Several months of correspondence had grown them closer and led Margaret to invite Stan to join her in the city. Her ill-fallen friend was on the mends but the recovery slow — a timely return not expected. The letters between them had grown in length, so much so they began to require double the postage. Her letters were eloquent and meticulously written, his strewn with error and stream-of-conscious. On the day of his arrival, she stood with patient calm and stillness, waiting. Both were nervous; she overjoyed, he overwhelmed. Upon setting foot on the platform he spotted her; she nearly obscured, shrouded and wrapped by steam from the departing engines. Notwithstanding, the yellow of her dress cut through it all, catching his eye immediately. He moved clumsily through the chaotic crowd as the steam and smoke dissipated in concert with the departing crowds. Leaving just the two, smiling, in silence. They stood there for such a time that the next train arrived, to which they embarrassed to make up for the lost time and to avoid separation in the ebb and flow of the passengers on the platform.
Three days after they had last intended to meet, a letter from Margaret addressed to Stan arrived. Written in her perfect hand, folded crisply twice, and sealed with red wax, it described her sudden departure and cause of her absence. A dear friend had fallen gravely ill, meaning her presence requested; therefore, a sudden and untimely departure was required. This was not entirely unexpected as her friend had been ill for some time and the matter conferred upon during their conversations. Her letter apologetic, he grateful to receive a word. The words sincere, one could even assert comforting. Continuing beyond the explanation, she included vivid descriptions of her travels and the city she was visiting. Keenly reading her correspondence, he let her words fill his imagination for he had never traveled to New York, or for that matter any city of notable size. Though her departure abrupt, she concluded that she would send further word, including that of an expected return date. Folding the letter at its creases, he placed it back inside its envelope before pulling paper and pen from his desk.
A bench in the shade beneath a tree was where Margaret agreed to meet Stan. The sun was still above the skyline but in the hours that followed the commuting traffic home. Stan arrived first to the black cast iron, heavily painted, and aging bench that had become loosely bolted to the brick lain courtyard floor. Behind the bench sat a tidy flower-bed of a simple arrangement and overhead a blossoming tree in the spring. He brought a green tea for her and a coffee for himself. Hers sweetened with a touch of honey, his straight black. They had both finished Flaubert’s Madame Bovary since their last meeting. She in its original French, he in the translated English. They were both looking forward to discussing and sharing thoughts. She was running late, and he sat patiently with his paperback copy on his lap. As the sun dropped below the skyline and behind the horizon of that, a cool breeze settled in. The street lights flickered on, the green tea cold. He finally rose to his feet when it became obvious she wasn’t about to show.
Having enjoyed their first encounter, Margaret and Stan met for tea and coffee. It was an early evening meeting as they had both worked the preceding hours of the day. The hour was nearing dusk, the lights above the tables had been lowered for the evening, and a soft melody gently filled the silent spaces. The venue was rather busy, but neither of them would hardly notice. She had an Earl Grey, he a coffee. Hers was had with milk and sugar, his straight black. They each had a scone with a local blackberry jam. They shared brief talk of their day but quickly moved to stories of life, literature and experiences. After finishing a second cup, they again took a stroll along the river. At the conclusion of the walk, he walked her to her door. It had been ages since either had experienced a moment such as this and yet, it felt familiar. Having already had their fill of tea and coffee, she made plans for the day after next. She gave him a small kiss on the cheek and slipped inside. They still had plenty of time.
The first time Margaret and Stan met for a shared meal, it was at a small table draped in a red and white checkered vinyl tablecloth. The type that wipes easily and is backed with a teased white matted backing fabric so that it has an ever so lightly cushioned feel, to which it retains the traces of the dishware even after they’ve been taken away. She had an omelette and he a Belgium waffle. Both plates were picked at nervously and the pair of coffee cups topped off numerous times. Hers was mixed with half & half, his straight black. When a lull in the conversation occurred, notes were compared on the various local businesses that adorned the placemats that their plates had previously rested upon. It was agreed that the featured chiropractor was no good, however the dentist was rather reasonable. Later the discussion turned to the likeliness of them having met previously, it was a rather small town after all. Once the bill was paid, they took a stroll along the river.