Five months and it still hurt, but not quite as much.
Jenny stepped from the shower and grabbed a towel. Last night was the first time that he hadn’t intruded on her dreams in weeks, but here he was again. Go away, she cried, and pulled the towel harder. He used to pop into her mind without warning, his presence a painful reminder of too many tears. She had to change her life, let go of the past, move on, and after a long conversation with Anna, an old school friend, she had packed a bag and driven to Baltimore.
The small west Cork town was quiet, a million miles away from the hurly-burly of life in Dublin, and working in Anna’s coffee shop was different, and it suited both women. Anna didn’t mention the break-up and Jenny didn’t want to talk about it. It was what Jenny needed, and soon one day became another, with the late spring sunshine promising better times to come.
Anna had a pot of tea on the table and slices of toast on a big plate. ‘Breakfast’s ready,’ she said out loud.
Jenny came down the stairs and, walking into the kitchen, took a deep breath. ‘Oh, that smells, lovely.’
Anna buttered her toast and reached for the marmalade. ‘Sleep well?’
Jenny stretched her arms high and yawned. ‘Hmmm, it was wonderful.’
Anna nodded, sipped her tea and turned the radio down. More bad news about the economy was not going to intrude. ‘I can see that.’
Jenny was looking over the edge of her cup. ‘Oh yeah.’
Anna put her cup down. ‘Definitely. To me you look like someone who has had a great weight lifted off their shoulders. Released, but I’m not sure if that is the right word. I’ll think of it later.’
The sharp trill of a trawler’s fog horn in the small harbour, about two hundred yards away, got their attention, momentarily.
Jenny smiled and held Anna’s gaze. ‘Thanks, that’s very kind of you.’
Anna held her hands up. ‘By the way, I’m not trying to pry, but you seem so much lighter today.’ She paused, picking up her cup and swirling it easily. ‘I felt I had to say it…that’s all.’ She took another sip.
In the six weeks since she arrived in Baltimore Jenny had said nothing about the break-up. She didn’t know what to expect when she arrived, but the change had certainly been good for her. Getting away from familiar, but painful, surroundings was what she needed, and the new, daily routine occupied her mind. She had made more cakes and apple tarts since she arrived than she could ever remember. They were popular, sold well, and Anna was delighted.
She had both hands wrapped around her cup, the heat making her fingertips tingle. ‘I appreciate what you’ve done for me, Anna, I really do. And yes, I do feel better today. I don’t know exactly what to put it down to, but being here has been very important. I won’t forget it.’
Anna nodded. ‘You’re welcome. I’m just happy to see you smile. It does so much for you.’
Jenny pursed her lips. ‘I know, Anna, I feel it too. For the first time in months I actually feel as though I have stepped through a doorway into a better place. A brighter place.’ She looked through the long window, out to the harbour that lay beneath a blue sky. She loved it and let the image itself burn itself into her mind. ‘Maybe we’ll talk tonight…over a bottle of wine.’
Anna smiled. ‘Good, and I’ll make dinner.’
‘Deal,’ Jenny said and they both laughed.
The day was fine; the sun bright and casting long shadows.
In the café a steady flow of customers kept the women busy. ‘I told you that those apple tarts were great, Jenny. I think that you should patent your recipe. You could make a fortune.’
‘There are three more in the freezer, if you need reinforcements.’ Jenny finished making another sandwich and passed it across to the customer. A cup of tea followed, and again the cash register popped open.
It was mid-afternoon when Anna leaned close to Jenny. ‘You may not have noticed but you’re getting some attention.’
Jenny turned, arms folded. ‘What are you talking about?’
Anna moved her head slightly, her eyes quickly taking in the man sitting at the window table. ‘That’s his second coffee. And he hasn’t taken his eyes off you since he sat down.’
Jenny felt her face flush, but she took a peek. He was reading a newspaper and his skin suggested Latin blood. His dark hair contrasted with a white shirt, and when he reached for a pen in his shirt pocket he looked up. Their eyes met, and he smiled.
Jenny felt her heart flutter. She was excited, but brought down to earth immediately when the doorbell rang and another customer walked to the counter. ‘A coffee and a slice of apple tart, please,’ she said reaching for her purse.
‘How long did you guys live together?’ Anna asked, pouring wine.
‘Two years six months….and three days. And I didn’t know that he was cheating until the very end. He said that he was working late, trying to climb the corporate ladder, and I believed him.’ Jenny shook her head at a memory and sipped her wine.
‘But he was climbing into his secretary’s bed. The bastard. He always came home, no matter how late, so as to keep me off guard. He was good, really bloody good. I didn’t see it coming Anna; it was such a surprise.’
Anna rested her elbows on the table. ‘I’m sorry for the poor bastard.’
‘What?’ Jenny snapped, a look of total surprise on her face.
Anna held up a hand. ‘I mean, any man who let you go is a poor bastard, because he doesn’t know what he’s missing. He’s a fool, that’s why.’
Jenny put her glass down and started to cry. Anna sat beside her and put an arm around her shoulder. ‘It’s his loss, darling. In the time you’ve been here I’ve seen you come from the darkness into the light. You’re like a beautiful butterfly.’
‘You deserve better, Jenny, much better. You have so much to give, so find someone who will appreciate you.’ She rubbed Jenny’s shoulder. ‘My mum used to say ‘Let go of what you can’t change, and be kind to yourself’. She knew what she was talking about.’
Moments later they sat arm in arm as Jenny dried her eyes. ‘Thanks, Anna, I needed that. You’re very good.’
‘I know, and that’s why I’m going to open another bottle.’
Two days later Anna and Jenny shut the café and walked down the quay to a Salsa Dancing class in the local school. It was the opening night and Anna was happy that Jenny had agreed to come. Since their late night talk Jenny felt much better, her mood reflecting the improving weather.
They joined the small queue, paid at the door and took in the chatter and growing buzz of excitement. There were about thirty people inside when the teacher turned off the music and introduced himself. He was Pablo, the man who had been in the café, and again he looked at Jenny, and smiled.
Anna playfully nudged her. ‘Best foot forward.’
Jenny didn’t take her eyes off Pablo. ‘I think it’s time to dance.’
‘Go girl,’ Anna said, taking a step back as the teacher purposefully made his way across the floor.