I was getting my Americano when who should I spot but Kevin, aka Silvertop, who had stopped coming into our place not long after he "defended me" against some douche who told me to smile.
"So," I said, "Here's where you've been hiding."
He put down his book, something called The Secret Wisdom of Nature, and looked up at me. I could read the embarrassment on his face. "Oh... hi."
"So, what, did I scare you off?
"A little bit, yeah," he winced at the memory.
"Well, it's safe, if you ever want to come back. My co-workers all unanimously told me I blew it out of proportion. You meant well."
"Thanks," he smiled.
"I'm a little bit touchy," I went on - God only knows why. "About people knowing what's best for me. Men in particular, but anybody."
"You have a right to," he nodded and gave a forgiving smile. "I'm guessing a lot of people have presumed to know what's best for you."
"A lot of people presume a lot of things," I said, with a slight laugh, although any semblance of a joke was lost on him. I sat down even though he didn't offer me a seat - I pretty much always assume men want my company nowadays, but I rarely take them up on it.
"People see me as something that I'm not inside. Helpless. Vulnerable. In need of protection."
"I can see how that must be frustrating," he said. "I... should let you know I have my own issues. I have three daughters and seeing a woman get treated the way you do sometimes gets under my skin. I felt like I was going to explode if I saw one more guy talk to you that way."
I bit my lip. Sometimes I forget other people have issues too but this was not long after my conversation with Ariel.
I raised an eyebrow, "So if you had sons, you wouldn't notice how men treat women?"
He exhaled, again, embarrassed. "I... can't say. I can't imagine not having my girls. I'd like to think I'd be sensitive and mature if I had sons too, but the last time I didn't have a daughter, I was a dumbass in my 20's."
I looked at his finger almost as a reflex - no ring. I didn't ask.
"Life... is not easy." I started to say, clearly just rambling at this point, "And I would like to say I had a better coping mechanism than just being numb but apparently it leads to losing my temper on well meaning customers and scaring them off. Sorry again."
We talked a bit longer. He told me about his home business as a recruiter, which is why he can spend hours at coffee shops reading in the middle of the day. He said he had heard some gossip about me, that I'd been left at the altar or something, and that always made him pay attention to me, to see if I let it show, bit I never did.
"That..." I said, almost with a smile, "Was a little like it happened to someone else. Something I heard about but didn't live. But I definitely did, and it was even harder than I thought it would be."
"You really can't prepare for something like that," he said with the tone of someone who knows. He added, "The blaming yourself is the worst part. It takes years to realize that the problem isn't with you but with them. I made excuses for my ex for a long time, I don't even know why. I can't blame you for just... amputating it."
I smiled. I felt understood for the first time in a while. "Amputate. That's a good word for it. God, I can't believe I'm spilling my guts to you," I said, once I realized the conversation had lasted over an hour.
"I thought I was the one spilling," he said.
"We both spilled," I noted. He chuckled.
There was a pause. I thought he was going to say something but he didn't.
"I appreciate it," he said with a smile.
I left another pause in the air. Still nothing happened.
"They... we... miss you. Take care," I backed away and left.
Once outside, I glimpsed my reflection in a window. I looked like a total mess, since I hadn't taken any care with my appearance before leaving since I didn't plan on being out long. I straightened my hair, and adjusted a bra strap that had fallen during the course of the conversation, but I had been too self conscious to address during the conversation. After checking to make sure nobody was around, I dug into my cleavage to brush out some crumbs that had fallen in and itched me for the better part of the morning.
Then of course I realized he could probably see me through the window, although if he did he didn't let it show. I hurried on home after that.