This is a rough draft for CleverFiction Short Story Contest. I completely ran out of time.
Ros was late. Will glanced at his fitness band to check the time then glanced around for an empty table. Obliviously cafe customers with computers hogged several, empty cups and plates crowded next to their elbows. The line inched slightly forward, and he almost groaned. Where was Ros, and what the hell was she doing?
A woman with a heart-shaped face, enormous blue eyes, and a Cupid’s bow mouth smiled at him as she made an espresso.
I still have it.
Can still flirt with foxy girls.
“Love your silver hair. Looks just like my grandpa’s.”
His face fell, and he glanced away. That’s when he spotted the woman sitting at the back of the cafe. At age seventy plus he racked his brain for a clue. A pleasant looking face. Silver hair, freckled, slightly lined face. Maybe she’d worked in Houston with him decades ago. Two younger men sat with her, one blond, one auburn haired with a bushy beard. They were laughing when she turned slightly and glimpsed Will. Her eyes widened, and she came close to smiling before turned turning back.
It couldn’t be. He felt as if someone had hit him over the head with a frying pan.
“Sir, you’re next.” The tiny woman behind him sounded annoyed. The line had disappeared, and he was standing too far away from the register. He placed his order, handed over cash, and watched as the barrister made change. Still no Ros
A table opened up, and he pounced. A server scurried forward with a small tub and gathered up dirty dishes. She gave the table a quick wipe, missing most of the sticky spots and crumbs. He’d just put their things on the table when a tall, large-boned woman appeared and grabbed a chair. She piled her purse and a couple of cloth shopping bags on another chair and leaned forward to kiss Will.
Her face was a mass of wrinkles from a life outdoors and had a leathery looking texture. Even at sixty-five she still had auburn hair, although the sun had faded the color. She smiled, showing as much gum as tooth. Ros.
She leaned over and pulled her cup closer. “Thanks for ordering. It took longer than I thought and I’m starving.” From one of the sacks, she produced some brochures and fanned them out on the table. “What do you think?” She tasted her coffee and grabbed a little cream pitcher.
“I think it looks great, but we can’t afford it.” He touched one glossy pamphlet covered in pictures of sailboats. “We talked about this, didn’t we? No more expensive vacations, no more sailing. All of our friends just want to spend time with their grandchildren.”
Ros’ face clouded. The children and grandchildren bit still hurt, but he had to say it. They’d been together for thirty years, childless. He hadn’t wanted them, and she didn’t push it even though she was made to be a mother. Volunteering and helping out with friend’s kids helped, but the yearning in her eyes never left. Sometimes it leaked out when she held a newborn, kissing and coveting it like a priceless treasure.
Someone had told him many years ago she should just “slip up” and get pregnant. He found she’d repeatedly tried when he found her sobbing over a negative pregnancy test.
That month she’d gone into the edge of menopause. She got depressed and went into therapy and antidepressants. Had brought up adoption, but he’d refused. Repeated what he’d told her from the first. No children, ever.
Over the chattering, he glanced over at the other woman, and memories shoved in. Natalie. His breath caught like a punch in the gut and Ros blinked at him.
“Are you okay?”
“Fine.” He managed.
Natalie. The long red hair was gone, her slender fine-boned figure fled, but it was her. The red-haired man next to her was obviously her son; the other he wasn’t so sure. There was a resemblance.
Ros started sorting out things from her tiny messenger bag, still talking, her words were almost a hum in his ears.
“Oh my gosh, is that Natalie? Where’d she come from? Who are those men with her?” She started to rise but Will gently caught her wrist.
“No. Just stay here. We’ll interrupt them.”
“But we haven’t seen her in years…”
“We’ll say hello when they get up to leave.”
Will’s ice blue eyes bored into her. She sat and scooped her belongings away as the food came. They ate in silence; Will took huge bites while Ros ate slowly and efficiently. He pushed his plate away before she’d eaten half her food, then glanced at his fitness band again.
“We’d better hurry if we’re making the matinee’.” His generous mouth curved down as he took a last sip of water.
“I’m hurrying, but I don’t want to choke, Will. Eating so fast is bad for digestion.”
He turned his snow-white topped head towards her, tipped down his prominent chin, and a pained expression flit across his ruddy, wind burned face.
“Okay.” He pushed his dishes away little too forcefully, and a hand shot out to catch as it went off the table.
“Will, Ros, wow, great to see you after all these years.”
Will let out an almost imperceptible sigh then smiled slowly.
“Natalie, good to see you.” He stood and exchanged kisses on her cheek. A familiar perfume. Her skin felt soft.
“How have you been? Are these your boys?”
The lines at her eyes deepened, and she smiled. “Aug and Phil. Mark and I are showing them around our old haunts. How have you two been?”
Ros stood and put out her hands.
“Oh, I’ve got a cold, Ros. Better not hug.” There was an alarmed expression on Natalie’s face as she folded her arms.
Ros stepped back looking pained and Will shot her a sympathetic look.
“Well, happy to see you have a great day.” Natalie smiled and patted one of her sons.
“Let’s go, boys.” Outside the three talked and Natalie animatedly gestured with her hands before laughing.
Will’s gaze followed.
“She still hasn’t forgiven me.” It was more of a statement than a question. Ros’ eyes widened as Natalie came back in, headed towards their table once more.
“Ros, I just want to say thank you. You too, Will.” Natalie had a shy smile on her face as she leaned forward.
Will had stood, tossing his napkin down and pushed his chair back. Ros was frozen.
“Ah, okay, Natalie.” Will’s eyes narrowed. “You’re welcome, for whatever.” He bit out the words.
“If you hadn’t cheated on me with Ros, I wouldn’t have the life I’ve had.” She pointed towards the window. “I wouldn’t have two wonderful sons and a husband I adore completely. So thank you. Ros, thanks for taking Will off my hands. If you hadn’t been willing to sleep with another woman’s boyfriend, I wouldn’t have moved on. I would’ve missed out on the fantastic life I’ve had.” She grinned, but there was no malice in it.
“That’s all. Have a great life, you two.” She leaned forward and planted another kiss on Will’s cheek and leaned away once more from Ros’ second attempt at a hug. She slightly waved and all but skipped out of the restaurant.
Will shoved his chair against the cafe table, the legs scraping horribly against the tile floor. The noise in the cafe stopped for a second as all eyes turned to them. “Let’s get going before we’re late for the movie.”
Ros gazed towards the window, her mouth slightly open.
“Don’t pay any attention to her. She was always crazy, Ros. Let’s go.” Will led her out of the cafe after tossing a tip on the table. They stepped out into the shade of the wrought iron balcony above them, shielding them from the blistering New Orleans sky. Ros had a bewildered expression on her face, and her eyes were teared up and promised to spill. “I love you. We’ve had a great life, and there’s plenty of it ahead of us. Don’t let someone ruin it, ruin this day because they’re crazy.
Ros gawked down the block where three figures wandered into a crowded pedestrian street. They disappeared into clusters of tourists, and she turned to Will. “I love you too. Let’s go.” She took his hand and gave it a squeeze, then gave him a kiss that left him almost breathless. Her phone began to buzz in her bag, and she went to answer it.
Will waited, a look of love and patience on his face. Natalie had left him, but he’d been the better for it. For a moment when he saw her sons, he’d wondered what might have been, if they had been his, but there was no going back. Ros had worshiped for decades, and after all, that was what he deserved and needed.