The second he had stepped through the door into the coffee shop, Jackson’s gaze had been drawn to her. Now he sits one table away from her, and still his gaze is pulled towards her as if magnetized.
She is beautiful, but then a lot of girls were beautiful. There is something different, something special, about this girl.
She sits alone in front of a laptop, a mug beside her filled with a steaming beverage. Jackson ponders whether she prefers tea or coffee, or something more adventurous like apple cider.
She types something on her laptop, and he can see her nails are painted a bright red that perfectly matches the shade of red she wears on her lips. Jackson also notes she wears a necklace showing the letter S, and he speculates her name must start with an S. Is she a Samantha, a Sarah, a Stephanie?
She smiles at something on the screen, her mouth stretching wide into a grin that spreads up to her eyes, making them sparkle with delight. He yearns to have those eyes staring into his, to know that that smile is for him.
He watches as she stops typing to brush her bangs out of her eyes. Her hair is the colour of milk chocolate, a shade or two darker than his own. It falls in loose waves around her shoulders. He imagines it must smell like strawberries, his favourite fruit.
Jackson has been told countless times that everything happens for a reason. He has never paid much attention to the overused saying, but now for the first time he sees there might be some truth to it.
Kelly, his only serious relationship of his 26 years, had cheated on him. In an attempt to move on he had asked Angela out, only to be given the age-old excuse, “I’m just not looking for a relationship right now.”
But now, all the rejection and heartache has led him here, has led him to her.
Now she picks a cellphone up off the table next to her and holds it up to her ear and Jackson sees her talking into it. He is sitting far enough away that the chatter and noise of the coffee shop make it impossible for him to hear her voice. He hungers to hear what it sounds like, probably like a gentle breeze rustling through leafy green trees in Spring.
He knows he has to go over to her, to have her gaze meet his, to have her see him.
He feels as if the air has become solid and is pressing down on him, making it hard from him to breathe and nearly impossible for him to get up.
Mustering all of his will power, he stands up. He tests the limits of his courage as he starts to force his legs to carry him towards her, while his instincts tell him to turn and run. One step, two steps, three. Any second now she will look up and see him. Four steps, five. He now stands beside her table.
The rapid beating of his heart, his sweaty palms, he can even feel the tops of his ears tingling. Suddenly it is as if everything has slowed down. He draws in a deep breath as he sees her finally raise her eyes to meet his own. And he realizes she is waiting for him to speak. “Is this seat taken?”
She is waiting outside for him when Jackson arrives at her place to pick her up. “You look gorgeous.” He tells her as she gets in the car. And he really means it.
She smiles at him, but he knows her well enough to see that she’s nervous. “Don’t worry, my parents won’t bite.”
She pushes his shoulder playfully. “I know, I just really want them to like me.”
He turns to her and takes her hand in both of his, raises it to his lips and kisses it. “They will adore you as much as I do.” He knows they will.
Jackson feels the grass flatten beneath his weight as he goes down on one knee, holds up the little velvet covered box as he asks her the question that has the power to change his life forever. Looking into her eyes, he silently pleads with her to say yes and make him the happiest he has ever been.
“I’ll get her.” Jackson says as he disentangles himself from the bed sheets.
Walking down the dark hall towards the nursery where their daughter has woken up crying. He picks her up out of her crib and begins rocking her back and forth. She has his eyes but her mother’s perfect smile.
He sits with her in the rocking chair and tells her the story of the night her parents met in a coffee shop.
He drains the last of his coffee and grabs his briefcase. He is, as usual, running late for work.
“Remember Kendra’s dance recital is tonight at 7:00.” His wife reminds him as she hastily packs the kids’ lunches.
“I forgot my backpack upstairs!” calls Nicholas as he races past his parents.
Jackson pulls on his jacket and is about to rush out the door when he realizes he too has forgotten something. He hurries back into the kitchen where he pulls his wife close and kisses her. “Have a good day sweetheart.”
“Dad, do you believe in soulmates?” A teenage Nicholas asks his father. Jackson replies, “I don’t know if there is only one person that’s right for each of us, but I do know that I fell in love with your mother the moment I first laid eyes on her. I just knew we were meant to be together. It was love at first sight.”
Her laughter rings out like twinkling sleigh bells as Jackson playfully chases her through the house. “Grandpa’s going to get you Celia!”
She runs behind her grandmother’s rocking chair to hide. Jackson feigns ignorance. “Where could my little Celia be?”
“I’m right here!” She shouts as she runs towards him and leaps into his open arms. He makes eye contact with his wife and sees her face light up in the now familiar smile as the three of them fill the room with laughter.
The once smooth hand, now wrinkled with age, clasps his own as they sit side by side in front of the fireplace. Slowly she lowers her head, covered in snowy white hair, onto his chest. Neither speaks, it is enough to be together in peaceful silence. This is their happily ever after.
The sound of a chair scrapping across the floor snaps Jackson out of his reverie. It’s her chair.
He remains sitting at his own table as he watches her head towards the door of the coffee shop, her hand reaching for the handle.
He opens his mouth as if to call after her, but then remembers he doesn’t know her name, and he sits frozen as he watches her open the door and exit the coffee shop, watches as the future he has envisioned so clearly is lost to him forever.