Of Coffee Shops and Guilds
This story is for my guild.
I flipped the photo I was holding and was immediately greeted by the unintelligible scrawls and smooth cursives that leapt out of its smooth plane.
Thanks for everything.
I hope you stay the same.
I'll see you soon.
Don't ever change.
I smiled wistfully and wondered how many of them really meant what they wrote. Maybe in the frenzy of packing up and leaving, they wrote the first thing that came into mind. Do they know what they meant when they asked their friend to 'don't ever change' and to 'stay the same'? Do they know that I took their dedication to heart? That I'm not the same Yellow Wocky they met years back?
I brushed my paw across the photo, not really looking at the smiling faces of the guild members. Then I paused as my paw ran down the last dedication that was scrawled at the bottom.
Always keep in touch.
That request proved harder than I thought. The last time I saw my guild was two or three years ago. I've stayed away from them that long.
It's a Wednesday, in the middle of the rush hour. It's raining, but instead of staying cooped up inside my neohome as I'm supposed to, I'm in a coffee shop in front of a book that I'm not planning to read and looking at a photo that I thought I lost years ago. It was purely coincidental; I was flipping through the pages of the book and it fell, right onto my lap. Why was I here? I don't know. What I know, however, is that I always pass by this quaint little shop and haven't glanced at it in the three years I lived near it.
I stirred my cup of Cappuccino languidly and stared outside. When the shop door creaked to admit a new customer, a cold draft of wind blew in and carried the photo away from me. Maybe that's how it's supposed to be.
"Good morning," the new customer greeted. I froze. He wasn't talking to me, but I'd recognize that voice anywhere.
I opened my eyes and looked up at him, seeing him for the first time in three long years.
"Matty," I managed to choke out. His head turned, looking around to find the person who just called him.
He hasn't changed, not one bit. He's still the red Kyrii who carried a backpack on one shoulder, which he hitched up in a familiar habit as he closed the door. Then he turned. That bespectacled face wreathed with a calm expression looked across the room and found me.
"Good morning," he blurted out.
My face fell. This isn't Matty. I mentally corrected myself. This is Matthews. Never had the distance from my friends hit me hard until now, but I never had the chance to dwell on that.
"Hi, Matthews," I greeted him, raising my cup up as a form of salute. He took that as a cue to approach.
"Anna. What are you doing here?"
"Just enjoying a cup of coffee, is all," I answered, a small smile gracing my lips. "You?"
"Well, I'm taking my order to go," he answered, an awkward silence filling the air right after. He ran a hand through his red mane. "...I guess I'll see you around."
"Yeah. I'll see you, too," I echoed. I looked at him expectantly, but I wasn't sure what exactly I was expecting.
"You look well," he remarked.
He shook his head and went to the counter. He began taking his order, and the kind Gelert shopkeeper handed him his coffee. When he caught me staring, I gave him a half-hearted wave.
Matthews finished his business in the counter. I thought that was the end of it when he pulled the door open and walked out, and I was right for a moment, until he poked his head back in, a doleful expression on his face.
"I'm sorry," he said, scratching the back of his head. "I'm being rude for trying to ignore you. May I sit with you?"
"We haven't seen each other in three years, Anna," he said sheepishly, taking the seat in front of me when I nodded my assent. "I can just not sit with you."
"I'm glad to see you here."
"So am I." He coughed, trying hard to erase the awkwardness between us. "How are you?"
"You said I looked well, just now," I teased.
"You look well, but that doesn't necessarily mean that you are." He placed his coffee on the table and left it there. He rested his arms on his knees and leaned in casually. "What are you doing here on this rainy day?"
I shrugged. There's so much that I wanted to ask him, like how our other friends have been in the past few years, or if any one of them left like I did. "To get coffee? No, that's not it," I answered truthfully. "I guess I sat down here to think."
"We missed you," he said promptly. "We tried to contact you a lot of times, you know. Did something happen?"
Sixty neomails and counting. Guilt crept over me when I realized that in a few years, I never made an effort to reply to each one of them. "No. Like I said, I just wanted to think of things."
Matthews leaned back in his chair. I knew he was studying me, repositioning himself to try a different approach. I was surprised at how he was trying to make this conversation work. Last I knew him, he's the one who makes less of an effort. He's definitely changed.
"Do you remember what we gave you before you left?" he asked.
I smiled as the memory came. It happened a long time ago, and they were trying hard to give me a proper farewell. "Yeah."
"Do you still have it?"
My eyes widened in realization. I patted my pockets, then flipped through the book I brought to see if it's still there. Then I remembered the draft of wind and it being carried away. I bowed my head in shame. All these years, and it had to be this day.
He was truly seeing me now, and his face softened in sympathy. "Don't worry," he consoled. His hand slipped into his pocket. "I found this outside. I don't know any other person who also has it." He pulled the photo out and handed it back to me. It was a little wet, but still intact. Carefully, I smoothed out the creases. "When I went out of the cafe, I saw it abandoned on the ground and... well, I guess I wanted to talk to you. I haven't heard from you in such a long time that I thought you forgot about the guild."
I blinked. I didn't realize it sooner, but my eyes started to water. I swiped at my eyes before the tears start to fall.
All the blood drained from his face. "Whoa! D-don't cry! I didn't mean to say it! You shouldn't be the one apologizing! I'm sorry!"
"It's okay. It's just that I was looking at this photo and you came in and I got all sentimental so..." I shook my head. "I guess I wasn't expecting to see you here."
"Me too." He sighed. "Three years... and you're here all this time."
"Anna," he said softly. He reached for his bag and zipped it open. He pulled out an envelope and slid it across the table. To me. "I was about to neomail this, but since you're here, I guess that I should just hand it to you personally."
I took it from him and flipped it over. My name was written on its back in elegant cursive.
"It's a keepsake from the guild. We'd never forget you, no matter what," Matthews -- no, Matty -- said gently. "I have to go. More sights to see."
"Will I be able to see you again?"
"Of course," he answered. And I figured that he was saying the truth, because the gleam in his eyes says so. Then he said something else to me that I pondered on, right after I saw the most recent photo of the guild tucked securely inside the envelope.
"Anna," he said. "Come back."
And I said yes.