By J. M. Gofton
The world is full of brave men. Tommy isn’t one of them.
For three weeks now, since starting his new job in London, he’s been visiting the same café at lunchtime, sitting at the same table, and watching the same woman out of the corner of his eye. She’s had his attention from day one, and he’s still not entirely sure why.
It’s mid-October, and the entire café is decked out in oranges, greens and purples; there’s a carved pumpkin sitting on the windowsill and little spiders, crafted from pom poms and pipe cleaners, dangle from the ceiling. Tommy’s never been particularly fond of Halloween – his parents love throwing parties and dressing up, so, naturally, he does not – but he does love autumn. It’s the colours he likes best; the warm browns and the burnt oranges. Perhaps that’s why he likes this girl so much.
She sports a fiery mane of orange hair, part of which is tucked beneath a bandana of bright violet. The colours aren’t ones you usually see in this area of London, and she satisfies his lust for the familiar, rural shades of his hometown in the country. The first time he saw her Tommy wondered if she was in costume. She looks so out of place amongst the serious businessmen with their chrome suits and their laptops, like she’s just stepped out of the seventies, staring wistfully out of the window with her chin in her hands. At what Tommy is still unsure; outside there are only tall buildings that block the horizon, and more businessmen with their briefcases.
He sips his latte – pumpkin flavoured; a special for the autumn – and the spices pleasantly tickle his taste buds. It’s the first time since coming to this café that he’s had anything other than a cup of tea and this difference, this warm flavour on the tip of his tongue, is what inspires him to leave his chair and slide into the seat opposite hers, setting his cup down on the table between them.
‘E-excuse me?’ he ventures, clearing his throat. She turns her head to face him so quickly, with such surprise on her face, that he realises he’s startled her, and suddenly feels foolish as he pushes his glasses back up his nose. ‘Uh… C-can I buy you a drink?’
She doesn’t answer, only stares at him with eyes that are gloriously grey as though she’s trying to tell if he’s really there, if he really just spoke. Tommy’s cheeks flush pink, and he readies himself to leave.
‘Can… Can you see me?’
The question is so bizarre that he brow furrows, and it’s only when he looks back across the table at her that he realises how quiet the café is. When he dares turn his head to peer at the rest of the patrons, he finds all eyes are on him.
He glances back at the girl. Her seat is empty. There’s no one there.
Tommy pales, swallowing bile, and looks nobody in the eye as he scrambles to his feet and hurtles out the door.
He never goes back.