Aubrey Meade noticed the older woman a few times before they spoke. It was hard not to notice her, with that style of hers–elegant, sassy, confident. She had the stride of a young woman, except when she would suddenly limp, then lift her right leg and shake her foot. Like a horse shaking off a tight tendon, Aubrey thought.
She’d tripped the first time Aubrey spoke to her. She’d been crossing the street while Aubrey waited for the other light, and halfway across, she lost her footing. The man beside her grabbed her elbow. Her expression then–that was what Aubrey noticed. Still confident, but beneath that, vulnerable, shocked, a touch of panic, and grace. What was that grace? Aubrey wanted to find out. When she reached her corner, Aubrey said something, brash and jokey, most likely. But it hadn’t put her off. She’d smiled. Sometimes a smile brings you into someone’s world–this one did. And Aubrey knew she wanted to return to it now and then, and maybe, even, to stay.
It wasn’t hard to figure out who this woman was. Aubrey spotted her photo on the donor sheet for the nonprofit that she directed: Celeste Templeton, philosophy professor at the university. Many of the university elite donated to Wing City. Some donated for scholarly reasons–identity politics were sexier than ever in academic circles. Some donated to support their students, as the university had a large and active LGBTQQIAAP community. Some donated for personal reasons–the university adopted a progressive nondiscrimination policy which encouraged faculty and administrators to be open about their identities. Aubrey suspected that Dr. Templeton supported their work for all of the above.
It’s such a small town–sometimes that drove Aubrey crazy. But in other ways, like how she always came across the same people, it was OK, nice even. So she wasn’t surprised when Celeste came into the café around the corner from Wing City.
What had they even talked about? Oh, right! New York! Celeste had been, of course. They talked about coffee shops, used bookstores, jazz clubs, and restaurants.
“You miss the city?” Aubrey asked.
“No!” laughed Celeste. “I like being able to leave my door unlocked, take my dog Wittgy out for a walk without looking behind my back every five steps, sit outside at the end of a long day and hear crickets. Do you?”
“Like hell,” Aubrey said. “But, you know. Location isn’t everything!”
“I mean, people count, too.” And they grew quiet, sitting at the café, across from each other, surrounded by the clinking of dishes, and a strange, sideways guitar riff on the speakers.
“I knew this musician,” Celeste had said. “Trey Kidd. We went to grad school together. Here, in fact.”
This woman carried all of her life within her, wound in a helix. As they spoke, she jumped through time, bringing Aubrey with her. This was her grace–this was what allowed her to be young and old simultaneously.
They sat now on a bench overlooking the estuary. They’d called and returned calls–promptly. They’d gone out, three times. They hadn’t slept over. All that potential hung over them still.
And Aubrey liked her. She imagined waking up with her, making coffee. Celeste was talking, but Aubrey was daydreaming about the coffee grinder. Celeste had one of those old-fashioned hand-grinding ones. When Celeste turned the crank–60 turns–her butt swung 60 times, back, forth. Think of that, in the morning, with the sun streaming in.
“–do you think?” Celeste asked.
“Oh, crap,” Aubrey said. “I am so fucking sorry. I was imagining you grinding. Coffee! Grinding coffee. Were you talking?”
Celeste laughed. “I was,” she said. “I was talking about love and how I used to think it didn’t matter if one professed it or not. I used to think that simply feeling it, that was the thing! That swirling cocktail of oxytocin, dopamine, and phenylethylamine. Simply drinking that–then moving through the world, drunk on love–that was what it was all about.”
“Like being a user,” Aubrey said.
Celeste laughed again. “I suppose. But I’ve changed my perspective. Love should be spoken, admitted, brought into mutuality.”
“That’s my style,” said Aubrey, and before she could say anything else, Celeste raised her hands.
“I love you, Aubrey.”
Of course Aubrey reciprocated–she didn’t leave something like that hanging, not when there were visions of coffee grinders and morning sun and a steaming kettle and a bed unmade with combed cotton sheets and the cat and dog conspicuously missing from every single fantasy.
There were more words shared and long looks and touches with hands and lips and eyelashes and noses and chins and foreheads that rested together, gently, quietly, like girls and old women do, when they’re alone, and no one is watching.
“Celeste,” Aubrey asked at last, “Why now? Why me? Why confess?”
Celeste looked over the bay. “It’s a long story, I suppose,” she said. “And it isn’t even mine. It’s the story of my mentor, and his granddaughter, and the boy–the young man–my mentor loved. Two lives, lived in parallel, buoyed by this unspoken love. Yes, it’s felt–even when unspoken. But what happens when it’s shared? Oh, the sparks!”
And they laughed together, a little drunk on phenylethylamine, a little high on dopamine, and very sweetly mellow in oxytocin. Then as the sun set, they walked home together, to Celeste’s home, through the showered sparks of the last rays of the sun.
Prompt for May 30: “Take a story that you wrote earlier this month, and tell it from a different point of view,” from StoryADay.org.