Mom wakes me up the next morning, tells me that she will be late since the mayor is having guests that night. It is as if I have never left at all so I simply nod, tell her that I have work to do anyway and turn around in bed once more.
Only when I can’t ignore the stupid hard edge of the couch anymore I get up, take a shower and put some effort into my appearance for a change. With my laptop and some money for coffee in my bag I’m heading for the café again. It’s not the coffee that draws me back there, and not the cakes and pies either. It’s the fantastic Wifi.
The bell chimes when I enter and today I can actually hear it. Very annoying, I wonder how the coffee lady can take it all day. She’s behind the counter again, languidly skims through some magazine.
“Oh, hi. Welcome back. Coffee?” She flashes me a half-heartedly smile and I nod.
“Yes, thanks. Uh, is it okay if I set up camp here again?”
“Sure.” She motions to the otherwise empty café, grabs a cup and starts wrestling with the shiny coffee monster again.
I pick the same table as yesterday, set up my laptop and wait for her to bring me the coffee.
“Just tell me to shut up if I’m mistaken, but we did go to high school together, didn’t we?”
There it is, the cold shiver and the instant alarm. But she is right, her age close to mine and with only one school in town it’s likely we went there together.
“Possible. Sorry, I can’t really put a name to your face, though.” I cover the tremble of my hands by grabbing the cup, holding on to its scorching hot surface for dear life. High school hasn’t exactly been the best time of my life.
“It’s Miho. Fujiwara.” She motions to her face and something dawns in the back of my mind.
“Oh yeah, you were one of the theater kids, right? Played the lead once or twice.” I slowly nod, will my heartrate back to a normal speed. “Your dad is this Japanese insurance guy.”
“Yep, that’s Pops.” With a nod she confirms my vague memory, leans against the edge of the table next to mine. “And you are the girl that got suspended for flashing in the school lobby.”
My heart stops. Goodbye, cruel world, you suck anyway. I set the cup down, close my laptop.
“I did NOT flash and I did NOT get suspended. Someone dumped their piping hot coffee all over my shirt and then ripped it off to ‘make sure I wouldn’t get burnt’. Too late, I already had been burnt and therefore had to stay home until it was healed at least enough for me to go back to school.” This is not the only stupid rumor about me that mostly coursed at school. Now that all those students from back then are adults I’m sure half of the town remembers me for the flashing incident or something equally humiliating.
“Oh.” Her brows furrow, she straightens again. “Sorry to hear that, must have gotten the story wrong.” She motions to the coffee. “It’s on the house. Stay for as long as you want. And no hard feelings, okay?”
‘No hard feelings’, it’s so easily said but means nothing at all. My feelings aren’t hard, they are diamonds, impenetrable, eternal.
“It’s fine.” Somehow I press the words out between gritted teeth, as if the pain from back then is still scalding me. “I guess the real story is boring in comparison to what other kids came up with after that scene.”
I can still remember their shocked faces and although I know I had screamed like a banshee I can’t even recall any sound to the pictures in my head. And it was long before I lost my hearing.
“Yeah. Still, sorry.” Miho quickly rushes back behind her counter, she doesn’t look good. At least I’m not the only one being embarrassed by my own reputation in school.
“It’s Jazz, by the way,” I loudly announce, draw her attention back to me. “My name. It’s Jazz.”
“Got it, Jazz. Enjoy your coffee.” She cringes when the meaning of her words catch up with her. “I mean – you know what I mean. I’m just shutting up now.”
I snort a laughter, but nod.
Half an hour later I manage to get hold of a friend via Skype, she asks if I can chat and tell her to give me a second.
“Is it okay if I video chat for a while?” The café is still empty so Miho shrugs.
“Fine with me. But keep it down when other customers come, okay?”
I blink, but nod. “Sure, don’t worry about the volume.” With a click on the call button I start the video chat and Anna, my friend, greets me happily.
“Hey, how are you? I miss you.”
At home I can’t do this, Mom’s Wifi is so crappy that the video lags all the time. Not helpful when you talk to someone in sign language.
“I know! I miss you, too. How’s the project going?”
Anna makes a face and a vague gesture before she clarifies. “We managed to record a few short videos, but it’s still so much to do. When will you be back?”
“Two weeks, maybe three. I already started recording my parts, but the lighting at my place is so bad, you can’t see anything. And I’m still not happy with the texts.” I emphasize this with an epic eye roll.
“I would say just change them, but you are not in charge of the texts, are you?”
“No, that’s Sam.” Even signing the name makes me uncomfortable.
“And Sam’s busy, I know. When you are back we really have to meet up again. All of us. It’s so much easier when we are all in one room, you know? All this back and forth doesn’t really help.” Anna frowns, signals me to wait for a moment. She addresses someone I can’t see, even gets up and leaves me staring at a crème colored wall.
“Sorry, I have to take care of something,” she apologizes as soon as she’s back in view. “Can we talk another time?”
“Sure, there’s nothing urgent to discuss anyway. Say ‘hi’ to Tom from me, will you?”
We wave and say goodbye and not for the first time I feel this unreasonable jealousy. Anna became one of my closest friends in college and her boyfriend Tom is just adorable. Together they are a great couple, although she’s deaf and he’s hearing. No trouble on that end. I close Skype and just drum my fingers on my keyboard, not actually typing anything.
Looking up I catch Miho staring at me.
“Sorry, was I too loud?” I have learned that it’s usually easier to be upfront with my handicap, not that I hide it anyway. But people are taught to be polite about everything and often don’t want to upset me by asking.
“No, nothing like that,” Miho quickly assures. “It’s just – dammit, you’re fast with your hands.”
I stare back at her, blink once, twice. “That’s what she said.”
Her laughter rings through the whole café, she drops the rag she was using to wipe the counter and props up on her elbows, leans over the freshly polished counter and grins.
“I like you. But really, was that sign language?”
I shake my hands briefly, take my coffee and a sip.
“Yes. It’s what I do, or better, what I want to do for a living. Sign language interpreter. I’m working on some projects but we are still struggling with the funding.”
“Sounds interesting. How did you get into that field?”
Since Miho shows no signs of going back to work I close my laptop again, take my coffee and join her at the counter.
“Well, I’m officially hearing-impaired. While I can hear just fine with my hearing aids I figured it would be a good idea to learn how actually deaf people communicate. When I was younger I was kinda obsessed with the thought of losing my hearing completely.”
“Is that even possible?” Hey eyes widen as she stares at me as if she’s expecting me to spontaneously lose my remaining hearing.
“No, at least not until I have some kind of accident or maybe an infection. Or you know, a jet plane starts its engines right next to my ears.”
I laugh to ease the tension, to show her it’s just a joke.
“You know, people say I can get pretty loud sometimes,” she points out with a cheeky grin.
While I still wonder if she’s flirting with me or if that’s just her personality the door opens and the bell chime makes me turn my head.
It’s the guy from yesterday, the stare down opponent. Discreetly I scoot over a bit, give him room to come up to the counter and greet Miho with a simple ‘Good morning’ again.
Immediately she stands up straight, grabs a paper cup and punches the operating elements of the coffee machine before she faces him again. From up close I have to admit that he’s really handsome. Eyes slightly slanted, prominent jaw and cheek bones. Slim but not skinny. His hair is almost black, the cut looks carelessly disheveled, as if he likes to run a hand through it.
Based on Miho’s stare she wants to run her hands through his hair, too. And a lot more.
The coffee machine splutters the final drops of the black brew and Miho reaches out to grab the cup, hands it over without taking her eyes of him.
He pays, a tiny smile on his lips – or maybe it’s just my imagination – nods once and leaves.
“Okay, wait. That’s just too strange. Who is that guy?” I can’t help, my curiosity is killing me and we have talked so much about my personal history already, I think it’s time to talk about her.
“I have no idea.” With a huff she slumps down, arms come to rest on the counter. “He comes here every morning from Monday to Saturday, gets a large black coffee, Kenian roast, for over four months already. By now he doesn’t even have to order, I just make his coffee and he leaves again.”
“Four months and you don’t even know his name?” I scoff and roll my eyes, in four months I would at least know his name, occupation, relationship status. “Well, at least he’s not wearing a wedding ring.”
“I know. Believe me, I know. I checked out his hands so often…”
My raised eyebrow emphasizes my dirty grin. “Someone’s got a hand kink?”
She makes a face, sulks as she looks out of the window, into the general direction he disappeared into. “Pfft. That whole guy is my kink.”
It’s easy to chat for hours with Miho. When I leave the café after lunch I know that she’s two years my senior, moved back home after attending college and working for a company until she couldn’t take it anymore – no details on that – and that she has an acid, snarky kind of humor that I really appreciate. She’s a bit like the coffee she serves, a tad bitter, dark, but warm and comforting at the same time.
I really like her. Makes me wonder if we could have been friends back then if we had been in the same circles.
Back home I record some more videos, but I’m not satisfied with the results. This is the project of me and Sam, it doesn’t feel right to keep doing this on my own. I’m tired and exhausted, always pushing and keep going, never looking back but the feeling of something’s missing, someone rather, is ever present.
I hate it. Sam’s not my first heartbreak, but the worst so far. So I dive headfirst into more work, occupy my mind with other thoughts and problems, don’t allow my heart to bleed out, refuse to sit and cry for hours. No sad love songs for me, no ma’am.
I only stop working when Mom comes home that night and chatters on and on about Mr. Rosenfeldt and that dinner party.