It is a wintry day where the steam from a dark roast coffee fogs the window. Wisps of smoke and frost condense on the glass, and the pane begins to cry. Guy wipes his finger across the beads of liquid, staring out of the smudge while balling up the condensation and dead skin between his thumb and forefinger. He spots the man and the red jacket he had so often rested his head on, years ago. He thinks the Christmas lights are tricking his eyes, so he blinks again and again... and again, and the picture does not dissipate.
A lifetime ago of loose tobacco and sweat and the sugary powder residue of doughnuts stashed in the right hand pocket; the scratching comfort of blended material sliding across the cheek like felt paper.
“You've eaten all the good ones again,” Guy had said with a frown, taking a cream-filled long john from the box.
“Can't help myself. You know once I find something I like, I have to have it,” the man had replied, wiggling his eyebrows at Guy.
That had been one of the many stolen nights. An evening of pastries and wine, of banter and sex. Guy had awoken the next morning to an empty apartment and a hastily scribbled note full of flimsy excuses and white lies. He had tried not to be hurt, to feel content in the night they had spent together. The man always came back, be it in a couple days or a couple months. Guy only had to wait patiently, to not push.
Brushing the moisture with his sweater sleeve, Guy breaks the line of clarity into a large peephole, hurriedly wiping his forearm against the cold surface to encapsulate the man's entire body. He holds his breath so as not to replace the veil over his view. The man in the bright jacket smiles on the side of the street, wistfully looking at a cardinal bobbing on the electric wire. Its talons hang to the metal. After moments of unsuccessful steadying, it breaks off into the foggy night.
This is the look the man used to give Guy in the early morning hours after a night of warmth, a millennium of talking, living, being. This was the smile he did not allow to creep into his eyes; the look that said “I love you” and “goodbye” simultaneously.
“You know we can't go out together,” the man had told Guy crossly.
The wine bottle was empty and the autumn air was sweet and calm.
“Come on, as friends. We could grab a drink. Enjoy the breeze. It's been so goddamn humid lately.”
Guy's words, twinged with an inability to conceal his pleas, made the man look at Guy with pity and frustration.
“We can't do that, you know,” the man said, in his tone of finality he often used when he felt Guy was expecting too much.
“No one'll say anything. Just a quick drink and a smoke?” Guy had detested himself for continuing to beg.
“You know who lives around here, and you sure as hell remember the last time we were out there together.”
Guy grew sick to his stomach with the thought of that night. The man had never brought it up before, and Guy knew the battle had been lost. The episode in question had involved a stolen kiss, caressing of hands, a night Guy had thought was, in a word, perfection. They had walked down the unlit alley, shoulder to shoulder, so entirely absorbed in one another not to notice Guy's brother following behind them. Guy still had the small, white scar under his left eye from the encounter.
“Why would you bring that up?” Guy asked the man in a small voice.
“You forget, sometimes, that we can't just be like that.”
“I know we can't. But I love y-”
“I have to go,” the man had said coldly.
“Come on. Stay. We'll stay in, alright? It was stupid to bring it up. I'm sorry, okay?”
The man shook his head and flicked the crumbs from the crimson coat. He slid the jacket over his lithe body and made for the door without doing up the buttons.
“Don't go. I'm... I'm sorry. You know I can be stupid,” Guy had exclaimed at the man's back.
The man merely turned away from the door for a moment, gave Guy one last look, and left. The man's eyes had been full of emotion that Guy had not been able to interpret. He had not known that would be the last time he would hear from him.
The cardinal falls to the ground, feathers bent with frost. Guy watches as its layers spill onto the pavement: red, crimson, blue, purple. The man's head turns away from the fallen bird, and looks into the cafe window. The men lock eyes on one another, and Guy makes an involuntary movement to get up from the table.
“Darling, what is it? You've been in your own little world for the past five minutes,” Guy's wife chirps, touching his hand with a small tap.
Guy recoils at the soft, light touch.
He wants the rough, callused fingertips; he longs for the strong, forceful grip.
Hardness of wood floors.
Impregnated air of smoke.
Sweetness of masculine sweat.
“Darling?” She asks once more.
“Nothing, dear. Sorry,” he says, remembering himself, and sitting back down in his seat.
With a well-practiced grin and a kiss on the woman's forehead he watches the man receive a kiss from a thin, pale woman beckoning him. Her hands, miniscule; her lips, bowed and feminine. The man glances once more into the cafe.
I love you. Goodbye.
The man walks away, hand in hand with the woman. Guy's wife offers him more sugar for his coffee.
Guy breathes out, obscuring the window pane in feathery puffs of steam against ice.
(Based on this Story Jam)
Fruit from this Jam:
Descent by Benjamin
pari libra by Envy
"They do not use anaesthetic." by Jan Flisek-Boyle
Morning Cereal by H.L.W.
The Unexpected by appylord57
Past Life by Vivian Peng
Out of Season by RichardLakin
The ethics of genocide by kouq
Them. by ustink
Dangerous Path by Zita Barlai
the disease by
Duck...Duck...Goose by Ameya
Ashes to Ashes by Jess Fechner
Cardinal by a-bigler