The autumn sun warmed the shop windows. She waited patient and quiet as the farmer in front of her dug through his pockets for folding money to pay for his latte. She looked around for a place to sit with her books and saw the young man. He sat hunched in a chair behind her and made faces over the textbook in front of him. She leaned in while keeping one foot in line.
Hey. Hey. I know you. You’re the guy from upstairs.
Yeah. I didnt know you were taking classes too.
The farmer continued to make small talk at the counter. She placed her order and turned back to the young man.
I like coming here. It’s quieter than downtown. I come here to get away from everyone.
Yeah. Me too.
Okay. I’m going to sit over there. I just wanted to say hi.
Have fun studying.
Actually I do.
So do I.
And she walked to the opposite corner and he returned to making faces at his textbook and each understood the joy of being alone together.
The weak winter sun had disappeared behind clouds. The bare maples whipped and beat at the snowflakes falling. She hurried through the lobby and ran to catch the elevator door before it closed. He reached out from inside and triggered the sensor. The elevator door shook indignant at the interruption of its duty. She laughed and thanked him and they both looked at opposite corners while the elevator trundled upward. She spoke first and directly to the floor.
You going to the thing tonight?
I’ll save you a spot. You bringing anyone?
I dont think so. Are you?
Good. I mean I’ll see you.
Alright. I’ll see you later.
She stepped out of the elevator and remained quiet but parsed inward every conversation prior for the rest of the day.
The sun moved between clouds and peeked out every so often. They sat side by side on the fescue and he picked at the brown edges while she took the Guinness brownie from the pocket of her hooded pullover and split it exactly down the middle. She handed him one of the halves.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day.
Does your boss know you’re out here?
No. I didnt have anything to do today anyway. I cant believe these have beer in them.
It’s stout. You look sad. Is she still giving you trouble?
Yeah. She keeps calling.
You keep answering. You’re a stormchaser. You complain about these messes and then you chase after them and let them complicate your life. You need to get away from this. She wont take no for an answer. Change your number.
You need to.
It’s just complicated.
What’s complicated about it. You broke up a year ago. She cant move on. That’s not your problem.
I wish it was that easy.
You’re leaving in August. She’ll have to move on.
They sat quiet again.
Do I complicate your life like that? She appeared to ask the brownie.
No. He continued to pick at the fescue. I complicate my own life.
Let me know if I start to.
No. That’s actually it. I don’t have many uncomplicated friendships with girls. I like ours.
What am I going to do when you’re not around to sneak away with me?
I was just fine with leaving until I met you.
She turned away and beamed and then frowned at the fescue and he stared at her crossed legs and then at the back of her as she got up and walked away and then at the door after she’d gone through it and into the building.
They rode back from the show in comfortable silence and she watched out the passenger window as the May dusk blurred into night. He pulled the sedan up next to her truck and watched her fish keys out of her bag. They both got out and stood on the sidewalk. Sodium arc lights cast long shadows across his face. She reached up and rubbed the stubble on his jaw until he batted her hand away.
Okay. You like doing that?
Scratchy face. Okay. I have to get home. Did you like the show?
Yeah. Are they doing one next month?
Yeah. It’s June sixth. Give me a hug goodnight. I’ll see you tomorrow.
They hugged and he held her tight and then tighter. He leaned in and kissed her and complicated the friendship. They stood quiet for a minute. She reached up and rubbed the stubble on his jaw and this time he let her. She took her hand away and got in her truck and started the engine while she watched him walk up the stairs to his apartment door. She waited until he opened the door and then he waited until she pulled out of the parking lot and drove home.
The following day she paced back and forth in the office. She made a decision. She cornered him in the connecting skywalk where they each had discovered the other would go to be alone.
Did that happen?
He laughed. Maybe. You dont remember? It must not have been any good if you dont remember.
No. I dont trust my memory all the time.
Well maybe it didnt then.
It did. I was there. I dont know what to do about it.
You dont have to do anything. It’s whatever you want it to be.
You’re leaving in August.
I know. I know. I dont know.
It’s the right thing to do. You know that. If you stay here you’ll be miserable. You need to get away from her and your family and figure out who you are somewhere else. The person you are up there will be the person you really are. You know that. You’re like me.
You need to be somewhere green and quiet so you can get your head right. You need to find a place that’s not-here. This place was the not-here for me but you have to find your own.
I have to get back to work. What am I going to do when you’re not here to talk to every day?
He reached out and grabbed her hand. They hugged for a long time and then each went their separate way back to their work.
They sat crosslegged on the floor in front of his couch in his apartment among all of the halfpacked boxes of books. He sniffed each book before assigning it to a pile of what to keep and what to leave behind. Two tumblers of whiskey balanced on the carpet before them. She broke the quiet.
Even though you’re leaving I’m glad we became friends.
We didnt ruin it with sex.
No. That wouldnt be good.
You got something on your mind.
I want us to be uncomplicated again.
She sucked in her breath. Traced the rim of the whiskey glass. Spoke slowly and evenly.
Why did you start it?
I dont know.
I changed my mind. You’re not the stormchaser. You’re the storm.
I should’ve never said Hi that day. I wish I hadnt.
No. Dont say that.
I’m sorry. It’s all mixed up. I feel everything at once right now. It’s loud.
She tugged at his shirt and he fell over and onto and into her outstretched arms and lay his head on her stomach. He listened to her heartbeat and spoke muffled words into the fabric of her shirt.
What did you say?
You’re so kind.
Yes. You’re kind to me. You’re so warm and kind. I dont know. What am I doing? He moved to sit up.
Dont get up. Just stay here. Please. This is all we get. You know it’ll be different even if you come back to visit. This is what we get right now.
And they lay still there for a little while and then she sat up and grabbed her bag and keys and did the leaving. He listened to the truck’s motor fade into the night sounds. He stared at the piles of books and poured the rest of her whiskey into his glass.
They had agreed to have one last drink at the cafe. He set down his glass and then tilted it back and then placed it carefully on the bar again in a studied manner.
Alright. I need to get going. I’m staying at my parents’ house tonight and it’s a long drive back.
Cool. It’ll be fine. You’re going to love Seattle.
And then he stood up to leave and then her face crumpled and she buried her sobs in his shirt. He hugged her tight and then tighter. She whispered muffled words into the fabric of his shirt: You are loved.
She sobbed and soaked his shirt pocket and he held her. He stepped back and released her. He held her at arms length and studied her face. Memorizing. She studied his jawline and couldnt meet his eyes.
No. I’m happy. This is good. We’re friends. You’ll call me.
I’ll call when I’m on the road tomorrow.
I’ll be back to visit.
Not if you’re smart.
I’ll be back in December. It’ll be no time. We can hang out then. It’s not goodbye.
He squeezed her hands and let go and put his head down and walked out of the shop with determination. He felt the lie in his mouth. He felt everything at once. It was loud. He stopped on the sidewalk halfway down the block. He punched words into his phone and sent them and got into the sedan and drove away.
She waited until he passed by the window and then she sat back down and put her head in her arms. The barista swiped at the counter with a damp rag before he picked up the empty glass. Her phone buzzed. She read the message: You are loved. She read the message again and then deleted his number from her phone. She stared quiet at the dull gleam of rows of copper mugs hanging over the bar. She tested the word with her tongue: Goodbye.