By Edward Ashton
Feb 23, 2019 · 619 words · 3 minutes

From the author: A very short piece about love and loss.

“You know,” Megan says. “You’re gonna be a real curmudgeon some day.”

I shrug, lift the heavy ceramic mug with both hands, and take a hesitant sip of my chai. It’s still too hot to drink.

“Why do you say that?”

She laughs.

“Look at you,” she says. “You look like you’re drinking poison.”

“Yeah?” I glance down at the mug in my hands. “It’s really hot.”

She rolls her eyes.

“Right. You should see your face right now. This is killing you, isn’t it?”

“What, the chai?”

“No,” she says. “This place. The organic kale muffins, the hipster barista, the fact that you had to tell her whether you wanted your drink Kashmiri or Vietnamese style…”

“Fine,” I say. “I’m not a fan of ironic tattoos and pretentious snacks…”

She shakes her head.

“You’re not a fan of anything that’s slightly different than exactly what you’re used to. This is a problem, Doug. Twenty years from now, you’re gonna be sitting around writing cranky letters to the editor complaining about these lousy kids with their crazy music and weird clothes. Which will be hilarious, because whatever they’re listening to won’t be half as weird as what you like, and extra hilarious because there won’t be any such thing as letters to the editor by then.”

She pushes her long, dark hair back from her face with one hand and sips delicately at her latte. I can feel myself scowling, but honestly, she’s got a point.

“I don’t like change,” I say. “Is that really so bad? To want things to just… stay?”

She meets my eyes for a second, then looks away.

“Nothing stays, Doug.”

A guitar case bangs against my elbow, jostles my hand on the mug and spills Vietnamese chai across the table. I turn to glare at the owner, who’s trying to edge between our table and the next one with a drink in one hand, the guitar in the other, and a phone pressed between his shoulder and his ear.

“Sorry,” he mouths, winks and grins. I start to my feet, but Megan reaches across the table, grabs my sleeve, pulls me back down.

“Easy,” she says. “You’re not mad at him.”

I shake her hand from my arm.

“Yeah,” I say. “Actually, I am.”

She reaches behind her, grabs a handful of napkins from the bar, and stops the flow of chai before it drips off the edge of the table and into her lap.

“You’re not,” she says. “Let it go.”

I squeeze my eyes closed for a moment, then open them again. My hands on the mug are sticky, wet and trembling.

“I just don’t want…”

“I know,” she says. “You think I do?”

I look up. She’s staring into her latte, her hair hanging loose around her face like a shroud.

“It’s not the same for you,” I say.

“You’re right,” she says. I have to strain to hear her now. “It’s not. You’re not even middle-aged yet, Doug. You’ll find somebody.”

“I’m forty-two,” I say. “I’m definitely middle-aged.”

She laughs again, but this time it’s a short, humorless bark.

“I guess you never really know, do you? Apparently, I was middle-aged at seventeen.”

I don’t know how to answer that.

Outside, the sun is setting. A single fat, red beam punches through the window at Megan’s back. The light surrounds her like a halo, and I have to squint to see her face. She’s smiling, but her eyes are liquid.

“This was a good day,” Megan says.

I open my mouth, then close it again because I don’t trust my voice.

“Drink your chai,” she says, and touches my hand. “It’s no good when it’s cold.”