Authors: Melyssa Williams
Her apartment is one in a large building. Each has a little balcony with a screen door, and Emme’s balcony is full of flowers and potted plants; hot pink geraniums, purple pansies, and orange tiger lilies. She has cute little stone bunnies peeking out from beneath one, and a ceramic cat is nestled in the daisies. We each have a weakness for furry animals, but Emme has the good sense to indulge hers in lawn ornaments instead of wearing them on a shirt like I do. She has a doorbell that plays music but I don’t press it, instead I let myself in and call a greeting as I walk through the door.
There is music playing, Norah Jones I think, and Emme is exactly how I imagined she would be, lying on the couch with a book in her hand and a plate of cookies on her belly.
“Hullo, doll!” she says, merrily. “Come have some dessert for breakfast. Whipped these up myself last night, I did!”
I take one gingerly. “You baked?”
Emme laughs. “Yes, I baked. Had a client last night and that’s what he wanted to do, so that’s what we did. Takes the cake doesn’t it?” She winked.
“Were you both fully clothed when you were umm, baking?”
“Mmm, well, I’ll leave that part up to your imagination, but believe me when I say there was no hanky panky. He just wanted to bake, the love. He was a cutie too. Hey, maybe I could set you two up?” She wiggles her perfectly shaped red eyebrows suggestively.
When I first found out what Emme did for a living, I couldn’t help but be a little shocked. She isn’t much older than I, but has been doing what she does for…a time. It’s the profession that never goes out of date, she says. I suppose she has a point. Nudity is always in style, at least in some circles. I try not to think about it.
“Everyone and their brother are trying to set me up,” I grumble, biting savagely into the cookie. It’s a gingersnap.
“That’s because you’re hopeless on your own, Sonnet. Look at what you’re wearing. Good God, are those horses?” She looks aghast at my favorite shirt. I wipe off the cookie crumbs and puff out my chest proudly in defiance. “You should really let Meli take you shopping. I’d give you some of my stuff if you weren’t so dang skinny. Have another cookie.”
I oblige and settle into the chair opposite her couch. Her book’s cover is of a half naked man holding onto a gorgeous woman. It’s a tough call who has the better hair.
Tonight, Friday, the coffee shop is packed with customers. Our busiest night is always Friday because of the lineup of singers and specialty prices on drinks and snack food. I spy Luke in the back, in one of our comfortable leather armchairs, but it’s too busy to go say hello or socialize with anyone. Matthias and Harry wander in at about half past seven for coffee and to hear me sing. That’s a compliment coming from them, as they don’t like to leave the house very often. I make them a whole pot of French press coffee and serve it to them with a pitcher of cream and lots of sugar packets. They never have any money – because they never leave the house to make any – so I’ll have to pay for the coffee out of my wages. I get a small discount, but Micki is notoriously tightfisted.
When it’s my turn to sing I don’t bother taking my apron off since I’m still on the clock. For atmosphere’s sake, the lights are low tonight, giving the shop an air of an old time piano bar or an old fashioned elegant club. I imagine myself wearing a sparkling floor length gown, blue maybe, or red. I’m sitting on a piano, my hair in loose waves, and the audience is sophisticated, sipping champagne instead of cappuccino.
The song I’ve chosen is from World War II and I’ve picked it for Matthias and Harry. They were both there. They both recognize the first few chords from the guitar I’m playing and salute me from their chairs.
I'll be seeing you
In all the old familiar places
That this heart of mine embraces
All day through.
In that small cafe;
The park across the way;
The children's carousel;
The chestnut trees;
The wishin' well.
I always sing with my eyes shut; it isn’t my intention, but they tend to just drift closed and I lose myself in the music. I’m not a very good guitar player - I’ve only been playing for a few months - but some strumming is better than no accompaniment at all. I sing mostly for Matthias and Harry, but also for the love of singing, and perhaps, if I’m honest, to see if I can impact the man in the back with the camera.
I'll find you
In the morning sun
And when the night is new.
I'll be looking at the moon,
But I'll be seeing you.
When I finish the last note and the last chord I open my eyes and smile at the applause. Of course this little group of locals would clap politely for anyone, but I know I sounded decent - maybe better than decent. I blow Matthias and Harry a kiss and put my guitar back down by the tiny stage. I can’t help glancing back at Luke and I see him fiddling with his camera. Did he take a picture of me? I feel flattered and then instantly feel ridiculous for feeling flattered. I really must get out more if a mere acquaintance can dictate my emotions. I step nimbly, or what I had planned to be nimbly and casually, off the stage and nearly trip on a speaker cord. A hand helps me up from my stumble. As I rise, my eyes flicker once again to the back. I no longer see Luke but what I do see frightens me and steals my breath.
Sitting where Luke had been, in the oversized leather armchair, is a small woman. Her red calico dress is old fashioned, but it doesn’t look out of place on her timeless, otherworldly beauty. She is willowy but small in stature, with a frame like a little bird. Her blonde hair is almost yellow and hangs all the way to her tiny waist. It is parted on the side and half of it hides her face, but it is a face I know. A familiar face from my memories and from my dreams. This time I cannot talk myself back into reality. I cannot convince myself it is a coincidence, a fluke. A moment of déjà vu. She is too entirely like my mother and I know my mother is dead.
mother. Because I am certain that beautiful girl is Rose Gray.
I land right back where I had stumbled a split second before. The woman helping me is so surprised that she almost lands on top of me since her hand is still on my arm. I feel as though I’ve been hit with something, a blow that knocked me off my feet, and I am stuck in a frustrating state of things being in slow motion and yet happening too fast for me to control. I can see the vibrant colors of the woman’s shoes that are directly in front of me; I can smell the vanilla from the latte on the breath of the man who leans down and helps me up; I can still hear the last strum of my guitar hanging in the air by my ears; and yet I am terrified that when I stand again Rose will be gone. I half leap, half claw my way to standing again and when I gaze desperately into the back of the crowd, my fears are realized and my heart feels as though it has stopped. She is gone. The leather chair is empty.
I know I am almost sobbing and making a spectacle of myself as I push my way through the crowd to the chair. I think I see Luke out of the corner of my eyes but I am uncertain and unconcerned. There are two different exits to the coffee shop and I don’t know which way to turn: right would be the main entrance and exit that leads to the street and left is the back entrance which has more parking spaces but you wouldn’t know that unless you had been here before. I choose right.
When I swing open the big door and step into the night air, the silence is a black hole that makes my air come out of my lungs in a whoosh. I can see far down the street in both directions and there is no one. There is no one here and I have chosen wrong. Pushing back through the crowd and going out the back is hopeless now. Rose is gone. I sink to the sidewalk.
I must have sat there for a few minutes, staring blankly into space as calm, silent tears cascade down my face. I notice when he sits down beside me but I don’t respond. I hug my knees to my chest. The only way I acknowledge him at all is to sniff every few seconds to prevent the snot from running down my face. It’s the only polite thing I can accomplish right now. In spite of what I think is a heroic attempt, Luke abruptly stands and leaves, back through the coffee shop door. I can’t help the pitiful broken laugh that escapes me, but in less than a minute, he is back. He sinks back down to the sidewalk with me and hands me a rough paper napkin.
“Best I can do,” he says. “Men’s stall is out of toilet paper.”
“Sorry,” I croak and accept the napkin. “I always forget to check in there when I’m stocking for the next day.” I blow my nose, at first daintily and politely, but then with more gusto. I take longer than I need to and wipe my eyes, putting off what I think could be a weird conversation and explanation.
“If this is how you always end your act on stage, I think you’re a little hard on yourself,” Luke finally begins. “You weren’t that bad. Kind of good actually. Although your guitar picking needs work.”
I can’t help but smile, lopsided though it is. “I know. You’re a big guitar expert, huh?”
“The world’s leading air guitar expert,” he corrects me. His tone changes from silly to gentle. “Want to talk? Or do you need more sandpaper to blow your nose with?”
“I just thought I saw someone I used to know,” my response is very lame and I know it. But how do I explain that this someone I used to know I last saw over two hundred years ago? I look down, embarrassed, and see my horses on my shirt galloping across my chest; they would look so mighty and strong if they weren’t soaked with my tears.
“And that someone owes you a million dollars? That’s why you’re so upset, because you lost them again?” Although his words are light and teasing, his eyes are piercing and I am uncomfortable under their scrutiny. I make a show of wiping my own eyes with the soggy napkin again, if only to collect myself.
I smile widely, sanely, I hope. I fear it comes across as desperate and crazy though. I am surprised when he doesn’t back away and develop a sudden recollection of what he should be doing, where he should be going, and leave, never to see this tear stained wreck of a girl again. Instead he stands and offers me his hand.
“Well, let’s get some caffeine and strategize, shall we? This isn’t a big city and we can find your special someone. It’s not the end of the world, kid. Chin up.” I am standing now, awkwardly at his side, and he uses his knuckle to rub my chin and lift my head.
I feel very conspicuous when I walk back into the shop. I am hesitant and worry that every head will turn and stare at me - the deranged, clumsy woman who made a spectacle of herself and now has the job of refilling their mugs and bringing them their peanut butter scones. They’re probably terrified I’ll spill a pot of hot coffee on them, or drop a butter knife on their toes. But aside from a couple of sympathetic looks, I seem to be mostly ignored. Ignored is home to me. Ignored is where I dwell quite comfortably, thank you very much. I’ll take it.
At the bar I take off my black apron and tell Micki I’m taking a break. I pour Luke and me two coffees in matching white cups that are ridiculously large. We sit at the only table available; a cozy spot for no more than three people back in the corner of the shop. I watch him sip his coffee for a moment as I stir sugar into mine. Finally, if only to break the quiet, I speak.
“That girl that you photographed, the pretty one with the blonde hair? She’s my sister. I saw her here tonight. It,” I stumble over the inadequacy of my words. “It surprised me.” No, it rocked me. It paralyzed me. It undid me.
“How long has it been since you’ve seen your sister?” His question is so innocent, so appropriate, yet I want to laugh like a loon. How can I tell him I last saw her in 1741? He’d pat me on my crazy head, pay for his coffee, and leave into the night. And I wouldn’t blame him a bit.
“I haven’t seen her since we were children. I thought she was dead, actually.” How to explain this? “It’s only been my dad and I since I was four.” Let him think we are a broken family. Let him think my mother was there for Rose and we have simply been separated since a divorce.
“Must have been quite a shock. I’m sorry.” His words are kind, but his eyes remain unconvinced and skeptical.
I wrap my hands around my hot mug of coffee.
“I asked Prue to let you photograph her,” I blurt out suddenly, hungry for a change of topic. Something safe and ordinary. Something away from this mess of emotions that is eating me up inside. “I don’t think I convinced her though. You might have to take one when she’s not looking or something.”
“And risk death and maiming?” His wooly eyebrows shoot up into his too-long hair. I fight an urge to smooth them back down. “That’s okay; I don’t need to die for my art. I did take some of you singing though, I hope you don’t mind. You can see them if you like. I’ll develop them tonight most likely.”
“You don’t use digital?”
“I’m an old fashioned guy. I like the process of developing the photos almost as much as I love taking them. But anyway, maybe we can use the pictures I got of your sister to help you find her. Something that would give us a clue to where she lives or who might know her or something. I’ll be Cagney, you be Lacey. Fred and Daphne?”
My blank stare must have been a giveaway. He laughed.
“Sherlock and Watson then? Just what is your name anyway?”