Several days after the dinner party, Franny ran into Alison at the coffee shop across the street from their building. Franny’s initial reaction to encountering anyone she knew, but did not really know, was to duck her head and gaze into the middle distance, giving the other person the choice of recognizing her or not, as that person saw fit. Alison saw fit to recognize Franny and called her over.
“Join me?” Alison said, nodding to the empty chair at her little table.
“Sure,” Franny answered from the order line, feeling both warmed by the welcome and a bit anxious as to potential topics of conversation. Alison was twenty years younger than Franny, and this made Franny nervous. The younger woman with her petite elfin appearance made Franny recall her own callow youth and optimism, her belief that she could make choices that would last forever, and the weight she’d gained since she’d shed that optimism.
Of course, twenty years ago, one year seemed like forever, Franny thought as she gathered her cup of creamy espresso and made her way to Alison’s table.
“Thank you again for the dinner party,” Alison launched the conversation, to Franny’s relief. “I had a really great time.”
“And thank you for the wine. It was delicious. Just right. Perfect, in fact.” Franny seemed unable to stop adding adjectives, so she took a sip of coffee. “And for bringing your boyfriend. He’s really nice.”
“He’ll do,” Alison said, and Franny wondered if there was a twinkle in Alison’s eye or just a reflection of the sun coming through the coffee shop window. “What are you doing today?” Alison went on, and Franny momentarily panicked that her neighbor might be getting ready to invite her to something, perhaps a lecture on Alison’s thesis topic, or a rowdy drinking party with her set of younger friends. Either option presented Franny with a sense of dread, and she scrambled to invent a busy day for herself without coming across as off-putting.
“Oh, not much. I’ve got to restock some groceries, clean the apartment, and, well, I plan to do some writing.” Franny cringed inwardly. She had not meant to bring up her writing with anyone here, not yet.
“Oh? What are you writing?” Alison asked with perfect innocence. How could such innocence survive the twenty years (at least) that separated the moments in the lives of we two women? Franny pondered. I would never, ever, ask a writer what they are writing, not now, not now that I know what it is to try to write something that is not directed by school or work. I would simply say, how wonderful, or how exciting, or I hope it goes well, or break a pencil.
“Nothing to speak of, yet,” Franny answered, and hurried on to another topic. “And, I think I’m meeting Leo later. He mentioned something about getting together for a bite to eat before some music thing he’s playing at.”
This clearly piqued Alison’s interest, judging by the flush in her elfin cheeks and the slight widening of her elfin eyes, and Franny sat back in her chair. Does she have a crush on Leo? Franny wondered. And then, in the next instant, do I have a crush on Leo?
But Alison only said, “Oh, that sounds like fun. I wish I could go out tonight, but I’ve got loads of reading to do for my thesis, if I’m going to get back on track.”