Eric watched the door of the coffee shop anxiously. He had been sitting at the corner for hours, a predator waiting for prey, or was it the other way around? He knew who he hoped to come by but he didn’t know why or what he was going to say to her.
It didn’t help that he felt criminal going behind Andrew’s back, seeking Faith. His son wouldn’t know of course, or at least he hoped. Andrew was visiting his mother today, Eric’s ex-wife, while he tried to see his ex-girlfriend. But Andrew didn’t know that.
Fifteen minutes more and warm air from outside waltzed in. He stiffened for he knew his patience had finally been rewarded though he need not turn as he felt Faith’s presence – it was the best thing about her, he recalled.
She wore a long dress, plain black on top and hot pink at the bottom with a scattering of tiny flowers. As usual, her head was low and she avoided everyone’s gaze. Faith lived inside a bubble that Eric penetrated once.
She got a cup that he guessed was a mocha – she always had mocha despite of her kidney problem- and settled at a table. From her bag she took a thick book, the kind that could give you a concussion if she threw it at you, and started reading.
He loved watching her read even before, lost in a different world, consumed, and not the least caring what went on around her. A stray hair fell in front of her face and his hand moved on impulse with the need to brush it away.
“When did she come back to the country?” he wondered. The young lady fascinated him when he met her on a train abroad, fascinated him enough that he ended up falling for her despite of her looking more like his daughter than his lover.
A knot formed on his throat. “What the hell do I say?” Adolescent anxiety filled him. “Hi, sorry I ran without saying anything. How are you and my son going?” The idea of catching up sounded better in his head.
At once, panic coursed through him as she reached for her bag and he almost jumped to stop her from leaving, but turned out she only needed a pen which she used to note something on her book. A smiled bloomed on his lips. She had always been an intellectual and for someone so young it struck him most that she was his mental peer.
With a silent curse, he finally mustered the will to approach her. His feet felt like lead, the distance the size of China. He folded himself on the chair opposite her and said nothing.
Faith gave a slight movement of her neck but remained bowed, contemplating. She slid a finger to mark the page she was reading and sighed. After a minute, she faced Eric and announced, “Tell your son not to see me any longer.”
Her voice was full and decisive, far from the soft and shy tone he remembered. His eyes touched her face, no makeup at all as always, but her cheeks pink and her lips crimson making something inside him twitch.
“I didn’t know Andrew was your son. Had I known I would have stayed away,” she went on with a distant gaze, looking everywhere except at him. Once she told him she did not choose to love him. She just looked at his eyes and there was no turning back.
“When did you return?” It was as if he heard nothing from her.
“I’m just passing. I have a writing assignment to complete and I’m gone.” She drank her coffee and it took awhile before the word gone sank in to Eric.
It has been two years since he saw her last. They had a weekend together and it surprised him how vivid the memory was. The highlight was him having to pay for her sanitary napkins when she got her period while they were out and she left her wallet at their hotel room.
In his mind she was this young, carefree woman, warm and passionate, humble and open, as if she saw the world for the first time. He called her Alice then, the way her eyes lit watching him, soaking everything in, like she was in Wonderland.
“How long do you have? Where are you staying now?” The question was out of his mouth before he could catch it.
There was a dangerous flicker in her eyes and she scoffed. How different Faith has gone yet here she was still the same. He was suddenly regretful Andrew had not met her before… before he ruined her? His own realization startled him.
There was a coldness to her, the wall that his son might be hinting at. Her demeanor was detached, almost frozen; her movements measured and noticeably defensive. Should he blame himself for this change or wasn’t she responsible for it was her choice to love him?
“Faith, listen I -”
“No.” The way she said it made him pull back. “I don’t want to hear it. You have no right to speak to me,” she paused, deciding whether or not she wanted to say the next words bundled on her throat. “You have no right to come into my life and ruin everything.” She put her book down, her smoldering gaze locked with his. The effect was visceral and Eric was gutted. “Tell your son not to see me any longer.”
“Andrew is different.” He didn’t know what he meant saying that and for the first time, he saw Faith’s broken smile, it’s fragility an unexpected sharp spear that pierced his chest.
“Me too,” she answered, her stare penetrating. “I don’t tolerate shit anymore.”