Getting Coffee Together

Franco Romero

Mark said to me the other day, you wanna get us a couple coffees?

But really I wanted to call you. I just didn’t wanna seem too eager. Because you know how he can be. It takes him time. Lots of questions. He wants to know the details. He wants a conversation.

So I told him yes. And about you, I just kept quiet.

I have rules for myself is the thing.

See, I made a habit of only calling when he and I are together. That way I can’t call you every day.

And the other rule? He has to be the one to bring it up. I let him choose what days. What hours. It’s all in his hands. I never tell him how I think of you. Because he’d tell me, she thinks of you too.

Which I can’t let myself believe.

Can’t torture myself with the thought.

And sure enough right then out of the blue Mark goes, while you're gone I’ll give her a call. And I stumbled for a sec. Felt myself start to fold. But I had to let it go.

And you have no idea how hard that was.

Walking out to my car. Letting myself close the front door, while you were right there in Mark’s house. Even kind of there. Because you haven’t been for so long.

Now I know I’m going on too long, but it seems important. How he and I both thought of you at the same time, like it was a sign. Like I didn’t think of you for no reason.

I go on these little coffee runs for him. He’s too old to be going himself.

You should see the way he walks. And he doesn’t always have enough anymore. On his card, that is. So usually I pick up the tab too.

But at least he owns his house. It’s small, but he owns it.

Remember before we got married when you lived around the block? And we went over to Mark’s on the weekend. And he was like our dad. And we were like some sort of family.

I want to go on. About the way I wish things were. But you’ve heard it all before. So I have to stop talking so much.

I got out the door and drove my little ford to Java. It was a quiet, slow day. No traffic. And everything I can’t tell you, I said it in the car. As simply as I’m saying it now.

How maybe I love calling so much because you’re still the only person I really know how to talk with. How you never have trouble understanding. How it was like that, even when things were bad. I think about it all the time. The way we spent hours at Mark’s house and how Mark would laugh at our problems, tell us about his first marriage, how you reminded him of his first wife, how I reminded him of himself. The way it made everything feel like it wasn’t ending, even when it was. Those hours that came after. When we went home. When we saw that really, he wasn’t our dad, he was just a neighbor we stayed in touch with. And without him there, it was just us two. And how we did our best with the silence in the house, bigger than Mark’s house, too big I guess, since it made us realize, with all that space, how few people there were to rely on. Only you. Only me. Those hours. And how I think of them now, the way I relive them and re-work them, re-work what I said so it was said more perfectly, if only in my memory.

How I want to tell every young couple I see, if it’s only the two of you, buy a small house so you won’t lose yourselves in its rooms and halls.

I ordered a cortado and an americano. I looked at the barista while she ran my card. But she kept her eyes down. I thought she must see me every day.

Men like me, that is. Middle-aged guys by themselves.

And I tried not to stare. But I did a little. And honestly, I was only thinking of how old I felt.

She was maybe in college. And a couple decades ago I was in college. Back when we met. When you were a barista too. She looked at me and her glasses were big and square like yours before you got your contacts. she handed me my coffee and my card. And I said thank you.

And I pretended she was you. And I said it slowly: Thank You. Like I meant, thank you for everything. Thank you for being in my life even as much as you are.

And for a second, you felt close. Right there with me. Getting coffee together. That’s what it felt like. As if nothing changed, we didn’t fall apart, and we were still doing like we did before. Just getting coffee together.

And then I walked out of Java and I just felt awful. About speaking slowly like that. How she’d tell the other girls working. Tell them how I stared. How I spoke too soft. How old I was. How I was trying to get something from her, to relive my life. And I guess she wouldn’t be wrong.

So I called out to Mark when I got back to his house. Said I got him a small one since he wants to lose some weight.

And when I handed him the coffee, he looked at me through those big, old guy aviators. His blue, soft eyes. And anyway, this is all just to say how funny life can be. Because he told me while I was gone, when he called, that you answered the phone but instead of saying hello, you said my name.

Franco Romero lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico with his wife and two cats. He sells paintings and hosts a podcast called Left The Hose On.