Walking down the street, I see you, one eyebrow raised ever-so-slightly into an expression I'm carnally familiar with, but which I can never quite understand. Thickly-veiled sarcasm it is, but I don't think I was ever able to ascertain whether it was because you're incredibly strong or the exact opposite.
It's been several weeks since we've seen each other, and your greeting - a mere flutter of the sides of your mouth, as if, just for a fraction of a second you had forgotten that you had vowed not to smile today - seemed as understated as the only slightly inappropriate neckline of the just-a-little-bit-too-sensual-for-the-circumstances top you are wearing.
"Coffee?", you say, and scrunch up your nose slightly. Your voice sounds like you've got half an ounce of gravel stuck in your throat, and I realise that your offer of a cup of ground seed-based liquid so casually flicked in my general direction was probably the first word you'd uttered all day. I noticed, and you notice I noticed, which seems to piss you off. Your poker-face, restored, doesn't give anything away.
"...", I shrug as a reply, get up, gesture towards the leather seats in the corner of the coffee shop. The corner is dark on account of a couple of malfunctioning halogen directly above the small cluster of chairs and the round table with a chess-board set into the table surface (despite the fact that there are never ever any chess pieces to be seen). I didn't have a choice - the rabid Christmas shoppers seem to have taken over the streets of London - yes, in November, it's pitiful - and even finding a spare seat (never mind a pair of them and a table) was a minuscule shard of miracle in a wasteland of otherwise mundane Thursday night. The lack of light exclusive to our party-of-two seems oddly fitting.
When I return to the cluster of chairs, you're sitting there, seemingly oblivious of my return. Your back is turned to the coffee bar, but you're sitting at such an angle that I can see the reflection of your face - lit by the backlight of your iPhone - in the dark shop window. I know you've seen me. I know you know you've seen me. But this is a game we've played a thousand times before. In the feigned disinterest is an intimacy which is rarely found in my life.
"Did you add sugar to mine?" you ask, derailing my train of thought, as you pick up the double-shot macchiato which I had intended to be for me, and you take a sip without waiting for the reply. I sigh, and walk back to the coffee bar to get more sugar.
I know you don't take sugar - or drink macchiato, for that matter - and I'm wondering if I can picture what a latte tastes like, realising that I'm about to find out in, oh, 27 and a half seconds.
As I sit down, you put your phone away, and my phone beeps with an SMS message. You've just updated your Facebook status, and I subscribe to your updates. Not that I'm a stalker or anything - I mean, I could just keep checking my friends wall or something, and I would have gotten precisely the same information. It's just that I'm, well... Okay, so I'm stalking you a little bit. In a relatively non-creepy kind of way, I hope. I sneak a look at my mobile. "... is annoyed at the waiter for putting sugar in her coffee", reads the update. You know I get SMS updates. You know I know what you updated your Facebook status to.
I wonder if I should point out that I'm not your waiter, that you picked up the wrong cup of coffee, and that I'm sick of your mind games. I'm sharply aware of that I'm as deeply and inexpatriatiably woven into this particular mind game as any of us.
We sit in a relaxed, comfortable if slightly tense in a something-left-unsaid kind of way type of silence, sipping our respective brews. The ebb and flow of conversation around us replaces music, conversation, and
"What are you doing later?" you intrude into my thought-world. I blink. I ponder the question not because I don't understand the query or because I don't have an answer ready, but because I'm not entirely sure that whatever I might think to reply to this particular challenge will have any impact on the course of events going forward.
The next morning she lets herself out of my house, the front door slipping shut so quietly that I have to get up out of bed to make sure that it is, indeed, properly closed.
I half-walk half-stumble into the kitchen, completely naked. On the counter is a freshly made cup of double macchiato, still steaming. I know before I take a sip of it that it will have two sugars and a pinch of cinnamon in it, exactly the way I like it.
Next to the cup is a small index card - of which I'm pretty sure I didn't have any in the house - marked only with a date about three weeks from now, a time, and "xx" in the bottom right of the card, in girlish but solid, familiar handwriting.