GLAD I MET YOU
by Evan Robertson and Nichole Robertson
Jack had been waiting twenty minutes when Sarah entered the café. He knew her face well and would have spotted it through the window, but he was focused on his cold coffee. So rather than witness her arrival, he felt it—a wave of warm summer air that reached out to him from the open door, carrying the faint scent of flowers.
The breeze invited him to look up. At the sight of her, he raised an inch or so from his seat. But, of course, she wouldn’t recognize him, so he sat back down and watched her scan the café. Her smile and the heat from the wide-open door filled the room.
She waved to the barista behind the counter, and he blew a kiss back as he pulled a shot of espresso. His name was Alain, and he was the mutual friend who had arranged this meeting. He swiftly prepared the drink, placed it on a saucer, then wiped his hands on a towel before giving Sarah a kiss on each cheek.
Jack watched, feeling a little uneasy as Alain whispered something that made her laugh. She leaned over, touching a slender hand to her jeans. Jack strained to hear but couldn’t make it out over the grumbles of a customer. Then Alain pointed to Jack and gave him a secret wink.
The wink made him nervous. Maybe he shouldn’t have asked Alain to play matchmaker. Alain was prone to hyperbole around women. How did he convince her to come? What tall tales did he tell? Sarah was still laughing when she turned toward him, and their eyes connected for the second time that week.
Jack stood. He took a step toward them, and then he paused. He didn’t want to get caught up in a conversation with them; he wanted her to himself.
She walked up to him, beaming. “Hi. Jack, right? I’m Sarah.”
“Hi. It’s so nice to meet you, Sarah. Can I get you a coffee?”
“Alain always gets me the same thing, so I’m good.”
As he offered her a seat, Jack wondered if Alain knew her more intimately than he had assumed. Sarah sat with her back to the window. She placed her iPhone facedown beside her on the table.
“So nice to meet you, too,” she said. “Alain says you’re practically the mayor here.”
“Deputy mayor,” he joked.
“Sorry I’m late. Were you waiting long?”
“No need to apologize. You’re just fashionably late. It’s very French of you.”
“Ah, merci,” she said. Then, with a sly look she added, “I suppose I’ve gone native.”
“I’d say so. Double kisses, tight with the barista; I assume you’ve taken up smoking?”
“Only when I wear my beret.”
“And . . . your striped shirt and tan trench are where?”
“The dry cleaners. Good thing for you. The Frenchier I get, the later I arrive.”
“The deputy mayor does not tolerate tardiness.”
Jack glanced at Alain as he steamed a pitcher of milk behind the counter, and he resolved to put his jealousy to rest. It was a stupid thing to think. Alain had come through—she was here—so he leaned back in his chair.
The late afternoon sun strained toward her shoulders. He had seen her in this very chair last Sunday at around the same time. That was when she briefly smiled at him, and he finally gave in and asked Alain for help. She had worn a green V-neck T-shirt with the sleeves rolled, revealing a small beauty mark on her left arm. But today she wore a white button-down shirt with longer sleeves, and the mark was hidden.
“Actually,” she said, “I hear you’re the real native. Alain says you’re here twenty-four seven.”
“Yeah, I like it here. I’ve worked in Paris for two months now, and I get out as often as I can.”
“Working from a café. Let me guess: writer?”
“Philosopher? Poet? Philosopher-poet!”
“None of the above. I’m a consultant for a transit company.” Jack hated explaining what he did for a living. To him, a job was a necessity, not an identity. It was one of several reasons he had jumped at the chance to leave America, where such distinctions weren’t usually made. “It’s not a very romantic job.”
“So, not a poet then?”
“Only at heart.”
“Ah, an armchair intellectual with a day job,” she teased, lifting her chestnut red hair from her shoulders to cool off. “Good enough for me.” The sun had now reached her neck, alighting on a few wispy strands of hair as they fell back onto her shoulders.
Alain strode toward them with an enormous, exquisite latte. Her eyes widened.
“You’re the best!”
“My pleasure, as always.” Alain reached over and grabbed Jack’s shoulder. “So has he told you what he does yet? No? This one makes bullet trains for the government.”
“Wow!” she whistled.
“That’s not exactly true,” Jack said, distracted by her lips.
“‘Me? Oh, I’m just a consultant,’” she teased him.
“I am. I consult for a transit firm that partners with the TGV.”
Alain wouldn’t be deterred. “Hey. You’re fucking Superman, and you make trains that look like rocket ships, my man.”
“Wait, you’re fucking Superman?” Sarah gasped. “Does he go all night?”
Alain laughed at her crude joke. “Til dawn!”
“I can’t compete with that. Away with him, Alain.”
“Oh, man, and this one,” Alain said touching Sarah’s shoulder lightly where the beauty mark was hidden. “You know what she does? She posts pictures of my coffee and brings all the Americans in the front door. It’s a miracle.”
“Oh, stop,” Sarah said, loving the attention. She rotated the bowl to align the handle with the table.
“She takes pictures of every latte I give her . . .”
“Well, they rock.”
“. . . then posts them to what-do-you-call-it, and I’ve got double the business. Swear to God.”
“See,” Jack said, “that’s why I don’t talk about my job . . .”
“No, no,” Sarah interrupted. “It’s not a job. I just do it for the free lattes.”
“Least I can do,” said Alain as he headed back to the register, leaving Sarah and Jack alone.
Jack sipped his cold coffee and feigned satisfaction. “Will work for lattes, huh?”
“Lattes and likes—those are my vices,” Sarah said. She played with her coffee spoon, pressing on the tip to raise it, then spinning it. He wondered if her nervous energy was coming from the same place as his own.
“Well, there are worse vices.”
“So what are yours?” she challenged, leaning in closer.
“Oh, you know, riding around Paris in my bullet train, snorting coke, and pulling all-nighters with my lovers.”
“Superman, too?” she grinned. Her shirt opened a bit at the neck as she leaned in further.
“Yeah . . . Superman, Wonder Woman, all of them. How about you, do you have . . .?”
Sarah’s phone vibrated, then spun in a semicircle like a bee doing a honey dance. She glanced sideways, dismissing it with a nervous flick.
He switched gears. “So what do you do for work?” he asked.
She put up her hands in protest. “Oh, man, I take it back. You have not gone native.”
“I didn’t mean to . . .”
“Career details?” she chided. “So very un-French of you.”
“It doesn’t mean anything, really.”
“No, it’s fine. I am currently an intern.”
“Oh, that’s cool,” Jack said before adding too enthusiastically, “That’s great!”
“Yeah, great,” she said. “It’s my third great internship. I love it.”
“Hey, you could do worse than an internship in Paris. Where is it?”
“The Louvre? OK, that is genuinely awesome. Who wouldn’t want that?” He searched his memory for anything he could recall from a high school art history class, but nothing surfaced.
“You like art?”
“I love art.” He scanned his memory for an artist, an art term, anything.
“Yeah? Which art do you love?” she said, studying him. He stalled as he debated whether Contrapposto was an artist or a technique.
He gave up. “I love all art, really.”
“Busted,” she interjected.
“Art occupies most of my waking thoughts.”
“Art and bullet trains?”
“Yes. And by the way, that’s my favorite band.”
She ran with it. “Art and The Bullet Trains? Yeah, me too! Great band.”
“Garfunkel’s later work. Highly underrated,” he said. She laughed and smiled at him. It was intoxicating, and he wanted to make her laugh again. Absurd album covers flashed through his mind: Garfunkel with a mullet, trains as phallic symbols, Paul Simon in a gimp suit. Nothing good, so he quit while he was ahead and simply smiled back.
Sarah pushed her seat back. “So speaking of art, I need to take this photo quickly.”
“Yeah, before your drink gets cold. Bring in those crowds.”
“And more free lattes,” she whispered.
“Say no more.”
She didn’t. With an indifference that surprised Jack, Sarah stood on her chair. Even in this expat-heavy place, he suddenly felt very American. She leaned in, snapped the photo, then scrutinized it. The customer by the door glared.
“You should Photoshop the Virgin Mary in there,” Jack suggested. “That’ll get them in.” She stared at the screen and wrinkled her brow. “Uh-huh,” she droned as she adjusted a setting and steadied herself for a second shot.
“Bet there’s an app for that,” he muttered, amusing himself: “Maryify.”
She swiped the screen once more, and her face relaxed. She let out a sigh of relief as she climbed down.
“Did you get it?” he asked, relieved that she was back in her seat.
“Got it, doctored it, shared it.”
“So here come the masses, then?”
She nodded. “Good thing we have a seat already.”
“Maybe Mary herself will show.”
“Oh, never mind,” he said, realizing she hadn’t heard the joke.
“Right,” Sarah said, a little perplexed. She played with the screen on her phone, flicking it casually, then leaned in and confided, “I’m thinking about getting a tart, which I shouldn’t do, so please don’t enable me.”
“OK,” he said. Then he whispered, “Do it.”
“Oh, you’re bad!” She turned toward the pastry case. The pose revealed a part of her neck that had previously been hidden by her hair. It felt intimate, and he wondered if it was intentional. Out of nowhere, he remembered what Contrapposto was—the technique used to capture the natural, beautiful S-curve of the human form. He followed the line of her neck down to her torso; now he understood it.
Suddenly, she turned her attention back to him, breaking the elegant line. “You know, I think I remember you now. Were you here last week?”
“Which day?” He carefully weighed what he would say next. If she remembered him, if she remembered the day she had looked at him, he would tell her the truth. If she named another day, he would pretend not to recall. He didn’t want to lie to her, yet somehow he felt his fate hung in the balance.
“I don’t know. Saturday maybe?”
“Sunday?” he suggested.
“Oh, please, no. I hope not. I slummed it on Sunday. No sleep, no makeup . . . long story. Were you here Sunday?”
He remembered it well—how he had watched her sitting in this same chair, how the late afternoon light had painted her, how she had looked almost sad, and how she had barely touched her coffee. That was the day he almost spoke to her. But how? How could he have convinced this beautiful girl he wasn’t just another womanizer while doing the very thing womanizers do around beautiful girls? He was sunk before he had set sail.
But today was his chance. “No,” he said quietly. “I definitely would have remembered you, even without your makeup.”
She paused, radiant in the rising light. “Me, too.”
He took it in. Me too.
She glanced down and reached for the strand of hair that always fell to the wrong side of her part. He already knew what she would do next. She would wrestle with it, blow it aside, or bat it away, then finally smooth it behind her right ear. He always missed it when it was gone.
“You would have remembered me?” he probed.
She peeked up. “Sure. Why not?”
He restrained a smile as he ventured, “Even without my makeup?”
She laughed. “Well, I can’t be sure. What does that look like?”
“Worse, I would expect.”
“We can’t speculate about something as important as this,” she said with a grin. She opened her purse and handed him a small squeeze tube of lip gloss. “Here.”
His stunned expression made her chuckle. “You’re serious?” She nodded rapidly as the unruly strand fell into her face again, but this time, she let it stay.
“I don’t know what to do with this,” he admitted, holding the tube.
Sarah slid her chair in closer, and their knees touched. She took the tube back from him and squeezed a small amount onto her index finger. He felt the attention of the other customers, but he didn’t care so long as he had hers. She held up her shiny finger and raised an eyebrow.
He nodded. She dotted the gloss onto the middle of his bottom lip as he groaned to show disgust. But he didn’t mean it. He looked at her and grew still. She carefully brushed her finger across his lip, then sat back to admire his face; they both paused for a disarming moment.
“Now do this,” she said, and she smacked her lips together. He made a loud popping noise, much to her delight. But just then Sarah’s phone vibrated loudly. She glanced at it and closed a notification. It buzzed again, and again she swiped it away. She looked at him anxiously as she breathed out and flashed a smile.
Jack smiled back and swallowed. Her knee was still so close. She stretched two fingers toward the center of his napkin and spun it in a circle. Then her hand retreated to her phone on the edge of the table. She flicked the screen a few times, her face bowed and hidden by the rogue piece of hair. When she whisked it out of her face, he could smell her shampoo. The flowers from the doorway—they belonged to her.
A young couple stumbled into the café, leaving the door open and letting the heat wash over the room once again. This time the customer in the front let out an audible moan as he closed the door. Sarah pinched her lip as she flicked at the screen on her phone, lost in a trance.
“I have to confess,” said Jack in a low voice. “I did see you on Sunday. The week before as well. I wanted to meet you, so I asked Alain if he could introduce us. I was hoping, really hoping . . . that you would say yes. And I’m just, I just want to say that . . .
. . . I’m so glad I met you.”
The words hung in the warm air for a moment, filling the space between them. Jack realized he was holding his breath, and he slowly let it out. Her head bowed again, Sarah quietly whispered, “Wow, amazing.”
His mind raced. What did she mean? Amazing good—she wanted this, too? Or amazing bad—he was just another womanizer? Maybe she’d throw coffee in his face and he’d lose everything—the café, Alain, what little life he had cultivated here.
He waited an excruciatingly long time for her to look at him. But she didn’t.
“Uh-huh,” she droned.
“Sorry?” Jack said, dumbfounded.
“What?” she said, finally looking up from her phone.
“No, sorry. I’m interrupting; that was rude of me.”
“Oh, no problem. What did you say?” She looked back at the phone and refreshed her screen again. “Wow. Amazing.”
“It’s OK. Do your thing.” He leaned in, glancing at her phone.
“You know, actually, I just need to write this one thing. I promise you’ll have my full attention,” she said, typing at a frantic clip. She laughed at something on the screen and mumbled, “I mean, this must be a celebrity, or I’ve got like four thousand likes on this photo; it’s so crazy.”
“Go, go,” Jack managed. After a moment he took out his own phone to give his hands something to do. He opened the app he had downloaded last night, refreshing the one stream of photos he had subscribed to. The latest image was burdened by hundreds of comments: 4,067 likes.
Jack studied her. She was engrossed in another world of adoration—virtual adoration.
He wiped the gloss from his lip, and in the privacy of his mind, he photographed her in the light he had chosen—the last light of the afternoon, the same light in which he had first seen her. It was as perfect and deceptive as any work of art could ever hope to be.
Sarah refreshed, typed, then refreshed again, struggling to keep up with the momentum of the comments: “Great shot.” “So gorgeous.” “Love!”
“Glad I met you.” She stared at the comment for a moment.
By the time she looked up, the chair across from her was empty.
More? Read the first three chapters of The Paris Journal.