She ducked into a little cafe to get shelter from the storm. It was a storm she hadn’t seen since Mack left her three years ago. A storm she was all too familiar with; a storm called loneliness. Caroline lit a cigarette under her oversized men’s fedora. The bartender shouted from across the room, “Hey lady! Put that out. There’s been a smoking ban since 2008!”
Caroline chuckled as she put out the long slim butt. She softly pulled it from the cigarette holder her father gave her, after he returned from a stint in Italy. It was made from the horns of a wild goat his coworker hunted, and her father gutted for dinner, during a corporate team building event for Microsoft.
Long gone were the days when she and Mack would light cigarettes like fireflies in the setting sun of South Africa. She took a moment to wonder if there were fireflies in Africa, only to pause, when she realized she didn’t care and would Google it later. She stood in the doorway, 5’6”, blonde hair cascading down her shoulders, and her piercing blue colored contacts (that had been on special at Pearle Vision) sparkled like sapphires. Not the cheap cloudy rocks one would buy from Zales, but the type of sapphires you’d find deep in the heart of Chinatown.
She swayed over to the bartender, moving like a mermaid in water, except she left a fire behind her that roasted the eyes of every man in the room. There were two men in the room. “Bartender, Four Roses on the rocks and make it a double,” Caroline said in a smooth, confident tone, licking her red lips and making them shimmer in the dimly lit room.
“I’m not a bartender. I’m a barista.”
“Sure, you are big boy, and I’m a octopus walking out of the water.”
“No, seriously, I’m a barista. It’s a coffee shop. We serve coffee.”
“What kind of joint is this? That sign said ‘cafe’. What kind of scam are you pulling, eh, Jack?” She hit the end of his name hard.
“What’s wrong with you? It says ‘Starbucks Cafe.’”
Caroline tipped her head forward, letting a few of her golden locks curl over her right eye. Her eyes filled with cloudy memories as she said, “I knew a Starbucks. Navy man. We met in Shanghai during the war at a KFC.”
“It was a long grueling war.”
“That wasn’t even in Shanghai.”
“He stood there wiping the grease from his fingers. His mouth glistening with desire. The room was brightly lit by the neon signs behind him. It was storming, just like it is today.”
“Lady, it’s 90 degrees. Should I call someone?”
“In the war?”
“No; it was that rubbery part of a chicken bone that done him good. Lodged in his throat! I ran to him! I tried to reach him, but it was too late,” Caroline turned to the pastry case to hide her tears. Her face half lit and half dark, the same contrasting colors of the reduced fat cinnamon swirl cake laying under her chin. She stared directly into a pretend camera, her eyes beginning to swell with water. Dramatically, she steadied herself on the case and slow walked to the young sweet boy she saw before her.
In the distance, the Barista swore he could hear a saxophone, “Um, I’m getting the manager.”
“You. You look like my Mack.”
“I don’t even know what that means, but you gotta go!”
“That’s right! You want to give me the bum’s rush. Just like Mack, and that long tall drink he called his secretary. That’s ok, I’ll go and I’ll weather the storm…” Caroline reached into her pocket for another cigarette and began to light it as she lifted her head.
“There’s no storm and stop with the smokes, lady!”
“I’ll start walking, but you’ll see, I won’t be one of those withering divorcees sitting next to her sister counting cards at the casinos hoping that some poor grey haired gink finds me. I can hold my own,” Caroline spun toward the door. Walking as if she was in a procession for the dead.
Suddenly, all the color went out of the room. The world was as she had always known it to be, not black and white, but varying shades of grey. The Barista watched with his mouth agape as the stranger left him confused and afraid.
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