throat-clearing deal here. “We can sit again, if you want.”

“No, no,” and Maple is all head shakes here, tousling about those salt and pepper curls, sending them dancing across shoulders.

Fin is about to say something clever here, about to come up with some really honest, straight to the point recovery, when it’s all blindsighted by someone else calling: “Maple, is that really you?”

And Maple turns from Fin and this awkward uncertain situation to a world of knowns and security. There’s no thought, no registering of this switch-over. It just comes naturally, easily, fluidly. The smile on Maple’s thin lips is so instantaneous.

“Hal!” and a quick flash of a look to Fin. “Look, I’ll be right back.”

And with that, Fin is left beside the table with an empty box ready to be filled with these left-overs. A dreary sigh as Maple’s voice drifts across the small cafe. Things like “oh, god, I’ve missed you.” and “such a wonderful time”. Things like “get together again” and “can’t wait”.

Time on the clock melts away. The food is cold by the time Maple taps Fin on the shoulder. “Hey, sorry. I have to make it to the bank before it closes.”

Fin stands automatically, without thought. It comes so naturally. “Of course, of course. I’m taking this to go, anyway.”

“Yeah, good. Okay. Well, have a good one.”

“Next week?” and this is a real pathetic stretch here.

“Um,” that deadly hesitation that says just what you don’t want it to, “sure. Yeah.” All positives, all smiles, all plastic and see through celophane.

“Great, I’ll text you,” and Fin is really not planning on this.

Maple doesn’t even notice, just tucks the two edges of that wool sweater together like its bracing cold out. “Okay, next time,” arms all tight across the chest, all uncomfortable and strange.

Fin nods. “You bet.”

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