I tried to do as much studying as possible at the café after that. I found I could do most of my work there without too much distraction, and I wanted to be near Emily and Ema whenever I could. Jerome often joined me, doing his work in the café as well. The first week of December came, and with it our surprise.
“You put up the fliers?” Emily asked as I came into the café that evening.
I nodded. “And are you sure we have enough food?”
“Absolutely. Ema and I have been preparing for this for a few weeks now. It’s not all fresh, but what’s not was frozen.”
“Then I think as long as we have an audience we’re all set.” I felt a tug on my pant leg.
“Are you nervous at all?” Ema asked.
“A little. I don’t usually get nervous, though.” At least, I never felt nervous. My hands sometimes decided to be nervous, but I never had “butterflies in my stomach” like so many people did.
“How many people are coming?”
“That depends on how many people saw our signs. It could be the whole of New York!” I picked Ema up and we waltzed about the room, Emily watching and smiling from behind the counter.
Soon people began arriving. First Jerome came, and then the young couple I had briefly met before. Emily was busy with orders for food and drinks, while Ema and I attempted to greet everyone who entered. I think Ema met every single person that was there that night; I struggled to talk to even a handful of them, so I was glad to have her by my side.
At half-past seven, Emily looked at me and nodded. “Go ahead,” she whispered.
I turned to the guests. “Emily, Ema, and I would like to thank you all for coming tonight,” I said. “For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Walter Eliot, and I’m a music composition student at Julliard. Emily and I thought putting on an evening of music would be a good way to meet more people in the area and provide a relaxing evening. On the program tonight,” I motioned to a large chalkboard set up by the piano, “is a variety of music, going back all the way to Bach in the 1700s through to original compositions of my own from the twenty-first century. So please – sit back, relax, and enjoy the refreshment for both body and soul.”
The little gathering clapped, and I took my seat at the piano and began to play. For the next hour, I thought of nothing else but the music. When I finished and turned to look at everyone, I saw that the café was packed. The fifteen seats were all taken, and people were sitting on the floor and standing against the walls. I saw a few faces I knew here and there from school or elsewhere, but most of them were unfamiliar to me.
I bowed, and they kept clapping until someone called for an encore. I smiled. I hadn’t wanted to expect an encore, but did have something special I had been saving.
“I do have one more piece to share with you tonight,” I admitted. I rested my hand on top of the piano, rubbing it as I talked, not looking at the audience. “This is a piece for Emily and her café.” I looked at Emily, pleased at the surprise on her face. I continued. “It’s about all of us, but mostly about her and Ema and who they are, and what this café has done in bringing us together.”
I began to play, starting slowly and quietly, but building in intensity as the piece went on, as the café was budding and I was getting to know Emily and Ema. Then came a dark, minor passage that I had tried my best to contain all of Emily’s sorrow in. But it began to morph into major, and lots of little motifs came together to one big theme, representing all of us and the community that was beginning to spring up in that little café.
After playing the last note, I waited in the magic stillness following the piece, then looked at Emily. She was holding Ema close and had tears on her cheeks, but on her face was also a look of peace and joy. I smiled at them, and she smiled back.
“I think that was a real success,” Jerome said to us as he left. Most of the other guests had already gone home, but he had remained until closing time, as he often did. “You should consider doing it regularly.”
“I hope we can,” Emily said. “But that mostly depends on you, Walter.”
“Well, I do have recitals coming up for school so have to be preparing those anyway – but it doesn’t always have to be me. We can find others with all sorts of talents – musical or comedic or anything.”
“That would be wonderful! I could probably do it once a month,” Emily said. “There was a lot of preparation for me to do so we’d have enough food, so we couldn’t officially do it every week, but we could do something smaller sometimes and something bigger once a month.”
“That would be marvelous,” Jerome said.
After he left, Emily looked at me. “Can you play that last piece one more time?”
I nodded. “I can play it anytime. It’s your piece, Emily.” I went back to the piano and played it again, and this time I was certain she was dancing behind me.
After the concert, we began to have more and more frequent customers. It made things busier for Emily, but it was a good sort of busy, the kind she had been hoping for. There were only fifteen seats in the café so that Emily could stay on top of serving the visitors, but also so that she could get to know each of them.
“You know the young couple that comes here a lot?” she told me one night.
“She’s an artist. I was thinking these walls are a little bare and could do with some more decoration. What do you think about asking her?”
“I’m sure it would be great!” My mind began thinking about other cafés I’d been to. “I know some places also have art displays every so often, showcasing local artists.”
“We could do that in conjunction with our concerts sometimes,” Emily said.
I nodded. “We should have a big, fancy one for Christmas or New Years’! And sometime for a concert, you should dance.”
Emily shook her head and looked down as she scrubbed the counter. “I’m not that good anymore.”
“But it still looks beautiful.”
Her head came shooting up. “When have you seen me dance?”
“Some nights I can’t sleep,” I said, “and I go for walks late at night, trying to get the voices in my head to quiet down. Ideas always come late at night; it makes sleeping very difficult sometimes. But there have been a few nights when I’ve walked by the café and seen the light on and seen you dancing inside.”
“It’s what I do when I can’t sleep,” Emily said.
“I don’t want to push you to share it, but I think people would really enjoy it,” I said. “Seeing you dance, I mean, not the not sleeping.”
She laughed. “I know.”
“Well, I should be going.”
Emily picked up a sleeping Ema from the table she’d been coloring at and came with me to the door.
“The stars are so beautiful this time of year,” I said as I stepped outside. “When it’s a clear night, that is.”
“Javi and I always looked at the stars,” Emily said. “Somehow under them we felt like we could communicate without saying a word.”
I smiled and looked down at her. “Hold on to those memories,” I said.
“I know; I do.”
“Well, good night.”
“Good night,” Emily said.
The next day I walked into the café to find the girl from the young couple crying at a table. Emily sat next to her, her arm around the girl. I left them alone and went to my usual spot, but not before saying a prayer for whatever was going on across the room. They stayed there for a long time. If anyone came in, I tried to put aside what I was doing to serve them so Emily wouldn’t be interrupted. Most of the time they were silent, but every so often when I looked over they would be talking, Emily calm and gentle, the girl in tears. I finished my work and had to go, but before I left I closed up what I could of the café, putting away unsold food and turning off the coffee machines.
It was a couple of days before I made it back to the café to ask Emily about what had happened.
“Her boyfriend broke up with her,” Emily said. “And the poor girl is devastated, as she rightly should be, the way their relationship was.” She shook her head. “I know some people say I can’t speak about these things because I did no better, but Javi and I learned from our mistakes and want to share that with others.”
“What did you tell her?” I asked.
“It was really hard,” Emily said. “Because I wanted to comfort her but also help her learn so she doesn’t make the same mistake again. They went way too far for where they were at, Walter.” She sighed. “And that’s why she was back this morning. She’s pregnant.”
I sat down in a chair, stunned. The girl couldn’t be more than sixteen. “What’s she going to do?”
Emily sat down, too. “She wants to get an abortion… and I understand why. Ema reminds me of Javi all the time, but Javi is a good memory. Jake isn’t a good memory to Kate.”
“Is that what you told her?”
“Absolutely not. I said I understand why she wants one, but that doesn’t mean I support it at all. I told her I would help her if she decided to keep the baby, but if she aborted it then there wasn’t going to be much I could do for her. But now I’m wondering if that was wrong – I don’t want her to do it for me or to get or not get anything from me. But I will help her all I can if she decides to have the baby.”
“Why are you smiling?” Emily asked. “This isn’t anything to smile about.”
“I know. I’m not smiling about the situation, but because this is your dream coming true, Emily. You’re getting to be the person you never had when you were alone. Kate’s alone now, and you’re giving her the support she needs. It may not be the support she wants, but it is what she needs.”
Emily smiled now, too. “I find it funny that the first person that’s happened with is in such a similar situation as I was. God does have a sense of humor.”
I nodded. “But, Ms. Jackson, fount of wisdom – I had something I wanted to get your help on, too.”
“I wouldn’t call myself a fount of wisdom, and I hate being called Ms. Jackson, but fire away,” Emily said.
“There’s a girl at school that I’m really, really interested in.”
“Has she been here yet? I know I’ve met a number of people from Julliard who know you.”
I shook my head. “I haven’t invited her, because I don’t want it to seem like a date, because I don’t know if I really want to do it that way, or if I can really invest the time necessary in a relationship right now. But I wanted to hear from a girl about that, how things work in your minds and what things a girl like you looks for in a guy and what the best way to approach a girl about it is.”
“Well, most of what I’ve learned is from mistakes rather than doing it right,” Emily said. “I don’t know if that’s frightening or a comfort to you. Maybe it’s good if it’s both.”
The door opened, and Jerome walked in.
“And here’s the other person I wanted to talk to about this,” I said. Emily got up to get Jerome his coffee and muffin, and I invited him to sit down with us.
“So there’s this girl,” I said after greetings were finished.
Jerome laughed his deep, musical laugh.
“What? What’s funny?”
“Just the way you said it – it was like what so many others say.”
“I hate being stereotypical,” I said.
“But that’s the only stereotypical thing I’ve ever heard you say or do, so I think you’re okay. But tell me more about this girl.”
“She plays the flute – but she’s not like your stereotypical flautist, I promise. None of the silly teenage girl left in her, if it ever was in her. She doesn’t go to Julliard like most of us, just takes a few classes here and there since her father is faculty.”
“So you know her father, too?”
“A little. Not as well as I know her.”
“You know people are starting to talk about you and Emily getting together,” Jerome said, knowing Emily couldn’t hear.
“That would only ever be people who don’t know about Javi,” I said. “I don’t know if Emily could ever love anyone but Javi, at least not for a long while, and that’s not something that concerns me.”
“I just wanted to make sure,” Jerome said.
... and that's all I have written so far, so here's where the challenge begins and I'll have to make time to write regularly in order to post every month!