Reunion

They saw her tottering from blocks away. She was wearing black. When she got closer, they waved, and she seemed to see them through the window. She flapped a hand in their direction and walked purposefully over to the door. They watched her wrestle with it, leaning back with her hands wrapped around the handle as if she would try to pull it off the building. A passing busboy yanked open the door for her, and Ella thought she might stagger and blow away.

She got to their table, pressing a hand on its corner to ease herself into her seat. Ella stood, fidgeting. She waited until everyone was still and then she swooped to peck the wrinkled cheek. “It’s so good to see you, Aunt Eleanor,” said Ella. The old woman smiled up at her with thin puckered lips. It was a familiar smile, one Ella remembered from her childhood summers. When Ella was younger, Aunt Eleanor had seemed like a comforting beacon in her small fragile life. She had been a bit plump, always smiling, and her hugs were warm and firm. When Ella’s father died, her mother stopped taking them anywhere in the summer. They stayed at home, under the angry sun, and Ella sent a few halfhearted letters. They visited for the first time two weeks ago, going to see Aunt Eleanor in her creaky house, ostensibly so that she could meet Ella’s fiancé.

The woman across the table from them seemed out of her element in the crowded restaurant. In the dim living room at her home, she was still familiar. Here she was a withered wraith of the woman Ella remembered.

Ella sat back beside Jared, leaning against him a bit in the booth. They both looked at Aunt Eleanor as her hands quivered through the air, plucking up the menu and opening it. The pages shook. Her eyes were brown but the edges of her irises were clouded a pale blue, and her lipstick was a shiny red. Her face was a shade lighter than her neck, a smooth clean foundation that didn’t hide the creases in her skin or the spots of brown and pink that stained her nose and the circles around her eyes. The rouge on her cheeks was spread under her cheekbones and back toward her jaw. Ella could still taste it, a bitter creamy film on her lips.

They sat a while at the table, picking at their plates. Ella and Jared both seemed to hold their breath as Aunt Eleanor cut into her chicken, the knife sawing against the plate with a screech and the fork trembling on the broken skin. They finished without incident, though. When their waiter brought over the bill, Aunt Eleanor paid it without comment, waving her fingers at Ella when she protested.

As they left the restaurant, Jared’s hand folded around Ella’s. She laced her fingers with his, and then slipped an arm through her aunt’s. They stood there at the crosswalk, staring across at the blinking red stick figure that warned them not to move. A car whizzed by. Aunt Eleanor bent forward, looking around the two of them at the empty street. “I think we’re okay,” she said. They both leaned forward too, as if waiting for the cars that weren’t coming, and then they stepped off the curb all at once.

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Expectation

Dora had a plan. More of a script, really. It wasn’t so much that she decided it would happen, though. Rather this was just how she knew it would probably go. She would get there – step off the train – and Annie would be there. Their eyes would meet, and Dora would feel the smile spreading irresistibly across her face as she saw the matching grin on Annie’s. They would walk toward each other, and be pulled into an embrace. Annie would press a kiss onto her cheek, and it would be the softest touch she could imagine. She would be able to feel the imprint of those lips on her skin for days, the ghost of a kiss that lingered.

Annie would say, “I’m so glad you’re finally here. I’ve missed you so much.”

“I’ve missed you too,” Dora would answer. “More than you know.”

Their hands would tighten around each other, and Annie would sneak a look at her. “I think I know. What do you want to do first, now that you’re here?”

Dora would pretend to think about it for a minute. “I don’t know. Since we’re in town, we might as well go to the Bean.”

That same smile would light Annie’s face again, and their steps would turn that way without thinking. They would walk there as they had so long ago, and as they walked the memories might bloom.

Annie would say, “So Brian is living in California now. Remember how he always joked about surfers? He’s totally dating one now. At least one, that is, you know Brian.”

Dora would laugh with delight, as she always did. “Right, but did you hear that Tina’s got a job already? A steady one, I mean.”

They would talk like that, easy and familiar, until they got there. Once they were inside, with the warm smell of coffee surrounding them, Annie would walk up to the register. She’d order both their drinks, not forgetting the two extra shots of espresso that she always teased Dora for.

The loudspeaker blared and Dora started. That was her stop – it would be silly if she were so far away daydreaming that she didn’t get off the train at the right place. She heaved her bag to her shoulder and edged down the aisle, past the knees and handbags that spilled out past the seats. As she stepped onto the platform, she didn’t hear her name. She had to wait and look around before she spotted Annie, hurrying toward her. She’d cut her hair – it was curling around her jaw now. Dora blinked at her, a little disoriented by the swarm of people rushing around her. Annie reached her and stopped, then leaned to peck her cheek.

“Hi,” Dora said.

“Hi.”

“Good to see you.”

Annie smiled, a strained expression. It looked like she was biting her lip. “You too. It’s been a long time.”

“Yeah, it really has. Do, um, do you want to get a cup of coffee?”

“Okay.”

They walked side by side through the streets. Dora’s mouth was dry, and her hands were clenched on the strap of her bag. When they reached the front door of the Bean, they both tried to go in at once. After a moment of shuffling out of place for one another, Dora stepped back and pulled the door open for Annie, who flashed that strained smile at her again. Dora followed her inside.

Annie stepped up to the counter and Dora stood next to her, and when the scruffy teenager walked over to the register they both started to speak at once. Dora snapped shut her mouth, and forced a smile.

Annie said, “I’d like a chai, please. And for her, could you make a mocha? With two extra shots of espresso, right?” She grinned, a real smile, and Dora smiled back.