Author's note: rather than try to explain the origins and purpose of this story, I will just let people read it, and then answer any questions about the references, etc. in the story. All I will say here is that the "I" in the story is not me, although it is a person I know.
Copyright 2010 A. Kat
I found myself restless one afternoon, one of those fall afternoons where no one’s around and you just aren’t really sure what to do with yourself. My house was deathly quiet except for the occasional creak of the weathered lumber in the wind. I couldn’t understand why, but I was vaguely creeped out by my solitude. Usually I enjoy, no, need my time to myself. It wasn’t a typical late afternoon, that much was certain.
I looked at my laptop in the corner, but I knew as soon as I spotted it, laying shut in a corner of my desk, there was nothing I felt like checking out online. My eyes wandered over to the phone and I laughed out loud. There was definitely no one I felt like calling, either. I was in a strange mood, and sharing was not on my list. In fact, staring at the phone I thought it might actually be a good idea to get out of here. I could never be sure when my mother might call and demand another awkward conversation. It had been a while, and my birthday was coming up soon, so by the law of averages she was probably getting ready to dial my number any second. That settled it. I started to grab my coat when I heard a scratching in the corner that startled the hell out of me until I remembered I had not been completely alone to begin with. My boxer, or more accurately my roommate’s boxer that was ostensibly mine as well but not really, was waking up. She stretched and looked at me expectantly, wagging her tail. There was no going solo on this little adventure after all. That was fine. At least this companion knew better than to ask too many questions.
“C’mon sweetie!” I cooed to her excitedly as I threw a flannel on under my jacket. It was going to be getting dark in a few hours and I had no idea how far I needed to go before I felt right in the head again, so a little extra warmth wouldn’t hurt. Needing no further encouragement, my puppy bounded outside as soon as I got the door open. As I locked up I wondered if I would run into any of my neighbors on the hill, but everything was quiet as death, which further contributed to the creepiness of the whole situation. I didn’t even see any cars in the driveways. It was as if I were the only person in the whole world, me and the dog. I almost went to get my cell phone out of the car before I realized how dumb that would be, my house being out of service range. I dismissed my worries as ridiculous. Of course I wasn’t the last person in the world.
With puppy in tow I began to walk up the steep hill, leaving my empty house behind. I didn’t look back, but I thought about how much emptier the house was feeling to me of late, more than usual. Something else to ponder. A light wind began to blow off the high hills, making me glad I’d decided to bring the flannel after all. I walked all the way up the hill, past multiple neighbors’ homes but seeing no one. I was grateful. I somehow felt like if anyone saw me right now I’d have to explain myself, and I just didn’t want to. After a long while I got to the end of the road, but I continued on. The wind whistled in my ears, but other than that I blocked the whole world out, focusing on nothing but putting one foot in front of the other. At some point I realized I had wandered deep into the woods, absentmindedly following my excitable boxer. I wondered how long I’d been walking. It didn’t show any sign of getting dark, but I thought it should, because by this point I’d been traveling awhile.
Further and further up into the hills, and now I was absolutely lost. Normally this would freak me out. I hate being disoriented, especially alone. There are certain people I can do this sort of thing with and feel OK, but getting lost in these woods alone was pretty much terrifying. Not today. Maybe it was the dog. I don’t know. Something drove me on, keeping me on a steady pace to who knows where. I didn’t care where I was anymore. It didn’t matter. The trees were starting to grow a little more sparse as I reached higher altitudes. The wind whipped harder, causing me to button up my flannel and start to zip my jacket when something finally snapped me out of my reverie. My puppy was barking.
I looked around, taking stock of the situation. I didn’t see any landmarks I recognized. I had been walking a really long time. Why wasn’t it close to dusk? The days had been getting noticeably shorter. I saw the beauty of the leaves on the trees, the color palette streaked across the northern hills, the afternoon light still strong.
As suddenly as she had started, my puppy shut up, cutting off her yaps abruptly. Without any warning she charged off into the brush. She must have seen a bunny or something.
“Hey!!!” I yelled out, frantically going after her. If I lost her now, I’d be completely alone. I thought that was what I wanted, when I set out from the house at first, but now the idea of it made me sick. I chased her as best I could, but the underbrush was thick, and I nearly fell on my face a few times. She wasn’t barking, which made following her even harder, but at last I saw her sitting calmly on an overhang. I stopped short, nearly running off of the side of the hill in my clumsiness, and roundly scolded her. It was only then that I noticed the view. I was nestled just shy of the top of a high hill, the small overhang sheltered by the rocky top of the summit. I could see all the valleys stretched out below me, all the way to the river. It was incredible. I felt tears sting at my eyes. I had no idea why. I was overwhelmed by some feeling I couldn’t describe, but even in the solitude, with no one there but my dog, I felt the pressure to keep my composure, keep my emotions in check. I didn’t want to embarrass myself. I played it off, as I usually do, with a distraction.
“Good girl! Good girl, you found something amazing!” I gushed in an overly sappy tone, kneeling down and scratching her enthusiastically.
“Hey, miss?” a voice called out from behind me. Naturally I screamed and jumped a foot in the air, nearly falling off the hillside a second time. Who the hell was up here with me?
I spun on my heels, ready to be angry, when I saw something so bizarre all intentions of going off on this guy left me. First of all, the guy himself was preposterous. Standing out here on a windy hilltop, he didn’t have a coat. He didn’t even have a long-sleeved shirt. Instead, he was wearing a tie-dye T-shirt, khaki Carhartts, and a backwards baseball hat. He looked like the kind of guy I’d expect to find in the DOC, bumming around on the steps of Robo at three in the afternoon instead of studying for his week’s worth of midterms. He quickly held up his hands in apology. “I didn’t mean to startle you. I just wanted to ask, y’know, aren’t you gonna come inside?”
“Come inside?” I repeated dumbly, trying to figure out what the hell he was talking about, when I saw that the overhang I was standing on was actually a narrow path, and just around the corner of the hillside there was a little house of some kind. I hadn’t noticed it before because it was practically carved right into the earth, but its front door was exposed, clear as can be, at the end of the path.
“Yeah, inside. It’s cold out here, and you’ve come a long way. Don’t you want some coffee?”
I wasn’t sure whether to laugh, or cry, or both. I’ve frequently pondered life and all of its absurdities, but nothing could have prepared me for this. Out of options, I decided to play along. He was right. I had come a long way, and now I wanted answers. Coffee wouldn’t hurt either.
“Sure, do you have espresso?”
“The very best. You can bring your dog in, too. Maybe she’d like to lay in front of the fireplace. Hopefully no one’s allergic!” he finished brightly.
I followed him through the modest, pastel-painted wooden door, entering the strange house-in-the-hill without any trepidation. After all, things couldn’t POSSIBLY get any weirder, or so I thought. I stepped out from the cold into the most perfect coffee house I had ever seen. It was spotlessly clean except for some muddy spots on the floor and the offending boots piled in the corner nearby. I took off my own shoes as, sure enough, my puppy bounded over to the roaring fire in the brick fireplace at the back of the shop. The counter was on that same wall. I looked at their menu. They had everything, coffee any way you like it, smoothies, and desserts too. There were a few pre-made sandwiches in the deli case too. The guy behind the counter was dressed exactly like the one who had invited me in. “Have a seat, and I’ll be right with you!” he called in a high, friendly voice. He could barely be distinguished from his coworker, except that he’d grown a scruffy, sloppy, light-haired beard, the kind that’s just an excuse not to shave.
I started to look for a table when I did a double-take. I don’t know how I didn’t notice when I came in, but every table was occupied. Just about everyone in the coffee shop was older, or at least looked older, and were dressed in sweaters and slacks for the most part. There were more men than women. I felt like I recognized a few of them, but trying to pin down who they were I felt my mind sliding over foggy glass. It was hard to be somewhere that was at once so familiar and so strange. This coffee shop could have been on any street in Montpelier or Burlington, but I knew I couldn’t have possibly gone that far, especially without the sun going down. I felt my natural awkwardness around strangers rise up in my chest, and I started to wonder if I should have come in after all. As I looked back towards the door, deliberating on my course of action, someone else came in and shut the door rather roughly behind him, causing the little bell at the top of it to jingle alarmingly. When did that get there? I didn’t remember hearing a bell when I came in.
The teen who had let me in took the newcomer’s coat at the door, as if on cue. “The usual today, J.D.?” he asked with a smile as he threw the dusty overcoat on a rack I hadn’t noticed before either. When did I become such a space case?
“Yeah, yeah, make it snappy!” the old man grumbled irritably. He shuffled past me, not even looking in my direction. “Bunch of phonies,” he muttered under his breath, taking the fourth seat at a table already occupied by three other old men, next to a scruffy man with swept-back hair and a beard and mustache. The man was already drinking his coffee and resting his other hand on a book that looked like the title said east of something.
I might have bolted then and there except that I had already taken off my shoes and I really did want a coffee. I was trying to remember whether I’d brought my wallet when I noticed a table almost hidden in the far corner, next to the fireplace and perpendicular to the counter. There were only two chairs at that table, and one of them was occupied by a smallish woman with short, dark hair. She, too, was drinking coffee and absentmindedly picking at a muffin, seemingly absorbed in a thick-looking book. Almost as soon as I saw her, she looked up from her reading and transfixed me with a gaze so intense that I only remembered seeing it from one or two other people in my entire life. Her eyes were as dark as her hair, her mouth turned down in an almost contemptuous frown. I was tempted to ask what I had done to earn such a piercing stare when her face suddenly brightened, as if intense sunshine had broken through storm clouds all at once. She was smiling at me. I knew where I had to sit.
Hesitantly I trudged over to her table and sat at the other chair across from her. The table was a bit long, and I was glad for the extra distance between us. This woman seemed to radiate vitality. It was a bit much to be in the presence of that, what with all my confusion and uncertainty. As soon as I scooched forward in my chair, she was back at her reading again, seemingly ignoring me. It wasn’t that she objected to my sitting down with her. Whatever she was looking at was far more interesting than me, I guessed.
One of the servers came over, this time a dark-haired tie-dye boy. “What can I getcha?” I started fumbling around in my pockets and realized I had forgotten my wallet. Why would I bring it along for a walk, anyhow? I didn’t expect to be stumbling upon any lost coffeehouses!
“Um…” I answered, unsure what to do.
“Order whatever you want, darling,” my companion interjected in a heavy Russian accent, waving a hand dismissively at me and not looking up from her book, Victor Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre Dame.
“I’d like a double espresso, please,” I eagerly stammered, realizing I was going to need all the caffeine I could handle to survive this experience. Crunchy server boy nodded and, after topping off my tablemate’s mug, went off to get mine. “Thank you,” I added to the woman across from me, “but I thought you didn’t do charity.” I was now quite sure who I was dealing with, and could make a reasonable guess about what kind of place this was.
“Check your premises, dear,” my formidable benefactor chuckled as she snapped her book shut and laid it against the wall. The sun was streaming through the windows behind my head, illuminating the dust in the air and making the old formica table gleam. “I enter into every venture with profit in mind.” She smiled at me, and I was taken aback for the second time how rapidly she could shift from disinterest or hostility to friendliness.
I cast a quick glance towards my puppy, comfortably asleep in front of the fire. My espresso showed up as if on cue, and I began to nurse it. Well, I guess I did want answers. Be careful what you wish for, I chided myself. “What is this place?” I asked her. There was something reassuring about her monumental presence, although admittedly I was somewhat at her mercy. Then again, that was about par for the course for my life. I mixed comfort and helplessness like oil and watercolors, forcing them to blend into a sloppy suspension I could bathe in.
“Well, it’s a coffee shop, of course, and on Tuesdays they have the best deals on knish, it’s really delightful,” she told me as she leaned in conspiratorially, as if she was letting me in on a crucial secret. I was still just trying to figure out what knish was.
I very nearly blurted out, “So aren’t you dead?”, before I realized that was a bit of a rude question. Besides, there was something more pressing on my mind than that. I rearranged my question mentally and tried again. “Am I dead?”
My conversation partner laughed out loud, a disarming, gleeful laugh. She did the dismissive hand wave at me once more. “Oh, darling, don’t be ridiculous!” She met my eyes inquisitively. “Do you feel dead?”
“No, no, no,” she interrupted me. “The real question is, do you feel alive?”
“I – don’t know.” I answered truthfully.
Her expression suddenly turned deadly serious, her severe features grim. “You must know. You must choose to live. Values don’t come automatically, you know, not to a being of volitional consciousness.” She started to reach for her book again, or so I thought, but grabbed her coffee at the last second. I feared that my vacillating, uncertain spirit could not hold her interest for long. I had to talk, fast.
“I do have values. I have a lot of good things in my life.”
“Oh? Do tell. You have a career that inspires you?”
I thought of my soul-crushing office job and shuddered. “Not exactly.”
I could have sworn for a minute I saw something on her face that looked like pity, but it quickly passed. “But you are a young, beautiful girl. Surely you have romance.”
This made me smile. “Yes, I’ve got that. I found someone wonderful. He asked me to marry him.”
Her eyes sparkled almost girlishly in response. “So you have your hero. Given that, many things in a woman’s life become easier to bear.”
“Hey, weren’t you married?” I recalled that she’d picked up an actor somewhere along the way in the whirlwind that was her life.
“Oh yes, my Frank,” she beamed. I cast a glance over my shoulder surreptitiously, but I saw no one that evoked “her Frank” in the crowd, only a quiet shop filled with the spirits of Titans, serviced by a cadre of hippies.
“He’s not here,” she replied in a monotone, her face falling. I was afraid that in my curiosity I’d hurt her.
“I’m sorry,” I told her with genuine regret.
“What’s your name, girl?” she asked, the keen interrogator once again.
I felt my lips move, and although I was surprised at the words that came out, I knew I couldn’t have answered any differently. “It’s Dominique.”
Her lip curled into a half-smile I couldn’t read, her dark eyelashes drooping over her oversized, searching eyes. “Of course it is.”
I shifted in my chair and downed the last of my drink just as one of the crunchy boys refilled hers. She went through coffee remarkably fast. I couldn’t help but notice that her eyes followed the server as he walked away.
“I like that one. He has a very aristocratic face, don’t you think?” Before I could even start to reply she continued on. “I once said that Dominique was something like a representation of me in a bad mood. Are you?”
“Am I what?”
“In a bad mood, of course.”
I started to snap back in reply when it occurred to me that was answer enough in itself. I took a breath and thought about my situation a bit more carefully. “I don’t know. Sometimes. I can get irritated with everything, and everybody, but I’m not in a bad mood all the time. I can be cheerful and bouncy too, although admittedly sometimes that’s just a front for when I feel awkward and don’t know what to do with myself. Mostly I just feel like I’m not sure. I’m not sure about much of anything these days.”
She sighed and nodded very gravely, a knowing expression on her face. “Yes, chronic doubt and skepticism is a great epidemic among the young these days. I see it all too often. Maturing minds that should be agile and quick are paralyzed with self-doubt. It’s the culture. The culture is poisonous to the average young person today. But you aren’t like them, are you dear?” Although it was technically a question, she said it as a statement of fact.
“No. I’m not.”
“I didn’t think so. You’re not one to be swept up in the gutter flow. So you don’t have a career that can inspire you. You don’t have an all-consuming passion you can pursue. You’ll find one yet, if you’re open to it. Give it time. There’s no reason to be down on yourself. At least you have love. You’ve found your Roark, I take it.”
I snorted before I could stop myself, the picture of my lover appearing in my head being about as far from Roark as could be. “Not exactly. The Roark type is a bit harsh for my tastes. I need someone more gentle and caring, who won’t get wrapped up in bending the world to his will and forget all about me. My partner is sweet.”
“But surely he is a man you can look up to.”
I recalled what she had written about the essence of femininity being hero-worship, and it never exactly sat right with me. I have my girly moods, sure, but being sufficiently feminine was never an overriding concern in my life. Still, it was true that I admired many things about him, so instead of quibbling over the fine points I simply nodded, and this seemed to satisfy her.
“He makes you feel like a woman,” she beamed back at me.
I caught the meaning behind her words and felt my cheeks flush with happy memories. “Yes, he does,” I agreed.
“Frank always did for me,” she added, her eyes wistful. I saw that faint trace of pain in her expression again and wondered why, exactly, she ended up alone in this strange place. But then, I still didn’t know what I was here for, either. Never one to dwell on memory, my conversation partner snapped me back to the present. “Surely you have met someone who can inspire your other values, however. Have you never known a person who singlemindedly pursued his chosen course, blind to risk, derision, and all the rest? You, who are clearly exceptional in your own right, must know someone like yourself, but more focused.”
“I’ve known a few very special people like that, sure.” And yet, does their single-minded struggle really make them happy? Did hers? I wondered. I thought of someone in particular almost right away, in answer to my own query. “I know someone who can’t be stopped by anything or anyone, a person of pure will.”
“Aha!” she cried mirthfully, slapping her hands on the table with joy and nearly spilling her coffee on her book. I didn’t expect such an outburst from her, but then again her energy seemed almost boundless. “Now that’s the example you can follow, can really admire. Someone truly creative, I take it?”
More memories for me to smile at, most because of how ridiculous and fun they were. “Almost to the point of insanity, but I mean that in a good way.”
“Fantastic. A friend of yours, then.”
How could I ever explain the deranged roller-coaster ride that was our history? Her description would suffice, if only for simplicity’s sake. “Yeah.”
“What does he do with all that talent and drive you speak of?”
“She,” I corrected her, “is a scientist and a philosopher, an ecologist to be exact.”
Her expression instantly changed to one of disgust. “A shame, what a waste,” she tsked, the disapproval glaringly apparent.
“What, what’s wrong?” I asked, genuinely confused.
“Well, ecology is the most despicable, anti-man philosophy out there,” she sniffed, “so your friend is either profoundly mistaken in her premises or corrupt to the core.”
“How can you say that?” I challenged her, more amused than offended. “You’ve never met her and you know nothing about her except what I just told you. So how can you possibly have enough to go on to make a judgment like that?”
“Judge and prepare to be judged,” she shrugged. “Failure to make a judgment is much worse. The ecologists are drastically mistaken about the state of nature. They always search for some holy equilibrium that can supposedly be found in the environment, which man disturbs by his very existence, marking him as evil. But nature’s rule is change, flux, not stagnation. No living thing can remain in ‘equilibrium’. Pursue values or die. That is the only choice open to an animal, and for man the choice is even more explicit. Choose to think or die. The ecologists either believe that man can live on instinct, like animals do, or know he cannot and condemn him to death on that basis.”
“I don’t think you understand what environmental scientists do.” I was feeling bolder now. “My friend seeks to learn about nature, not fit it into a pattern she’s already decided upon, and she’s every bit as egoistic in her pursuit of values as you are.”
“A true scientist learns about nature so it can be mastered and put to the use of man. Tell me your friend is not a misanthrope.”
Here I knew she had me. “So what if she is? People have earned it, by being stupid and cruel. I guess you could say I’m a misanthrope too. Aren’t you? Don’t you look down on those who don’t think, who throw reason away?”
“You know as well as I do those people are unimportant. They don’t represent what man really is. They are but a distraction.”
“How can you make that argument when most people act that way?”
“If everyone acted irrationally all the time, they would not survive.”
“That’s true, but most people are selectively rational. They don’t have the discipline to live by reason all the time, but they still get by. Why should the best people be taken as the standard of what humankind is? Why aren’t people like us the freaks, the aberrations? Most people are really just concerned with getting from one day to the next, and to be perfectly honest, sometimes I wonder why I hadn’t paid more attention to that myself. Maybe then I wouldn’t be so lost now, looking for a greater significance that’s nowhere to be found.”
“This world belongs to the greatest, not the least among us,” she asserted in a low, calm voice, but with a hint of menace behind it. “It is those who create the great cities, the great breakthroughs in technology, the great works, that are truly men.”
Now I had her. I just knew it. “But those cities you love so much still depend on the land. We’re still tied to nature, and a real ecologist seeks to understand those ties. You loved living in New York City, but did you ever see where your food came from? Did you see all the land that had to be worked so that you could get a sandwich at the diner? What person can create a pig from scratch? We still count on the pigs to do that. Man can’t live apart from nature any more than a newborn can survive without its mother. You know what? The environment is important to me too, not because I hate people and want to destroy them, but because I’m trying to find the ways we can flourish within it, instead of fight with it. I hate when people fight because it’s an unproductive waste of time. I feel the same way about ill-use of the land. I wish I could safely ignore what other people do, especially when they’re clearly being idiots, and say that it doesn’t affect me. But this is one area where what others do affects me, unavoidably so. I know what it means to have no room for a garden, dammit, and I don’t like it. If you want your great cities and machines you can have them, but there are other things that matter more, in my world.”
I finished my rant and looked at her, half expecting her to throw my enthusiasm back in my face with an equally sound retort. Instead she just peered at me through narrowed eyes, then took on what I can only describe as a shit-eating grin.
“What?” I asked, feeling drained.
“Such commitment, such certainty of yourself,” she purred. “The mark of a passionate valuer. Still suffering from your ennui?”
“Huh. How ‘bout that,” I mused. She looked so self-satisfied, I wondered about her intentions. “Did you do that on purpose?”
“Certainly not. And I can’t say I agree with you. But within your context, your values might indeed be rational. At the very least, they are life-affirming, which is a good start. That your eager defense of your position rekindled a fire in you was a pleasant side effect.” She spread her hands almost apologetically. “You should know that I was only trying to protect you, dear. You spoke so admiringly of someone who sounds, to me, like a scoundrel. It is a terrible thing to find out that a person you thought was a hero is not. I hoped I could spare you that pain.”
I sighed and shook my head. “Been there, done that already. I’ve found plenty of people to be disappointed with in my life.” I met her burning eyes again. “You have too, haven’t you? Didn’t you end up having a break of some kind with most of your friends? And then there was…”
“Nathan,” she finished bitterly. “Yes, he was supposed to be my intellectual heir. I thought that he was everything a man ought to be, but in the end he was dishonest and rotten to the core. He didn’t accept a life of reason at all. He was a second-hander in the worst sense.”
“Wasn’t he your lover?” I seemed to remember something about her having an affair with a younger man.
“He didn’t deserve me,” she sniffed.
“That must have made it worse, finding out you had hurt your husband for no real reward on the back end.”
“Hurt Frank?” She cocked her head in puzzlement. “No, no, Frank knew about it. He accepted it.”
“Are you sure about that? I mean, I might not have the story straight. I believe you that you told him, but how can you say he was OK with it?”
“Frank was supremely rational, as rational as I am. I worked out how it was that he would not be hurt by what I was doing, and he must have seen that it was only logical I should be with Nathan too, since he was, at least as far as I knew at the time, a great man himself, and very much in love with me. You must understand, if you are completely dedicated to living a life of reason, you can have more than one love. How can you not, if you meet another deserving person?”
“No, no, I’m not arguing that point. I’ve done it myself in the past. I don’t deny that you can have multiple loves. But it seems so obvious that what you did hurt your husband. Didn’t he ever object even a little? Didn’t he ever seem uncomfortable with what you were doing?”
“I already explained to you before that Frank could not possibly be hurt if he was looking at the situation rationally, and he must have,” she finished, crossing her arms and leaning earnestly towards me. She turned her head a little to the side, showing me her striking profile. She looked like she had been carved from one of Roark’s quarry stones. “But you are correct that every moment with Nathan was wasted time. If I were religious I would say he was something along the lines of a ‘false prophet’. Beware the false prophets, dear. They say all the right things, but there’s nothing behind it.”
“Like I said, way ahead of you there. Seen it too many times. Believed it too many times.”
It was then that my canine finally stirred from her nap, rolled over, and stretched. For the first time I looked out the window to see that the sun was starting to drop behind the horizon at last. “Uh oh.”
“It looks like your animal has finished her rest,” she said to me with the same easy smile from before. “I suppose it’s time for you to go.”
“I think you’re right.” I was surprised at the regret I felt at the prospect of leaving. I was having a good time, sipping espresso and talking to this intellectual giant.
She frowned slightly at my puppy, who trotted over to us wagging her tail. “You know, darling, you really ought to have a cat. It’s much more becoming. I always had cats, myself.”
“I have half a share in a cat, you could say. But you’re right, I always did like cats more.” I started to gather myself up to go.
“You should come back sometime, especially on Tuesdays,” she told me, reaching for her novel as the hippy boy refilled her coffee yet again. “The knish, I’m telling you.”
“I’d be happy to, but I get the feeling it won’t be so easy to find this place again.”
There was the knowing gaze again, somewhat unnerving. “That’s true. If you need to find it, you can, but otherwise it might be difficult indeed.”
“Well, I’ll probably come back someday, one way or another,” I called back as I started putting on my flannel and my coat. I still had no idea how I was going to make it home before sunset.
“Bring someone interesting next time,” she suggested. “Much as I love Hugo, he can only hold my attention for so long.”
“I’ll see what I can do,” I chuckled. I was about to open the door when one of the tie-dyed guys stopped me.
“Here’s something to take with you,” he told me as he handed me a to-go cup with a lid. I could see the steam rising out of the tiny drinking slot. This coffee was fresh, no question. “It’s going to be cold out there.”
“Thanks!” I bounced a little in spite of myself.
“Don’t thank me. It’s compliments of your friend over there.”
I turned to call out my appreciation, but I could see she was engrossed in her reading again and I knew better than to bother her. I could just tell her next time.
Waving my goodbye to all of the rather attractive, if scruffy, servers I collected my dog and started the long journey back to my house. The sun’s last rays were coming up over the mountains, and I knew as soon as I was off the hilltop it would get dark very quickly. I had no flashlight or anything. All I had was my puppy and some scaldingly hot coffee, which I took great pains not to spill on myself. I was going to have to walk home in the dark, and there was nothing to do but find a way through. The funny thing was, it didn’t make me nervous at all. For some reason I knew that I would make it there all right. The feeling I’d had that made me set out on this little trek in the first place was long gone. One foot in front of the other. That’s all I needed to do. It didn’t matter if the forest was as dark as spilled ink. I’d find the place I was meant to be.