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By Alyssa Murphy
Every weekday at half past five, the sad-eyed young woman comes to the café and orders a plain bagel and a cup of tea. Every weekday, she sits alone at a particular table, eating her snack and staring out the window. And every weekday, Cameron watches her from behind the counter, wondering what ghosts lurk behind her practiced half-smile.
“You should stop staring and go talk to her,” Rob says one day, elbowing the younger man. Rob is the owner of the café, an all-around perfect human being, and Cameron’s older brother. “We’re not busy, and I can handle whatever turns up on my own. Go forth and flirt, little brother!”
As if that’s going to happen, Cam thinks as he inches towards the girl. As if there is any way he has a chance with her. She’s an angel, long blonde hair normally left loose around her shoulders and a predisposition towards skinny jeans and fitted cardigans, pale lips softened by just the slightest hint of lip balm. He, meanwhile, is a college dropout with nothing better to do than play second fiddle to his intimidating older brother in every possible way. There’s no way he has a chance with her. And yet…
She’s seen him coming, he notes, and his heart races. In the six months she’s had this routine, he hasn’t spoken to her since the third time he saw her, when it became apparent that no, she could not be talked into changing her order. They have an unspoken understanding, no need for words until now. “Hey,” he repeats, forcing a smile as he looks at her. “Long day?”
“Something like that. I’m just so done with everything, you know?”
He nods – he knows that feeling all too well. “Need to talk?”
“I thought bartenders were the only people who liked to play therapist for free,” she laughs bitterly, looking up at him. It’s obvious she’s cried in the last half-hour, but he knows better than to say anything about that. “No, I do not want to talk about it because as far as I’m concerned there’s nothing worth talking about. Nothing I can do. I just need to accept it and deal.”
“Accept what?” Cameron can’t help but ask.
“The probable love of my life is getting married in eight days,” she mutters. “Eight days and then he gets to spend the rest of his life with a freaking dancer and here I am hopelessly single and undesired.”
“I know how you feel.” He motions to the chair opposite hers. “Mind if I sit?”
“Go for it. Not like anyone else wants anything to do with me right now.”
“It cannot possibly be that bad.”
Almost immediately, he realizes that those are awful last words. The girl’s face sharpens into a death glare, and she looks about ready to bite his head off. “It is that bad.”
“Okay, okay. I didn’t mean to offend you.”
“That’s progress,” she says, softening again. “And I didn’t mean to get bitey, but you know… stuff happens.”
“It’s alright. You have every right to be bitter.”
“Do I?” she snaps. “I was nearly disowned when my dad found out about my first attempt. I wasn’t dumb enough to tell him – or anyone – about the second. And the third… well, they say that one’s the charm…”
“Listen, I know I don’t know you, but you are not that far gone.”
“Exactly – you don’t know me. You’re just the guy who makes a really good cup of tea and stares at me with your sweet green eyes. So stop pretending you care, because…” Her voice cuts off all of a sudden, replaced with tears. To Cameron’s surprise, she’s a fairly loud crier, and he reaches out and holds her hands because it’s all he knows how to do. Also to his surprise, she lets him.
After a while, she calms down, taking frantic breaths as she repairs herself. “I am so, so sorry. I’m normally more composed, I just…”
“Hush, it’s alright. We’re all allowed to be broken sometimes.”
“But I’m not. I don’t know how to be broken.”
“I have faith in you,” he whispers, looking at her like she’s the only person he’s ever seen. “I have so, so much faith in you.”
“You don’t know me,” she says again.
“I’ve spent six months trying to find the courage to talk to you,” he shrugs. “It took six months too long. You’re perfect, um…”
“Miranda,” she interjects. “My name is Miranda.”
“It’s nice to actually meet you.”
“If you need me, I’m here, okay? You don’t owe me anything. You never will. Just… don’t fade away. You are too radiant a light to suffer that fate.”
“I don’t know what you’re on, but that’s oddly sweet.”
“I mean it. I don’t lie to people.”
“You don’t look like the type who does,” she says, the ghost of a real smile blossoming on her lips. “You’re too gentle and good. And… I think I could like that, in time.”
“Like I said, do what you will.”
“I could definitely like that.”