Walked out of Dr. Doctor with Ashley MacIsaac’s “Sleepy Maggie” beating my headphones (only volume level 5, good god, what happens past level 5) and into the beautiful Alabama sunshine. I took off my clogs to walk on the pavement – eerk, no, let’s rethink that – put my clogs back on as my feet sizzled and aimed for grass. Aaah. Now take the clogs off, moron. Cold grass on summer days. There’s nothing quite like chilled toothbrush bristles on my scorched feet.
I walked as far as I could on the grass, then slipped the clogs back on and hoofed it the rest of the way to my car.
Hot day. Hot car. Bottle of water empty. Need … Vietnamese iced coffee from Lucy’s!
ï ï ï
Lucy’s is really run by Lucy, a darling middle-aged blonde woman with a quick smile and a full laugh. She makes the best Vietnamese iced coffee in the universe. I’m pretty sure it’s not even this good in Vietnam. Shae and Des remember when Lucy’s was just a stand on the street; since then, she’s got her own storefront, with earthy-coloured, overstuffed couches and little two-person tables and a huge counter with a huge blackboard over it to match. On the blackboard are the day’s selections, in addition to the running tabs of regulars: names beside how much they owe.
I always wanted to run up a tab at Lucy’s, but I’d feel guilty so I don’t.
ï ï ï
I wander up to Lucy’s door. There is a young man in khakis, a chambray shirt and sunglasses sitting against the front of the building. He’s got a paper. Bad sign. If you’re not reading a paper in eighty-degree heat inside Lucy’s, there’s something wrong. He watches me approach, but not in a smarmy way. He’s looking for someone.
So I smile. (She must be full of herself. Unshowered, recently head-shrunken, bopping to the cutest Nova Scotian fiddler ever, wearing shorts of all things, and she smiles.)
“Hi, are you Paige?” he asks me expectantly, and his voice is Patrick’s so I am instantly focused on him. Surprising how after several years I can still recognize Patrick’s voice, even if it happens to be in downtown Birmingham and coming out of the mouth of someone who is definitely not Patrick.
“No,” I shake my head and then I’m at the door of Lucy’s, which only contains a small white piece of paper on which is written: CLOSED TODAY 5/21. Damn. Still I clutch the cool metal doorhandle and peer inside.
It occurs to me that I have two options. I can break in and attempt making my own Vietnamese iced coffee, thereby getting me thoroughly frustrated, thirstier, and definitely arrested … or I can talk to Chambray Shirt Guy.
“Are you going on a date?” I grin and look over at him. Folding and unfolding his Post-Herald, he grins back and shakes his head. “Nah, more like a … meeting-date.” At least that’s what I think he said. The Sherlock-Holmes-O-Meter in my head is ticking away. Fair skin, red hair, buzzcut, goatee, small silver earring, expensive sunglasses, Midwestern accent. Guessing Wisconsin or Minnesota.
I tug on the doorhandle. “I would give my right arm for a Vietnamese iced coffee,” I declare, tugging and sighing and peering inside some more.
A couple approaches the door, definitely hospital administration from their badges and expensive clothes and new-money haircuts. “O, it’s closed?” the woman sighs as the man remarks, “She said she might be closed today; probably drank too hard last night.” Lucy drinks?! I am shocked. She seems so … coffee-oriented.
Chambray is still folding and unfolding his paper as the couple walks away. Another woman approaches us, takes one look, sighs, mumbles something about continuing her stroll, and walks on by.
“Ah well,” I give the door one last half-hearted tug and turn to Chambray, smiling at him. He smiles back. “There’s really nowhere else to get coffee in the city anymore, now that Celestial Realm’s gone,” he shrugs. “Well, Mountain Brook. Liquid 360. It’s an internet cafe; it’s really cool,” I blather. He nods but I know he isn’t really listening. Paige, Paige, where are you?
“I guess you’ll have to keep searching,” Chambray looks up at me, and as the sun peeks into his dark glasses, I see his eyes are Patrick’s too, that blue of dawn on Massachusetts snow. “Yeah, I’ll probably just go home and make a pot of coffee and pretend,” I chuckle, flipping my headphones back up. “See you.”
“Bye,” he gives a little wave with the worn flap of his paper, and I wander back to my car.
Paige, where the hell are you? Keeping Chambray waiting like this. Maybe she will show up after I drive home; maybe she won’t ever show up. What’s a meeting-date, anyway?
I drive down University Boulevard and get in the left-turn lane. Chambray is standing now, looking small and lost. He looks up the street, first west, then east. A few cars make it through the light ahead of me, so I move up and idle.
An hour before, I spent the entire session with Dr. Doctor telling him how proud I was of my newfound social assertiveness. (How proud you are of talking to random psychopaths on the street, you mean, the mom in my head says.)
Leaning out of my window, I point and motion, “HEY! Heyyyy!” and Chambray turns and grins at me, gives a little hand-wave this time. “Do you need a ride?” I yell, and he replies, “No, but thanks … I’m going to wait a little while longer.” Without looking, I know the light has changed and it’s my turn to crawl forward. “Okay, bye!” I wave and pull Ashley up to my ears again as an opening appears, just large enough for a very old and slow Toyota Corolla to gun it through.
The whole way home, I think about little lost Chambray, a third-year pathology student, clutching his newspaper, waiting for Paige, who happens to be a brilliant yet chronically late neurosurgeon and the future love of his life.