Pine Street Episode 41

Franny might have been surprised to realize that one of those guests at Marilyn and Douglas’s wedding felt the undertone of anxiety and ill health clearly, without knowing why. Kassandra the barista stood in another corner of the garden, also moved to tears. Marilyn had invited Kassandra just a few days before the ceremony, when the art professor made one of her increasingly rare treks to the coffee shop.

During a lull in business, while the one or two customers in the shop sipped their drinks and no one else popped in, Kassandra had picked up one of the cloths they kept in a vinegar, lemon juice, and water solution to wipe the tables. She squeezed out the excess moisture and stepped into the main part of the shop to tackle the small piles of pastry crumbs and phantom outlines of dried coffee drips on the Formica surfaces. Kassandra found wiping down the tables a kind of meditative exercise. While her hands were busy, she inhaled the aroma of vinegar and lemon and her mind floated over the events of the day. If she anticipated something stressful, like an exam at school or an upcoming visit from one or more parent, she could let her anxiety dissolve in the scrubbing motion of cloth on slick surface.

Marilyn had stepped in during one of Kassandra’s more vigorous scrubbings, as the barista rehearsed what she would say to her mother during their weekly phone call. Every week Kassandra planned to tell her mother that she would complete her degree, as planned, but then take a year off to work before deciding what to do next. Every week, her nerve failed and she mm-hmmed her way through the conversation. Kassandra scrubbed the big red table, practicing her lines: Mom, I need some time to decide the direction of my life. After all, it is my life, Mom, not yours or Dad’s. Absorbed in her preparations, she didn’t hear the bell over the door.

“Excuse me, dear.” Kassandra turned to see her friend the art professor, wearing a lovely silk scarf around her neck although the day was warm. “Oh! I’m sorry. I must have been lost in my thoughts. What can I get you?” Kassandra hustled back to her position behind the counter.

“I think a chamomile tea, and not too hot.” Marilyn’s smile seemed an attempt to cover the fact that in all the years Kassandra had served her, the professor had never ordered a chamomile tea not too hot. Kassandra returned a smile of her own, hoping it didn’t betray her surprise. She took in the professor’s slightly gray skin, the impression of frailness it created. She wondered whether to ask, and if she were to ask, how she would phrase the question.

“Here you go,” Kassandra handed over the tea, not too hot. “I can add some ice to cool it more if you like.”

Marilyn took a sip. “Perfect, thank you. You are always so kind.” She smiled, more genuinely this time, Kassandra thought. “It’s very short notice, but I want to invite you to my wedding. It’s this Saturday, at my house. In my garden. Will you come?”

“Of course,” Kassandra had surprised herself by replying without a second thought. “I’d love to.” They’d settled the details of time and address, and no need for gifts, and as the art professor left the coffee shop, Kassandra had felt tears pressing her eyes. Unaccountably, she’d wondered if she would ever see Marilyn again.

In the garden at the celebration of the art professor’s wedding, Kassandra experienced precisely the same wondering.

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