“I’ll take a large latte with skim milk,” I say to the barista at Ye Olde Diamond Shoppe. “And this zucchini pineapple bread.” He sighs and pushes himself away from the counter as if I’m asking him to murder his mother.
“That’ll be six-seventy-five,” he says, a scowl on his face. He’s tall, skinny, with a scraggly blond beard and thick, horn-rimmed glasses. He’s given me attitude every time I’ve been in the café, and if it weren’t so close to my taiji studio, I would never go there. I pay him then go to wait for my latte. That man isn’t here yet, and a part of me is hoping that he won’t show up. We’re supposed to meet at one-thirty, however, and I’m five minutes early. I’ll give him those five minutes and ten minutes more before giving up. I get my latte and put raw sugar in it. As I’m stirring, that man walks in. He spots me and gives me a huge smile. He points at the front counter, and I nod. He orders, pays, then walks over to me.
“I don’t think I’ll ever get used to this weather,” he says, shivering despite wearing a heavy coat, a scarf, and gloves. He looks at me, and his eyes widen because I’m just wearing a sweater over my shirt and no coat. I had been wearing gloves, but they are in my purse now. “Where’s your coat?”
“I don’t need one yet,” I say with a false smile. “I like cold weather.”
“You should wear one! You might get hypothermia.” He’s clucking over me, and resist the impulse to tell him to can it. I wouldn’t take that from him even if he were my father who had been present for my whole life, which he’s not—and hadn’t been.
“It’s not even freezing,” I inform him, keeping my voice even. “I’ll be fine.”
“What did you order?” He asks, peering at my cup. “I got just plain coffee. It’s hard to find these days.”
“A latte with skim milk,” I say. “I order it any time I’m at a coffee shop because I get overwhelmed by too many choices.”
“Plain coffee.” The jerk holds out the cup of coffee, a sneer in his voice. That man goes over, takes it and adds sugar and cream before putting a lid on it. I have an impulse to take him outside, but that would be cruel. I take him to the front room instead, and we sit on the couch and sip at our coffee. It doesn’t appear as if he’s going to say anything, but he’s the one who wanted to meet, so he can start the conversation whenever he’s ready. I’m content to drink my latte and eat my zucchini pineapple bread. After several minutes, he finally talks.
“My husband died two months ago,” he says without preamble. I blink because that’s not what I’m expecting to hear. “Larry. Larry Sato. We’d been together thirty years.”
“I saw a picture of you with him. At Pride!” I pull out my phone and find the image again. “Is this him?” That man glances at the pic and smiles.
“Yes. That’s Larry. Wasn’t he handsome?” His eyes linger on the phone before I put it away.
“You two look happy together,” I say, finishing my latte.