It was only late September but already the weather was sliding towards winter, the sky pale white and the wind cold enough to redden my cheeks. Even the people in the cafe were quieter, murmuring softly between themselves, their voices huddled together to preserve heat.
I stared down into my empty coffee cup. The cup was one of those standardized white porcelain numbers, short and squat, with a wide top that tapered down into a thin bottom. On the rim of the cup was a red smudge of lipstick — the memory of a kiss.
The cafe door swung open, admitting a tall man and a gust of wind that sent everyone further into their seats. I turned to look, saw the first faint fingerprints of rain against the glass. The man was wearing a large brown raincoat, the detective kind with many pockets. The coat was loose on his arms but snug on his protruding belly.
Was I imagining the whispers, the sidelong glances? Everyone in town knew I hadn’t spoken to my brother in years. Even the barmaid seemed to be moving with unnecessary exaggeration, stacking the dishes and making as much noise as possible.
My fingers tightened around the handle of the coffee cup. The porcelain felt strong but I knew that it could break so easily — it was something we had in common.
He took the seat opposite me, shrugging out of his long coat and setting it down on the table between us. His face was heavier than I remembered, his cheeks looser, a spiderweb of smiles lingering at the corners of his mouth and eyes. But his eyes were the same, sharp and boyish and so very gentle as he looked at me.
I bowed my head and looked down at the coffee cup instead. “You came back,” I whispered.