Summary: He comes in every Friday to watch the sea.
Word Count: 686
Prompt: #17 Tradition
Author's Notes: Nope.
The coffeeshop is small and drifting slowly toward complete obscurity, its golden days long behind it. Callie works here because it’s the closest to her little girl’s kindergarten. With no second parent to look after her, Callie prefers not to stray too far. It’s been nearly a year since they’ve moved to the North, inhospitable at first sight, but soothing with its unwavering routines.
Like the man who comes in every Friday afternoon. He’s tall, too thin, dark hair a mess under a knit hat. He dresses like a fisher, but his hands are too clean, skin soft, nails unbroken. Callie wonders at him.
He orders two coffees, one with cream and sugar, one black. He sits at a table by the window – not the best one, even if it happens to be free. Always the same table. He drinks his black coffee and sets the other mug across from him, as though saving it for someone. He smiles sometimes, tilts his head and frowns, his lips moving, as if having an invisible conversation. Mostly he sits in silence and stares out at the sea.
He comes in every Friday, stays for half an hour, and leaves. He smiles ruefully on his way out, as though apologising. The coffee in the second cup stays untouched.
“He used to spend whole days in here,” Mary, the owner, tells Callie one night as they clean the tables. “He’d come every day and stay until I was sweeping the floors right under him. Used to jump every time the door opened. Now he only comes once a week, so that’s something.”
Callie frowns. “What is he doing?”
Mary shrugs with uncaring wisdom of a navy wife. “At first he was waiting. Hoping. But he’s a smart lad, and it’s been five years. He knows whoever it is will never come back.”
“But he’s still here every week.”
“Yes,” Mary says. “He’s still here.”
Three years pass, and every Friday Callie watches the man watch the sea and talk to a cup of coffee. The lines on his face grow sharper, the skin on his wrists is brown with tan. His mild smile never fades.
They close the shop for good five months later. There’ll be a petrol station in its place soon enough. As she locks the door for the last time, Callie wonders about the Friday man, her mind uneasy. She tries to leave a note for him and nearly breaks down in tears, trying to figure out what to write.
A hand closes around her shoulder, heavy and solid, and she turns around, gasping.
There’s a stranger watching her. He looks out of place in his too-thin clothes, soaked with the incessant rain. His hair is like straw, untidy and cut unevenly; his eyes match the colour of the pale Northern sky. His grip is firm.
“You’re closing down,” he says, and Callie nods reflexively. She should be afraid, but she isn’t. “Will you open somewhere else?”
She shakes her head, suddenly swaying with sadness. “No. I’m afraid we’re done.”
“Oh.” He releases her, and looks at the building, blinking. “I have – I had a date here.”
Callie bites her lip hard, and she must have made some kind of sound, because the stranger’s eyes snap to her, suddenly hopeful.
“Please,” he says. And nothing more.
Just one more day, she thinks half-hysterical. Money is short, and she can't afford it, not really. But after all these years, he’s late by a single day.
She looks at him and knows then.
She rips the note off the door.
“Tomorrow is Friday,” she says. “Come back tomorrow.”
He nods eagerly, and his lips are blue, but he doesn’t seem to feel the cold.
The next morning, Callie wakes up early and starts a pot of coffee. She pours two mugs, one black and one with cream and sugar. She sets them on a cheese board in lieu of a tray, holds it close to her chest, and leaves her flat just in time to make it, the coffeeshop keys jingling merrily on her belt.