Every Monday afternoon at half past four, I wait for her at the Starbucks on Greenwich Ave; four D-train stops from the university where she studies political science. As I’m partial to the ‘dollar and change’ newsstand coffee, I can’t understand her addiction to overly-priced chai tea lattes. Yet she favors this franchise’s crinkled velvet couches, colored burgundy, like the lip stain she wears when we duck into unnamed pubs during our Friday evening rendezvous.
I pulled out my mobile to check the time, realizing she was running late. We had spoken earlier to confirm our plans, and considering the arrangement maintained throughout two consecutive seasons, I blamed the unremitting downpour for her delay. Goddamn rain. I’m always amazed how time is placed on pause whenever bad weather surfaces. Upon showers or snowfall, traffic assists to slow down the wheels of regularity. Routine is halted and excuses for tardiness are made to those who are still prompt, despite life’s inconveniences. Categorically, I’m just one of those punctual saps.
I gazed out the rain-smeared windows to observe the daily grind in motion. People-watching has always been a pleasurable pastime of mine, although Camilla finds such behavior bizarre, and often times, unsettling. Even so, there’s something novel about an anonymous face and the urgency, or indifference, of one’s stride. Each passerby co-exists without relations to one another, all while sharing the same pavement. I chalk up my appreciation for nameless folk as part of the innate writer in me, but Camilla just rolls her eyes and calls me an ‘absurd scholar.’ She does not engage in conversations which stray from her own opinions.
I was hoping to catch a glimpse of her vermillion galoshes as I examined life through the pane, but all I saw were strange faced people. Most were shielding themselves from abrasive winds and cursing Mother Nature for their puddle-sopped footwear. There were a scattering of businessmen competing for popcorn hued taxicabs, waving manic arms to hail a dry haven. Some people hid under dampened newspapers and briefcases, while uncooperative umbrellas forced others to dash under a shrouded fruit stand for temporary refuge.
I grew bored of waiting, and drifted away from the dampened scenes outside. I tried visualizing the pout upon Camilla’s lips as she would enter Starbucks, shaking out a taupe umbrella speckled with rain water. String bag slung over her right shoulder, she’d theatrically stomp her boots onto the muddied welcome mat, and pull out a silver thermos to fill up with her five-dollar fix. Upon paying, she’ll search for me among a sea of yuppie lawyers, sipping their Arabica blend while exchanging stock rises, even though I’ll be rooted in the same spot as the last six months. I already knew her champagne curls, routinely straightened every morning, had long coiled up after a brief encounter with the day’s moisture. I anticipated her irritability as she would plop onto the couch and grumble, “Look at this fucking hair.” My patience would require a few adjustment notches to accommodate her salty temper, as I’ve learned how the weather impacts her disposition. I have often prayed for sunny days.
Oddly enough, I find something disarming in Camilla’s frequent mood swings. Call it a love-illness of sorts, but I spark inside whenever her tepid eyes transmute into embers during a frenzied dispute. One the evenings when her youth beckons a night of boozing, I suppress the urge to drive past the local bars in hopes of spotting her slight figure outside. It would kill my sleep if I caught her bumming a smoke from some frat boy as she teetered in those high, black boots.
The sound of holiday chimes jingled against a closing door and rattled me from my daze. She entered breathlessly, pushing through a swarm of chattering women donned in aqua scrubs. Autopilot set in and I swiveled off the gold band, chubbed around my left finger. We both pretended the significance of vows didn’t encompass life’s deviations.
Camilla bypassed the line and darted toward the couches, quite uncharacteristic from her usual, grandiose routine. The rain had swallowed her from scalp to feet, and as she trailed water with each sloshing step, I noticed crimson veins streaking across the whites of her eyes. It was all different this time; her hastiness, the panic cemented to an ashen face. Before I opened my mouth to speak, she blurted out words that crucified my rationality:
“They know, professor. Everyone knows.”