“Thought I’d say hi.”
Startled, she looked up from her book not aware someone now shared the lounge with her. Her afternoon café routine of coffee and reading was more often than not shared with her ipod and quick chats with the barista. Never had anyone tried to start a conversation with her.
“I’ve seen you here over the last few weeks and I’ve wanted to come over and say hi.”
His smiling face did not reflect her confusion and bewilderment. How had she not seen him? Obviously he had been there before when she was but his face was unfamiliar.
“Ah, hi.” That’s the best you can come up, she berated herself.
“What you reading?”
“Gatsby. Again.” She returned his smile.
“It’s been years since I read that! I don’t know about you but I really feel for Gatsby at the end.”
She opened her mouth to answer but caught herself. Had he really just voiced exactly how she felt about Gatsby? First a handsome stranger talks to her and second, he’s a fan of F Scott Fitzgerald. She was sure that she must have dreamed him.
“I felt that way from the first time I read it. Daisy never appreciated what she had.” He smiled as she said this as if knowing how it felt to be in Gatsby’s place. The blue eyes searching her face reminded her of what she had imagined Gatsby to look like – confident and vulnerable all at once, the briefest glimpse of a past hurt that ran deep.
She looked around the familiar café scanning for a change she felt was certain to be there, wondering what had become so different. The barista poured another cup of strong coffee while customers laughed at his witticisms. The melancholy notes of ‘Round Midnight’ created a mellow ambience. Customers read their newspapers or chatted with friends and children. The sun shone through the large windows facing the leafy street. Beyond, cars bustled towards the city, to the suburbs and to an all-consuming daily life.
She had found this café a couple of years before and it become her refuge from the outside world. Its homely atmosphere had allowed her space to escape from heartbreak and loss which had devastated her life. It had given her somewhere to get away from all the things that reminded her of what had come before.
Laughter returned her to the present, making her aware she was not alone. He was sipping his long black and waiting patiently for her. It had been so long since someone had spoken to her without a preface of “How are you coping?”
No matter how hard she tried the memory of his face, cold and unfeeling, always came back to her. The harshness where there had once only been love still tore at her in a private part of her soul. She had tried so desperately to hold onto what had once been her whole world, the person she had placed everything into building a future with.
Her green eyes clouded as she remarked, “Fitzgerald captured something so universal in Gatsby, didn’t he?”
Nodding he understood they were no longer talking about Gatsby.
In her mind’s eye she saw herself as the ghost she had been, the vibrancy dead in her eyes, her mind clouded with self-loathing and a pain that begged to be extinguished. She had stared at his unmoving figure, dismissing her distress, cutting himself from her pleas for his love and compassion. Never would he understand he’d pushed her to the abyss, never would he admit he’d let her fall.
The smell of beans being roasted reached her senses, bringing her back from that dark place in her mind.
“But not every story has to end like Gatsby’s.”
His words jolted her. No, they didn’t all end as Gatsby’s. She was here: sipping a smooth flat white, sun shining across her arms from the window above, the warmth of someone next to her. She hadn’t died in that room, she hadn’t succumbed to the temptation of endless sleep. He had left her lying on the floor but in that moment he freed the person who had been locked inside of her.
Ella Fitzgerald’s voice harmonised with Louis’, bright and lively against the dying notes of melancholy.
She smiled at his welcoming face. Yes, there could be a happy ending for her, she thought. The sun glinted off her water glass fracturing the light around her face.
“Sometimes you can write another ending.”