Tuesday, January 25, 2005

As the Gavel Strikes -- Chapter Three: Coffee

(Chapter One) (Chapter Two)

Laura drove Clark to the local coffee house in her shiny, red Jaguar convertible. Clark enjoyed the ride, the air streaming past, bringing him a bit closer to sobriety.

The local coffee house was a place called Tisane. No one was certain quite how to pronounce this name, whether it should be spoken "Tiss'-Ain" or "Tiss-Ahn'-Ay." To this day, the quandary persists, confusing its new clientele as much as the regulars.. except for those select few who like to think "they are in the know" and have some hidden insight into this mystery.

Neither Clark nor Laura thought they were in the know. If anything, both felt equally confused.

They strolled in through the doors, the warm, coffee-enriched air hitting them like a gentle summer breeze tied to a brick. Clark closed his eyes and took a deep breath, sampling the aroma as if to draw some measure of caffeine off the air itself.

When he opened his eyes, they immediately alighted on Marsha, sitting calmly in one of the plush chairs. She looked to be alone, no one accompanying her, only one cup of coffee on her table. Clark’s heart skipped a beat and his breath caught in his throat.

Laura had already proceeded to the counter and was in the process of procuring coffee for the two of them. When she had the two cups in hand, she turned around only to see Clark walking towards Marsha’s table. "Clark!" she hissed, trying to get his attention quietly. Clark didn’t seem to hear her as he slowly approached Marsha.

Clark opened with "Oh, hello Marsha."

"Hi Clark."

"Fancy meeting you here."

"Yes, fancy that."

An uncomfortable lull hung in the air. The silence between them was almost palpable, the tension as their eyes met disconcerting. It was as if, were you to look very closely, the air itself shimmered from the heat of their gaze, one of them sadly clinging to hope, the other well awash a wave of annoyance.

Marsha tried to move things along. "Well Clark, what is it? What do you want?"

"A second chance. Come on Marsha!" Clark was rather loud, nearly yelling.

Marsha responded in kind. "Is that it? Is that the extent of your argument? 'Come on Marsha?' Surely you can do better than that. You did well in Moot Court if I remember correctly."

"I don’t like to brag but I did get an 'A.' But that’s not the point. Marsha, we didn’t want for love. For kindness. For caring. Why won’t you believe me?"

"I do believe you, Clark. What we wanted for was passion. What you wanted for. And the irony is you only show it now that things are over. Clark, don’t ask again. I’ll not change my answer and you’ll only serve to make this more of a spectacle than it already is."

Clark attempted to surreptitiously survey the onlookers, noting how they immediately turned back to their newspapers, books or computers as his eyes alighted on them.

Lowering his voice a few notches, he responded, "fine, Marsha. But you’ll regret this. Mark my words, you will live to regret the day you tossed me away."

"Clark, at the moment I’m only regretting my choice of venue."

"Goodbye Marsha. Enjoy your coffee."

"Goodbye Clark." After he had turned away and taken a few steps, she muttered to herself under her breath "..and good riddance."

Clark stalked away from Marsha, clearly displeased with how things had gone. Observing Laura’s seat at a small table not too far away, he strode over and sat down opposite her.

"You heard." It wasn’t a question.

Laura sighed. "Yes. I tried to stop you from going over there."

"I imagine Marsha would have been grateful had you succeeded."

"Don’t be mad, Clark. It’s over. I knew that the moment I heard. Why can’t you move on? Why can’t you accept it?"

He leaned back in his chair, sipping at his cooling latte. "I know, but.. but I’m not done."

"Yes, you are. Move on, Clark. Get it together. Lounging around, drinking yourself further into despair, harassing her at the coffee house, none of that is going to help you." Laura drank some of her beverage, briefly pondering her next statement. "You’ve been grieving for three days now. Isn’t it time you start healing?"

Clark knew Laura was right. Marsha would never take him back. That was one of the things he respected in her. She made a decision, for better or worse, and stuck by it come what may. He glanced over at Marsha, seated four tables away to his right facing he and Laura. Marsha was looking down, involved in whatever book she was currently reading. He turned back to Laura, her expression one of patience, interest and some element of hope. Clark looked closer, wondering what the hope represented.

Laura stared quizzically at him. "What?"

"I.." He glanced back at Marsha and saw her looking unabashedly at his table, at him and Laura.

On impulse, Clark turned back, leaned across the table and kissed Laura.

Across Laura’s face various emotions vied. Confusion fled before surprise which retreated from happiness that became anger and resulted in fury.

Laura pulled back from Clark, aghast at his audacity. "The nerve!" Her right hand flew up, slapping him hard, forcing his countenance into one of utter confusion. Laura stood up quickly, nearly knocking her chair over. She took her purse and stalked out of the coffee house in quick, pressed strides.

Clark, still registering his surprise and confusion, glanced back towards Marsha only to see her chuckling to herself and smiling.