A slice of cake flew across the room. It was absolute chaos. This was supposed to be a simple rehearsal dinner for Kate and Ryan’s wedding, and it only took one comment about Kate’s short, off-white dress from Ryan’s mom to prompt an argument from Kate’s mom, which then became a full-blown war. Someone pulled someone’s hair, someone tripped someone else, and that’s when the first cookie was chucked across the room like a frisbee, hitting the maid of honour. Kate’s anxiety engulfed her, leaving her a mess in the corner of the room where Ryan had left her to separate the two parties. Kate’s body was tense and felt like it wasn’t her own. She had to get out. Without telling anyone, she slipped out the back door and just started running. She ran as far as she could in her heels, which was far enough that the venue was out of sight. Hands on her knees, she tried to control her breathing. Kate pressed her back against the brick wall behind her, legs wobbling. For the first time since leaving the wedding hall, she looked around trying to figure out where she was, and came face to face with a sign, AUGUST COFFEE. Coffee. Coffee is good. Kate hasn’t had a latte in years, and she forgot why. When she went in, she was surprised by how nice it was. The ceiling hung twinkling fairy lights that complimented the dim lighting. Flowers of all kinds covered the walls. She walked to the counter to order a large latte. After giving the barista her name, Kate went to find a table. As she walked, someone called her name.
Kate looked up and saw him at the end of the aisle. Everything slowed down, including her heart. In fact, she’s pretty sure it stopped completely for a second because he was there, sitting in the same way she first saw him: a coffee in his hand, a laptop in front of him, and the same face of surprise. He always told Kate that he made that face because he couldn’t believe how beautiful she was.
“Kate. Dylan? Dylan Lau?” She knew. How could she forget the first man she ever loved, the only other man she’s ever loved? Kate blinked a couple of times before taking in a deep breath. She slowly walked over.
“Dylan. Hi.” She couldn’t stop staring at him. “I- um- how are you?” She didn’t know what to say.
He smiled at her. Her heart stopped again. That’s going to be a problem, she thought.
“I’m alright. I’m working on my new book. How are you?” He asked her.
“I’m doing good. I just-“ she didn’t know why she didn’t tell him that she was just at her wedding rehearsal, she just didn’t. “I’m just here to get some coffee.”
Dylan got up and awkwardly moved forward, pulling Kate into a hug. She hugged him back but didn’t dare stay in his arms for too long.
“Do you want to sit?” Dylan motioned to the seat opposite his.
“Yeah, sure.” Kate sat down with Dylan. He ran his hand through his hair—he remembered that Kate liked it when he did that.
“Congratulations, by the way. Your book was a bestseller.” Kate thought that this would be a good way to kill the suffocating silence.
“Thank you. You helped me a lot with it, so I guess I should be thanking you.”
“I never got those writing credits, did I?” Kate joked. It was so easy to slip back into them.
“No, but I don’t think being an inspiration counts for writing credits, does it?” Dylan asked. “Besides, I wrote you one hell of a love letter in the acknowledgements.” He looked up at her. They had already broken up before the book was published, so he didn’t know if she knew about the acknowledgement, or if she had even read the book. She did. She spent nights crying to that book, reading the acknowledgement to herself whenever she felt unloved and alone.
“I remember.” Kate said. After that, there was a silence. A waiter brought over Kate’s coffee. She gave the waiter a mumbled thank you and silence fell upon them once again. Dylan and Kate caught each other’s eyes. They resisted at first but gave into their uncontrollable smiles. Dylan began to laugh, which caused Kate to laugh. He shook his head.
“What are we doing?” Dylan asked, still laughing.
“Being awkward. When have we ever been awkward?” That was a genuine question. Even on their first date, they never had trouble saying what they felt.
“Even when you broke up with me, I wasn’t this awkward.” Dylan laughed but it hurt him a little to say it. Every time he thought back to that night at the train station, Kate’s hands intertwined in his, it pressed into an old wound. He still remembers when he pulled her in and just started slow dancing to their song on his phone, under the yellow station lights, in the middle of the railway platform. Kate must have remembered it too because when Dylan glanced at her, she had the same sad smile he had.
“We were dancing until my train came. We even waited until the last moments before the doors closed,” Kate reminisced.
“Yeah… and then you left.”
“You were supposed to follow me.”
“You said you needed space.” Dylan’s voice got louder.
“… I didn’t-!” Kate noticed her raised voice. She looked around and saw the baristas and a few customers looking. She shook her head.
“I didn’t mean forever.” Kate meant that. She meant every word she ever said to Dylan. She did need space, but space didn’t mean stop calling or publish a book based on their love story and not invite her to the publishing party or stop loving her altogether. Dylan saw the way Kate thrived in her new school when she left him. He smiled at her Instagram pictures with her new friends. He thought that getting on that train meant that she would be holding onto a part of her old life when she was trying to start fresh. To him, she was the one who got away, and it didn’t take a second after the train left platform six for him to realize that. Dylan got up from his seat, and then he just walked away. For a few seconds, everything went silent until something hard dropped on the table. Dylan took a seat again. He motioned to something on the table with his eyes. Kate followed his directions and saw a single grape-flavoured Hi-Chew candy in front of her.
“I don’t know why you ordered a latte when you know that you don’t like the aftertaste,” Dylan stated. “And then, you’d make us walk to a convenient store to buy Hi-Chews so you could get the taste out of your mouth.”
And that was all it took. Tears swelled in Kate’s eyes and a single tear rolled down her face. And another one followed.
“I’m sorry, Kate. I didn’t mean to-“
“I’m getting married.” Kate’s voice broke as she interrupted him.
Dylan stopped, stopped breathing, stopped thinking, stopped talking, and just stopped. Kate needed to remind herself. She needed him to know because if he didn’t, she could pretend and imagine sitting here until closing, going home with Dylan, and falling in love all over again. She needed to wake up because Dylan was just a dream.
“I need to leave.” Kate whispered.
Dylan nodded. He put out his hand and waited for her to take it. When she did, he helped her stand and guided her to the middle of the café. He let go of her for a moment to mumble something to the barista. Dylan returned to Kate and gently placed her hand in his. That’s when the music changed. The soft piano opened “The 1” by Taylor Swift and Kate couldn’t help but laugh. Dylan always liked to match music to the scene—it was the writer in him. Kate wrapped her other arm around his neck and Dylan moved his hand to her waist. Her head laid on his beating heart and his chin rested on her head. They swayed, tethered together, and allowed themselves this last dance. As the song came to an end, Dylan pulled away and they stared into each other’s eyes as they sang along, “but it would’ve been fun, if you would’ve been the one.”
This short story by Viaan Wu is posted in submission for the ESA’s 2022 Short Story Competition.