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Helena breezed into the Beanery, her nostrils immediately assaulted by the aroma of fresh coffee. She strode up to the glistening counter and waited. Shortly, Thom walked out, his face brightening as he caught sight of her. Thom stood a full two heads taller than her her, and possessed the pale blue eyes that could melt a harpie’s heart. “Am I so lucky that the Gods continue to place you here each morning?”
“Good morning Thom, how are you?”
“A few seconds ago, I was all right. Now, however, I am exquisite.”
Helena smiled as best she could. Thom was always so sweet.
“One non-fat latte coming up.” Thom cheered “And, today’s Monday,” he hadded, handing her a rose and a folded piece of stationery. The heady scent almost made her woozy.
“I thought florists bred the scent out of these now” she remarked.
“Florists do.” Thom winked “I don’t.”
Again Helena tried to smile.
She had met Thom five years ago at an art show. He had been handsome, charming and funny. And had immediately fallen in love with her. She had tried, but never managed to feel the same way about him. But, no matter how many times she told him, he gave her a rose and sonnet with her latte on Monday, and tickets on Friday. The box seats for operas and plays must have cost a fortune, but when she declined to go with him, he gave her both with a smile.
“You there Helena?” Thom held out her latte, looking ready to call 9-1-1. She snapped out of her reverie, “Yeah, thanks Thom. See you tomorrow.”
For the first time since her enterance, the smile fled Thom “Yeah, tomorrow.”
* * *
Helena sped home and raced up all five sets of stairs. Once inside her apartment, with the bolt carefully latched, she set the rose and paper on her small table and walked to her bedroom. Reaching under the master bed, she groped until her hand found what it was looking for. The small shoebox greeted her as it did twice a week, with more than a touch of judgment. Bringing it to the small kitchenette she opened it and took out a small, pumpkin scrapbook. Carefully she turned past page after page until finally she came to a blank one. Snipping off the stem, she pressed the rose onto the left page. That task completed she opened the folded stationiary and read. As every week, the beauty of the poem startled her. By the second quatrain she was smiling, and by the couplet a tear rolled down her cheek, dotting the paper next to the splotch already dried at the bottom.After a few moments, she composed herself and the poem went opposite the rose. An odd wave of shame washed over her and she slammed the scrapbook shut. Back in the box, the box went back under her bed. She had once tried to determine why she went through this biweekly ritual, finally deciding that it was simply a disgrace to throw beauty away, no matter where it came from.
* * *
“The Colonial is playing Cyrano this month. I’ve got a couple of tickets for tonight. Would you care to join me in the box?” Thom’s eyes gleamed, ever hopeful.
“No, thanks Thom.” Helena flashed her teeth.
“Okay.” Thom chirped “You take the tickets though. I don’t have anyone else to go with.” At the last sentence it was the dark haired barista, whose nametag read “Cass” shot daggers at Helena.
“You’re very sweet Thom, but are you sure? I’m positive there are lots of women who would love to go with you.”
“I’m sure. There’s only one I would go with.” Again, Helena worried about Cass standing so close to the cake knives.
She took her coffee and Friday morning scone with the tickets to her small table in the corner. Helena liked to people watch with breakfast. Generally, after a few minutes, her thoughts turned introspective and her surroundings drifted away. This morning was no different until he strode in.
The man stood taller even than Thom, with dark, wavy hair. His muscles rippled as he walked, suiting the casual smirk of condescension with which he regarded Thom.
“I’ll have your largest coffee. Try to be quick about it bean boy. Some of us have jobs worth going to.”
Thom smiled warmly and handed the coffee over. “That’ll be $5.50”
“Coffees here were only $2.50.”
“They are, but there’s a $2.00 asshole tax.”
The stranger’s shoulders tensed. Cassed snorted derisively and chose that moment to inform Thom it was time for his break.
The man paid, and turned around, searching for a place to sit. His eyes passed over Helena, then darted back. She shone all thirty-two and gave a small, four-fingered wave. He grinned and sauntered over to her “Well, this is a coincidence.” The bass of his voice echoed off the walls behind Helena.
“And what coincidence would that be?” Helena asked coyly
“You see, I have an extra ticket to tonight’s Celtics game and you get to go with me.”
Helena repressed the shudder the mention of basketball conjured and turned her lips back up. “Oh , I do, do I?”
“Well of course. The name’s Parry, and I’ll be picking you up at eight tonight.”
“I’ll be waiting.” She quickly scrawled her address on a slip of paper. Their fingers touched as she handed it to him and a shiver ran up her spine.
Suddenly, he jeerked back.
“What’s wrong?” She blurted.
“Is-is something wrong with your eyes?”
Helena sighed, how often had she heard that question? “No, it’s just the way I was born. I know it’s weird, my eyes are naturally orange.”
“Oh, Okay.” She noticed he clipped his words now. “See you tonight.”
* * *
“Whaddya want?” Cass glared over the counter that Helena noticed had a few specks of dirt today.
“Uhh .. . just a nonfat latte, like always.” Cass always threw her off “Where’s Thom?” she added.
“Not that it’s any of your business, but he has the flu.” Cass appeared in the middle of an internal debate for a minute, then thrust a rose and paper at Helena. “He insisted I give you this.”
“Thanks.” Helena grabbed the gifts and coffee and turned to go.
“Wait, can I ask you something real quick?” For the first time in half a decade, Cass sounded almost soft, almost human.
“I . . . I guess”
“What the Hell’s wrong with you? Thom’s a great guy. He’s gorgeous, funny, intelligent. Did you know he’s trying to write a book? Yet YOU will not go on a single date with the guy. On top of that you continue to take these gifts he keeps giving you, without so much as batting an eyelash. How much could one box seat evening with him hurt you?” Cass’s eyes shone with water.
“I don’t know. I guess there was just no spark. Like the spark I felt the first time I saw Parry.”
Cass snorted “Yeah, ‘spark’, whatever. By the way, is there something wrong with your eyes? They look almost normal.”
Helena’s hand flew self-conciously to her face, “Oh, yeah. The creeped Parry out so I got coloured contacts.”
“Freak, those were the one cool thing about you. Anyway, get the Hell out of my café.”
* * *
The snow blew in with Helena. It had seemed odd that Parry ask her to meet him here. He usually tried to keep Thom away from her. Yet, there he stood, in front of the now tarnished counter, attempting to make conversation with Cass. Hearing the bell, he turned, and, seeing her, nodded to Thom, who pressed a button somewhere under the counter. Suddenly, the lights dimmed and the bad Christmas muzak turned to “When I am laid in Earth”, Helena’s favourite aria. Striding to her with his characteristic swagger, Parry took her left hand in his own and dropped to one knee.
“In this very spot,” he began “in this very spot almost exactly two years ago I first laid eyes upon you. I was as struck then by your beauty as I am today. Then, four one hundred and four wonderful weeks you taught me how wonderful true companionship can be. Each day you have given me some new, wonderful gift. Some days we cried together, most days we laughed, but each was amazing. Once a stranger, you are now indispensible to me. Helena, will you do me the great honour of being my wife?”
Helena felt the salt start in her eyes “Yes, Parry. Yes. How could I say no to that?”
* * *
“Happy Friday!” Thom’s cheerfulness and persistence had not ebbed since Helena’s engagement.
“Morning Thom. Just the usual.”
He nodded, grabbing her scone and latte. “Oh, hey. I got you and Parry an engagement present.” He took out two tickets and handed them to her. “Oh, Thom. Thank you.” The stubs read Dido & Aeneas. “I hope Parry will let me go on basketball night.”
Thom’s expression darkened, Helena failed to notice.
“I’m really sorry we couldn’t invite you. Parry wanted to keep the guest list small.”
Thom looked down and the filthy counter. When Helena saw his face again, it wore its first scowl.
“I’m worried about you Helena.”
“Thom, please don’t . . .”
He raised his hand, “I’m saying this. Parry isn’t going to make you happy. You know he hits on Cass every time he’s in here, right? On top of that, he isn’t going to let you see your all-time favourite opera because he wants to watch another game? I haven’t even started on him forcing you to extinguish those orbs of fire you wear. I know you’ll never be with me, but please, please don’t pledge yourself to that prick.”
Helena felt a shake somewhere between her stomach and throat, “You don’t know what you’re talking about!” her voice was at a volume she hadn’t known it could reach “Parry’s perfect. You’re jealous of him. A freak like you could never have his self-assurance. For years you’ve been giving me these flowers and poems and tickets in some vain hope that I’ll someday fall inexplicably in love with you, even after I started dating another man seriously. It’s weird, and it’s creepy. Just ONCE I’d like to be able to get a coffee, and nothing else.”
Thom gaped. She spun and stormed out of the café, leaving her scone on the counter.
* * *
Helena stood in white, facing Parry while some priest droned on. The wedding wasn’t exactly the one she had dreamed of as a little girl, but Parry had wanted to keep it economical. It didn’t matter now anyway, she was getting married. Finally.
Her mother wept in the front row while the clergy’s prattle continued. Finally, the cue came for the vows. They had chosen to write their own. Parry cleared his throat, “Helena, you look beautiful. I vow to love you forever.” Helena waited for the rest, but he just smirked, obviously proud of himself.
She opened her mouth to start her carefully written vows when Parry’s face changed. His brown eyes lightened to a pale blue, and his hair became fairer, while he shrunk a couple inches. A more familiar face stood before her. She blinked until Parry came back. He looked at her expectantly, a couple of the groomsman shuffled their feet.
She tried to clear her mind and remember the vows, but all she could think of was a shoebox tucked safely under her bed, with a little orange scrapbook and a thousand flowers, poems and ticket stubs inside. “Oh-oh my god,” she stammered.
Parry leaned forward, “Something wrong? You’re making us look bad.”
“I’m sorry Parry. I just can’t do this.” She turned from his look of shock and sprinted up the aisle, tearing off the veil as she went.
* * *
Helena burst into the beanery.
“You have a lot of nerve, showing your face in her.” Cass tensed, ready to pounce over the mildew counter and throttle her.
“Where’s Thom?” Helena didn’t have time for this.
“Gone.” Cass nearly spit out the word.
“What do you mean ‘gone’?” Helena’s eyes darted around, looking for the familiar silhouette behind the ‘employee’s only’ glass.
“I mean, that after your little outburst last week he called in and said he was moving. Mentioned something about having the ‘pain he needed’.”
Helena almost fainted, “did . . . did he leave a forwarding address or cell number?”
Cass’s voice dripped “As a matter of fact, he didn’t. Guess you’ll have to write your own po . . . wait. You’re wearing your wedding dress. Wasn’t today the . . .” realization crossed Cass’s expression. She broke into harsh laughter “well girlie, you finally got smart. Too bad it’s too late. It serves you right. I just wish you could’ve spared Thom.”
* * *
Snow blasted Helena’s face as she reached down to grab the package. She was surprised. The year had passed with hardly any packages. No suitors meant no gifts. The returning address didn’t ring a bell, some publishing company in New York. Bringing it into her new Bungalow, she set it on the table that still reminded her of flowers. Carefully, she cut out the tape and dug through the peanuts. A hardcover met her puzzlement. The title read “The Rose of Boston”, Thomas Stiles’s sweeping tragedy of a woman with fiery eyes, and the man who could never have her.