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There is a café she likes to go to. It's warm and cozy, out of the way, and never too crowded.
Just how she likes it.
She has a particular table, by the window. The seat is especially nice when the sun's gentle rays slide through the glass and warm her face. She likes the coffee and the ham sandwiches, and she likes the quiet din of chatter and clinking dishes.
But most of all, she likes the music. That's what she really comes for. It lets her forget the bread is dry, and wipes away thoughts of that waitress who treats her like a child. She doesn't have to remember how bitter the coffee is (though she orders it more for the smell than the taste), and she almost forgets the slightly unpleasant smell that permeates the air and tickles the corners of her sadder memories.
She's almost certain it's the same pianist every day, with a signature to the sound she understands but cannot explain. She wonders about the pianist, the songs he plays, and if he writes them himself. She wonders how long he's been playing and if he enjoys it. Most of all, she wonders how he makes his emotions resonate with each chord. The music bleeds from his fingers, passion in every note, and floats though the café, wrapping around her like a comforting hug.
She wants to meet the pianist. She wants to ask him about his life and how he is able to breathe life into sound. But each day she listens, finishes her sandwich, pays the bill, and wanders out.
Today is different, however. Today her table by the window is taken, though she doesn't realize it until she tries to slide in only to find it occupied. She apologizes profusely, and the man at the table pardons her in a way that seems condescending and artificially kind. She shuffles to a different table, one closer to the piano.
And today, the music stops after one song. Her eyebrows draw together. The reverberating final chords hang in the air, and seem to create a discord with the sounds of the café that matches her disappointment at the abrupt end.
“That's quite the face you're making,” says a voice next to her. “Mind if I sit?”
The man doesn't wait for a reply as he settles across from her. Though the voice is deep and friendly, she can't help but feel slightly defensive.
“You come here a lot, don't you?”
“Yeah. I like the music.” Her face is angled toward the table, but she's pretty sure he can hear her. His cologne wafts across the table.
“Well, it's good that someone does.” The smile is back in his voice. She doesn't answer. Does this mean he's the one who has been playing the piano all this time? Before she has a chance to ask, he speaks again.
“You're blind, aren't you?”
She isn't used to such direct questions. It's kind of refreshing.
“Yeah. So?” She doesn't mind the question, really. It's preferable to the whispers she's grown accustomed to.
“So.” She's pretty sure he's leaning toward her. “Can you at least pretend to look at me instead of glaring at the table? You'll make everyone think I'm boring. They'll haul me outta here for harassing you.”
He's teasing now. No probing questions. No asking about how she lost her sight. He's just teasing, and she can't keep the smile from creeping onto her face.
“Well, I guess so. If it protects your ego.”
“It very much does. Now everyone will know how charming I am.”
She laughs before extending her hand in his general direction. “I'm Molly.” His hand wraps around hers, but he doesn't shake it. He holds it for a moment before pressing his lips to her knuckles. His breath ghosts across her fingers.
“It is an absolute pleasure, Molly.” He relinquishes her hand, which she folds with its twin atop the table, a blush rising in her cheeks.
“So you like music?”
“I do. And you?”
“I love music.” She can hear his hands messing with something on the table, perhaps a napkin or a straw wrapper. “Music can make your thoughts and feelings tangible, and lets you communicate them to everyone. I like how it lets you express what words can't.”
“Are you the one who plays the piano?”
“So do you have a name, Mr. Pianist? You know mine.” This earns her a soft laugh.
“Well, Christopher …” She smiles as his name passes her lips. “It's a pleasure making your acquaintance.”
“Yes, it is.”
She laughs.“And how would I know? I've only just met you. You could have some sort of grotesque face mutation for all I know.”
“You're the one who said it was a pleasure first, but I assure you my face is perfectly attractive.”
“Hm. What if I don't believe you?” Molly can't keep from smiling. It's been a while since she's had a conversation with someone who wasn't trying to dance around her blindness. It's almost as invigorating as the music.
She feels the table creak as Christopher leans across. “Why don't you find out?”
She blinks at his forwardness before stretching out her hand until it comes in contact with his cheek. The muscles shift and she feels his smile as her fingers drift across his lips. She trails up the plane of his nose, and his eyelids shut as she makes her way across the shape of his eye.
“Can I help y'all?” Her head reflexively turns toward the voice of the waitress who treats her like an invalid. There's something in the waitress's voice that reminds Molly of the position they're in, with her hand on the face of a man she's just met, realizing how intimate they must look.
“N-no, we're fine, thanks.” She retracts her hand.
“Are you sure there's nothing I can do for you, hon?” It's now that she notices the waitress is really talking to Christopher.
“No, we're fine, thanks,” he answers.
“All right.” She sounds doubtful. “Just ask for Jessica if you need anything, 'kay, hon?” Molly's hands ball. She can picture Jessica batting her eyelashes. The silence after she leaves lasts long enough for Molly to listen to the fading clack of her heels.
Molly turns back toward Christopher. “W-what?”
“No disgusting face warts or disfiguring scars?”
“Ah. No, I didn't find anything.” She reaches forward and internally celebrates when her hand lands on his shoulder. “I'm sure you are very attractive to some.” She gives him a few friendly pats.
She hears him settle as he leans back in his chair. “Thank you.”
She thinks she's done more smiling in the past twenty minutes than in the last two months. “So, do you work here?”
“Me? Nah.” Molly can hear the shifting of his clothing as he moves; he must talk with his hands. “They just let me come in and play the piano when I have the time.”
“They don't pay you?” she asks incredulously.
“Nope. It's just nice to have a place to go and let out pent-up emotion.”
“They should pay you! And to think, I've been coming here and suffering through dry sandwiches and sour coffee just to hear some, some hooligan they let use their piano. I'm not sure I can trust this establishment anymore.”
This buys her a laugh. “So you come here just for me then? I'm flattered.”
“I come for the music.”
“So you like my music?”
“I do. Listening to it, it's like being able to see again.” She tenses. She hadn't really meant to say something so personal, but now it is out.
“Why don't you make your own music then? You know, so it's yours? With your emotions and your expression.”
Molly isn't sure whether to feel relieved or panicked at the direction of the conversation. “Oh no, I can't play. And I can't sing either. No, I'm better suited to listening.”
“That doesn't mean you can't learn. It's not as hard as people think.” His hands slide under hers and lift them. “You have good piano fingers, nice and long.”
“But I can't see.” Her voice is small, though she doesn't want it to be.
“That won't be a problem.” Confidence resonates in Christopher's voice. He doesn't let go of her hand. “C'mon, I'll show you.” He leads her to the piano. Molly's stomach twists in knots. Christopher's hand in hers is a grounding point.
She gently rests her fingers on the keys, moving over them without a sound. She can feel his body heat as he settles next to her, and she catches another whiff of his cologne. He guides her hand to the center of the piano, pushing down her thumb. The note resonates throughout the room.
This came from her hand; she caused this sound.
She closes her eyes and lets memories of color and light flow through her as the note continues to sing in her mind.
And a smile spreads across her face.
“This is C.”