I miss you, the note read.
The words seemed to leap off the paper and caused her heart to skip a beat. She saw his scratchy handwriting and it reminded her of the love notes he used to send her in the early days of their relationship. Days filled with laughter and love. Days of endless conversations and stories. Days of grand adventures and days of quiet togetherness. The better days she so desperately held in her heart and memory after all this time.
They had met when she still had the hopeful, rose-tinted glasses of youth. Fresh out of college, she was eager to see the world, have adventures, and live just a little bit recklessly. She was carefree and courageous, and had big dreams on how she’d leave her mark on the world. Thinking on it now, and after all she had been through over the past few years, it seemed like a lifetime ago.
Love had been low on her list of goals. A recent breakup had caused her to build a wall around her heart. She had decided that romantic daydreams and silly crushes were not worth anymore heartache for the time being. The solitude she felt was a small price to pay for her peace of mind and independence. At night though, after she had said her prayers, she looked out the window and marveled at the seemingly endless starry sky, feeling an ache of loneliness. The universe was quite grand, and so she was irritated with herself for feeling like something was missing from it.
It was a Monday when she had locked eyes with him. Looking back on it now, she saw how everything had fallen into place so that the stars could align just for them: The potted plant on her countertop that she had accidentally knocked over, causing her to leave her house five minutes later than usual. The “closed due to a family emergency” sign on the door of her favorite coffee house, causing her to have to search on her phone for a suitable replacement nearby. Those were frustrating annoyances at the time, but in retrospect, she was grateful for them.
Although she was a creature of habit and would have preferred her usual haunt for her morning coffee ritual, she was pleasantly surprised with this other place. The front looked like a cafe from Paris, with its rust-colored awning and cute bistro tables. Inside, it was clean, cozy, and had a slight hipster vibe to it. There were pictures from local photographers artfully displayed on the walls. The low hum of conversation and the heady aroma of coffee mixed well together. She had been especially thrilled to see that the pastry case had a better assortment of baked goods than her usual place. Sometimes the best companion for a strong coffee was a rich and gooey cinnamon roll, especially on a day like this. After she had placed her order, she snagged a coveted window seat at a beautifully-made table and began people-watching.
People-watching was one of her favorite pastimes, second only to reading books. She liked to think up stories for the people and things she saw. Sometimes her imagination got a little carried away, and she loved it. The man across the street with the bouquet of flowers in his hand? He was on his way to the theater, where the woman of his dreams was the lead actress in the local play. The middle-aged woman that just walked by, talking furiously on her phone? She was yelling at the dry-cleaners for ruining her favorite cashmere sweater. The energetic little dog yanking on its leash? It could smell a bagel that someone had dropped further down the street. The couple who walked with their arms around each other? Well, they were just annoyingly cute together.
Then, it had happened. He had come in through the door and they had locked eyes. It was the most surreal experience she had ever had. Time seemed to stop, she could hear her heart beating, and while the rest of the cafe became blurry, he was the only thing in focus. She held her breath and willed herself not to blink, afraid that it would break the spell of whatever magic was happening. He seemed to sense it, too, for he smiled curiously, as if he was unsure of what had just hit him. He ordered his coffee, boldly sat right across from her at the little table, and proclaimed with increasing wonder in his eyes, “This table is my favorite spot.” Her retort was short and slightly flirty, “Well, it’s definitely my favorite spot now.“
An hour of easy conversation later, he had asked for her number, and that’s how it had all started. He had big, strong hands that looked like he could create something amazing with them. It had not surprised her one bit when she had learned that he was trying out woodworking as a hobby. It had surprised her, though, to find out that he had made the very table at which they were sitting. Thinking back on those hands, she liked that his had felt rough. They felt safe, masculine, and strong. She loved how their hands had felt together, with their fingers intertwined. She loved how their hands had told their love story through the many notes they had written each other.
Their relationship lasted nearly two amazing years and was something she should have appreciated more. Near the end, though, she had begun to take him for granted and he wasn’t as romantic as he once was. They argued more often than they talked. She felt their connection slipping through her grasp like sand, and it scared her that she had come to depend on him so much. She felt as if there were dozens of half-written stories between them, yet she couldn’t figure out how to make them into one cohesive story. She realized she had lost her focus on the life she had planned out for herself. Even as the words were coming out of her mouth, she knew she was saying stupid things and making stupid excuses, yet she didn’t stop. He took the spare key to her place off his keychain, calmly set it on the kitchen counter, and left.
At first, she consoled herself with lots of ice cream. The sting didn’t lessen in her heart. Weeks went by and she tried to face her mistake with courage. His key sat there, a fine layer of dust starting to settle on it, but she dared not move it. Facebook cruelly kept reminding her of their happy times together by informing her of the various memories she had posted of them. She prayed and pondered the starry night sky, finally realizing that her life’s adventures had been made better because of him, and so she wrote him a note. It simply said, “I’m sorry.” Knowing that he went there every Thursday afternoon, she left it at their coffee house with the barista and the fervent hope that he would read it and respond.
Days later, she popped her head in to see if he had written back, but the barista gave her a look of pity and shook her head. Undaunted, she left another note for him. This one said a bit more, and as she wrote it, she could feel how the words were genuine and raw, capturing her heartache within the ink. She ended it with a promise that if he truly wanted nothing more to do with her, then she would let him have sole custody of their table at the coveted spot by the window and she would try to move on with her life. She also put in a postscript that she’d be back in three days to check for his response.
Those three days felt like an eternity. She couldn’t focus on work. She couldn’t eat. She kept running the words of her note to him in her head, hoping that all the love and remorse she felt were conveyed through her words. At last, the day came and an odd thing happened on her way out: she knocked over the same potted plant that she had knocked over on the day she had first met him. She stood there, staring at the dirt, crying and laughing in turns. She left the plant and hurried to the coffee shop, her stomach in knots.
Her trusty barista-turned-messenger wasn’t there, causing her stomach to tie into even more knots. She asked the others if anyone had left a note for her, and what little hope she had evaporated when they all said no. She decided to sit down at their table one last time to sear the memory of it into her heart. She gazed out the window to people-watch one last time. The young woman on her old-fashioned bicycle, the kind with a basket on the handle bars? She’s on her way to the book shop at the end of the block. The little boy with the yellow balloon, holding his mother’s hand? He’s pretending to be a robot.
The window became blurry as silent tears spilled onto her cheeks. She would miss this, but she would miss him more. She was reaching for a tissue from her purse when she saw it. The corner of a folded piece of paper was just barely sticking out from beneath the small bowl of sugar packets on the table. She gingerly slid it out from its hiding place and carefully unfolded it. Her breath hitched in her throat as she saw his familiar, scratchy handwriting on the note that simply stated, “I miss you.”
Relief flooded through her and she pressed the note to her heart. She glanced back out the window and there he was, standing across the street, watching her. He gave a nod and she sheepishly waved. She watched him walk to the cafe, come in through the door, and make his way to their table.
Copyright © Mommyhood and Moxie, 2021