Luke wasn’t aware he didn’t have his coffee. Just as he started taking a sip of his orange juice, he heard his name being called. His heart stopped beating and his entire body froze in shock. He almost dropped the cup of juice and bag of food to the floor.
“Luke! Luke, wait! You forgot your coffee.”
Annie was now panting, as she quickly caught up with him. She wasn’t certain if he had heard her. One of her arms was extended towards him, holding the steaming to-go-cup in one of her hands. The man named Luke just stood there with his back to her.
“Hey, you’re Luke, right? Here, you forgot this at Maggie’s.” Annie glanced around in case she had the wrong guy. But there was no one else around. It had to be him.
Luke just stood there afraid to turn around in case he was mistaken. But that voice and the way it said his name, it was his wife’s. Only that it was impossible. His wife had been dead for three years now. Unless……Had he somehow died while walking back to his car?
He knew he couldn’t just do nothing while this voice kept saying his name. Half expecting to see some disfigured hallucination of his wife, he turned around very slowly and felt like slamming hard against a wall. The air inside his lungs escaped in one loud whoosh as his eyes widened in disbelief.
There she was, standing right in front of him. Not a ghost with vacant eyes coming back to haunt him but his wife in the flesh, with those beautiful eyes shinning and full of life. Maybe it was the way he felt his own face mirroring the shock he felt at seeing her, because he was sure he heard her sharp intake of breath the moment their stares locked.
At the moment, she was clutching the cup of coffee in one hand while the other went to her chest as she took several deep breaths. It was now that Luke was able to see that maybe it was all due to her run from across the street. The architect saw that his fast pace had taken him almost back to where he had parked his car, a good distance away from Maggie’s Diner.
Again, the rational side of his still functioning brain reminded him that this couldn’t possibly be happening. Maybe he was still dreaming and the morning’s events hadn’t been real: getting up early, driving to Maggie’s, his own remembrance about Alexa. God knew he had those kinds of dreams, about seeing her again, too, often for his own mental sanity.
I’ll wake up any moment now, Luke tried to convince himself. But when the woman before him took another step towards him, he retreated until his back was pressed against the wall behind him.
The moment she heard the name, everything inside her froze. A cold sweat ran down her back and she could feel what could only be described as panic take a hold of her body. It didn’t help that even before he uttered that name, Annie had been having a hard time getting air to her lungs and not because of her run from Maggie’s to here.
The reason her heart was beating fast as if she had just run a marathon, had to do with the man currently gaping at her. Because the moment this stranger had turned around to face her, she had felt lightheaded and dizzy. It was as if his eyes were some kind of magic key that opened up a whole array of confusing emotions so strong she could barely breath. She wondered if the gasp she heard before had come from her or if it just had been her imagination.
Still, amid her inner turmoil, she found her voice to answer. “No, I’m Annie, Annie Parker.”
Luke still couldn’t make any sense of what was going on. His ears were suddenly assaulted by a violent buzzing, almost as if a thousand bees were swarming furiously around his head. Her eyes were moving nervously in their sockets as he detected confusion, annoyance and fear.
He remembered he had always been able to tell what Alexa was really thinking or what she was feeling just by paying attention to her eyes. When she got angry, the green in them became a few shades darker, like staring into a forbidden forest. When she laughed, even though she didn’t want to, in case they were having an argument and she wasn’t ready to let it go, – before reaching her mouth – laughter reached her eyes filling them with such innocence, it was like watching a little kid before a mountain of toys.
When they had made love, Luke’s own defenses would melt away at the raw passion and desire swirling inside them. Those were the moments when she had been at her most vulnerable and innocent self; when she had bared all and showed him the woman she truly was. He had hated when sadness crept into them. Luke despised himself, because he had put that exact feeling along with disappointment in them the last time he had been with her.
He didn’t trust what was happening. In a matter of seconds, his whole world had been turned upside down. He’d gone from wishing he could see her one last time, to actually having her stand in front of him. Only that this must be a trick from his grieving mind. Luke wanted desperately to sit down and try to assimilate all of this. Instead, he used the sturdy wall behind him to support his back.
Behind closed eyelids, his mind compared what he remembered about Alexa with the woman standing in front of him. Aside from the eyes, her hair was the same color, maybe a little bit longer than the last time he saw his wife. A couple of strands had come loose from the band that tied her hair together. She looked the same, still, it was like seeing her for the very first time. She seemed older, more mature yet more cautious of the world around her than when he had first met her. Luke wondered if whatever happened after the accident she clearly survived, was what had put that hesitating look in her eyes. He hadn’t forgotten that this year she would be turning twenty-seven next June.
Her skin was the same creamy white, but for the red spots on her cheeks. Her body, although maintaining the same form, looked more fit and lithe. Despite all the confusion attacking his mind, he couldn’t stop from thinking that if possible, she looked even more beautiful than he remembered.
Instantly, a disarrayed collection of images began to surface: of the fight they had before she left, of the police when they came by to tell him about the accident, of the funeral…….
They all vanished when a single thought popped up inside Luke’s jolted brain: she survived the accident! Now that part of his initial shock was receding, the true meaning of the current situation sent chills up and down his spine.
But……..How could this be? He had been there when the police handed him the only remains they had been able to recover from the charred wreck. Luke had stood over her grave while the symbolic coffin containing nothing descended into the ground. The police had said that everything was gone by the time they arrived………..
Was it possible this wasn’t real and he was already losing his mind?
“Are you all right?”
Her voice startled him. He hadn’t uttered a single word since saying the name. No wonder her tone was edgy and impatient.
“I…..I’m sorry, I guess I just wasn’t paying attention and confused you with someone else.”
“Right……No problem.” After a brief hesitation, Annie insisted. “I’m sorry to say this, but you don’t look that well.”
Luke let out a shaky laugh and replied. “Believe me, I’m far from feeling well.”
At her worried expression, Luke shook his head and managed to pull himself off the wall.
“That’s not what……..Sorry, it’s just….what did you say your name was?”
“Annie, Annie Parker.” She extended her hand. Luke was afraid that if he touched her she might dissolve away. His heart was beating really hard against his chest. In the end, his need to touch her after all this time was so strong, he extended his hand as well.
Annie wasn’t comfortable with this situation. Never mind that she was already feeling disconcerted at her own reaction to this man. Now, as her hand touched his, something flared to life inside her. Something……familiar? Her heart started beating faster as the possibility seemed both unconceivable but not too far fetched either. After all, this could’ve happened to her before.
What disturbed her more, was the way his eyes were examining her thoroughly. They reminded her of someone, while at the same time they made her feel wary of the man in front of her. Annie pulled away from the contact and just handed him his coffee.
Luke’s hand still pulsed from its contact with Annie’s. It was like he was back at the parking lot again and the same unrestrained rush of powerful emotions flowed between them. He searched her face for any sign of recognition. Nothing. What he did see was that she was visibly put off by the entire situation.
“I have to go. It was nice meeting you, Annie. And thank you for the coffee.” He excused himself in a voice he hoped sounded calm.
“Nice meeting you, too.” But Luke was already hoping into a very expensive looking car parked a few paces away from where she stood. He didn’t even glance her way, as his car sped by next to her on its way to the town’s exit.
Annie tried to walk back normally but almost tripped down as her legs failed to stop shaking. Once she was inside the diner, she let out the breath she had been holding ever since Luke’s hand had clasped hers tightly. There was no denying that her palm still tingled from his touch.
The basic signals of attraction were there. Not that she could blame him. He had a face that didn’t belong in a small town like this, maybe not even in this planet. Her still shaking hands had wanted so much to pass her fingers through that already messy hair of his, it was as if they’d been destined to do that all along. And his eyes were a shade of blue that reminded her of electricity, with a hint of gray, that had her long-forgotten womanly desires go even more crazy.
What unsettled her the most was the way those eyes had surveyed her. Almost as if expecting some sort of reaction from Annie. A reaction that Annie was afraid might hit her any minute now. Thankfully, the only thing happening at the moment was her entire system going back to normal. Of the calm and coziness wrapping her shaking limbs like a warm blanket, as her nostrils filled with the familiar smells of food and coffee and she was soothed by the loud conversations from the breakfast crowd as she entered the diner.
Clearing the strands of hair from her face, she walked over to the cash register where Maggie looked way too curious for Annie to ignore it.
“Everything okay, Annie? Did you catch him?”
“Sure. He uhm….He was in a hurry, so he left.”
“Are you’re sure that’s all? You look a little bit shaken up.”
“I’m…fine. I just…I haven’t eaten anything and you know how I get when that happens.”
Annie couldn’t stop her gaze from landing on the place where Luke’s car had disappeared a few seconds ago.
Maggie followed it with her head and said. “Such a mysterious man, that one.”
“You could say that again.” Annie muttered as Maggie resumed her work behind the counter. Doing a quick scan of the crowd, she spotted Marley. Asking the cook for their usual breakfast food she took two cups from behind the counter and poured some fresh made coffee while she waited for their orders to be ready. She was more than ready to put this nerve-rattling episode behind.