Freebie Mondays: Breakdown of Communications

Freebie Mondays: Breakdown of Communications

I have a folder full of random pictures for these prompts. Whenever I’m looking for a new one, I flip through them and see what sparks my fancy. But I actually found this picture while I was looking for a different one, and had such a strong sense of inspiration that it jumped the queue.
. . .

It wasn’t your typical cafe. Located far back from the gravel parking lot that served the vehicle-bound traffic, the sounds of regular civilization disappeared, replaced by the chirp of birds and buzz of insects. The steady rush of wind through tree branches blended it all together. In autumn, Mike imagined leaves would have crunched beneath his feet as he made his way up the packed dirt path. But today the path was lined by fresh blooming blossoms that filled the air with the scent of honeysuckle and jasmine.

The tables were set among the trees, far enough from each other that the occupants were difficult to make out if you weren’t standing next to them. Only the flicker of the candle set in the center of each one gave away their positions. As day dimmed toward dark, lights appeared in the branches overhead; electrical lights strung together with green wires and draped across the tree branches before winding down their trunks.

On rainy days, the staff pulled heavy canvas tarps from the nearby storage shed and set them carefully over the tree branches to create a sort of canopy. But Mike thought it would shatter the illusion conjured by allowing the forest to serve as walls and windows, as if the veil of the city had been pulled back, granting the cafe’s visitors this tiny glimpse of paradise.

She was already waiting at the table as he approached. Her hair was swept back, perhaps because of the wind, though it maintained its shape by virtue of the bright pink blossoms woven through her mahogany locks. Her soft olive skin was brushed at the eyes with a rich peach color, and touched at the cheeks with a hint of rose. Cherry graced her lips, glossy in the flickering light of the candle.

Her dress had a hint of blue-grey to it, though the lacy over layer was white as new fallen snow, the lace pattern so intricate, his eyes had trouble tracing it. Her skirt spread like a garland around the base of her chair and he wondered that it didn’t trouble her as she leaned over the table and lifted the printed menu, as if to offer it to him.

She smiled a smile born of long familiarity. The kind that spoke of love stretching into eternity, rather than the spark of new love or the flame of the honeymoon period. It was the kind of smile one offered to a person they saw every day and expected to see for the rest of their life.

The kind of smile he couldn’t help but mirror the second he saw it.

Without taking his eyes from the bride’s face, Mike lowered himself into the chair across from her and accepted the offered menu. It would be difficult to focus on the contents with such radiance sitting across from him, but he dared not spoil the occasion.

“Why hello there, darling. How are you feeling?” the bride said as she lifted a bottle of Champaign from a basket near the edge of the table. Her expression was both expectant and interested as she poured each of them a glass.

“Okay,” Mike managed, trying not to fidget until she was ready to drink. As if following some choreographed dance, they lifted their glasses at the same moment and clinked the rims together before tasting the sweet, bubbly liquid.

The bride set her glass aside before she spoke again. “Just okay?” One mahogany eyebrow twitched upward.

“Nervous, I guess,” he admitted. He had never done anything like this before and it probably showed.

“It’s normal,” the bride replied, each of her movements seamless and untroubled. She waited until the waiter had taken their orders to lean across the table and run her fingers lightly across the back of his hand. “Do you want to talk about it?”

Mike’s stomach clenched and it took several deep breaths to loosen the knot back into butterflies. “It’s nothing,” he insisted. Nothing he thought he should trouble her with, given the setting. But when she tilted her head, silently demanding that he not treat her like a fool, he sighed. “It’s just this big contract I’m negotiating at work. I expected to be finished by now, but the money just isn’t falling into place the way it should. None of the numbers have fallen outside the projected parameters, so I don’t understand why things aren’t running smoothly.”

“A breakdown in communications, perhaps?” The bride suggested with a light shrug. “Or a misunderstanding about how the agreement is supposed to function?”

Mike considered both these possibilities for a long moment before he made a thoughtful sound. “Could be either,” he agreed. “Could be both.” Maybe looking at the contracts with that in mind would offer a fresh perspective. He filed it away for later and decided to focus on the moment in front of him. On the woman in front of him.

She smiled at him again and they held hands while they waited for their food to arrive. They were well into the meal when Mike realized he should probably say more. This wasn’t really going to work if he just sat here and stared all night.

He glanced nervously at the woman sitting across from him and she flashed him her most encouraging smile.

He cleared his throat. “So… um… what’s been going on in your life lately? Aside from…” he waved at their surroundings.

She lifted one hand as if to hide her chuckle and a natural blush joined the rose on her cheeks. “Well, I wasn’t sure if I should say anything, but there has been a bit of drama. I tried to hold it at bay until, you know, after. But that Karen… she just won’t leave things alone!”

Mike blinked, uncertain how he was supposed to react to this bold statement. But after his initial shock faded, he settled in to listen to the tale. If nothing else, it filled the background while he worked his way through the rest of the meal. Somehow, the food disappeared from his blushing bride’s plate while she talked, though he almost never noticed her take a bite.

Soon he found himself entranced by a tale of bridesmaids and dress fittings, of betrayed trust and battered egos, the kind of tense emotional reactions that always threatened to leave a wedding in tatters. Given the breadth and scope of the interactions relayed, it was hard to believe he and half the town hadn’t been swept into the madness.

Mike exhaled heavily when the bride flicked her wrist and declared, “But anyway, it’s all worked out in the end, as you can see.” He hadn’t realized how engrossed he had become in the outcome of the story for its various players.

“Breakdown of communication,” he said with a hint of a smile. Now that he took a moment to think about it, Karen’s attempts to undermine the bride’s wedding plans wasn’t much different from Jack constantly insisting they should be adding useless investment clauses to every iteration of their contract. Though he never would have thought to look for answers here.

The bride smiled, pleased that her emotional revelations had proved useful for someone other than herself.

But then wasn’t that how it was supposed to be in arrangements like this one?

The dinner plates disappeared, replaced with dessert. The Champaign dwindled down to the last drop. Mike found himself speaking of useless things, unimportant things, simply so he could hear the sound of her voice and watch how she reacted to each of his musings or jokes.

There was a magic in this place, and part of it related to the moments he shared with his bride. Though it might also have come from the light touches she imparted during the small breaks in conversation, or the rustle of the wind through her skirts. Part of it could certainly be attributed to the light in her eyes whenever she smiled.

He felt a strange sort of euphoria when next he rose from his chair and headed back to the packed dirt path. His heart had been heavy when he arrived, his brain buzzing with uncertainties. But now he wondered if he had glimpsed some secret to the universe previously stored well beyond his grasp.

Tom was waiting for him at the first bend. A grin split his face and set his eyes alight. “How was it?” he demanded, slapping Mike on the shoulder. “Have you changed your mind?”

“It was… different than I expected,” Mike admitted, though he couldn’t seem to grasp the proper words to encompass the experience. “I could get used to doing something like this every night.” Though he supposed if it was every night it would be in a different setting. And there would some heavy expectations accompanying the bliss. “Though I don’t think I’m a convert. Not yet, anyway.”

“Shame.” Tom clicked his tongue. “Who did you get anyway? Some of the ladies here get multiple proposals every night.”

“It was…” But when he reached for her name, he found only half a dozen others. Karen had been the most prominent character in her story, but he couldn’t remember now how the bride had referred to herself. “Huh… you know, I don’t think I ever thought to ask her name.”

Tom chuckled. “Dumbass,” he murmured as he headed back up the path.

Mike hesitated, turning to glance at the candles flickering in the distance. They were brighter now that the sky was dimmer. He could still see her perched beside the table, lifting the menu and cradling it between two hands.

She smiled that dazzling smile, the one that could only indicate true love, but he was no longer its focus. Realizing that his window of opportunity had closed, Mike turned and followed Tom up the path. But not before the wind shifted, carrying the bride’s voice back to his ears.

“Why hello there, darling,” she cooed. “How are you feeling?”

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