The sunlight of dawn had made its way to the coffee shop just as John arrived. Before crossing the busy street, he wiped his darkened eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. Beside him, an elderly man waited for the traffic signal to change.
“Long night, young man?” He said.
John started to respond sleepily, but instead turned quickly in shock. Seeing that it was Alan, or rather Doctor Latisde, brought a sour expression to his face.
“Oh don’t be that way. The morning is fresh and the day is ripe with possibilities,” said Alan.
John slowly turned his sullen gaze upon his friend. “You’re insufferable.”
The light changed and Alan sauntered across at a slow pace. John followed begrudgingly. Outside the shop they noticed through the window the silhouette of their mutual friend already seated and waiting. Alan stopped a moment, turned to John, and adjusted his own tie.
“Alan, this is—“John started.
“It will be fine. You saw me last night.”
“Last night you were talking to strangers! This is Meagan! You were in love and you lived together and you spent time together! She knows you too well and will see right through this ridiculous disguise!” John shouted.
Alan slapped him on the shoulder and shushed him. “Stop yelling! And stop worrying, too! As long as I’m wearing this face, Alan Venar is dead. I’m not him. I won’t talk like him, act like him, or even sound like him at all.”
John sighed loudly and brushed Alan aside. “I’m starting to think it would be easier if you WERE dead.”
“Ouch! Not so harsh! I should know better than to reason with you before you’ve had your coffee. Wait up!”
Inside of the quaint little shop sat Meagan who was staring alone in the corner out of the glass window beside her—slowly fogging up from her soft breath. Her brown hair glistened in the morning light and reflected through her glasses. John approached cautiously as to not startle her.
“Good morning, Meagan.”
She turned in a quick, surprised motion and smiled up at him. “Hello! Good morning, John.”
“Sorry I’m a little late,” he said.
“Oh no, nonsense! I’m early and I haven’t been here long. Thank you again for coming.” She replied.
“Ahem,” said a voice behind him.
John stepped aside awkwardly and gave a silly wave to his friend who was waiting to be introduced.
“Oh, um…Meagan, this is a good friend of mine, Doctor Latisde. He’s a dear friend of mine from um…my college years.” Said John.
Doctor Latisde moved forward and smiled at her. “Good Morning, Madame.”
She reached out her hand to shake his, but he hesitated. Instead he stared into the frames of her glasses with the same smile frozen on his face. John nudged him and he snapped out of it.
“Very pleased to make your acquaintance. John was right to say you were a beautiful young woman.” Said Latisde.
She blushed and her smile extended to form slight dimples in her cheeks. “John said that, did he? Well, thank you both and it is very nice to meet you, Doctor.”
There was a very long silence while they all stared at each other.
John shifted his weight onto his other leg and rubbed his hands together nervously. “Well, I’m sure you’re wondering why I invited him here.”
Latisde spoke up, “I understand you both are dealing with the death of your friend. I’ve been assisting John with the grieving process and he asked if I would meet with you today.”
John turned his head fast at Latisde. He was impressed and wondered if he came up with that on the spot or if he’d mulled over it hours before the meeting. Either way, it was a decent cover.
Meagan’s smile turned sullen and she took a slow sip of her coffee. Her eyes averted to the window for a brief moment and then back at Latisde.
Latisde stepped forward and took a seat across from her. “Very understandable. John? Will you get us some coffee? I’ll have mine with just a little bit of sugar.”
He nodded and walked away. He muttered to himself, “Black with sugar. Irony, of course.”
Back at the table Latisde sat back in his seat and relaxed his posture. “I’ve heard you and he were quite close at one point or another, yes?”
“It is often difficult to let a romance go. Much more so with such finality.”
She was silent for a few seconds and then pushed her glasses up higher on her nose. “He had just told me how he really felt. Just before…well, just before…and I…I didn’t know how to take it. I didn’t know…how to respond.”
John returned with coffee in hand and sat down next to Latisde. He said nothing.
“This is all very normal. You can’t blame yourself for an honest reaction,” said Latisde. He lifted his coffee and drank it under his white beard.
Meagan looked over at John. “I just…I feel like I caused it.”
John shook his head and leaned toward her. “You didn’t cause anything. Alan had many problems, much greater than any you could have caused. If anything HE caused his own death through his own bad decisions.”
Latisde looked at him sternly and then glanced down at the table for a moment.
“John, don’t be so mean. You know as well as I how much bad luck he had. Not everything he did was terrible and a lot of his character was shaped by all the ridiculously horrid things in his life that he couldn’t control.” Said Meagan.
Surprised, Latisde glanced up at her and said, “Bad luck?”
Again, John shook his head in disgust. “Alan was often a victim of circumstance. Familial issues, random financial occurrences, unsolicited injuries; you name it and it would come his way. I’ll admit that.”
“But?” asked Latisde.
“But…He also warranted a lot of the negativity that eventually led him to become so cynical. How he reacted to these situations. He was a risk taker with a penchant for chaotic relationships that often ended from his poor judgment.” John finished.
Latisde nodded slowly at him and took another drink. Meagan’s eyes were fixed outside the window.
“He was awful when I had him. That much is true. He was wounded and torn and didn’t know how to deal. It wasn’t until he left me that I understood how much hell I’d been through.” She said.
Both John and Latisde were speechless.
“I moved on. I found myself and I moved on. Made myself forget he even existed, but he found a way to continue our friendship.”
John laughed, “Manipulative son of a bitch.”
Latisde kicked him under the table, but he hid the pain by taking another drink of his coffee.
Meagan placed her coffee between her hands for warmth and continued, “He’d changed, you know? I had changed against him, but he changed too. I didn’t want to see it. I wanted to believe he was still the same asshole that made me love him for two years and treated me like…like I wasn’t ever good enough.”
“But he had changed.” Said Latisde.
“Yes. But I couldn’t change the image of him in my mind. I cried for so long and so hard after he left. Years before I was fully over it. I couldn’t just let that go.”
“And you shouldn’t,” said John, “He really was awful then. Even I had a hard time with him.”
Latisde put his coffee down and smiled at them both. “Everyone makes mistakes and everyone must live with them. The only alternative is death, which your friend sought out for motives most selfish and misplaced.”
John was curious, “Oh? What do you mean, Doctor?”
“Well, from what I’ve gathered your friend, Master Venar, was an eccentric character with exceptionally bad luck, but a need for companionship. Without it he fell apart and instead of seeking it again like he had done so many times before, he allowed his fixation for one person stifle his ability to move forward. Instead of swimming on, he let himself drown.” Said Latisde. He picked up his coffee and drank from it seemingly in victory.
Meagan brushed her hair behind her ear. “Fixated upon ME, though.”
“Irrelevant. Any fixation that would cripple a man so strongly would have done as much damage. None of which to blame—only the one who allows it to destroy their life.” Said Latisde.
Beside him, John said nothing, but silently agreed. More so he was astounded at Alan’s honesty even toward his own nature.
“You’re just trying to make me feel better. I said some terrible things to him. He came to me truthful and transparent and I tore him apart. It’s my fault.”
Latisde leaned forward and put his hand on hers. “My dear, you are a beautiful and splendid young woman, but you are not to blame. Any man that would rather take his own life instead of living a joyless life with just the knowledge that you’re at least in it as well is a man that knows not the value of true love. Young Master Venar was a sad man, but his love for you was something to be cherished and not to be used as a stigma for blame upon his death.”
She stared at his hand and back up at him without words for a moment. “I just…I wish…that I loved him as much as he loved me.”
The hand over hers was warm and tightened its hold. “Let go of the past and move forward. He could not, but you still can. Do it for yourself and let the spirit of your friend carry on into the unknown knowing that you are not a lesser person because of his actions.”
It was silent for a few minutes as slow, rolling tears caressed Meagan’s face. John had nothing to say and instead found himself going over Latisde’s saddening words in his head. It was unbelievable, but Alan had become a completely different person. He wondered if this was the way Alan truly felt.
“I’ll be off now. It’s past time for my next appointment, but it was very nice meeting you, Meagan.” Said Latisde standing up to leave.
“You’re leaving?” Asked John.
“Yes, I’m afraid I’ve got too much to do today around the office. I wish you both a splendid day.” He said.
He stepped a few feet away before Meagan called out to him. “Doctor! Thank you! If you don’t mind…could I…maybe speak with you again sometime?”
Latisde stopped and slowly turned his head to her. “Of course, dear. Anytime you need. Good day, Meagan. John.”
Out of the door he went as confusion fell upon John. He couldn’t figure out what had spooked Alan so much, but figured the emotional endeavor might have proven to be too much for him. After all, he basically had told his greatest love to forget about him and move on.
“He was a very nice man, John. Thank you for bringing him.” Said Meagan.
“Oh…yes, well it just seemed to make sense. The Doctor is quite…helpful and insightful in ways that most can’t achieve on their own,” John replied.
“I believed him, you know?”
John sipped his coffee and then responded, “What’s that?”
“What he said about Alan. About love. It’s hard to move on, but I do think he’s right. I just…”
“You miss him.”
Meagan paused and then laughed a bit to herself out loud. “Yes. Dammit, I miss him.”
“Good thing he’s not around to hear us say that, the bastard.” Said John laughing back.
“He had such a charm, that Alan. Brilliant in so many ways and as foolish in just as many others,” responded Meagan with a sigh.
John adjusted himself in his seat. “He was the epitome of tortured artist. Dramatic and subtle all at once.”
Meagan smiled, “Thank you. I needed this.”
“It’s fine,” said John smiling back, “I think I needed it too.”
She put her coffee in the trash behind her and glanced at him curiously. “You did? What for? Honestly, I thought you seemed quite well adjusted given how close you two were.”
He stood up and put his empty cup in the trash as well. “I think I needed a reminder that Alan was more than an insufferable ass.”
Meagan nodded, “Well, sometimes. At his core he was beautiful. He really did love me and I know that. He loved you, too. Deep down he really was a good person.”
“He was my best friend.” Said John. He glanced out the window and saw the old man crossing the street with no hurry in his steps like a great weight had fallen upon his shoulders. Like a man close to death in his age.
“Are you leaving as well?” Meagan asked.
John nodded and started quickly toward the door. “Yes and thank you! I’ll see you here again next week, same time! Call me if you need anything!”
Meagan waved goodbye as John hurried out of the coffee shop. She stood up to leave behind him, but noticed a small, sealed envelope on the chair where Doctor Latisde had been sitting. Her name was written on it. She warily picked it up and opened it, with no idea what was inside. It read:
By the time you receive this, I’ll be gone. For you, it’s not the first time. I think I was practically gone for the entirety of our time together. I’m truly sorry. I know I’ve apologized over and over for it, but it doesn’t absolve me. You deserve the best and I’m just not sure I’m up to par. While I’m gone, I wish you the best and I hope your dreams come true. In fact, I’ve left you a means to do so as a final parting gift.
At 2:00 PM every Saturday starting 3 months after my death there will be a package delivered to your apartment on 4th street. It will have your name on it and will contain several hundred dollars from my life insurance policy. Now you can finally travel like you always wanted. I couldn’t go with you while living, but in some small way I can participate just by making it possible.
Thank you for everything and I truly hope you find happiness. You and John take care of yourselves and each other. In a lot of ways you’re just like me—on the surface a beautiful swan, but beneath the water you’re kicking and struggling like the rest of the world. Graceful and strong, but constantly fighting to stay above it all. Don’t let yourself drown the way I did.
Meagan pulled her glasses away from her face and wiped the tears from her eyes with the sleeve on her arm. She was sobbing heavily. And then, with drowsy motion, lowered her arms and turned her gaze toward the door of the shop.
She squinted her eyes at the fading image of John running in the distance and said to herself, “Alan?”