He was never late, ever. Every Saturday at precisely two o’clock we met without fail. But today, on the very day that I needed him, he was sixteen minutes late. Sixteen minutes and twenty-seven seconds to be exact.
I slumped a little in the booth, then straightened and began typing in a nearly empty document.
Twenty-three year-old Tiana Black waited patiently—
I hit the backspace button, deleting the last word.
—impatiently for him to come as her coffee grew even colder. It was nearly impossible for him to be this late. She wondered if he was sick, or busy, or hurt; or worse, maybe he no longer wished to talk to her. But she didn’t believe that was true because she knew him and she could even say with confidence that she knew him well. They were friends; he wouldn’t abandon her on purpose and just leave her hanging like this.
My fingers hesitated on the keyboard as I daydreamed, my gaze fixed unseeingly on the full coffee mug that had long ago stopped steaming.
The owner of the café that I was sitting in came over to my booth, a sympathetic look in her eyes. “He’s standing you up, isn’t he?” she asked accusingly.
I laughed, “He’s not standing me up, I’m sure that something happened that distracted him is all. And it’s not like we’re dating or anything. We’re just friends.”
Her eyebrows arched and she gestured at the plaque on my booth. It was no ordinary piece of wood either; it was a decorated marble slab with gold lettering that spelled out a brief message.
Tiana Black and Carlisle Jacobs
My smile faded as I took in her meaning. “Thanks for your concern Shelly, but I’m sure that he’ll show up eventually.”
She shrugged and grunted as she wiped off a nearby table. “Denial,” she muttered with a slight shake of her head before leaving.
I sighed and minimized the document so that I could see the Net window with the popular writers’ forum in it. I looked at the private messenger. No mail. Where was he? I sent him a brief message and then leaned back, looking out the window to the river front.
Shelly finally took pity on me and gave me some fresh coffee. I smiled my thanks but my thoughts were elsewhere.
Carlisle was a fellow writer that had been following my writer’s blog for nearly a year now. Every once in a while we would send each other emails containing tips and ideas we needed advice on. The day I had had to speak at a writers’ conference I wrote him a distressed message begging for help, pleading for Carlisle to find me a way out. He replied with a list of one-hundred things to do to help ease stage fright and help my speech.
On the ‘big day’ I had woken up, showered, dressed, went over the list once again and left for the conference. I got up on stage and fumbled through my notes, botched most of my points and generally made a fool of myself. Yet I was proud and content with the job I had done. As the seminar came to a close I left the main room to look at some of the vendors. I was surprised by a man in his late thirties rushing up to me, a smile covering his rough and handsome face. His green eyes twinkled merrily.
Suddenly I then recognized him from his profile picture on his own blog. “Carlisle!” I exclaimed. “What on earth are you doing here?”
“I wanted to meet you in person Tiana,” he had replied. “Your speech was awful by the way.”
And so had started our face-to-face friendship. I had seen him four times since that day and written him at least once a week. We both happened to have the day off from work on Saturday and scheduled our talks then, either by phone or by email, or Facebook chat.
I sighed again and looked out the café’s large window at the river that rolled by. A woman pushed a stroller down the walk outside, her toddler throwing crumbs with a rapt look of joy and concentration on his face. He looked my way and I curled my long fingers in a wave. He grinned from ear-to-ear and his mother smiled at the both of us. Someday I hoped to have a little boy like that.
Looking over at a park bench, I saw the old man who always sat there and noted that—sure enough—his binoculars were shoved up against his brow while he stared at the birds only feet away, gobbling up the toddler’s bread.
“Anything yet?” Shelly asked at my side. I jumped.
“Shelly,” I said meaningfully.
“I’m going, I’m going.” she muttered, obviously put off.
I sent my ten-thousandth message to Carlisle; something that was complete nonsense because I was bored. Where could he be?
Finally I stood and walked over to the small bookstore adjacent to the Shelly’s Café at 2:48.
I looked at Ted Dekker, Terri Blackstock, Ray Blackston, Gerald Morris, Gilbert Morris, Dee Henderson, Donita K. Paul and all the other authors on my extensive, varying list of favorites. I decided on a book from an author I had never heard of but saw it was recommended by members from the above list. It was Christian, mystery-suspense and the first line made me laugh. How could I go wrong?
A girl came in behind me from the main door as I was purchasing my find and making small talk with the bookstore clerk. She seemed excited, like she was anticipating something. At first this made me smile, knowing how much I myself loved to read. Then, without bothering to cast a glance at all the wonderful books that stocked the shelves, she grabbed one in particular and practically hugged it to her chest. It was a large, black paperback with two pale arms stretched out across its cover. They cradled a very red apple. I frowned at the choice. Twilight. I could have gagged.
“Do you have a cold, ma’am?” the clerk asked. He held out a tissue and my receipt simultaneously.
I smiled at him and collected my book and receipt. “No, I’m fine, thanks.” I stuffed the slip of glossy paper into my jeans pocket.
The clerk gave me a knowing look as the teen hurried up to the counter, gushing. “I haven’t read it yet but all my friends say it’s great!” she babbled as he scanned her purchase. In the future, choose your friends more carefully, I thought. Somehow in my opinion, books about vampires who fall in love with girls who know they are blood sucking creeps are anything but great, unless it was ‘great catastrophe’ or ‘great stupidity’.
I took my book outside, breathing in the crisp air and sunshine. I had left my laptop in the booth of the café knowing full well that Shelly would watch over it for me, probably rifling through every folder and picture in the meantime. Shelly was something of a town gossip and Carlisle and I were often the only things worth talking about in the small town of Conway. I decided that I could wait a few more minutes out of doors on such a nice day as this one was. So I strolled over to an empty bench by a long, flat bridge that crossed over the river and sat down.
I opened my new book and paged briefly through the title page, the acknowledgments and the table of contents before my eyes hit the first words of the first chapter. Then I was stuck, reading further and further, enthralled by the world of suspicion and intrigued that the author had created. Once I sunk into chapter three I had already declared the book perfect. It was just the right blend of mystery—a murder—action—incredible chases and a gun-wielding cop—and romance—said cop and the main character. Heavy on the action and suspense, only a bare sprinkling of romance.
I happily ignored the stab of guilt at the thought that Carlisle might now be looking for me. Let him sweat.
Somewhere in the middle of chapter five—I’m a fast reader—I heard a gasp, bringing me out of the story just at an exciting peak. Frustrated, I looked up, flipping a brown curl away from my eyes as I did so.
A little ways down the bridge, a major collision was taking place. At least twelve people were tumbling over newspapers, purses, hats and other fallen items as the train wreck ensued. Amused, I looked on as they bumped into each other, mumbling apologies and nonsensical phrases.
“Sorry, oh excuse me. Here, let me help you with that. My, the wind sure is blowing something fierce isn’t it? Is this your coffee? I’m afraid it spilled. I love this purse! Where did you get it? Has anyone seen my husband’s dentures?”
One man in the midst of it all stooped to retrieve a book that had gotten separated from its owner in the fray. He looked at it, then up as if to ask to whom it belonged. He didn’t get that far though as a second incident occurred. An elderly woman had tripped on a soda bottle and someone else reached out to catch her. The pair collided with the man and sent him wobbling a few steps closer to the edge of the bridge.
A sixth sense told me all I needed to know and I bolted up from my seat, my own book falling to the bench from my lap as I rushed forward. The man lost his balance and fell against the bridge’s iron fence and the book flew up into the air.
I had been smothering laughs at the comical scene unfolding before me like something out of a TV show, but then the book went sailing away into space and I saw how it would land…
As I ran closer to the bridge my mind was already playing out the events as they would happen if nothing were there to stop the novel’s freefall. It would land with barely a splash in the waters below and drown in the murky depths. No book deserved such an untimely, horrendous death.
I dived, dimly aware that I probably looked very silly like that: a grown woman diving head first out across stone slabs which stretched over the river in an attempt to rescue a hunk of paper and ink. Frankly, I didn’t care
In no more than half a second I had landed awkwardly, scraping my hands and arms against the rough surface and then rolling—toward the railing—to break my fall. Back on my belly, I reached a hand through the railing and stretched my fingers as far as they would go, scrabbling at air as the book came on and fell and then landed…a mere inch out of reach.
I got on my knees and peered through the gaps of iron down to the rock ledge that supported the bridge’s weight. Panting, I tucked my elbow in and reached downward. My fingers brushed spine as the book teetered precariously. I pressed my shoulder against the bar and caught the book in my grasp. Just in the nick of time.
I sat there long enough to catch my breath so that I wasn’t panting like a dog in the middle of August, holding the thick paperback in trembling hands that were weary from the effort I had asked them to put forth.
Gently, I turned the book over. A novel; it was black with white letters and portrayed two pale white limbs stretched out to hold a bright, cherry-red apple.
I stared at it, conflicting emotions swirling through my brain. The crowd behind me had finally sorted itself out and the old birdwatcher had moved to my side.
“Are you all right, young lady?” he asked with concern. Distantly I heard a girl’s voice asking “Has anyone seen my book?”
In that moment I made the decision, letting the novel slip through my fingers while rephrasing my earlier thought: Almost no book deserved such a death. I watched Twilight spiral downwards and smack into the waves. “Oops,” I said aloud, standing and brushing off my red hands. It was fitting I thought, that the book of vampires was now having its ink, its life-blood, its essence sucked out of it by the water.
“I’m fine, Mr.” I said to the birdwatcher, more chipper than I had been all day.
I turned to the people, half of them still laughing it off and talking to one another. There was the teen from the bookstore, biting her lip and looking around, her hands dangling at her sides as if she just wasn’t sure what to do with them. I felt sorry for her but then brightened.
I went back to the bench I had claimed and gingerly picked up my most recent purchase. It had cost me eleven dollars plus tax but now I figured it had been worth it. I looked it over one last time. Memorized the author’s name. The title. Then I turned and strode back to the bridge.
The teen looked up when I came within her private bubble of space and I feigned a concerned expression. “I saw your book fall into the river.” I began without shame. “Here,” I gave her my own book. The satisfaction of dumping that horrendous piece of literature into Conway’s river had made me positively happy. “It’s a great read.” I added with a wink and then turned to leave before she could protest.
Shelly gave me an odd look as I returned to the Café, scooted into the bench and typed a new address into the Internet window. I logged into my email account and began to type.
I had a lot to tell Carlisle about my afternoon without him.