Once she's settled, she asks, "Mind if I sit here?"
"Um." I want to say, yes, I do mind, but I shrug and say, "Sure. No problem."
"Thanks." She takes a sip of her tea and the smell of mint wafts across the table.
I return to my book and read through half a paragraph before I hear her say, "We should dance."
She leans toward me conspiratorially, green eyes bright. "In fact, we should launch the whole place into a spontaneous dance party."
"Yeah, no. I don't think so."
"If the body is a temple, then movement is worship. These people need a little worship. They need a little loving of life in their lives, don't you think?"
All around me people are hunched over their laptops, their faces illuminated by their screens, eyes scanning their facebook pages or twitter accounts or blogs or news sites. One gentleman is sitting in a plush chair in the corner, reading a newspaper. He turns a page every few moments. Only two people are leaning over their lattes to speak to each other, expressions passive.
I imagine jumping up with her and throwing my body into motion, the two of us whirling through the room and pulling people up by the hand to join us, the whole room suddenly jumping, dancing, jiving, unapologetically bouncing around the room for the simple and sheer joy of it. It's a good thought.
But it probably wouldn't work. We would jump up and dance and everyone would just stare at us like a couple of mental patients. Or think we were drug addicts. Or something.
"I don't think it's the right kind of music." I gesture to the ceiling, indicating the smooth jazz that can just barely be heard over the clangs and hissing of the espresso machine.
She shrugs. "So?"
I hold my place in my book with my finger. I'm sure she's a nice person, but I wish I could just go safely back to reading without being rude. I meet her eyes, look away, and finally, because I need to fill the silence up with something, say, "I'm Andrea."
"I" -- she leans in, gives a long dramatic pause -- "am a figment of your imagination."
I blink and burst into laughter. "What?"
"Actually, I'm lots of things. You know, force of nature, spirit of mischief, smidgen of mystery, blah, blah, blah." She waves her hands in wide all-encompassing circles. "But you can call me Fay."
"O-kay." I can't tell if she's being insane or clever, so I don't know how to respond. I nod my head, trying to look wise, trying to think of something clever or witty in response, a joke, a parable, anything. My mind is a desert. I say the only thought I have, "You are so weird."
Fay scratches her head. Her braids wiggle like bright blue snakes. "Yeah, that too." She reaches into her back pocket and pulls out a silver case, from which she withdraws a lighter and a single black cigarette.
I figure she's heading out for a smoke, but my relief at her immanent departure is brief. She flicks a flame into being and lights up right at the table. The smoke smells sharply of cinnamon.
"Heyheyhey!" calls the man with the newspaper behind her. "You can't smoke here."
Fay tilts her chair back and head back to look at him upside down, resting her bare foot on the lip of the table to maintain her balance. Each of her toenails is painted a different vivid color, except for her right pinkie toenail, which is black. "What do you mean?"
He coughs dramatically and waves his hand at the coil of smoke. "It's illegal."
"It is?" Fay's voice is all innocence. "Huh."
"It's a California law," said a teenager with short, spiky blond hair. He's wearing an apron with the coffee roasting company logo on it and looks supremely bored. "You have to put it out. Also, don't rock back in our chairs."
Fay dropped the chair legs down with a loud clack. "What if I don't want to put it out."
The kid sighed. "Then you can both take a walk."
"Wait," I say, "I'm not with h--"
"That's a fantastic idea!" Fay jumped up, sliding her feet back into her sandals. "C'mon." She gestured with the still lit cigarette in her hand. "Let's go."
"I don't even know you."
"Yeah, you do. I'm Fay, figment. You're Andrea, reader. Let's move, let's walk, let's have an adventure!"
Everyone was staring, about half were glaring -- mostly at Fay and her cigarette, but also at me, by association. I blush and shove my book into my bag.
As soon as we're outside, Fay loops her arm into mine. "So," she says, "where are we off to?"
I pull free of her grip. "You can go off an adventure. I'm walking home."
She follows beside me as I head down the street. "You don't want an adventure?"
"I don't know," I sigh. There is a slim thread of me that does, but the rest of me knows that real adventures tend to involve being in one way or another tired, filthy, terrified, or in some other way generally miserable. I've long ago realized that I prefer my harrowing adventures to exist in books rather than in real life. Not to mention that I have an hour commute and a full day of work in the morning, and I'd prefer to just crawl into my pajamas and relax in front of the boob-tube at this point.
"Okay, how about we walk and I tell you about one of my adventures instead." Her hands are shoved in the pockets of her jean shorts. Her eyes are turned up to wear the trees and the roofline of an apartment complex meet the sky. The clouds are pink wisps against the blue. She says, "Aren't the clouds amazing?"
I open my mouth and close it again. I want to go home. But I don't want to go home and feel like I missed out on something either.
"Sure," I say, finally, "Tell me a story." To read more Fay Fairburn Stories click here.