Fiction: An Extraordinary Meeting

June opened the door at Starbucks as she glanced at her PDA. She was twenty minutes early for her meeting downtown so she might as well have a coffee. There was nothing else to do. There was a bit of a line so she put her PDA back in her handbag and fished around for her wallet. No sense in waiting, she'd be ready with a bill to pay when she got to the cashier. She took out a fiver then put her wallet back in her bag. She glanced around then suddenly realised the man standing in front of her had half turned around and was looking at her. She looked at him. She blinked. She looked again. Oh my God! It was her ex-husband.

"Hello June." Bitch. The man smiled.

"Hello Bobby." Bastard. She smiled back at him.

Shit, I would have to run into her. "Long time no see."

Not long enough. "Yes, it's been what? Seven years since we popped open the champagne?"

"It will be eight years next month, the thirteenth to be precise, when you flung my $1,492 Chinese vase at my head." You goddamn cow.

June grinned at Bobby. God, I so wanted to hit you in the head. "If you hadn't ducked, it wouldn't have smashed against the wall."

Bobby nodded thoughtfully. Good point. "Yes, I should have caught it. Unfortunately you startled me and I instinctively got out of the way." I should have sued your ass off. He sighed. "I really liked that vase."

"I know." For a moment, June relished getting to him like that. Maybe you can feel a little of the pain you caused me, you prick. Bobby had made the trip to China when he was twenty years old and had fallen in love with that vase. It had cost him as a student a small fortune to purchase the item and get it properly shipped back home and consequently he had always given it an honoured place in his home as a symbol of his youth.

"What brings you to this neck of the woods?" Bobby raised an eyebrow in a quizzical look. Is she remarried? Is she dating? Has some other poor sucker fallen for her charms?

June hesitated. Fishing for information, is he? "Just meeting a client at their offices." Mr. Nosy can fish elsewhere.

A voice behind Bobby distinctly said, "Next," and Bobby turned around to discover they were next. He turned back to June and politely gestured her to go ahead. "After you," said Bobby.

"Thank you," said June. She stepped up to the counter and spoke to the man at the register. "I'll have a Chai Tea Latte and one of your oatmeal raisin cookies." She held out the five dollar bill.

Bobby stood behind her and took advantage of the moment to secretly look June up and down. Hmmm, she's still a good looking woman. He nodded slightly as if he was agreeing with himself. Oh heck, I always knew she would age well. She was good-looking then and I figured she'd become more beautiful with time. Hmmm, would I feel better if she got uglier?

Suddenly he saw the five dollar bill and stepped forward. He put out his hand in between the bill and the cashier who was about to grab it. Bobby turned to June. "Would you permit me?" What the hell are you doing?

June still held the bill out as she turned her head to look directly at Bobby. What? I thought Mister Holier Than Thou hated my guts. "That is kind of you." June went about putting her money back in her wallet then arranging everything in her purse. Where is this bit of niceness coming from? Is somebody outside flattening my tires as we speak?

Bobby turned to the cashier. "I'll have a tall of the house blend." He glanced across the menu board on the wall behind the cashier. "Oh, add another oatmeal raisin cookie to that." He reached into his pocket and pulled out some bills. He unfolded them and selected a ten to hand to the cashier.

June watched Bobby pay the cashier. He's older but he sort of looks more distinguished. Is he still single?

The cashier passed some change to Bobby. "If you would go to the side counter, your order will be filled momentarily," said the man as he gestured to his left.

Bobby took a step back to let June by. "Shall we?"

June nodded and walked to the side counter. He could be a bastard but he always was a gentleman. I liked that.

Bobby stared at her backside and smiled slightly to himself. She's not getting older; she's getting better. He followed her to the side counter.

"So, you're here to see a client. Business is doing well?" Bobby smiled warmly. I wonder if she's involved.

"Business is fine," said June. He always had a disarming smile. "And you? Still with the same firm?" He made me feel important like I was the center of the universe.

"I moved four years ago. I have a new job and a new life." Humph. She shows the slightest interest in me and I turn into idiotic teenager. My male ego is being stroked and I love it.

A woman behind the counter put out two cups and two little bags. She pointed to the cup on the right then the one on the left. "This is the Chai Tea and this is the coffee. And you each have an oatmeal raisin."

June and Bobby picked up their respective cups and cookies. "Thank you," each of them said in turn to the woman.

Bobby turned around and scanned the room. "How about that table by the window?"

"Looks good," said June. She started to walk between the tables towards the window.

"Just give me a sec. I want to put some milk in my coffee." Bobby went to the sidebar where milk, cream, and such were laid out for the customers. He removed the lid of his coffee and poured in a little 2% milk. He put the lid back on, picked up a couple of napkins, and then headed to the table. June was already seated and had removed the lid to her Chai Tea.

Bobby put his cup and his cookie on the table then placed a napkin at his place and one closer to June. He sat down and removed the lid of his coffee.

"Thank you," said June. She picked up the napkin and placed it in front of her on the table. "You always did that."

"Did what?" He glanced at her questioningly. She always liked me to pay attention to her.

"You would always remember to get a napkin for me. Or whatever I might have needed."

Bobby shrugged. "I dunno. You need a napkin; I get you a napkin." Play the innocent.

June stopped fiddling with her things and looked at him for a moment. "You always thought of others. You thought of me." He really is kind.

"It's just a napkin."

"Yes it is. But you thought of it. In my experience, not everyone pays attention to the little things. Not everyone pays attention to the other person." June half smiled at Bobby. I remember what attracted me to him in the first place. She reached out and picked up her cookie. As she studied him, she took a bite. Older. Now a little wiser?

"Too bad for those poor schmucks. Half the fun of being in a couple is focusing on your partner." I enjoyed focusing on you.

"It would seem that not every man has learned that particular lesson."

"Oh? There have been others after me?" Bobby gave a look of mock surprise. "After the best, what's the rest?"

June rolled her eyes in feigned derision. He sometimes comes across as arrogant but he always does it with humour. He doesn't take himself too seriously. I always interpreted that as confidence and who doesn't like confidence?

Bobby took the lid off his coffee, held up the cup and took a sip. He glanced at June. "You're looking good." You look very good.

"Thank you," said June. She tried to remain impassive but enjoyed hearing the words come out of his mouth. "You're not too bad yourself." I am feeling comfortable with a familiar face.

"Not too bad?" Bobby chuckled. "High praise, indeed." He set down his cup and held out his arms then used his hands to point back at himself. "The wheels haven't fallen off the wagon yet."

"You always were a decent shape."

He nodded. "I'm not a fitness fanatic but I do like to do my part to keep the old bod ticking along."

"Still jogging?"

"Yep, still trying to fit in a couple if not three times a week. Of course, will I ever get up the personal resolve to do the marathon? The idea crosses my mind from time to time but I always argue with myself about just how much exercise we need to remain healthy as opposed to crossing the line and doing more for some personal goal. There are other things in life."

"Oh? You seemed to be a bit of a workaholic the last time I saw you." June looked at him quizzically. That, you idiot, was precisely what got out of hand.

Bobby looked thoughtful. Years ago, his career was just taking off and he devoted himself far too much to his work and not enough to his personal life. He had failed to find the proper balance and in the end, June decided she couldn't play second fiddle to a man with another mistress. Their arguments, their fights had become more frequent and more intense until one day, in a fit of frustration; she flung the Chinese vase at him when he walked in the door late from work after having forgotten their dinner date. She moved out the next day while he was at the office.

"After having spent more than a decade trying to climb the corporate ladder and failing, I discovered the correct course of action was to make a lateral move. I found a new firm, a new job, and a new life. I think I've found the balance between my work and my personal life which was missing before."

June stared at him listening. "You think?"

Bobby slowly smiled. "I wasn't very nice back then." He paused then looked June right in the eye. "I wasn't very nice to you."

"You think?" June smiled back.

"I really liked that vase."

"I'm sorry."

"No, I deserved it." Bobby shrugged. "I didn't have any balance in my life, especially in my personal life, and I let my professional ambitions get out of hand. They never should have been the number one priority." Bobby looked at June with a touch of nostalgia. "I put you second when I should have put you first. I wasn't very nice to you. I imagine I wasn't at all easy to live with. For that, I owe you an apology."

June looked at Bobby thoughtfully. Who are you and what have you done with my ex-husband?

He reached up and idly touched his chin as he looked away thinking about something. "I could go back to China and get another vase." Bobby smiled at June. "You would find it fascinating."

June raised an eyebrow and smiled back. "Are you asking?" That would be funny.

Bobby chuckled. "I pictured you married with a house in the suburbs by now."

"I do have my own career, you know." Geesh, let's not be so traditional.

"Oh you were always more than a pretty face." You are the smartest woman I know.

June felt a little miffed. "I completed my Masters of Business Administration."

"That doesn't surprise me."

"Oh?"

Bobby looked directly at June. "You were… you are the smartest woman I know." His expression was serious.

June studied his face and looked in his eyes trying to detect a touch of sarcasm. She didn't think he was being funny so finally said, "Thank you." I always liked that he noticed that. He never made me feel inferior somehow because I was a woman. He made me feel like an equal.

Bobby was perfectly serious. While the two of them seemed to be intellectual equals both educationally and culturally, Bobby had always suspected that in raw brain power, June could outdo him. If the two of them had to do the SAT or pass a test for Mensa, Bobby was certain June would come out on top. June was an attractive woman but she had a mind that kept Bobby on his toes. He appreciated her as an intellectual challenge. She was sharp and he could never take her for granted. "You're a smart woman. I never had any doubt you would go far." Bobby chuckled. "I guess I never thought you would go so far as to never come back."

June laughed. "It seemed like the right thing to do at the time."

"Yes, I agree." Bobby sighed. He cleared his throat then started to sing softly, "Regrets, I've had a few…"

"You must be serious if you're singing Sinatra." June smiled. "But I noticed that Frank never sang a song which said something like we did it our way."

Bobby nodded. "I'm sure he had his regrets."

"And you?"

"Of course, that's what I meant. With age and experience, one gets a different perspective on life and what's truly important. It's unfortunate I didn't discover the secret of having balance in my life sooner. But I was young and foolish." Bobby chuckled again. "I'm sure some would argue that now I'm just older and foolish but maybe, just maybe, I am making some headway in that regard."

"Really."

"I wanted to set the world on fire. Now I realise that goal is a tad unrealistic and I should be content with setting my corner of the world on fire. That unto itself is a bit of a goal."

"You seem different."

"Oh? How so?"

"What happened to that driven man who was not going to let anything or anyone stand in his way?"

Bobby raised an eyebrow with a quizzical look. "I'm mellowing with age?" He smiled slightly. "There are other things in life."

"I'm sure your wife appreciates that."

"I'm not married."

"No? So neither one of us thought that as a priority after getting married the first time?"

"Maybe we're trying to be more judicious instead of being young and impulsive."

June laughed. "Yes, impulsive. I'm sure that is an excellent description of our trip down the aisle."

Bobby smiled back. He enjoyed hearing June laugh. He always appreciated the fun side of their relationship, the fun side of their marriage. When they had fun, they truly did have fun. And they did have fun together. "Maybe we were just too young."

"Probably. In retrospect I would say that we were both missing a degree of maturity. After all, every day can't be a whirlwind romance. Sometimes there is the regular boring routine."

"Possibly. But that doesn't mean with a little effort the regular boring routine has to be boring. I did enjoy sending you flowers each month to work."

June smiled. "Yes, that was very nice. You earned yourself quite the reputation at my place of employment. I still remember that a couple of the girls said their boyfriends or husbands thought you were making them all look bad. Who sends flowers to their wife one a month, every month for years?"

Bobby smiled. "I got a kick out of it. The flower shop got to know me quite well. When I phoned up, the process of sending flowers had become fairly easy as they knew exactly what to do."

"What about the money?"

"Who cares? It wasn't like it cost a fortune. It was the thought that counted and as I said, I enjoyed doing it. It was like the post-it notes."

June chuckled. "Ah yes, the post-it notes."

When Bobby and June had started dating, Bobby had taken to leaving post-it notes in various places and this habit had carried over into their marriage. If he was away on a business trip, he would put one in their bed so she would find it at the end of the evening. Before leaving for work, he would put one up on the bathroom mirror or leave one in the kitchen. Sometimes he wrote nothing more than "xox" but sometimes he would think of something amusing to say. Whatever the message, he got a kick out of leaving a note so June would know that he was thinking of her.

"See? The regular boring routine doesn't have to be boring at all."

"True," said June. This is the man I wanted. This is the man I want.

Bobby paused for a moment looking at June. "I wonder what would have happened if we met now instead of way back then."

It was June's turn to look thoughtful. "Good question. Does a mature marriage call for more mature people?" June looked at Bobby with a sly smile. "Of course, I would be talking strictly about you."

"Of course, I wouldn't have it any other way. I was the one who need more maturity." Bobby smiled back at her. "Mature people use an overhand throw."

June looked perplexed for a moment then realised Bobby was referring to the vase. She had, in fact, thrown it overhand at him trying to connect with as much force as possible. "Point taken." She nodded smiling. "Sometimes dialogue doesn't seem enough. Sometimes the situation calls for action."

"I look back on many aspects of our marriage with fondness."

"You do?"

"Of course I do. Heck, just because it didn't last forever doesn't mean we didn't have some great moments together."

June looked at him thoughtfully.

"You were an important part of my life. You are still an important part of my life. Consider yourself to be very influential. All other women are and will be measured in comparison to you."

"Should I be flattered?"

"Why not? You raised the bar. How is anybody else going to compete?" Bobby chuckled. It was probably an odd thing to say but it was supposed to be a compliment. And it was the truth. June had been influential and the experience of the marriage remained influential in his life. Probably that is why he never remarried. "After the best, who cares about the rest?" Bobby laughed.

"I thought that was your line about yourself."

"I think it's applicable to you. Maybe it's applicable to both of us." Bobby smiled at June. "And what about you?" Bobby leaned over the table and took one of June's hands. He slowly raised her hand as he leaned over then gently touched his lips to the back of it while keeping his eyes directly on hers. "Nobody has tickled your fancy?" Am I pouring it on too thick? God, I'm flirting with her. I am flirting with my ex-wife.

June watched Bobby kiss her hand. What do I make of this? Charmer? Cad? The sweet side of the ex-bastard? Wait, who says he's an ex-bastard? He may very well still be a bastard. "Think you're going to get anywhere considering our history?"

Bobby laughed. "I never could help myself around you. It just always seemed like the natural thing to do."

"Yes, I know. I always enjoyed the attention. But did you ever appreciate how angry I was with you when I threw the vase at you?"

"Then? No. Now? Yes. But tell me, do women ever forget? Will you ever forget? Will you ever forgive?"

June looked around as she thought how to respond. "Betrayal is probably the worst. Not even betrayal in the usual sense but betrayal in the sense of neglect, of ignoring your partner. I will not be taken for granted."

"I heard you loud and clear. I heard you when the divorce papers were served; I heard you when the negotiations between the lawyers were going on; and I heard you when the final amount of alimony was set. If I could do it all over again, I would do it altogether differently."

"Really?"

Bobby cleared his throat then started to softly sing, "Regrets, I've had a few…"

June rolled her eyes. "You seem to be in quite the mood."

"Why not? I haven't seen you in years. We get a divorce then completely lose track of one another."

"That seemed like the appropriate course of action. After a failed marriage, does a couple remain friends?"

"Maybe not. But if I'm in quite a mood as you put it I would attribute that to forgetting all about the vase and remembering those good moments." Bobby leaned back in his chair and smiled slightly. "Believe it or not, I'm just happy to see you."

June turned slightly in her chair and looked at the clock on the wall. "I'm happy to see you too but I see my time here has come to an end. Duty calls." June started to gather up her things. She put her napkin and the paper cookie bag in the cup and pressed down the lid.

"Can I call you sometime?"

June glanced at him then stood up picking up her empty cup.

Bobby stood up and gestured towards her cup. "Let me. I'll take care of it."

June put the cup back down on the table. She reached out her hand to Bobby. "Good to see you again."

Bobby looked at the extended hand a moment then shook it. Hmm, no hug? No kiss?

June looked at his face and detected some disappointment. I'm going to play this cool.

"Good to see you, June."

"Good to see you too, Bobby."

"Shall I phone you sometime?"

June stared at him. He's got to be kidding. Would that just be too weird or what? "We can always mull that one over." June turned. "Got to run." She walked from the table and headed to the door.

Bobby watched June walk away. He remembered the first time he had seen her. He knew then there was some sort of connection between them. He didn't know exactly what that connection would be but he knew they were destined for more than a simple hello. And even though they had divorced, he had always wondered if things were truly over between them. Yes, it was a different era; yes, he was a different man oh heck they were both different people. But under different circumstances, he still felt things would have been different, things would have been better.

June got to the door and paused. She looked back at the table where Bobby had sat back down and was gathering up various things to throw in the garbage. He seems different. He seems more laid back, mellow. What should I do if he calls? What will I do if he calls? June remembered how Bobby had been unrelenting in chasing her. It took her a while but finally she let go and she gave herself to him and to the moment. She surrendered as much to the man as she did to her own idea of a romantic fairy tale. Was it just a romantic fairy tale without the maturity of dealing with a long-term relationship? What will I do if he calls?

Bobby picked up both cups and walked to the garbage and tossed them out. He turned back and glanced out the window. He watched June walk down the sidewalk. How odd to run into her after all these years. What an extraordinary meeting. Bobby smiled to himself. What an Ex-traordinary meeting.

 
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