He’d watched her talk to her girlfriend for fifteen minutes. The brunette with pale eyes he’d already named “Natalie”. She’d hardly been paying attention to her friend’s words – not anywhere near as much as she’d paid to stroking her own hair, or to glancing at the reflection of herself in the glass of her smartphone. Her friend’s face was turned away from him, and he’d barely heard her voice. She didn’t speak much and seemed to be in the role of the listener, the passive receiver of her companion’s points of view. She seemed like a ”Lisa” or a “Joan” to him.
He watched as Natalie’s gaze drifted over her friend’s shoulder and out of the window. Her eyes flitted around from tree to tree, joining the starlings that argued over their tiny territories and small snippets of sustenance. Natalie was distracted. He felt for her. Concentration was difficult for him too. Life felt so complicated most of the time, he consoled himself.
Natalie excused herself from the table, oblivious to Lisa-Joan’s confused face, and walked towards the ladies room. He saw her companion watch her move towards the ladies room and then take a sudden right and go out the door and into the street. Natalie’s arms swung wide and her strides increased in length as she picked up speed, walking down the street with renewed purpose in the middle of the day. She seemed defiant. That bitch Joan-Lisa must have offended her in some way.
He dashed out the door and peered down the sidewalk, straining to see his soulmate on her journey. The lovely young Natalie had detached herself suddenly from the coffee shop, and from the vague now-useless acquaintance left sitting alone inside, and had decided that nothing existed except the current moment, with one foot falling strongly after the other. The steps were happening regardless of the journey. And there was apparently no destination in mind. He stumbled back inside to reclaim his little table. He knew how Natalie had felt and what she’d been thinking, and he was certain he knew what Lisa was thinking now.
He guessed that Lisa was thinking something like “The more you think you can rely on people to be in the moment, the less likely they will be.” Don’t invite that bitch out for coffee ever again, he mentally told the disappointed young woman who sat by herself now.
He could see it all playing out in his head: Natalie deciding that pursuing her degree in economics was a joke, that the coffee shop study session was irrelevant (as was her study partner), and that the café had started to close in around her. She had shrugged off an old life, in order to strike out into a new direction. What a brave girl she was, and how sad for poor, misguided Joan!
Phan Tam had watched how the facial expression of her client Melissa had changed, how she’d stopped paying attention, how she’d seemed to zone out. Melissa had either involuntarily detached herself from the moment or had chosen to simply walk away from the inevitability of recovering a terrible memory of abuse. Who could blame her? Melissa had bolted before, feigning illness or something. She would be back again when she was ready to try again. As long as Melissa was alive and didn’t do anything stupid to hurt herself, she could be helped.
Phan sighed and stretched her arms over her head, trying to work out some kinks in her neck and shoulders. She’d been doing counselling sessions like this all day, and she was emotionally exhausted. She turned her head to stretch her neck and noticed a strange man with intense dark eyes watching from the table behind her. She pretended not to notice him, and calmly started gathering her things into her shoulder bag.
Where had she seen that man before?