A Serendipitous Evening Encounter - Focused on what’s ahead of him sends a man into a collision with his past.

Submitted into Contest #199 in response to: Your protagonist walks past an intriguing stranger, then turns around to take another look at them. The stranger turns around, too. Write about what happens next.... view prompt


Drama Fiction Romance

The smell of a charcoal grill and seared meat floating in the early evening air skipped across my nose, returning hunger pangs from my stomach to my lips. The remainder of my shopping excursion would have to wait; food became an unshakeable need. Crossing the cobblestone plaza of the arts district, I followed the sounds of boisterous conversations, the clicking of metal utensils on plates, and laughter with the unmistakable voice of Édith Piaf blending it all. It had to be a French Bistro and a good one. 

Following my nose, I picked up the sweet scent of seared scallops, onion, garlic, and the heady aroma of rich cheese. Cafés and restaurants littered the area, a popular corner of the small Canadian city, modeled in the style of a quaint Parisian café district, and the restaurant responsible for casting off the alluring bouquet was a popular one. Outside the patio, bordered by its chest-high cedar planks, hanging, lush green plants, and lazy lanterns emanating an amber glow, was a bicycle rack, its slots jammed full. A chalkboard sign sat perched at the entrance listing the fresh menu of the day.

The display was bordered with impressive chalk art drawings of grapes on the vine, bottles of wine, and a plump, smiling chef with one hand holding a tray of food and the other cradling the fingers of a statuesque woman doing her best "coquettish ingénue."

Inside the patio, I spied an empty table for two, and my hopes were high for quick seating, an amuse-bouche, and a pretty waitress. I was only a few feet away from the end of the street leading to the restaurant when I saw a young couple heading for the patio from the intersecting street above. Worried about losing the open table, I skipped off the sidewalk aiming for the hostess before the oncoming pair– in my panic, I never saw the woman step out from the corner. 

In one moment, my vision was laser-focused on the beckoning table; the next, it was hit by a curtain of hair and a white silk blouse–I had walked smack into a woman. Her shrieking and the collision caused me to instinctively reach out to catch her from falling onto the street. Then, using my forward momentum, I spun on my heel, carried her over my thighs, and set her down on the sidewalk like a rehearsed swing move. 

I began apologizing profusely while the lady giggled the way one does when too shocked for words. While my mouth worked to untangle my tongue, my brain registered new scents; apricots and vanilla. Horribly embarrassed, I begged her forgiveness for my careless walking. 

"It's fine–I'm fine!" she replied. "Seems par for the course with the way my evening's gone. But no harm done." 

Flooded with embarrassment, I could barely raise my eyes at her, and I felt worse when I did. My victim wore wavy hair of silver and white, and although her expression held a lively youthfulness, she had to be in her sixties. My hunger turned to queasiness, realizing I'd nearly planted a senior citizen into the street. "I'm terribly sorry," I said, offering a last apology. That was entirely my fault; you're certain you're alright?"

"These things happen," she said, then smiled and raised elegant fingertips, drumming the air in a cheerful goodbye, then turned and stepped back onto the sidewalk. 

Shaking my head at my carelessness and feeling mortified at running over the woman, I continued toward the patio. The hostess, standing at the entrance, smiled and greeted me. "Would you like a table, sir?" 

I nodded, "Yes," but then added, "Wait," followed by a vocalized thought, "I know her!"

"Excuse me?" the hostess asked. 

I raised a finger in pause, then turned and looked back at the woman I'd run over. She had also stopped walking and stood a few feet from the curb, looking back at me. 

Recognition arrived, and we both smiled. "I'll take that table. For two, please," I told the hostess, then skipped back into the street to greet the woman who had been my neighbor some decades ago. With a puzzled grin, I asked, "Mrs. Tremain?" 

Walking toward me, she returned a smile and, with it, a hundred fond childhood memories–Mrs. Tremain was as beautiful as ever. 

With a raised eyebrow and a playful stare, she answered. "Mr. Lewis." 


I stood in the center of the street with the woman of my adolescent infatuation in front of me, and suddenly, I was thirteen again; I couldn't help but smile. If I searched my memory banks to date the last time I had thought of her or her sons, I'd come up with a blank, and while everything about us had changed over the distance added since those days of innocence and wonder, one thing remained; Mrs. Tremain was still a lady of enchantment.  

I regained the composure of the forty-something man staring at her. "What an odd coincidence to bump into you!" 

"I should say so, and quite literally!" Mrs. Tremain replied. 

"Ah, yes. That was awful. My appetite overruled etiquette," I said, still rather sheepish. "The smells coming from the bistro got the better of me, and my focus was on that empty table. I made a dash for it to beat the other couple angling for the same spot. That's why I…."

"....bodychecked me like you boys used to do playing hockey." 

"I'm so sorry about that. I feel terrible about it." I said. "If you're not rushing off somewhere, I'd love to buy you dinner. I've reserved the table if you feel like joining me?" It may have been my imagination, but I thought I saw a curious twinkle in her bright blue eyes for a split second.

"Hmm–well, the truth of it is I'm rushing away from somewhere, dinner, in fact." 

I gave her a questioning expression, waiting for her to elaborate on her answer. 

"I feel rather terrible myself," she said, then glanced over her shoulder toward the street from where she'd appeared. "I've just dashed away from an awful date."

My mind did a somersault at her casual revelation. "A date? Was Mr. Tremain no longer in the picture?" Questions needing answers leaped to the front of my brain. "Were they divorced? Did he die? Why did this news buoy me? Does she still see the little boy who lived down the street when she looked at me? How is she still so beautiful? How old is she? My God, she looks amazing!" Complex algebraic equations ticker-taped across my mental calculator, spitting out a solution and placing her in the sixty-something category. "In her 60s and a powerhouse of genteel elegance–it has to be from that American East Coast lineage."

With all those quick thoughts zipping across my brain like shooting stars, I somehow managed to avoid an awkward reply. Instead, I extended my offer with courteous insistence. "Then this truly is serendipitous! I'm only in the city for a few days and was doing some shopping when I realized I hadn't eaten. Join me! Let's see how many gaps we can fill over dinner and a bottle of wine."

If the shock of recognition and lost memories wasn't enough to startle my soul awake, her next motion certainly was. She raised her hand to her forehead, and lovely fingers touched at the tips with pale blue nail polish swept a band of glimmering gray hair away from her eyes, tucking it behind her ear, pierced with a teardrop baby blue crystal earring nestled in silver. It was the same movement I'd seen her perform countless times; only then her hair held the brown blonde of freshly turned aspen leaves in the fall. 

"Running away from the clutches of one man and into the arms of another isn't my style, but I am famished--I bolted before we ordered."

"That's wonderful," I replied, thrilled she'd accepted my invitation, but at the same moment, my brain worked to unravel her message; "Did she just flirt with me? Was that flirting? Maybe she's experiencing shock, a double dose? The first from the bad date and the second from nearly getting trampled." Once again, I managed a meager recovery. "I meant, that's awful–your date–but outstanding that you'll join me.

She giggled. "You always were funny." 

A sliver of my lost youth ballooned in my chest. Her laugh was the same; carefree, delightfully musical, and sweet. As we stepped onto the restaurant patio, the grinning hostess leading us to our table once more, my brain jolted me with a message. "Get a hold of yourself, man! What do you think is happening here? Smarten up before you make a fool of yourself–this is Mrs. Tremain, for God's sake!" it scolded. 

As she sat with an impeccable posture, she leaned toward me with a severe expression. "Before we go any further," her voice was serious but still soft, "we need to get one thing straight." 

My insides turned to snowflakes melting into puddles; I was transparent; she had clearly seen the awkward, blushing, gushing, googly-eyed teenage boy, not the man, and she was about to resurrect the dynamic dictated by the age gap. "Or, she is flirting with you, dummy." My intrusive thoughts added for consideration and distraction.

"You are not allowed to call me Mrs. Tremain anymore. It's Meredith from now on," she explained. "And although I do like the sound and look of Mr. Lewis," she added, "I'm going to go with Byron–I always liked that name. I haven't met many Byrons, you know."

I rolled my eyes, "No one has, but thanks to my poet-loving father, he added one more to his generation." This time, I was first to the punch and shut my brain up, "I know–I know! That sounded like flirting! It's been a while, but I'm pretty sure she's flirting. Or torturing me for her pleasure." Rudely, my brain answered, "Is there even a difference?"

Our reminiscing began with Foie Gras poached in Gewürztraminer, telling of our divorces and subsequent experience as late-in-life singles. Over cold tomato soup with crayfish and caviar, we laughed at the escapades her sons and I had during summer days in the woods and winter nights playing hockey and how in both seasons, it was not uncommon for one of us to return bloodied and angry with the other. By our main courses, Meredith's–roasted veal tenderloin with arugula and grilled wild mushrooms in rosemary cream, and mine–Lamb shank tortellini with oven-roasted tomatoes and saffron emulsion with thyme and sage, our words carried the depth of life lessons learned and shared philosophies of appreciation for things big and small. 

For dessert, we shared a cheese strudel with sauce anglaise and a ginger custard with warm berries. Then, as Meredith turned the spoon over in her mouth, savoring the last remnants of the custard,

I saw the gorgeous woman perched on her porch enjoying ice cream while watching us boys playing badminton on the lawn. It was back then that my wonder of a woman who could wear such beauty without pretense began, and it's been a lifelong quest to be in that presence. 

Pulling the spoon out with a pop, Meredith wagged the utensil at me and squinted. The crow's feet at the edges of her eyes and the smile lines well-earned pressed to know my thoughts. "You've got words you want to say," she said. Her voice carried the sugary tones of morning dew drops sweetened by cherries dangling in bushels from the tree. The combination of excellent food, exceptional company, a closeness of a shared past, and a woman who'd maintained beauty, grace, and easy confidence was a powerful motivator. I spoke the thoughts floating down like feathers to the grass. 

"I was thinking how impossible it is; the differences in reality between a younger man and an older woman seem insurmountable. But it becomes erased in the space between an older man and an older woman–like it's not a thing at all."

Her fingers brushed silver strands behind an ear, then slipped down and cupped her jaw as she leaned on her elbow, giving me a soft, explorative gaze. But not a word in response, and yet I heard the whisper of an invitation to continue. "I was enamored with you all those years, you know. It was a nice neighborhood, our homes way back then, but Meredith, you made the place shine. You warmed those winter days and dazzled us all during the summer." 

It could have been going too far, crossing invisible but concrete boundaries, but I was already halfway up the wall and determined to go over. "Time has changed a lot of things, Meredith, but it hasn't stolen a speck of your attractiveness; you've been a beautiful woman all your life, and you still are."

Her cheeks blushed, and her eyes sparked, then she shook her head at me. "You must be drunk!" She giggled a quiet, throaty laugh that made me smile and blush. "But I don't really care!" Another laugh.

"Thank you, that's a wonderful compliment–each of them, but it's getting late. We really should get the check."

That familiar stone dropped in my stomach. Women are always an enigma; right when you think you've figured something out, they leave you not knowing whether you are coming or going. After paying and sending our compliments to the kitchen, Meredith and I stepped back onto the street where this collision of past and present began. 

Then Meredith surprised me with a kiss on the cheek, thanking me for a lovely evening. I waited for her to politely beg off, saying our goodbyes and wishing each other the best in our futures. But instead, the wisps of her vanilla-infused perfume lingered beneath my nose, and I felt the warmth of her breath against my ear. She took my hand, softly pressing her fingers over mine while her thumb stroked the hollow beneath my thumb. "If you wouldn't mind, I'd like to invite myself to your room. It would be lovely to finish this evening with a coffee."


Making love to an older woman when you're an older man is—splendid. It's tender and sweet. Deeply passionate and filled with joy and laughter, but most of all, it's cherished. Maybe because it's so rare–to dance in the half-light where the youthfulness of bodies stays hidden in the shadows. A window of time where shame is a word unthought of, swept away by the memory of soft hands and lingering kisses. 

And when the day breaks and the sunbeams cast a spotlight on the reverie of early morning hours basking in the bliss of marvelous sex, the moments free of inhibitions dissipate, replaced by modesty and manners. 

I slipped silently and swiftly out of bed, vigilant to keep from making a sound so as not to disturb Meredith. 

Donning the hotel's plush robe, I moved to the counter and the small coffee pot, ready to brew a cup while waiting for her to wake. But I stopped. The morning sunlight cut a band of golden light between the gap in the curtains, and I followed its path. Her hair shone silver, spilling over a bare shoulder, and the bedsheet, the remaining third that wasn't twisted and lying on the floor, covered her bum like a sash. Below it, Meredith's long, tanned, and respectably toned legs lay nude, her feet, crossed at the ankles, displayed pretty toes painted in the same baby blue as her fingernails. I gazed above the bedsheet and followed the serene wave that fell from the curve of her buttocks to the small of her back. From there to her shoulders, it was a plateau in a hue between sandalwood and cinnamon. I noticed an absence of tanlines and smiled.

Her arms stretched out above her and, diving under the pillows, were crossed at the wrist, revealing the soft shape of a breast almost entirely hidden beneath her. She looked like a swimmer, riding in the seam of weightlessness between water and air–Meredith was an element all unto herself. 

I took the pen from the desk and wrote a note on the stationary nearby. 

"A morning like this, after a night like that, can't begin with ordinary coffee and a packaged Danish when the scent of robust French Roast and fresh-baked croissants are blowing in through the window. If you wake before I return—wait for me–I'd love to share the morning with you."

May 26, 2023 19:48

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