story-telling series: hardly strangers, part 6

PART SIX – HARDLY STRANGERS. “Anna…was your grandmother?” Tom said, amazed.

Amy cast her eyes on Paul, who was still holding his hands out to her in his hospital bed. The new knowledge of his connection to her grandmother has somehow changed him in her eyes. He was no longer just the old man who came in for coffee every day at the coffee shop; now, he was the reason she owned the coffee shop in the first place.

“My grandmother passed away two years ago, but I didn’t know much about her life as a young woman. I only heard of these stories from my dad. He told me that when she was around seventeen, my grandmother met a young man at a coffee shop. She didn’t mean to fall in love with him, because she was already promised to another young man in marriage. All the same, she fell in love. Everyday, they saw each other at the coffee shop. At first, it was by coincidence that she would be there when he came. Later on, she came on purpose to see him. She waited for him to come everyday, and she couldn’t wait to talk to him, to see him. And then, all of a sudden, he stopped coming. She couldn’t ask the owners where he had gone, because she was scared that she and her family would become the topic of gossip about town. After all, she was already engaged to be married into a wealthy family…it would have been a disgrace if people found out that she was inquiring about a poor baker’s son in the middle of her engagement.

So, she moved on. My grandfather was a kind man, and he loved my grandmother very much. Early in their marriage, he noticed that she would come to the coffee shop everyday. He didn’t understand what was so special about the place, but he knew that she loved it. So, when word got out that the owners had lost their fortune, he bought it for her to save it from being closed down. He got it for her as a gift, so that she would always be able to go there everyday. He had no idea that she was really going there to wait for someone else, to relive her conversations with the young man she had fallen in love with years before.

My grandfather passed away a year after he bought her the coffee shop. My grandmother was filled with guilt. She felt guilt for not giving her heart fully to my grandfather, but she also knew that she wouldn’t have been able to if she tried. She was remorseful for my grandfather, but heartbroken for the young man she had fallen in love with.

After my grandfather passed away, my dad says she stopped going to the coffee shop. She spent the rest of her days caring for her family, being a good mother, and to me a good grandmother. She never told me this story herself; my dad was the one who told me about it when she passed away. This was the reason he didn’t want to take ownership of the coffee shop. For him, it brought back too many conflicting emotions. But to me, all I could think about when I heard this story was how lucky my grandmother was…to be loved so deeply by so many people, and to have loved so much in her life.”

Amy took Paul’s outsretched hand in hers. She fixed her gaze on his eyes, intent and filled with emotions. “I know she never got a chance to tell you, but she loved you, Paul. She waited for you, too, just like you waited for her…you were just waiting for each other at different times. She moved on like you did, and she was happy with her new life, just like you were…but she always loved you. And I’m sure she always will.”

Paul closed his eyes and smiled.

————————————————————————————

Amy walked out of the recovery room with a full heart. The knowledge of Mr. Florence’s connection to her grandmother somehow made her memory more whole, as if he were a puzzle piece that had just found its place in her life. She thought about all that had happened in the past twelve hours – the accident, the hospital, and then the understanding of her grandmother’s history – and she couldn’t help but be grateful.

As she passed the waiting room, she saw Peter slumped on a chair. He looked exhausted and empty. He was barely aware of her presence until she sat down in the chair next to his.

“Are you alright?” she asked.

Peter was startled. “Oh,” he said. “I didn’t see you coming. Um…yah, I’m fine,” he said. He was lying.

Amy paused. She silently reflected on what to say.

“You could keep loving her,” she said gently.

Peter, who was deep in his own thoughts, looked up at her distractedly. “I’m sorry, what?” he said.

“I said you could keep loving her. Jane. And she could probably love you back, in time. But if she’s already given her heart to someone else, she’ll never be able to give you the love you deserve,” she said solemnly. “And you might never know true love for yourself, either…not unless you let this one go.”

He looked her in the eye, speechless. Without another word, she put her hand over his, and then walked away.

———————————————————————————–

Mr. Florence got up from his favorite chair and waved goodbye at Amy.

“Goodbye, Amy,” he said from across the room, walking towards Tom who was waiting for him at the door. It’s been a few months since the accident, but he still came in for coffee in the afternoon. This time, he came for different reasons. He had grown fond of the young woman who made his coffee everyday, and had come to care for her as she did for him.

“Bye, Mr. Florence,” Amy said. “See you tomorrow!”

She was replenishing the carrot cakes when she heard the door open and shut. Footsteps where approaching the counter, so she wiped her hands on her apron and abruptly got up to face her next customer.

“Hi, how can I —” she started.

“Hi, Amy,” Peter said, smiling.

“Oh. Hi, Peter,” Amy said. “What’s up?”

“Oh, nothing,” Peter said, fidgeting. “I just wanted to say…thank you. For what you said to me at the hospital. I thought about what you told me, and you were right. It was better that I let go of her. Jane, I mean.”

“Oh,” Amy said. “That’s…great. I’m glad it helped,” she said, awkwardly stuffing her hands in her apron pockets.

There was an awkward silence.

“So…I was wondering if I could maybe take you out for coffee or something. You know, as a thank you,” Peter said.

“Um…sure. I’m working right now, though,” Amy said.

“Oh, yah I know. Maybe…when you get off work? I can take you somewhere else, so you can drink someone else’s coffee for a change?” Peter said, smiling nervously.

“Hmmm. I’m pretty biased when it comes to coffee, as you can understand…but I could go for ice cream,” she said.

“Ice cream it is. I’ll come back for you at 9:30?” Peter asked.

“Sure, 9:30 is fine,” Amy said. He nodded his head and walked out the door. The room felt like it had emptied with him. Somewhere in the back room, her co-worker Lorraine giggled.

In spite of herself, Amy smiled.

The End.

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