by Jeremy Warach
The air conditioning in the coffee shop was perfect. I sat at the small table, the plastic chair creaking and bouncing slightly underneath me, while my cup of coffee slowly cooled. The weather outside was oppressively hot and muggy. The sweat on my forehead still had not completely dried, even though I had been in the shop almost ten minutes.
The coffee shop was a little off the beaten path, on a side street. Locals knew it, and it had enough of a crowd of regulars to keep it in business. It was a small place and could get pretty cozy when it got busy, but it wasn't too busy just now. I had enough elbow room to be comfortable. Even though I still hadn't cooled off.
I turned to check the entrance. Anya still had not come in. I looked at my watch. I was on time, as usual, and she was late. As usual. But I was in no hurry. I looked around the shop at the familiar decor. Some of the tables had been rearranged. On a shelf stood a few colorful, eclectic pieces of what the owner must have considered artwork. Abstract ceramic sculptures. Maybe his niece made them for him in her middle school art class. I chuckled at the thought.
I lifted the cup of coffee. It and I had both cooled off enough for me to take a drink. Even so, as I sipped a bit through the opening in the plastic lid, I managed to burn my tongue. Oh well, it's a risk that goes with the coffee habit, one which I was quite used to.
I put down the cup and turned to look out the shop's front window. The short red ponytail was the first thing I saw. Anya usually wore her hair up like that, especially when it was hot. Her profile faced me. Her fair skin and trendy-yet-professional eyeglasses were clearly visible through the tinted glass.
And she wasn't coming in. She was just sanding there, smiling and talking. With a man. Someone I didn't recognize. My eyes narrowed as I observed them. They were engaged in some sort of playful banter. Anya chuckled girlishly and he flashed a charming smile at her. He was tall, impeccably turned out in a charcoal-grey pinstripe suit with a maroon tie. Not a single jet-black hair on his head was out of place.
But who was he? A coworker I didn't know about? Unlikely. An old acquaintance she had run into randomly on the street? I hoped she wasn't going to invite him in to join us. That would be awkward.
The clamor of the shop faded into the background. I was usually acutely aware of all the conversations taking place around me, but now they had become an incoherent buzz in the background. I was probably staring at them stupidly by now, but I couldn't tear my eyes away.
They were standing close to one another — closer than casual acquaintances or coworkers would stand. She looked into his eyes, they said a few quiet words, then they leaned towards one another and kissed. Not a friendly, cheek-against-cheek kiss, nor a quick peck. A genuine, full-on-the-lips kiss that lingered for a few seconds.
I turned away quickly and took another sip of my coffee, heedless of whether it would burn me or not. It didn't.
The bell attached to the shop's door jingled as the door opened. I didn't turn towards it, but I heard Anya's heels on the hardwood floor of the place. Her footsteps were rapid and purposeful as they approached then stopped at my side. I turned and looked up at her. The flirtatious expression was no longer on her face; it was replaced with a comfortable, friendly smile.
"Hey," she said, sounding a little breathless. I opened my mouth to respond, but she didn't give me the chance. She threw her purse onto the table and said, "Just a sec while I get my cappuccino."
She strode off to the counter and recited her usual specialty order to a bored-looking college boy wearing an apron and a baseball cap covering his greasy hair. He nodded, then went off to prepare Anya's drink. She leaned on the counter with one hand and tapped her foot. I watched her and consciously tried to look like I was not staring.
College boy returned with her coffee. She brought it back to the table, collapsed onto the flimsy plastic chair, and took a long drink.
"So," she said smiling, "quite a scorcher out there today, huh?"
"Yes, it sure is," I responded, looking down at the table, painfully aware that I was fidgeting with my cup. I forced myself to look back up at her. "I can't take it. But it doesn't seem to bother you at all."
"I guess that's true," she said and shrugged. "I like the heat."
We paused. Time passed while we both attended to our beverages. Then a few more moments passed. I felt uncomfortable, but if Anya did as well, she didn't show it.
I couldn't take it any longer. I knew I shouldn't ask, but I did anyway. "Just curious, who did I see you talking with outside?" I tried to make it sound casual and disinterested, but I doubt that I pulled it off.
She looked at me and smiled broadly. She looked down at her hands, then back up at me. "That was my husband."
Her husband. Oh. I knew he existed, but I didn't think of him in real terms. He was an abstraction. "I thought he was out of town."
"He was, but he came home early and decided to walk me to work." The wide smile again. It was filled with joy and love, but I could see that she felt a little shy and embarrassed by it.
I took a deep breath and shook my head a little, then drained the remainder of my coffee. The chair squeaked against the floor as I pushed it away from the table and stood up.
"Let's get going," I said. "I'm late enough, and if I am, I know you are too."
Anya checked her watch, and a look of panic momentarily clouded her expression. She stood up somewhat clumsily, grabbing her purse.
"My god, I totally lost track of time. I'm so sorry, Mr. Schnitzer."
In a moment, she had transformed from the confident businesswoman I had seen outside the shop to the harried assistant the rest of the company knew. We walked out of the coffee shop with Anya trailing behind me, to the office building next door.
As we entered the building's lobby, I turned and said over my shoulder to her, "Is everything ok with you and Cheryl?"
Cheryl Berwitz was Anya's supervisor in Accounts Payable. She was infamous throughout the firm for her short fuse. More than one A/P clerk had run crying to Human Resources because of Cheryl's abusive tirades.
"Yes, we're fine sir."
We had the elevator to ourselves. Anya got off on the seventh floor. We wished each other a nice day, then I rode up alone the rest of the way to my executive suite on the nineteenth floor.