Lila, sometimes called Lily, but only by Gary, who would rather not have had anything to do with coffee shops, sometimes found herself in them, in the corners of small streets on her way to work. She didn't end up in such places because she was a caffeine addict, even though she was; she drank Diet Coke for that. It was just that sometimes she had the urge to smell coffee even though she didn't drink it, as if its smell somehow legitimized her twenty minute morning walk to work as she dragged her feet down the slopes of Federal Hill in Providence. Just outside the wrought-iron arch marking her side of town, she'd cross over Atwells Avenue, on the bridge over 95, and find her way through the one-way streets full of half-tall buildings under an almost-but not quite-gray sky. But just before she'd cross, she'd stop in somewhere like Jessie's for just a moment, to watch the long-finned goldfish swimming through the glass of the coffee table next to the faux fireplace and mismatched Victorian chairs, as the smell of strawberry gelato mixed with peanut butter pie baking in the morning while college students with bags under their eyes, holding overstuffed notebooks, ordered spiked teas. She was sure there was nowhere else that anyone would want to order a chai tea latte with black raspberry liqueur at seven o'clock in the morning. She wasn't tempted, really. After a moment or two, she would step outside Jessie's, back onto Atwells, and pull open her purse to snap open a can of Diet Coke. The worst was when only the caffeine-free kind had been on sale. Then the snap somehow sounded only half as loud, after the light jazz music of Jessie's somehow swallowed half of the noise that was supposed to convince her that even though the can was gold, not silver, that this morning, caffeine-free soda would wake her up.
As she would pass places like Jessie's, she would remember things-glances, the touch of someone's skin as he passed her, the thick hotness of summer when the windows, which reached from the ceiling to the floor, were always open, so that half the patrons skipped the door and stepped over the flowerboxes and around the small café tables. Last summer there had been a magician with greasy black hair who had asked if he could borrow her watch for a trick, and though he'd been able to guess her birthday by producing the month and day on the hour and minute hands, she'd had to ditch that watch because it became stuck on that date-time, and she didn't have the money to get it fixed.
She remembered that night, when her watch became frozen, when she was there with Gary for the last time. She remembered resting her bare leg on the fish-table as the orange long-finned ones swam up, trying to kiss her skin through the glass. She remembered saying to him: No matter what happens in the future, or what anyone says, we know it's right, don't we?
I love you, too, he said. I really do, Lily.
Only later did she realize she'd only alluded to it-loving him-not really said it so he could say it back. But it wasn't Jessie's that upset her; it was the coffee cup she'd dragged from Jessie's that night, down to WaterFire Park, which she remembered too well:
Pink light hit the State House near its pillars. They were sitting on the ledge of the stone bridge downtown.
"I've never liked Providence," he said. She hadn't noticed the river walkers before. There was an old man, hat too far over one ear. Teenagers pretended they were only skipping rocks because they didn't care. Too many hand-holders stopped under the bridge. Cars kept driving laps too slow and too close. And pink light was shooting off the roof of the Amtrak station onto the State House.
None of them belonged there at midnight.
And least of all did she and Gary belong there, stepping down from the ledge and climbing onto the decorative half-pillars under the bridge. It was precarious work in a skirt, mounting those steps, Gary taking her hands to lift her, settling in the darkest corner of the stones. Their legs touched as they sat, hidden in their corner, her hands on his face, reading love letters in the Braille of his cheeks. She should have known, then, as she turned to watch her empty coffee cup circle and dance along the cobblestones below that the next time she thought to look back at the old man near the water that her cup would have disappeared, singing its gentle tapping song as it jolted along the path beyond, hitting stones in a place she could no longer see.