Kate split from the crowd, stopped in her tracks to let a homeless man dragging a large knapsack behind him cross her path. She watched him move, but he kept his eyes down, looking up only at the cars speeding by that were now only feet in front of him. I stood with my hands in my pockets and watched her.
She walked slowly toward me, as if uncertain she would stop where I stood. I smiled because it seemed right, because it seemed like that would sooth her, sooth us both.
“Did you get my note?” she asked, holding her hair back from her face, from her lips, full and pink.
“I did. How are you?”
She smiled, looked down at our feet before looking up again. She stood closer now and I wanted to step back, but fought the urge and straightened by back.
“I’m fine, actually. But how are you?” Kate said, lowering her voice like we were alone someplace quiet and expected, in turn, to be quiet as well.
“Much better since the last time you saw me.”
“Where have you been?”
“What do you mean?”
There was a change to her face. She looked at me differently, if only for just a second, then looked at my lips, my chin maybe, and then back to my eyes. “I haven’t seen you in weeks now, not since you were sick”—and I liked this phrasing: non-specific, delicate—“and I thought it was strange, since I usually see you at least once a day.”
“I gave up caffeine,” I said this so quickly that, for a second, I actually believed this was the truth.
But Kate didn’t. “You did not,” she said.
I was smiling, could feel the pull in my cheeks, and I brought my hands from my pockets, tucked them into the ones at the back. “You’re right. That was a total lie.”
“So where have you been going? For coffee, I mean? Wait—I can’t believe I’m asking you this because it’s not my business, and it’s not why I’m here,” and she pressed a hand to her chin, one finger over her lips. Her nails were short, bitten that way.
“Uh, a shop, actually, that’s closer to home.”
“I can’t go into that café again. I mean, not for a while because it freaks me out, on an embarrassment level. In a never-
show-my-face-there-again sort of way.”
“Jesus, you didn’t throw out a Nazi salute or—”
“I know,” and now I’m watching the homeless man, watching him wait for the walk signal. “But I’m sure you get what I’m saying.”
“Are you okay? I mean, your health?” and Kate crossed her arms in front of her, leaned forward.
“I am. I had a concussion. They gave me medicine, and I was home in enough time to watch the late-afternoon soaps.”
“Well, I’m happy that you’re okay.”
“But not so happy that—” and she stopped, rubbed her hands over her bare arms, and looked back toward the café—“that you’re avoiding whatever it is you’re avoiding.”
We stopped. There were seconds of silence that stretched around us, wrapping us tight.
“And thanks for your help that day. For all that you did.”
“I didn’t do anything. I gave you tissues and walked you outside. I sent you a note.”
She was smiling, smiling at me or at what I was saying or maybe just remembering the day, but she was smiling. Lips together still, a tiny dimple in her right cheek that I wanted to touch with my fingers first, and then my hand. “I feel like I’m going to say something insane,” she said.