Javi's Cafe, 11.
At home, I tried to read the Bible from Jerome, hoping to make sense of something, but after a few sentences I always threw it aside and paced my room. When it got dark I bundled up and went to Central Park to get lost in the crowd. I lost track of time and it was past midnight before I left to go home.
I forgot I had to pass the café on my way back, but when I came to it I felt the urge not to ignore it but think there. I leaned up against the lamp post out front and stood looking in the window.
Where was Jerome when I needed him most? Why hadn’t this been two years earlier so I could have called my grandfather? And how had I so secluded myself that I didn’t have anyone else I could turn to? Why weren’t my parents interested in my life apart from success? And why did Emily have to be so proud? The questions wouldn’t stop coming, and many of them were questions I’d had before: why was Javi gone while Jake was here? If God really cared about people having fathers, then why were all of us here so alone in that regard? And how could He have let Kate go through with it?
It was then I actually saw through the window of the café instead of just staring at it. The light in the kitchen was on, and in the shadows of the seating area, a figure sat with her head in her hands. A steaming mug was to one side of her, and an open notebook to the other.
Oh Emily! I thought. I don’t want to hurt you or push you.
I turned and headed back to my flat. But who am I kidding? If I want Emily to fix her relationship with her parents, then there’s work that I need to be doing with mine.
I felt groggy the next morning when I woke up and tried to go back to sleep but finally gave up. After scrounging up a breakfast of stale muffins and juice, I pulled out my laptop to write but soon after closed it and stuffed it in my bag. I needed a piano and needed to be in a place where Emily wasn’t filling my thoughts, even though I didn’t have any ongoing projects that weren’t for the concert.
I biked to Julliard and walked into the music building. I could hear a few people practicing here and there but it was calm and quiet compared to how it was during school. I found my favorite practice room and got settled, but found I could only putter around on this and that and wasn’t getting anything done. At lunch I finally decided I was just wasting time, so I played some loud, boisterous Rachmaninoff and then packed up.
But I didn’t know where else to go. Something told me I needed to make things right with Emily, but I wasn’t ready yet. The music building felt warm and familiar and I didn’t want to leave, so I sat down on the floor and pulled Jerome’s Bible out of my backpack.
I guess I start at the beginning.
I don’t know how long I read for, but I was halfway through Genesis when someone plopped down beside me.
It was Clara.
“Hi,” I said.
“You haven’t been around here in a while.”
I shook my head. “I can usually work fine at the café. But I don’t think I can write anywhere today. Can’t focus.”
“So why aren’t you with Ema and Emily enjoying Christmas break?”
I looked at Clara without saying a word for a few moments. If I want this to ever go anywhere, I need to be vulnerable with her, I realized. “Emily’s upset – at me.”
“So is this New Years’ Soiree still happening?”
“She didn’t want me to put up flyers for it yesterday, but I don’t think I made her that mad.”
“I know I should go talk to her but don’t know what to say. She –” I stopped. I couldn’t tell Clara the troubles that were Emily’s. Emily had trusted me with those, and even if things weren’t right between us I couldn’t break her trust even more. “There’s something Jerome and I think she needs to stop ignoring but she doesn’t agree. And I wasn’t pushing it or bringing it up yesterday but that was kind of misunderstood.”
Clara didn’t say anything, and the silence was awful, so I kept talking.
“But it wasn’t my fault, so I don’t know what to do.”
“What about all the days before yesterday?” Clara asked.
“What do you mean?”
“Maybe it wasn’t your fault yesterday, but maybe something yesterday was a tipping point and maybe there were other days you should have done something differently.” She paused. “I- I don’t know if it was really my place to say that but I’ve been guilty of that before.”
I closed the Bible and slipped it into my bag. “I only want what’s best for her.”
“But you have to want what’s best for her in the way that’s best for her.”
Like with Kate, I thought. “I have no idea what that way is, though.”
“Take time to figure it out,” Clara said.
But I’m not a people person! I wanted to say, though I knew Clara was right, so kept my mouth shut and nodded.
“I was going to ask you if you wanted to practice for the concert, but if you want to resolve things with Emily first, we can wait,” Clara said.
“I want to believe that things will get better,” I said, “and that we will have the soiree, so let’s practice.”
It was dark when I left Julliard, and heavy clouds covered the stars.
Nine days till Christmas, I thought, and a good chance it’ll be a white one.
I took a round-about way back to my neighborhood, trying to think on the way there. I knew Clara was right, but if I was honest I had plenty of excuses and laziness to keep me from figuring out how to help Emily how Emily needed. I couldn’t help but wonder again – where was Jerome when I needed him? It had been a few days since he’d been around.
As I neared my flat, I saw icy patches in the lamplight and hopped off my bicycle. When I passed the café, I paused again.
Emily was sitting as she had been last night, but she looked more distraught than before and kept looking back and forth between the notebook and a calculator.
I should – I thought, but the café’s closed. I turned to go, but she looked up and caught my gaze. I moved closer to the door, and she did the same, opening it and standing in the door frame, arms folded across her chest.
“Walter, I –” She looked at the ground. “I shouldn’t have snapped at you yesterday. Nothing’s been your fault.”
“I don’t know,” I said. “I want to help you through this. Through it, Emily, not around it. But I think I’ve been doing it wrong.”
She bit her lip.
“I don’t want to hurt you, but sometimes that’s what friends have to do to help. I don’t want to bring it up again so soon but since you’re already upset, I may as well say it now instead of some other time. But I need you to be listening.”
“You’ve been avoiding your parents for the last four years. It’s what I was trying to tell Jake, if something’s broken, if something’s wrong, you don’t throw it out… you fix it. But I want to help you how you need it, not how I think you do. And I need to change my relationship with my parents, too.”
Emily started closing the door, but stopped partway. She left it there, but spoke. “It’s not just you.” She sighed. “There’s a lot more. Will you come tomorrow, like always?”
“If you’ll have me,” I said.
Emily nodded. “Good night.”