The houses piled on the hills, all perched among the trees in red-and-white blocks. They nestled among the furry cascade of trees until they lost themselves in the forest, and the mountain rose above them dark and green. Emma sipped her lemonade without tasting it, feeling the sting of the lemon on her tongue from far away. She stared at the colors of the mountain where they faded in a wash of fog.
“You’re tired? Coffee, very good.” Emma jerked to attention at the sound of the waiter’s voice. It was deep and warm, marked with an accent. He grinned at her, his teeth white against a short beard. She smiled faintly back before her mouth dragged down again.
“No,” she said. “Thanks. I’m just distracted.”
“Ah,” he said. “Then no coffee for you. We don’t give coffee to distracted Americans, is a very bad habit.” Emma glanced up at him, her mouth falling open, but he was still grinning at her. Reluctantly, she let her lips curve into another smile, more genuine this time.
“Too distracted for dessert?” he asked.
She shook her head. “Oh, no, I couldn’t. Dinner was so good – ” She gestured helplessly at the pile of food left on her plate. “I’m stuffed. I can never eat a whole dessert by myself anyway.”
The waiter looked around the cafe, his eyes searching the people littered around tables and the half-empty bottles of wine. “I do not know this word stuffed. But I have plan for you. What kind of dessert you like?”
She craned her neck around to look at the chalkboard, tempted. There were desserts scribbled onto the bottom. She said, “I guess there’s chocolate mousse, I love chocolate. But it’s so rich, I really could never eat the whole thing.”
“I will be back. One moment!” the waiter announced. He disappeared with her plate, leaving her to wish she had eaten more of the carrots. She waited, leaning on the table. Her eyes wandered over the mountain, climbing up past the clusters of houses into the depths of forest above. Close up, she thought, it was probably all twigs and leaves brushing your face and funny smells. From far away, though, it looked like a deep mysterious forest. It looked like the trees would rise up around you and reach into the sky, and the shadows would stretch long and black. It was the kind of forest you could get lost in and stumble upon a witch’s cottage.
“Here.” The waiter’s low voice pushed into her thoughts, and she turned back to the table. He was pushing a goblet in front of her, full to the brim with chocolate mouse and topped with a tuft of whipped cream. She opened her mouth to protest, and he held up a hand. “No, wait. Here is my plans.” He stretched out a hand toward her, and the spoon between his fingers became two, splayed apart. He flipped one onto the table in front of her, and then sank into the empty chair.
Emma paused. She thought about germs, and strange men, and accepting food from people she didn’t know. Then she laughed at herself a little bit and took a scoop of mousse. It was smooth and intense, and melted into cream in her mouth. She closed her eyes to taste it better, and thought the waiter must be watching her. She wondered if he would think she was silly or cute. When she opened her eyes though, he was scooping his own spoonful of mousse out of the glass. She watched him close his eyes and let it melt in his mouth.
They finished the whole goblet between the two of them. The waiter stole the last bite, flashing his mischievous grin at Emma. She smiled back now. Then he got up and left, without a word. She wondered, suddenly upset, and then he returned. He laid a slip of white paper before her and walked away again. Emma leaned to see it, curious, and realized with a flush that it was the bill.
She dug out her wallet, tucked a few bills under her half-finished lemonade, and stood to leave. There over her shoulder was the waiter again, and he smiled at her as she gathered her things. She smiled back, and then she began to walk away. She heard his “goodbye” from behind her, and she wished she weren’t leaving. She wished she could stay where the whole world was beautiful, and learn the waiter’s name, and maybe have more desserts. She kept walking, back to her empty hotel room and her messy suitcase, with the taste of chocolate lingering on her tongue.