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Sceneries From Another Cafe
Steam fills the room, thick and warm, enveloping like a blanket all of its patrons. So thick is the steam that it hides from direct sight all who are surrounded by it. The air is filled with congenial and bodiless chatter as provided by its middle class bankers and laborers that kept up the white blanket with copious amounts of coffee, tea and steamed Irish coffees; necessities to not only modern life in the country, but increasingly important in the mid fall of Wisconsin, with frost and gray clouds chilling to the bones, boding the coming winter cold. None of this matters to Mike Neilson who sees all the steam as not only a warm winter blanket but also as half imagined steamed car windows on late Midwest nights.
Mike Neilson is a young man of 16, slight in the waist but broad at the shoulders, filled with a fragile self-confidence acquired by many nights of looking in the mirror and saying how much he was liked and loved. Today is the meeting between Mike and his first childishly obsessive crush that had consumed grade, middle, and high school, who has consumed his actions so that every single movement is calculated to attract her attention. She had turned him down every time. She said it was because of the awkwardness in their relationship, because of his constant advances, for the other girls who liked him more than she did; all of them true excuses, but mike believed none of them. Mike is convinced, or has convinced himself, even he does not know which, that she had denied him for the sheer and utter magnetism he thinks they have, and that she was afraid of laying him right out on the floor of the old gymnasium. Today would be different though, his new attitude, and the small surprise he had saved for the occasion would seal the deal.
The door opens to reveal two boys walking in with a girl all escaping, chattering, from the chill.
The girl is flagged down after a few moments of staring into the opaque field of steam by the boy at table 10 waving his hand, and making a porthole like gap in the steam. She is Jules Marin, the date of the boy at table 10, with a loose fitting, sweater poncho on with tights on underneath a dark green skirt. Floppy boots accentuate her small feet and all of the flops and folds make her look like a mint mousse. She is relaxed as her gait attests, as well as the shout that occurs in tandem with her reaching Mike Neilson and hugging him profusely. Their affections continue for a few seconds and conclude with a kiss on the cheek by Jules to Mike, so friendly that it leaves a red sheen on the boy’s face. This, as Jules realizes when she looks into Mike’s eyes, is a mistake. She immediately tenses up for the awkward moment she can now only put off.
“Oh, my God! It’s good to see you,” says Mike voice full of anticipation and a bravado he had also practiced before the mirror (it only puts Jules at greater unease); “I have been looking forward to this forever.”
“Oh, yeah… me too,” hesitates Jules
“I’ll bet, but man, have you come dressed to the nines huh? When I heard you were single again I thought to myself ‘now’s the chance to make up for lost time.’” He has mistaken the trepidation in Jules’s voice for anticipation, and thus played his cards too quickly.
“You look great too, Mike, and I really want to talk to you, but I need to tell you something.” She approaches from the side of the issue, hoping to spring upon it too quick to see the full impact in her friend’s face.
“Great, but me first.” He makes another mistake in his haste, “I have something you’ll definitely want.”
“Oh, God! Mike look, I…” She has made a mistake in the heat of the moment.
“Tickets to the big concert at the stadium tomorrow night!” He has laid down his ace in the hole after only three rounds, and can only lose now.
“Oh, sh*t, you scared me, I thought- but no, Mike I can’t go with you.”
“Come on, why not?”
Jules Marin points with her index finger while her elbow is on the table over at table 3.
“Do you see them, Mike?” she asks slowly, having to take the painful slow way to the equally painful point.
“Of course. What were you laughing about, when you came in?” Mike is still running so fast he cannot see the scenery, it does not occur to him, and Jules sees this, so she takes the direct tact.
“The movie.” The subtle word hits Mike lightly at first. He believes it to be a joke at his expense, but then he sees the look in Jules’ face, and the way in which the two boys are speaking, the one in awe of the other, as though the other has achieved a great trophy. Then he sees the true meaning, coming at him, slowly reaching his understanding and then, it hit his mind the way a tree would hit a car. He sees, it was always there, he was going to hit it, and it was only a matter of time until he would impact. He has just happened to put the pedal to the floor and sped its inevitable approach. The carefully paired clothes that once seemed hip and sharp now wrinkle and hang lank off of the boy at table 10, and all of the flush, cocoa and mirror bravado swirls away from the impact site. Mike Neilson picks up the pieces slowly and examines them, then looks at what hit him full in the face. She is…beautiful, and now, as Mike can see fully, taken, again. “So uh, you,”
“Have a boyfriend.” Jules puts it to him simply for the aid of his dazed state.
“Well, I still won’t get anywhere with you then, and you won’t be needing the tickets either.” This last is a sad dark joke that only those in a disaster can tell. It lets his character show through, at last.
“There’s room for two more. Come on, we can still talk right? And say hello?” Jules really does want to stay in touch with her friend, but he does not feel the same.
“No, there’s definitely only room for one more, so no, I cannot, but, yes, I will say hello.” Mike takes care of each question in order before he walks over to table three to say hello. Jules walks behind like a dejected dog. “Hey guys, I’m Mike, Jules’ friend, and secret admirer, and I hear one of you has beaten me to the punch.”
“I have,” says the one with short hair, Mark, who greatly likes the humor with which Mike seems to be taking the moment, like a king who has added one to his harem would enjoy another suitor’s acceptance, “Are those tickets to the concert at the Rave?”
“Huh? Oh, yeah they are. Maybe I can get a couple more for you, after all we do have a friend in common,” Mike wants to leave and leave quickly, but he seems to need to know something, “When did you and Jules meet, uh,?”
“Mark, last night.”
“I must, regrettably, run, but it was nice to meet you Mark and?”
“Shaun” says the boy with the short hair.
“And Shaun, I will look into the tickets for you.” He turns to say goodbye to Jules and finds he wants to tell the truth, and does. “I, uh, well, I guess I love you, Jules, always have, I suppose, but you always seem to turn me down, so, uh, screw you.” Mike Neilson walks fast out of the café, swirling the steam in great tornados behind him before he pulls some outside by opening the door.
Jules sits slowly and begins to explain the whole story
The air is biting cold and empty as Mike Neilson steps into it, but he cannot feel it, he can feel only his own stupidity, his own hubris, the things which he has fought against the most in his life. Now Jules is officially out of reach; she must remain forever, a might have been, a maybe, a regret. Mike is filled with a dispassion so overwhelming he must grab onto a light post. Mike then looks up at and gets an idea. He pulls out the old Zippo he got at his first concert, with Jules, and proceeds to light the pair of tickets on fire. They burn for only a millisecond, and then Mike sees the true meaning of the crash before, and the regret now. The crash was predestined from the start of his pining for Jules, not the meeting today. The words themselves meant nothing, except for the fact that they made Jules forever unattainable. This is what the regret is for, not Jules herself, or Jules’ body itself but the idea of the two. The regret is for the lost of so large an ambition in Mike’s life, so big a driving force that he is feeling regret as a withdrawal symptom. Mike grasps the flame with his bare hand to snuff it out and proceeds to look around and spot the car he had driven to the café in.
Waiting there is Mike’s friend and de facto driver, Jim Fine.
“That went well huh?” he yells from the hood of the car. “Yep, I saw her and the wonder twins walk in and knew it wasn’t going to end well.” He glances again to the tickets that Mike holds in his slightly burnt palm. “And, you kept those, because?”
“I thought we could go to the show with Alec and Chrissy instead.” Mike has absorbed the heat of the flame and converted it to spite. “It’s her favorite band; I can hold it over her head… for a while.” The words after the pause are spoken quite to himself; because Mike Neilson realizes that he can only stay mad for a time. Jules is friends with all of his friends, still, and anger could only make life harder for him. Revenge, though, Mike decides, can still be had, and it can still be sweet.
“Yeah, f- her!” Jim bucks up his friend having realized the same thing as Mike, at the same time. “Come on, let’s go.” They climb into the small blue car and drive away laughing and listening to Jim’s copy of Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks.