Maria sighed as she balanced her cell phone between her shoulder and her cheek; using on hand to give the cashier the money and the other to grab her coffee. “I know Sabi, I know…I can’t help but worry. What if he’s dead in a gutter somewhere?”
“After six months?” Sabi’s voice replied over the phone, “They probably would have found him already. So…he’d be dead in a morgue.”
”Sabi!” Maria squealed, earning a few odd looks from other customers as well. “That doesn’t help any at all you know,” she continued in a lower voice.
Sabi chuckled, “I know, I’m only teasing.”
”It’s not a funny thing to tease about,” Maria replied sitting down at an empty table as she used her hand to hold the cell phone once more.
”Maria you need to listen to me, you know like when I said not to cheat on Fuma with Renzo?”
”That is completely different! He was always away at work…and well…Renzo seemed to always be there at the right time and well—“
”Well that’s it. Now he’s away at work again, permanently. So move on kiddo. Pretty soon—“
”But it’s not that simple anymore. Fuma was…well he seemed like everything y’know?”
”And if you guys are meant to be together you’ll find each other again. Until then just relax and enjoy the eye candy.”
Maria glanced up and noticed a man sitting a few tables away. He looked to be sketching on an art pad. “Well speaking of eye candy…”
”What’s that?”
”Nothing, there’s this guy drawing at the other table. Pretty cute too.”
”Go talk to him!”
“No…No I can’t just walk up to him.”
”I’m sorry, is this Maria? What did you do to my best friend you fiend?”
Maria laughed, blew on her coffee and bought it to her mouth to take a sip. It was much hotter than she had expected it to be and burned the tip of her tongue, “Ow! Ooooh, ow, ow, ow,” she whimpered.
”You okay? What happened?”
Maria opened her mouth to answer when she heard someone chuckling; she looked up to see the man who had been sketching was trying not to look at her as he laughed.
“My eye candy is laughing at me.”
”Well look, another reason to talk to him.”
”I don’t know…”
”Maria, I gotta go. Kenji’s at the door. But the next time I speak to you I want to know a name, age, and marital status okay?”
Maria smiled and nodded her head, “Yea, okay Sabi, I’ll see you when I get home.”
”Bye bye birdie.”
Maria frowned as she closed her cell phone, “She knows I hate that…” she glanced up at the man once more. He was looking back at her and when their eyes met, he winked. Maria grabbed her coffee and went over to him, “It’s not very nice to laugh at people y’know.”
”And I’m sorry.”
”Apology accep—“
”But it was just too funny not to,” he interrupted. “And I’m sure if you had seen the look on your face you would’ve laughed too. Here look.” He pointed to the upper right corner of his art pad. Just above his finger was a chibi – looking version of Maria with over sized rivers of tears coming from eyes and a spilled cup of coffee by her feet. She couldn’t help but chuckle. “I told you so,” he said, smiling at her.
”That’s the second time I’ve heard that today…anyway, you were staring at me all that time and only drew that?” She asked, debating whether or not to sit down in the seat next to him.
“Well no, you’re right,” he moved his arm over, “I was working on this.”
Maria gasped slightly as she looked down at a portrait of herself. “I might as well look in a mirror…wow you’re amazing!” Forgetting her nerves as she studied the picture, Maria took a seat next to him.
”Well now the feeling’s mutual.”
Maria smiled and blew on her coffee, “Do you always flirt with strange women in cafes?”
“No…”, he gently flicked the end of one of her pink locks, “just the interesting ones.”
“I see. And, do you have a name?”
”James,” he replied.
“Hmm, Maria,” she said, then added, “so, is this where I hold out my hand and you kiss it gently, saying the pleasure is yours?”
James chuckled, “Heck no, that’s too clichéd. And way too boring. It’s been seen a million times so it’s lost its effect.”
”Oh,” Maria answered quietly, she wasn’t sure what to make of this James. He was obviously flirting with her, but his eyes never once wandered lower than her face, yet he didn’t seem too, concentrated, she decided was the right word, in keeping her interested in him. Maria watched him gently shade in his portrait. “So, what would you do to have the same effect, that isn’t clichéd of course?”
He smiled and put his pencil down, then closed the art pad. Maria watched him, confused. He leaned in close and whispered, “I’ve already done it.”
Maria could barely utter a word while she stared into his amber eyes.
James stood, tucked his art pad under his arm, and his pencil behind his ear, “Good day Miss Maria.”

Maria plopped onto the couch and leaned her head back, staring up at the ceiling.
“Huh?” Maria replied half-heartedly.
Sabi sighed and sat next to her, “You were like this when I got home, and that was a good two hours ago, and I’m betting you were like this when you came in too. What’s up?”
Maria sighed, “I just, I don’t know. That eye-candy, James, he just…won’t get out of my head.”
Sabi pursed her lips in thought, “Well, let’s see, slightly taller than you, tanned, red hair, amber eyes, sexy voice, hot body…gee sounds like you plucked him right out of one of my comics and he won’t get out of your head.” She looked back at Maria, “I’m sorry what’s the problem again?”
“It’s just, I spoke to him for what? Ten minutes? And he’s been in my head for half the day.”
”Well, maybe you’ll see him again”
”I’m going to go back tomorrow I think,” Maria replied suddenly.
”Oh, we aren’t desperate?”
”It’s not that! I just…would like to talk to him again.”
”Uh-huh,” Sabi replied, “well you go pick out an outfit, I’ve got many a shounen-ai to catch up on.”
Maria nodded in response, her mind already wondering what she would say if she met James again.

Two weeks passed by however before she met James again. Maria balanced a small Styrofoam plate with a small slice of chocolate cake on it, on top of her coffee cup, in her other hand she picked up her shopping bag and turned to look for an empty table. She spotted one in a corner, by the window. As she took a step forward a hand reached over and took her plate and hot cup of coffee. “Hey!” she turned sharply.
James smiled back at her, “I’m sorry, I thought it’d be a shame should this beautiful, delicate thing get hurt.”
Maria couldn’t help but smile, “Uhm…hi. And, thanks.”
”Not a problem,” he replied, gesturing towards an empty seat closer than the one she had spotted. “You do know I was talking about the cake right?”
Maria set her bag down and sat, “Yes I know. Compliments too clichéd now too?”
”No,” he put the cup and cake on the table in front of her.
”But what?”
Maria sighed, “Nothing. Forget it.”
He smiled, ”You know I came back the next day. Hoping to run into you.”
She took a small sip of her coffee, “Really? You did not.”
”I did! You don’t believe me?”
”Only because I was here too. To grab a cup of coffee for my friend,” she added quickly.
”Oh. We must’ve just missed each other then. I was disappointed honestly.”
”Of course. By the time I got here…they had run out of those raspberry filled donuts I like.”
Maria stared at him in disbelief, wondering what she had been expecting of him to begin with.
”What?” he asked, cocking his head to the side slightly, “Were you expecting me to say something else perhaps?”
Geez, he’s toying with me, she thought. “No. No I wasn’t.”
”Oh. Well, I have to go.”
Maria couldn’t help but feel her heart sink a little, “Oh…”
”But it was nice to see you again Maria.” He was already standing.
”Likewise,” she replied, trying not to show her disappointment.
James smiled and continued past her. Maria sighed and put her hand to her forehead, “I can’t believe—“
”I forgot.”
Maria jumped slightly at the sound of James’ whispered voice so close to her right ear. She could feel the warmth of his breath, “You forgot?”
He slid a napkin on the table, on it a phone number and address, “Meet me here tomorrow night around seven. Give me a call if something comes up and you can’t make it.”
”Wha-Well, what am I meeting you there for?” she asked looking down at the address. She knew there was a museum in that area.
”I’d like to study and sketch some more interesting beauties.”
”I see…” Great, she thought, he compliments a piece of cake and a donut, and now he wants to take me to a museu—
“And yes,” James said, interrupting her thoughts as he moved over to her other ear, “I do mean you.”

“He really said that?” Sabi asked.
Maria passed a drink to a waiting patron, “Yes. No lie. And we’ve got a date tomorrow night.”
”And to think you were saying you wouldn’t be able to get Fuma out of your mind.”
Maria sighed indignantly as she held the cell phone to her ear, ”Well who’s to say he isn’t on my mind now? I mean--”
”What’re you going to wear?” Sabi interrupted.
”Short black dress with the ankle-strapped heels and the small purse with the stones in the handle,” Maria replied almost instantly.
”I rest my case,” said Sabi triumphantly.
Maria frowned, “Har-har.”
”I’m just saying Maria, your mind is already moving on, why won’t you let your heart do it?”
”Because…Fuma and I were, despite the Renzo fiasco, we were good for a long time. I don’t want to get close with this James guy just for some crazy thing to happen between us.”
”You’re thinking too hard kid. Just go with the flow okay?”
”Yea…I suppose.”

The next night, at ten to seven, Maria slowly walked down the block, looking down at the napkin in her hand and up at the street signs. Spotting the Museum not too far away she headed in its direction.
She stopped walking and turned in the direction the voice had come. Standing across the street stood James, waving at her. She glanced towards the Museum then back at him. Shrugging, she crossed the street. “What’re you doing over here?” she asked.
”Me?” he replied, “What were you doing over there?”
”Aren’t we meeting in front of the Museum?”
”The Muse—you thought we were going there?”
”Well at least meeting in front of it…” she said, slightly embarrassed.
James shook his head smiling, “No, no,” he pointed down the street in the opposite direction, “that restaurant. The best in the whole city as far as I’m concerned.”
Maria sighed a sigh of relief and took James’ arm, “Well then, lead the way.”

Half-way through their dinner, James looked around and smiled.
”What’s so entertaining?” Maria asked.
He nodded his head off to the right, “See that guy in the blue suit?”
Maria looked in the direction James gestured, “Yea, what about him?”
”He’s going to propose to his girlfriend.”
Maria watched the man talk and laugh with his companion, “How can you tell?”
”Well, they say a man proposes to a woman in this restaurant at least once a month, it’s practically tradition.”
”What makes you so sure it’s going to be him though?” she asked.
”Oh, just intuition.”
Maria looked back at James and raised an eyebrow.
James chuckled, “That and I bumped into him in the bathroom and he was so nervous he was sweating oceans.”
Maria laughed and glanced towards the young man again. For a moment, she wondered what would happen when someone proposed to her. Where it would be, how it would be done. Then, for a split second, she pictured her and James sitting there months later, James on one knee. She shook the image from her head, Gimme a break Maria she told herself, it’s just the first date. He may not even want to see you again after this…

However, James did ask for a second date. Which he and Maria had, as well as a third, a fourth, a fifth, and soon they lost count. Maria often times came home late, if at all, after spending the evening talking with James till the early morning. “I don’t know what it is,” she admitted to Sabi over the phone as she headed to work.
”Could it be…that ever-so-elusive four letter word, beginning with the letter ‘L’?” Sabi replied.
”What, ‘Love’?” Maria answered, quickly crossed the street against the light, “I don’t know Sabi. It’s only been about ….four or five months. Do you really think so?”
”You’re the one that talks about him as though you two have been together for years. At least known each other for that long. It could be.”
”Maybe, I don’t know.”
“Hey look, my shipment just got in, I gotta go.”
”Sure thing Sabi, see you tonight.”
Maria closed her cell phone and slid it into her bag. Love…really? She turned the final corner to the bar, rummaging through her bag for her keys. As she stood in front of the gate, unlocking it, she noticed out the corner of her eye someone come up to her. “Look, just give me like, twenty minutes, and we’ll be open okay?” she said as she tossed her keys into her bag and opened the door.
A hand grabbed her arm, “Maria…”
She froze in her steps. It wasn’t the sudden whoosh of cold air since the air conditioners had be left on all night, it wasn’t the fact that this man had grabbed her arm so suddenly, it was his voice. She recognized his voice. Without turning around, Maria said in a low voice, “F…Fuma?”
“It’s been a long time,” he replied.
Maria whirled around and stared back at him, “A…A long time?!” she nearly screamed. “You up and disappear on me for months, almost a year, and just stroll back over like it’s been a few hours?”
”Maria, please…I know your upset, I can—“
”Upset? Upset Fuma? No, I was heartbroken. Then I was upset. Then I was depressed. Then I was mad. And now, I’ve moved on. No Fuma we are way past the upset stage.”
”Maria, I can explain everything. Please, just give me a chance to. Tonight. Over dinner.”
”Over di—dinner?” she stammered, bewildered. “Fuma, you can’t just expect to waltz back into my life and have me put everything on hold and—“
”And I’m not expecting you to, just, please, give me a chance to explain everything. Okay? Tonight. Here, the card of the restaurant.” He held out a small white card.
Maria stared down at it, not sure if she should take it. If she did, what would that tell him? That she really gives a damn what he has to say out of sheer curiosity? Or that he had never really left her mind all that time? She knew her true feelings were closer to the latter. Slowly, she took the card from his hand.
”I have missed you Maria. Terribly. There wasn’t a day that I didn’t think about you…”
”Yea, that’s why phones were invented Fuma,” she retorted angrily.
”You’re right…I’ll…I’ll talk to you tonight. I’ll see you later Maria.” He hesitated, as if not sure whether he should hug her, or kiss her cheek or just walk away. Finally, he turned and went down the street.
Maria quickly went inside and slammed the door behind her. She stared down at the card. It was the restaurant that she and James had gone to on their first date. “That really was him wasn’t it….” She said quietly. “Oh god…what am I going to do…?” She quickly reached in her bag and pulled out her cell phone, feverishly dialing Sabi’s number.

Several hours later, Maria sat across from Fuma in the restaurant. His hair had grown even longer since the last time she had seen him. Every time he leaned forward his hair covered his eye, he was constantly pushing it back behind his ear. Maria sighed, “Fuma…to a degree, I can understand. Your relative…passed away, you had obligations to your family…but... a phone call? Anything?”
”So much happened at once Maria. After the funeral, I found that his business had been given to me. Left in his will. As well as many other things. It was a while before I was able to get everything sorted and organized and understand what—“
”A letter? An email? Smoke signals?”
He sighed and chuckled slightly, “I know, I know. I’m sorry. Maria I…I know I was away from you a lot with my work. That’s what led you to…and well, even after that I was still away a lot. After this happened, I didn’t want to come back until I knew for sure that I could offer you everything that you wanted. My time included. I…I love you Maria.”
Maria stared back at him, unsure what to say.
He looked down at the table, “I uhm, I’m going to use the bathroom. I’ll be right back.”
Maria nodded her head slightly, and Fuma left the table. She couldn’t help but wonder if he would come back or if he would disappear on her again. She sighed and put her elbows on the table, burying her face in her hands. She felt like she would cry but held back, knowing it would bring way too much attention to her. What was she going to do? She was with James of course…and for Fuma to show up out of nowhere…and he said he loves her….Maria’s mind ran through a million thoughts at once. The sounds of the restaurant half filling her ears. She could hear a group placing their orders, an older man complained about his wine, another compliment it, and a lot of indistinct talking. It made her think of her first date with James. In between the chatter she heard someone mention how “romantic” it was for “that man to propose on such a beautiful night” then the sounds mixed in with everything else. She smirked, thinking that James was right and it was almost tradition at this restaurant. She sighed just as Fuma said her name. Maria moved her hands from her face, “Fuma I…” her voice trailed off when she looked to her left to see Fuma next to her…on one knee.
“I know…things could have been much better. I know we have a lot to work out. And…I told myself I wouldn’t say anything until we had gotten the time to talk a few times. But…I can’t hold it in any longer. I love you and now I have everything I need to make sure you are happy this time, completely. Maria Annita Elizabeth Bird, will you marry me?”

……To be Continued.