You’re hiding out from the rain inside a coffee shop in North West London. You feel distant from what you know, and so you order hot chocolate; but instead of it making you feel like home, it makes you feel further away. You start to scratch at your beard like you do when you’re nervous. You look at the other people, so many people sitting alone. You see an attractive man reading by himself and you feel sorry for him, for some reason. This makes you feel ungrateful, but then Bill Evans’ Live at the Village Vanguard starts scratching onto the speakers.
You remember the sofa in front of the cast iron fireplace. You remember the warmth. You can almost smell the sea salt and the firewood and the scent of earthen rain. It was dusk when you met him at the airport in Portland. The orange headlights from the taxi line illuminated the downpour. The rain patter on the roof of the car was soothing. Later, you would also hear crashing waves.
You remember being afraid you’d forgotten how to kiss him. You remember the moment of panic when you saw him exit the automatic doors with his silver rolling-suitcase. You got out of the car and hugged him tentatively and tried to make small talk until he suggested it might be nicer to talk inside the car and out of the rain.
Leaving the airport, you remember thinking you were crazy to invite him here in the first place. It’d been at least three years, maybe five—you couldn’t remember—but you’d never spent a weekend with anyone else in that small cabin on the coast of Maine.
You were so timid in the car, driving away from the airport, him in the passenger’s seat, you shifting gears the whole way. You talked too much at the beginning, just like you always do. You gripped the steering wheel tight as you crossed the first of the long bridges that stretches out over the black inlets. You never liked driving so close to the edge, so close to the idea that falling is always just a few inches away.
It was raining hard that night and the windshield wipers guided you most of the way. He bought you a Snickers bar and a Ginger Ale at the gas station in Freeport—he insisted—and you remember wanting to thank him for remembering but instead you made a bad pun about the rain. You told him about your Argentinean friend, Monchi, who’d been asked to do a last-minute job interview in Portland. You told him how Monchi had taken the same flight to Portland just a few weeks ago, only to get into an Uber and realize the address was for Portland, Washington, not Maine.
He laughed and stared at you while you focused on the road. You remember feeling his gaze and blushing, looking out the driver-side window so he couldn’t see you smile. When he asked how you’d been since graduation, you changed the subject quickly and skirted the question. You kept talking about Monchi but the story was already over; still he listened to you with patience and kindness. You told him he was just the same, and when you drove across the longest of the bridges, speeding through the black rain, he put his hand on your right thigh and you closed your eyes, just for an instant. His touch was the same as you remembered, too. He didn’t let go for the rest of the way.
There was a bad car accident outside of Brunswick, on Route 24, and you remember how playful they seemed, the red and blue lights swirling in the rain. When you rolled past the scene of the accident you didn’t look at the wreckage. He squeezed your thigh tight when the fire truck came screaming past on the narrow causeway.
Once you got onto the islands the drive was much calmer. You remember the GPS on the dashboard saying only forty-five minutes remained; you remember this because he asked if he could play an album that would last exactly forty-five minutes. As the trumpet began playing you asked, “Who is this again?” He giggled and said it was Miles Davis. You were embarrassed, which he covered up, graciously, by telling you about the pianist on the album, Bill Evans. You didn’t remember this name because you were so focused on his smile and the sound of his voice. He reminded you of Frank Sinatra or Bobby Darin, the epitome of class and masculinity, but you’d only tell him this afterwards, many years later.
The album came to an end as you crossed the bridge onto Bailey’s Island. You said the last song reminded you of Nighthawks, the painting by Edward Hopper, and when he asked you why, you said it felt endless, somehow, like there was no beginning, middle, or end—it was just there, an eternal melody. He called you a poet and you blushed in the darkness. His hand was still on your thigh. You remember the rain patter on the roof and the music playing. You said you loved the pianist on the song and you asked him who it was; he giggled and said, “You’re just the same as I remember. It’s called Flamenco Sketches. The pianist is Bill Evans.”
He asked you if you ever made it to Spain, like you’d always talked about, and when you said not yet, both of you looked at each other and grinned. As you turned onto the dirt road leading to your family’s cabin, you turned on the car’s blue high beams. You took your time to navigate the sandy path leading to the small house on the cliff. The sound of the car’s weight on gravel reminded you of driving home as a kid, you said, when your parents woke you up in the back seat and carried you to bed.
When you pulled into the small driveway you kept the car’s blue headlights on so that they shone out into the ocean expanse, illuminating the crashing white caps and the churning sea. Both of you sat in silence and waited for “Flamenco Sketches” to end, and then you went inside and started a fire and put on Live at the Village Vanguard.
The rain is still pattering on the roof of the coffee shop in North West London. You’re still sitting there listening to Bill Evans. There’s silverware clinking and more people arrive but the ones sitting alone don’t make you feel lonely anymore. The attractive man in the corner smiles at you when he leaves, and somehow this feels like enough. This feels like everything.