I decided not to order anything. She might get the wrong idea. Just tell her, say, "I don't have much time, Kotaro, so if you could please tell me why you wanted to see me..." Our texts had already established a time frame, but I knew she'd feel no impact if I told her I had to meet Andrew later at that Italian restaurant. "I have to be going..." But she just wouldn't mind. Probably order another.
Kotaro Yumi had the ability, however, to force my enjoyment of our time together. Her reactions frequently surprised me, yet most of her expressions rang in my gut with familiarity. So, whenever Kotaro was around, I had little trouble smiling.
"John, why are you always late? Do you know how pissed I get?" She placed her cup on a table near the window, not far from where I first saw her. The muscles in her arms clenched. I noted the toned shape and was glad of her fitness.
"Sorry I'm late, really, I don't mean to be." I permitted a weak smile. "Good to see you." The frigid metal chair seared the skin on my legs.
"It's been a while. You don't even talk to me online." Her eyebrows drew toward the bridge of her nose, and I tried not to feel the sting of her accusation. For the most part, I succeeded. In our past friendship, we had reached the point at which at her emotional manipulation became a topic of our inside jokes. But those jokes don't exist anymore.
I saw traces of a smile flit across her face. "Why didn't you order anything?" She looked down at her mocha. "This is really fattening, you know. It probably has hundreds of calories. You're just going to watch me drink it, right?"
"I have to leave soon. I've got plans in a bit."
She waited approximately ten seconds before she asked me what plans I had. During this time, I thought about Yumi Kotaro. For stretches of time she existed only in my dreams, where our relationship flourished. But the encounters varied there. Sometimes we did magic. Other times, she made me feel less than human. You used to make me so angry, and now all my judgments color you negatively.
"With Andrew," I said. "He says hi. He says to message him."
"Maybe I will." The thoughtfulness in her voice caught my attention, and she looked at me. "I miss you both." The note of remorse accented her tone, which usually sounded prideful, defensive, or defiant. She exhaled with the kind of habitual purpose that I know drives her to recklessness. "Lately everything feels like a punch in the chest. I'm stumbling a lot." Her hands splayed flat in the air and lent emphasis to the word "stumbling." She had been staring at the table's surface.
I told her to wait while I ordered cake. Through the glass case I had seen a large slice of chocolate cake, which glistened down an entire edge. There had been a few powdery-looking raspberries on top. I returned to the table with the plate and two forks, said "Go ahead," and took the first bite. Abundant richness exacerbated the taste, but the cake compensated with moisture and mushiness. Yumi eyed the other fork. She had never looked so defeated. "Eat some," I said before I feared she would begin to sob.
Through chewing mouth and teeth caked in muck, I spoke further: "You should not have told Andy. Shouldn't have told him I'm positive."
"Wasn't your place."
"After I had sex with him, I came to you. I trusted you..." The cake slid down my throat like a shake.
"I understand now that I should have just comforted you and left it at that." Sunlight shone through Yumi's red hair. Her eyes lingered on my mouth before they shifted to our plate. "And I shouldn't have said those things to you. You're not a bad person. Not a horrible person. I just didn't want to see him go through what you did."
"...But you didn't trust that I would tell him myself. You were ridiculous." I shoveled another bite into my mouth and thought she looked insignificant. "It's you he has a grudge against. It's you he's angry with."
She took the other fork and removed a morsel of cake. Her jaws moved imperceptibly while she chewed, but her eyes widened in pleasure. "I know he hates me. I'll leave him alone." The next piece Yumi took fell from her fork onto the table before she went for another. "You know..."
Again, she caught my attention. I stopped chewing.
"...I was just going through my phone before you showed up. I deleted a lot of guys."
"Why?" I was desperate with thirst. There was the water.
"I didn't want them around anymore. Didn't need to be reminded of them all."
"'Out of sight, out of mind,'" and I cringed at the cliché, but Yumi was busy removing the paper wrapping from her straw. She hit the tip vertically on the table so that when the casing broke, the paper could be pushed down into a scrunch. She smiled involuntarily when her few drops of water expanded the scrunch into a quenched, strangled cylinder.
I thought about Yumi's irresponsibility, particularly with regard to her body. I thought the only thing guys wanted to know beforehand was whether or not she was on the pill. Most people have something these days. "You better have been protecting yourself."
"I'm not great at it." She looked into her lap, back straight against the cold metal.
"I hope you mean emotionally. Emotionally, you're not good at protecting yourself."
Goosebumps spread over the length of her arms. When Yumi started to shiver, I thought she looked irradiant. Lusterless. But she never asked for lower worth. It was probably just something she felt somewhere in that towering tangle of ginger.
"I do protect myself, John." She scooped a large chunk of the chocolate icing, which I had been avoiding. The consistency of frosting, its exaggerated viscosity and sweetness, had always convinced me that it stayed forever in the crowns of my teeth. Her eyes returned to mine. "So how are you and Andy?"
"Fantastic." I took the penultimate bite and experienced an influx of heat that filled through my face. "I love him. He's the only one it's felt this right with." My fork speared the last piece, and I reflected upon chewing. Only Andy had ever been able to convince me that I was worth something. Only he, health at risk, knew what I was capable of. Yet, frequently, I wondered how I would hurt him again.
"That's that best thing I've heard..." The mistful quality of her smile flattered me, but I was ready to leave.
We rose to our feet, and Yumi deposited our dish in the dirty bin by the condiments. After her clatter, we parted ways, and I left Café Brazil. Andy was waiting.