Javi's Cafe, 13.
“Seven days till Christmas!” Ema cried when I walked in the door the next morning.
“Are you ready?” I asked her.
She nodded, then tugged my sleeve and motioned for me to bend down. “Mr. Jerome helped me pick something out for mama at the Christmas market.”
I straightened when Emily came out from behind the counter. “Clara will be coming again this afternoon,” I said.
“I was wondering when she’d come by again. You’re welcome to practice here every day if you need to.”
“I don’t know how much more we need to practice. I wish we needed to every day!”
Emily smiled. “I can drop hints to Clara about coming by more often, if you like.”
I could feel the color rush to my cheeks, and Emily laughed.
“I’ll take that as a yes.”
“Just don’t – don’t do anything too obvious.”
“I won’t be any more obvious than you.”
“I’m not really sure how to take that,” I said.
“Don’t worry, I won’t embarrass you.”
I sat down in the corner by the window and pulled out my laptop and Jerome’s Bible.
“Oh, did Jerome say anything yesterday about when he’ll be released?” Emily asked.
I shook my head. “He still seemed pretty sick, and with no one to take care of him they’ll probably wait longer.”
“I wish he was here,” Emily said. “He would know how to handle business being down.”
“How bad is it?”
“If it lasts beyond the new year the café may not last,” Emily said. “It’s just been empty with the holidays – I guess from people traveling and being off of work - and with it being so cold, the electric bill is sky-high.”
“Your prices are still the lowest in town,” I said. “And after the soiree business will pick up again, from all the new visitors and the holidays being over.”
“I really hope so, Walter, but I don’t want to get my hopes up too much. As much as I want to dream, I also need to be realistic. If this doesn’t work out, I have no idea what I’ll do.”
“Just don’t give up before it’s time, Emily. New York City needs this place – a place to be still and quiet, a close community in the disjointed city life.”
“It has to work out,” Emily said, and clenched her jaw. “I don’t need their help, whatever you might think.”
“I never said-”
“No, but you think it.”
“I don’t, Emily! That’s not why I want you to invite them. It’s not money, it’s -”
“It’s that you think we need to be fixed. We don’t need anyone fixing us.”
The bell above the door rang and Emily turned to help a lone customer before I could say any more. I went back to my table and pretended to work on my computer, but I was really watching Emily and feeling like an idiot. She was right, after all.
I blew it again. Still trying to fix instead of – well, I don’t know what you’d call it. Fix instead of heal? Different words in my mind don’t mean different actions or words out loud. But what can I do differently?
I decided that the money situation was only exasperating her relationship with her parents, because it made her feel like healing that relationship could be seen as seeking financial help, which Emily saw as admitting that they had been right about Ema. So unless Emily got over her pride, somehow it would have to be clear that money had nothing to do with it. But any communication with them would require a change in Emily.
I paged through the Bible absent mindedly as I thought about my own upbringing and parents. Here and there I saw things about parents – bringing joy to your mother and not grieving your father, honoring and not cursing them.
I guess it’s a big deal to God, I thought.
Clara came after lunch, and we practiced for a few hours. Ema joined us and we ran through her piece a number of times, with lots of coaching from Clara. I loved watching her work with Ema, and loved the way Ema was enamored by Clara. Emily joined in the fun singing the carols we practiced for everyone to sing, and, true to her word, dropped invitation after invitation for Clara to come to the café more often. She did it without a mention of me, which I was grateful for. Emily seemed to be looking past our earlier fight – there was no hint of coolness towards me, and I didn’t think she was just hiding it because Clara was there.
“I should get going,” Clara said at last. “I told my dad I’d bake Christmas cookies with him tonight.”
“Are you close with your father?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said. “All of us are, but I think me being the baby of the family gave us something extra. He’s always been so good about spending time with all of us, though.”
“I wish – well, never mind.” I walked with her to the door, then decided to speak up. “I wish I had that with my parents. Our relationship consists of them paying my tuition and calling on holidays.”
Clara stopped with her hand on the door. She looked as if she was about to speak, but said nothing.
“Let’s talk outside,” I said.
We stepped out into the cold and stood under the awning.
“You can say whatever you’re thinking,” I told her.
She shook her head. “I don’t really know what I’m thinking.”
“I talked with Jerome – did you meet him? I can’t remember.”
“He’s an older gentleman, kind of the café advisor. I spoke with him yesterday, and we talked about Emily and what you said.” I put my hands in my pockets. “We’re doing better, I guess. She doesn’t hate me anymore, but I still don’t know what to do. She’s so stubborn and proud, and won’t listen to Jerome or me about what she needs to do. And I’m such an idiot, a clueless idiot. I blew it again – but I didn’t bring it up. I don’t know the first thing about this kind of stuff and here I am – well, never mind.” Here I am, wanting to add another relationship when all I have are broken ones.
“I’m sorry, Walter. I hope what I said didn’t just make the situation more stressed and complicated.”
“No – definitely not. I needed to hear it… and you can speak your mind again if you want.”
“I don’t know what’s going on, but I think you’re set on what’s ‘right’ coming about. But there’s more than just right and wrong when it comes to people.”
“Right and wrong don’t change,” I said.
“I didn’t say they do. But do you want whatever it is because it’s right or because it’s best for Emily?”
“They’re the same right now,” I said. And then in that moment I realized two things. One, I could be as stubborn as Emily. Two, right and best might be the same end result, but there might be two separate ways to arrive there.