By David Santiago
Mercedes and Javier Morales were seated across from each other at a high bar table in the coffee shop. Behind Javier was a window overlooking a small brick single family home. The window was slightly ajar, and there was a numbing breeze blowing through the gap. Javier shivered, but didn’t take his eyes off Mercedes.
“What should we order?” he asked
“We have about fifteen minutes,” said Mercedes, placing her phone on the table. “It’s still early.”
“I’ll order cappuccinos,” said Javier, waving to the barista. “Two cappuccinos, please. No sugar.”
Mercedes and Javier were the only ones in the shop. It had just opened. The night before, the streets and sidewalks had iced over.
Mercedes was staring at the exit sign above the front door. It gave off an ambient glow, causing it to stand out from the mahogany and brown decor.
“I like what you’ve done to your hair.”
“Aliyah colored it last night,” said Mercedes, shifting her attention to Javier.
“It reminds me of the day we first met,” said Javier, reaching across the table and brushing a loose strand of hair from her eyes. “Your hair fell down your shoulders like polished locks of ebony.”
Mercedes placed her hands on her lap and glanced at the barista, heading toward their table.
“Well, it’s all untangled now,” she said as they placed the cappuccinos on the table.
“Goodness, this is beautiful latte art!” said Javier, turning to the barista. She was a young blonde woman, about the age of their daughter.
“It’s my pleasure. You braved coming here, at sunrise, no less,” she said.
“Yes, it is a brave new dawn,” said Javier.
“Is this a clover?” asked Mercedes?
“It is, ma’am,” said the barista.
“You have a gift,” said Mercedes.
“Wishing you good fortune, to start the day,” replied the barista, smiling as she headed back to the bar.
Mercedes studied the milk foam and the way the clover’s frothiness radiated into the caramel-colored liquid. This is a positive energy, she thought.
“It’s not a problem for me to drive you,” said Javier after a minute or so.
Mercedes took a sip of her coffee. She felt strong.
“There is no need, Javier. It has all been arranged.”
Javier nodded and took another sip of his coffee.
“It is very cold…”
“Yes,” said Mercedes. “Chicago is always cold this time of year. It is a city of extremes.”
“These are strange times. This weather might cause some people to stay home, but not all. There are bad energies in the air.”
“There are always good and bad energies in the air. But yes, many people have been sick.”
“I wish things were different.”
“I do too.”
“I should drive you. Perhaps you will reconsider?”
“Everything has been arranged, Javier.”
Mercedes held the warm coffee mug in both hands and stared at Javier. He had not shaved in days, and spots of gray speckled his beard.
“Our time is short,” said Mercedes. “He will be here soon.”
“Let’s make the most of our time, then. Let me drive you to Montreal.”
“Nonsense, Javier. It is too far.”
“Is that all?”
Mercedes took another sip of her coffee.
“Do you feel safe flying?” asked Javier. “How can you social distance?”
“It’s a risk I have to accept.”
“But you don’t have to accept it. I would like to drive you. You can cancel the ride share.”
“Javier, he is five minutes away. I will be charged.”
“I’ll pay the fee. That is of no concern to me.”
“It’s unkind to cancel the ride share. He has come from the other side of town on icy roads.”
“It is a shame, but I will pay the fee. Plus a tip.”
“Let’s savor the time we have left. Thank you for the cappuccino.”
“We can savor the time in the car. I will stop along the way. We will stay at the nicest hotels. We will have the finest meals.”
Mercedes stared at the exit sign in the distance. The light from the sign seemed to burn her eyes. It is just the glare, she thought.
“I love you, you know,” said Javier. “I’ve always loved you.”
Mercedes said nothing. She thought of their daughter, Isabella.
“And what happens when you arrive in Montreal?” asked Javier at last.
“It will be cold there, I am sure.”
“Yes. And it is so far.”
“It is far from here.”
“Could we be just like before?”
“No, we can never be the same.”
“You never considered going to Puerto Rico?”
“I’ve considered many things.”
“But Montreal is far. It is in another country.”
Javier stared at the icicles hanging from the roof of the building next door.
“After so many years…”
“We’ve had our time together. Five minutes or eight hours will make little difference now.”
“It would to me.”
“But this isn’t about you, Javier.”
Mercedes’s phone vibrated on the table. She picked it up and looked at the screen.
“He is here,” she said, standing up.
“Then fortune’s wheel is ever turning,” said Javier, reaching for her luggage. “For you, at least, a new beginning.”
“I wish things were different.”
“I am very sorry,” said Javier, tears rolling down his cheeks. “Can you ever forgive me?”
Mercedes reached across the table and dabbed his face with a tissue.
“It’s time for me to leave, Javier Morales. The papers have been filed. And we are at opposite spokes of the wheel.”
* * *
David Santiago is a writer and technologist who lives and works in northern Virginia.