Inside The Beehive, it smelled like grilled cheese, strong black coffee, French onion soup and melted marshmallows dusted with cinnamon. What a strange mix, Alec thought. He let his eyes wander on the street, to the cars that flew by, to the people that rushed past the bistro, relentlessly reeling the unraveled threads of their lives. The sky was rapidly changing above and he told himself he should finish his coffee and head to the nearest underground station before the summer got too angry.
Watching the wind raising, he stood up from the table and lifted the mug to savour the last drops of his coffee. Suddenly, something caught his eye and the mug froze in the air, halfway to his mouth. A car had stopped on the other side of the road in front of a tall building and two people got out, hurrying to get to the shelter of the large archway entrance in the first heavy drops of warm summer rain. The man rushed to the other side of the car, fumbling to open up an umbrella to help his female companion. But that was not what had made Alec freeze with the coffee in his hand and his heart on his sleeve.
His eyes widened and the breath staggered to pass by a stubbornly tightened throat. He knew that woman. He could have recognised her in a crowd of thousands of people, even after not having seen her for years. How could he not, when the same crazy red hair he had once twisted between his fingers flew now rebel in the wind? He was amazed to see how much of her had remained the same. She was as tall as he remembered her, as graceful and as proud… and as unattainable too. He knew he now stared like a madman, wide-eyed and trembling, not believing that the one that had never left his mind all that time was right there, a heartbeat away.
Everything around him and in him unraveled in slow motion. His craving gaze followed her hurrying under the umbrella, lifting her purse higher on her shoulder, taking the arm of the man that covered her from the rain. Alec was right there with her when something the man said made the laughter reverberate through her like bells high in a church tower. He couldn’t hear it of course over the fumbling noise and music in the bistro and over the now heavy rain outside, but he saw it. And it poured itself inside of him like warm honey. He remembered how her laughter could move mountains and melt him like the torturous fire melts the sturdiest of metals, or how her flushed cheekbones and sparkling eyes could make the world roll to a stop. The strings of his heart hummed.
She rushed on the stairs of the building still keeping her hand in the crook of the man’s arm. The man looked at her, laughed along and as they turned their back to the bistro and the world outside, she cuddled closer to him. Suddenly, midway on the flight of stairs, she stopped. The man stopped too, curiosity painted on his face. She let go of his arm and her back straightened. Her crazy hair danced in the storm and she lifted her hand, in an unsuccessful attempt to tame it. For a moment, she seemed to have forgotten or remembered something, and she stood like that, unmoving in the never stopping world surrounding her, oblivious to the storm that chased her and to the stupor of the man. Slowly, with her fingers halted in her hair, she turned, following a feeling. Her eyes searched the street for something or someone lost. Her green gaze found the bistro, and beyond a wet glass panel, it sunk in Alec’s eyes. Time stopped. Years lifted from the air around as they looked at each other, not blinking, not moving, not breathing.
Alec still found it hard to believe how beautiful she could be and how time hadn’t changed her appearance in the slightest. Fiery curls danced around the skin that he had once worshiped with his every breath and touch. He knew every freckle, he remembered the funnily shaped mole just under her right earlobe. He wondered, just like he had back then, if her husband could make her eyes shimmer emerald green like they did when they had been together.
The man next to her moved his lips and his brow furrowed more, his gaze searching for whatever made her halt in the middle of the unhappy nature. His hand met her shoulder and she started, like awaken from a dream. She turned to look at her companion and resumed walking up the stairs to seek shelter. But before she reached the top, she looked behind her one more time, a small secretive smile touching her lips for the memory staring at her behind a bistro window.
It took a couple of seconds for the doors under the wide archway to close. It took a couple of seconds for the world outside to start spinning again under the pouring rain, and for Alec to start breathing. He let out the air he didn’t know he had been holding, he blinked and moved his gaze from the now empty flight of stairs to the cup of coffee still frozen in his hand.
“Ready to go, honey?”
The voice behind him started him and he turned. Lara smiled, then her smile faltered.
“Are you okay? You seem… off somehow.”
He swallowed, slowly working some moisture in his dry mouth and let his lips tentatively curl upwards.
“Yeah… No, I’m okay. I was just thinking that we should’ve taken the car. So much for our walk… Did you get everything you wanted?”
Lara nodded and lifted higher the plastic bag she was holding, a question still digging a crease between her eyebrows. Alec smiled, slightly short of breath.
“Ready to go, then.”
He suddenly fumbled, not knowing what to do with his hands. He found himself searching for the sliver of magic he had felt mere moments before and came out sore and stray, not different from the strongly captivated reader whose book slams shut in his face from a gust of wind.
Lara got closer and took his hand. He noticed how her dark cherry painted fingernails looked like those hard candy coated almonds he couldn’t stand and how her caramel skin seemed almost too dark compared to his milky white one. They made a strange mix, he thought, just like the cinnamon flavoured marshmallows and the French onion soup.
He finished his coffee in a gulp, set the mug down, slipped on his jacket and picked up the folded umbrella, all that time not realising a single movement he made, set on auto-pilot. The small silver bell jingled when he pushed the door open for Lara. Before stepping out on the street he opened the umbrella and lifted it above his head in an attempt to shelter his wife from the pouring rain.
Born in Romania and currently living in Canada, Cristina Iuliana Burlacu is an office worker, a wife and the proud mother of a six year old bundle of joy. From time to time, she writes. Her work has appeared in the Rusty Nail magazine, the Vine Leaves Literary Journal, the Vine Leaves Best of 2015 Anthology, on the Every Day Fiction, Wordhaus and Expresso literary sites.