This is a short story about meeting someone you used to be friends with after a long time apart.
You're sitting in a café, waiting. You knew she'd be late, but not this late. Fiddling with your phone, you wonder if she's coming at all. Calling her would be rude – she may have just got stuck in traffic. No, she can't have. She said she would walk
The other people in the café are giving you an odd look. You're aware of how strange you must look, sitting in a café without a drink. Should you order something? She might be upset if you start without her. Still, she's the one who's half an hour late. You dig around in your bag, and pull out some money. Walking over to the counter, you check the menu even though you already know what you want.
"How can I help you?"
"Er... I'd like a medium cappuccino please."
"Do you have a loyalty card?"
Why are you apologising? You're the only one losing out.
"Ok. That'll be two pounds forty-five please."
You hand over the money, in exact change. It always has to be exact change. You are handed a plate and a receipt, and sent to wait for a drink.
You watch attentively as a bored looking student prepares your drink, moving mechanically.
"Do you want chocolate on that?"
"Ooh, yes please!"
The student places the cappuccino on your plate, and you take it back to your seat being careful not to spill it. Sitting back down on your chair, you place one hand on the side of the cup. The warmth is soothing and at once you feel calmer. You pick up your teaspoon, and break into the frothy, chocolate-covered milk. It feels funny in your mouth, the froth almost melting away and leaving you with the chocolaty taste. You slowly take another spoonful, repeating the experience. This time, you can taste a hint of the coffee underneath.
"So, you started without me?"
"Oh, hi! Sorry, people were starting to give me funny looks. I thought it'd be rude to sit here without buying anything."
"Have you been here long?"
"I don't think so. I didn't check the time when I got here."
That's a lie. You've been waiting for forty minutes, but she doesn't need to know that.
"Sorry I'm a bit late. I completely forgot I was meeting you."
She really didn't have to say that. Suggesting that you weren't important enough for her to remember you.
"I'll go and get myself a drink. Look after my bag, will you?"
You nod your head, and she walks off towards the counter.
She's different from how you remember her. Somehow, she's less real, like a painting someone might have done from a rough description of her. In fact, it looked like she might have painted such a picture on herself. Her mousy-brown hair had been dyed a darker, more consistent shade of brown. Every imperfection in her skin had been painted over with foundation, and she had painted her lips dark red. You wonder how she manages to smile under the weight of all that makeup, but even her smile looks as if it might be fake.
For a moment, you are reminded of the little girl who used to put on face paint to pretend to be someone else. One day she would be a clown, the next a tiger. As she grew older, she would sometimes put on a bit of glittery eye makeup to pretend to be like the other girls around her. Whenever she was a clown, tiger or a "normal girl", though, her real self would always shine through the mask. Now, it seems like the little girl from long ago had been pushed so far inside her that even your well trained eye cannot see her.
She clears her throat, and you are caught by surprise. You hadn't seen her return.
"Away with the fairies? Or were you distracted by that nice young lady sitting behind me."
You feel your face warming up. You're blushing. Knowing this only makes you more embarrassed.
"I was just thinking. Remember when you used to always play with those face paints? Every day you would try to be a different character."
"Oh yes! I'd forgotten! I was so cool back then."
"Yes. Yes you were."
A silence follows, as she surveys you with a pensive expression on her face. You feel self conscious, and decide to take a sip from your coffee. It is now lukewarm, but you are used to drinks getting cold before you remember to drink them. In fact, you can't remember the last time you had a hot drink while it was still hot.
"You really haven't changed, have you?"
"No, I guess not"
"It's not a bad thing, though!"
The sudden defence. Almost as bad as telling someone that you mean no offense before making a comment. You wouldn't even have considered it to be a bad thing until she said that. You are suddenly aware of how little you have changed in comparison to her. You are still doing all the same things in life as you were when you last spoke to her five years ago. She, on the other hand, seems to have discarded all the things that made her the little girl she once was.
"Are you still in touch with anyone from back then?"
"Yes. I like to keep up with them."
"Ah. I've sort of let communications drop. I've got new friends now and, well, I don't like to dwell on the past."
"But you're here now."
"Well, you're different, aren't you?"
There is something strange in her voice as she says that, perhaps seduction? You are intrigued, but also a little afraid.
"And anyway, you invited me. It would've been rude to say no."
You wonder what her real reason for coming to the café was. Did she really just come out of politeness, or did she actually want to see you? She had replied quickly enough to your phone call, but perhaps that was just polite? Still, if she was so determined to be polite, it was strange that she was so late.
Your eyes slowly wander down to her hand, resting on the handle of her mug.
"You still have the scar on your finger!"
She lifts her hand, and examines the mark.
"I'd forgotten about that. It's funny how you can get so used to something that you stop noticing it."
"I feel really bad about that."
"Don't! It was an accident. Besides, it was so long ago and we were so young then."
The smile on her face seems a little bit less fake as she remembers that summer, all those years ago. You make eye contact with her properly for the first time, and a shiver runs down your spine as you feel the strange familiarity. Her eyes – the only part of her that has truly stood the test of time. So many times you have gazed into those eyes – the colour of milk chocolate. You remember asking her once why she had chocolate eyes, which had led on to a game where you pretended that everything she looked at could turn to chocolate. You feel a smile creeping up your face, and notice that she is mirroring this smile. You wonder why she is smiling – what memories are replaying themselves in her mind? She lets out a sigh, and takes a sip from her drink. Unaware of how you should act, you take a sip from your drink. It's really cold now, and you take a sip from your drink. It's really cold now, and you imagine hers must be cold too. If it is, she's not giving any sign of it. You remember how she would once have spat her drink our and started moaning if it was too cold. Now, she has a discretion that keeps her from letting on her real feelings. This is perhaps the biggest change that has occurred. You remember a little girl who would always let you know how she felt, and what her opinions were. It used to get her into a lot of trouble, and would sometimes get on your nerves. Now, you're sitting across the table from a young lady who has barely shown a single emotion that you could really trust to be genuine. She looks like she's got so used to hiding her feelings that she doesn't have to try anymore.
You go to take another sip, but somehow manage to miss your mouth and spill coffee all down your front. She giggles, and you laugh nervously trying to hide your embarrassment. She hands you a napkin, and your hands brush together. You briefly catch her eye, and smile as you start to clean up. There's a slight stain on your clothes, but you decide to just leave it. There's nothing much you can do, and the more you try the more attention you'll attract.
"You're still as clumsy as ever, I see."
"Yeah, some things never change."
You laugh, and she laughs too. For a moment, you forget that you've spilt coffee down your front. You almost forget that you've grown up. It looks like she's forgotten too. You can see once more the little girl who was once your best friend.
The spell is broken as she checks her watch.
"I'm really sorry, but I've got to go."
"I'd love to stay."
"It's alright, you've got places to be."
"I'll call you – we should meet up again."
"Yeah, that'd be nice."
"It was really nice seeing you."
You smile at her, and you both stop for one last moment, before she turns and walks away. You let out a sigh, and drink the last few drops of coffee.