David knew Claude’s bistro quite well. Two years before he’d worked in a less celebrated accountancy office and it had small rooms tucked away in York Street, so he would often get out of the depression of the place and saunter down to the Barrack Street Plaza to eat. Claude’s had been there for a number of years now, always busy, always successful, with food and coffee that stood the test of time, not subject to the law of diminishing returns that most restaurants and cafes seemed to follow.
David now worked in North Sydney, but a trip in to the city was never unwelcome. Hell, these days just getting away from the office was welcome. He could sit on the bloody Manly Ferry all day and be happier.
He took the train to Wynyard. David rarely drove and didn’t own a car. He could have taken one of the company ones on some flimsy pretext, but parking would have been a nightmare. Beside, he quite liked the train trip over the bridge, and it was only a brief and brisk walk to his destination from the station in any case.
He considered it fitting that it was a glorious day, so early in spring, and full of promise. Above the tall city monoliths a few stray white clouds decorated the sky without threat. People looked colourful and alive, even in the suit-replete central business district. David knew he was seeing all being at its best in the best of all possible worlds because of the past few days, but even though that was the case he was happy in his self-referential glory.
He arrived at Claude’s early , because you always needed to if you were to be assured of a table in the more popular (on days like this anyway) al fresco area. There was no sign of Schaden yet – if, of course, she was who he thought she was, though he was as sure of that as he could be of anything. He took a seat at a table at the front area of the cafe so that he could see all the people streaming up and down the plaza.
‘David! Hello stranger! How are you?’ It was Claude himself, the affable and genial owner, chief cook and host of the café. David beamed at him, enjoying the fact that he still retained his well-known status.
‘Fine, how’s the soup today?’ he asked.
‘Your favorite David..minestrone..’ Claude replied.
‘Excellent, I’ll have that and some black coffee thanks..’
‘Momentarily’ laughed Claude, ‘We’ll catch up later ok? Don’t go without having a chat. It’s been a while.’
Claude always liked to gossip with his more frequent patrons. In the old days they’d compare notes between the corporate and the restaurant world, or laugh over women, or chew the fat over the politics of the moment. It paid to humour him. You always received quicker service, better tables, and often extra food and beverages on the house. Once, on David’s birthday, he and his companions were given complimentary flaming zambucas. These touches underlined the class that was Claude’s compared to its nearby competitors.
That Schaden had chosen Claude’s spoke well for her, but David wasn’t surprised. She was clearly a very intelligent girl, with very refined tastes. David smiled warmly at his host.
‘Certainly Claude, wouldn’t dream of it…’
Claude moved to pick up the menu from the table. David stopped him.
‘Leave it..I’m sort of expecting someone, and they might need the menu..’
Claude’s eyes twinkled at him. He intuited that it was probably a woman. He nodded and left the menu in its place without another word. That was Claude, through and through. That was the secret of his success. He was somehow simultaneously the source of the best gossip and the soul of discretion.
A waitress brought out David’s coffee a few moments later. He was only just putting cup to lip when he saw her, striding purposefully up the plaza walkway. The girl from the hotel. The girl from the shadows. The tall, slim, dark and formerly elusive creature he knew only as Schadenfreude..Schaden.
I knew it was her, he thought smugly to himself.
As she got closer to the café she was looking straight at him, half-expectant and confident and half unsure and almost shy. He wanted to make it easy for her, and waved. She waved back and approached the table more confidently.
‘It’s you!’ David said. ‘I knew it was you!’
‘And I of course knew it was you, ‘ she replied.
‘Join me?’ David invited, and she sat opposite him. She placed a small black handbag at her feet. It matched the all black of her outfit. She looked like a typical eastern suburbs girl with expensive and under-stated makeup and the demeanor of the well-educated. It fit, of course, with the savage, witty and clever creature she displayed on the internet. She was perfect.
‘I was a bit nervous about coming,’ she said, picking up the menu.
‘So was I!’ David admitted.
She didn’t seem to have heard him.
‘What’s good here?’ she asked, ‘I only know about this place from a..friend..’
For some reason she almost stuttered over the last word and a shadow seemed to cross her face. Or perhaps she was just frowning as she read the menu.
‘The soup, or the foccacias are always good..so are the salads apparently, but I never have them..’
‘Neither do I..anywhere..I need something more substantial than a salad,’ she agreed.
‘Something with more bite,’ David laughed, referring to more than food, just as she clearly had done. The humour and the savagery of their internet selves played momentarily before their joint consciousness.
‘Exactly!’ she laughed in response.
The waitress hovered next to them awaiting her order. She handed the girl the menu, saying briskly, ‘I’ll have the soup, and a latte thanks.’
Schaden was looking around her as the waitress departed. She still looked a bit worried, as though she thought she was under some form of surveillance, or that she half expected to see someone appear at any moment. Someone she knew and didn’t want to see.
‘Are you ok?’ David asked.
“What? Oh yes, it’s just I work..nearby..and my boss doesn’t know I’m out to lunch with someone..’
‘And this is a problem?’
‘It might be,’ she replied, enigmatic as ever.
‘Oh? Well, fingers crossed he isn’t around then..’ David responded, then changed the subject, ‘What’s your real name?’
‘I’ve told you,’ she retorted.
‘Really..really, your real name,’ David persisted.
She shook her head at him.
‘The internet..you speak to so many, perhaps you forget who you tell what to. I’m Lisa. I’m Lisa.’
‘Well, hello Lisa, I’m David.’
‘I know. I know. I saw you perform the other night, after all.’
‘And I saw you seeing me. Why did you have to run off so quickly?’
Schaden/Lisa looked at David speculatively. It was as though she was judging his trustworthiness, or even how much she wanted to tell him at all. Was he worthy of her confidences? He had proven worthy enough to meet, and David intuited this might not be at all usual for her. Surely that meant she would explain herself further, particularly as to not do so would make her seem extremely evasive at best, outright rude at worst.
‘It’s tricky,’ she said, ‘I am seeing someone..’
(c) Helen M Valentina 2015, All Rights Reserved