THE TASTY CAFÉ WAS FAMOUS FOR its delicious treats and gourmet coffee. The owner, a young immigrant from South America purchased his coffee beans – Hawaiian Kona – from a vendor in Hawaii. A half an hour drive from hotel Afrique. There was hardly anyone in the coffee shop Monday morning. Checking her planner on the phone, Amara waited for her cup of coffee by the mullioned window. The sun that was orange only an hour ago, shining warmly upon the chilled soil, was gone. The fluffy white clouds turned a dark greyish colour in the blink of an eye.

”Espresso layered with hot chocolate, and then topped with whipped cream, ” the scruffy, cashier called.

Even though she walked, it felt more like the floor was a conveyor belt and she the cow in the carnage house approaching the captive bolt. Amara reached out for her coffee, only to be railroaded by a man in a suit.

”Excuse me? ”

The stranger she kissed at the flea market stood before her, in all his glory. He looked dapper in a tailored mint suit as he held on to her cup of coffee.

”For Amara, ” the cashier clarified.

Taking her cup, she slowly pried it out of his hands. ”Excuse me. ”

”Im sorry. You just ordered the same drink as me. ”

”Whipped cream? A little sweet for someone like you. ”

He chuckled, raising a perfectly arched eyebrow. ”Someone like me… What am I like? ”

”I don know. ” Amara slid her phone into her handbag. ”Not so sweet. ”

His laugh was sudden and short, engaging a dimple on his left cheek. Amara took the time to examine him. He seemed different. At the cusp of winter, his skin was an ochre, much like the mellow-brown light that bathed the forest. Now, he seemed less of that … less bright. Mellowed.

”So… the kissing bandit has a name. Amara, ” he tasted it on the tip of his tongue like the first sip of coffee. ”Beautiful. ”

Flashes of lightning followed by claps of thunder haunted the sky as the rain started drizzling like a broken tap.

”Do you mind saying that a few more time? Your voice is amazing. ”

He spoke with a slight accent that she couldn place. It had a song-like quality that reminded her of swaying tides.

”Not at all. ” He smiled boyishly, ”You are very beautiful, Amara. ”

Amara sipped her coffee to ease her constricted throat and tried to pull her gaze away. She succeeded for all of two seconds, then he snatched back her attention. Effortlessly.

”Thank you. ”

”What are the odds of us ordering the same drink at the same time? ”

”Id say the odds of two random people ordering the same thing are about 1 in 10. ”

”Good with numbers. ”

”Good with everything. ” She picked up her doughnut and took a straw. ”When I was twenty-two, I visited Sicily for the first time after saving for what felt like years. I loved this drink when I first tried it and I feel like I have been chasing that taste since. ”

”I love Sicily. ”

”I thought you were a tourist. At least I had hoped that our run-in would be the last time we saw each other. ”

”Sorry to disappoint. Im a native. I work close by, ” he said. ”Im assuming youve seen the finished building down Pike street? ”

”Ahh! You work for the fascists. ”

His voice was gruff, and his brows were drawn together in a frown… and yet the eyes twinkled with humour. ”Fascists? ”

”The moon prince, ” she responded. ”Rumour has it that every building with that branding is owned by the family that built Makavia. The one-percenters who think that gentrification will somehow save the people from the unemployement crisis and stop children from dying of hunger. ”

The family that owned Makavia had inspired romantic speculations. A secretive family. No one knew who they were or what they looked like except for those in their social circle. They were rumoured to be one of the earliest European settlers of the area many years ago. They saw the isthmus potential for trade and tourism and purchased it. Slowly, they created a cryptocurrency-run futuristic city listed as one of the best tourist destinations.

”Gentrification is meant to increase employment around neighbourhoods like Pike. Isn that a good thing? ”

Amara laughed. ”If you actually believe that then I gave you too much credit when we met. ”

”You formed an opinion about me in two minutes? ”

She looked away from him, embarrassed.

”Do you want to sit down and have breakfast with me? You can tell me what you thought about me when we met. ”

”Can . ” She stepped away. ”Im late for work. Hopefully, we don make this, running into each other, a habit. ”

”Why do I have a feeling that running away is something you
e very good at? ”

Amara regarded him meditatively. Her interest in him was clear. Even without looking straight at him, his intense, voracious watchfulness sent the butterflies in her stomach dancing. She couldn afford another mistake, her heart was too fragile.

”Sometimes running can be fun but I have no reason for it. ”

”If thats true, let me take you out for a drink sometime, ” he implored. ”I know this place you might love they have coffee that might rival your Sicily taste. If not, well keep looking until we get it. Does this weekend work for you? ”

”No. I have a crazy work schedule. I don have time to go out for dates, Im sorry. ”

”Okay, I respect that. ” He shoved his hand into his pocket. ”However, I hope you change your mind, Amara. I have a feeling well be seeing each other often. ”

At that moment, Amara wanted to ask for his name, but it would make things permanent. There was an intimacy that came with knowing a persons name. A line she was unwilling to cross. Instead, she waved and left.

It rarely rained in Khana but when it did, it poured. The problem was that it decided to pour like madness the day Amara opted to walk to work with no umbrella. The raindrops were bigger than prairie hailstones and came down just as hard. Her little, tight blue tunic with the white buttons at the front made it impossible for her to run. She took shelter underneath her expensive handbag reluctantly and rushed to the bus station.

Amara could barely see where she was going, so when the white Toyota drove directly to her she didn notice it until it was too late. Her legs were rooted to the ground. Large hands grabbed her back and twirled her around, away from the car. She ended up crashing into a chest that felt like a wall of brick and huffed in pain. Only, looking up at her rescuer was worse than getting hit by the car.

”Careful, ” Zach smiled.

”No! ” Placing her hand on his chest, she pushed herself away from him.

”Good morning, yene fikir? I… ”

”Don call me that! ”

”Why? ” A smile of joy and satisfaction lit up his eager face. ”You used to love it when I called you that. ”

”Operative words being used to. ”

Zachary shoved his huge, sheer umbrella into her hands and cleaned the raindrops from her face. Her treacherous body welcomed the touch. She took a step back from him.

”Do you believe in fate? ”

Amara rolled her eyes. ”No. I believe in stalking. God, were you following me? ”

”Of course not. Im not the stalking kind, Amara. I told you that I stayed in the neighbourhood. My office isn far from here. I was on my way to work when I saw you. ”

She was just barely aware that she was pitching her voice higher and softer than it was naturally so that she sounded like a cartoon character. ”Im late for work. ”

”Would you like to have a drink with me after your shift? Do you still love whiskey? I know a place. ”

Amara handed back his umbrella. ”No. ”

”Why not? ”

”I don want anything to do with you. Im not the woman you dumped, Zach. Now that Ive lost the weight you had a problem with, you think you could just waltz back into my life? ”

He looked intently at her. ”Thats not true. Thats not true at all. There are things you need to know, Amara. I just want to explain myself over drinks in a nice bar. ”

”I don care for an explanation. We might run into each other from time to time but that doesn mean that Im interested in catching up with you. ”

”Its just drinks. ”

”Thank you, but no thank you. ” She forced her naturally coarse voice to go soft and moist as warm mayonnaise. ”Lets leave the past in the past. Im late for work. Goodbye. ”

Zachary stood motionless, gawking at her, his mouth slightly ajar. Amara walked triumphantly across the road to the bus stop without another glance back. On one hand, she was beside herself with bliss. On the other, she knew that seeing him around, often, wasn going to be as easy as she hoped.

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