An Indelible Design

I recline in one of the big comfy chairs in the corner at the local Internet café, reading a novel, immersed in conflict, challenge, adventure. She curls up in the other chair, across from mine, her feet tucked under her legs, and stares out the window. The sight pulls me from my book.

Quiet, pretty, young, she rarely smiles, even when serving customers their coffee and muffins. Each morning, I make it a point to grin long and broad, with “please” and “thanks.” But in return I rarely receive more than a rote, “Café Americano, two sixty-five.”

Then, at about 10 o’clock, she takes a break, to sit and stare. The sun peeks around the edge of a cloud overhead, now gleaming through her tender blue eyes and warming her luxurious, dark hair. Her face softens, and my heart melts, and I wonder what she thinks about.

At that moment, she raises her hand to her chin, and the sleeve of her black uniform slides down enough to reveal pieces of blue and red scribbled into her arm.

“What’s your tattoo?” I ask.

I myself have never mustered the will and courage to subject myself to the tattooist’s needle.

A frown etches its way across her face. “Nothing,” she mutters, her eyes still transfixed on the outside scene.

I shrug my eyebrows, as if to shrug off the hurt I feel. I return to the joyful fantasy of my book– Or rather, I am just about to return to it, when the girl silently unbuttons her sleeve, rolls it up, holds out her wrist, revealing a half a butterfly, its intricate wings painted in dazzling blue. The half-butterfly sits on the stem of a rose blossom, deep green and red.

“Wow,” I say. “That’s really beautiful.” Then, “Why only half a butterfly?”

“The other half– flew away,” she says, returns to her window view, her frown now more pronounced than ever.

“I’m sorry,” I say.

“Not your fault,” she mumbles.

I try pull my eyes from hers. And fail.

I imagine her smiling, laughing, bonding with friends, close to her loved ones. Her desolate sadness stabs through my gut.

I could argue with her. True, it’s not my fault that her best friend died, or moved away, or whatever happened. But I can still feel sorry. I’m allowed to feel sorry, not just with pity, but out of human kindness. In some societies, the community would rally around, sit, mourn with her. How can I sit here next to her and feel nothing? Or worse, feel only discomfort and dread, wanting only to escape from her presence, back into the safety of my novel.

But arguing with would accomplish nothing.

She sees me staring, I’m sure. If I were she, if our positions were reversed, I’d notice her staring. I’d wonder what kind of kook she was. I’d worry what kind of mess I’d gotten myself into.

“I hope,” I squeak– I swallow. “I hope that you can hang out with some friends after your shift, at least.”

She grunts.

“I wish there were something I could do,” I admit.

She glares at me. “Well, there isn’t. Haley was the only real friend I had. And now she’s gone. She was the only one who knew how to love everyone as they were. There will never be another person like her, ever. So don’t even try!”

She runs to the ladies room, and I can feel numerous pairs of eyes throwing glances in our direction.

I gulp down the rest of my now-tepid coffee, place the cup and saucer in the dish-return. Carrying my book, I stroll toward the exit, already having decided to return tomorrow morning to see how she’s getting along.

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That is good. What happens next? ;)

Her friends/coworkers talk to her. She eventually apologizes to him. Or not. But he doesn’t detach just because of this.

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