Hayworth walked into the mostly empty cafe and sat down at the table shaped like a rhombus in the corner. She removed her dark brown leather jacket, which hung loosely on her shoulders like a veil over a bride who is too insubstantial to hold up properly the weight of such tulle. She ordered a coffee (black), a cup of goat yogurt, and a waffle with pecans and bananas. With only fifty pages left to proofread of a 200 page manuscript written by her former lover, Hayworth was both eager and reluctant to finish reading the dissertation on the depictions of 18th century Spain in literature and paintings.
She hadn’t seen Taylor in more than five months since they had parted, a psychologically mutual separation but a philosophically divergent one. Taylor ended the three year relationship because she needed to travel the world for post-doctoral research and knew that Hayworth could neither accompany nor wait for her to return. And, Taylor preferred to travel alone, as she had learned after a five-day-four-night cross-country road trip. Hayworth had spent the majority of the time taking photographs of signs, trees, and cups of coffee instead of dispelling Taylor’s occasional bout of insecurity and self-loathing. But that’s how Hayworth got when she was elated. Creative and head-in-the-troposhphere. Not that Taylor didn’t have her own flare-ups of epistemological highs that required cutting off the entire world — she just believed that Hayworth should have been a bit more attentive.
It was a simple, logical decision to relieve her girlfriend of girlfriend obligations. Post-doctoral research was an all-consuming endeavor and Taylor knew that Hayworth wouldn’t be able to keep her empathy or warmth to herself for however long Taylor would be traveling the world.
“I’ve seen the way you look at Mitchum and I see the way he looks at you…there’s no point in denying it, Hayworth, you might actually like boys…too.”
Hayworth didn’t adamantly contradict this comment, but she would’ve waited until Taylor met someone else…as she was sure to do. Hayworth had always liked boys a bit more than she freely revealed to the women she courted, yet none of the men that she’s become close with ever suggested being more than friends. She didn’t know what Taylor meant with the remark about the way she and Mitchum looked at each other. Whatever there was between them was borne out of one person being at the wrong place at the wrong time.
Taylor had asked Hayworth to read her dissertation and to be brutally honest with feedback. Were there any theoretical ambiguities? Grammatical errors? Uncited sources? Formatting inconsistencies? As the coffee, yogurt, and waffles arrived at the table, Hayworth was ready to cross out excessive use of adverbs, disclaimers, and back-to-back quotes.
Hayworth was about to ask the waitress for a coffee refill when a group of Hats came barreling into the cafe. A Top Hat was in the lead, followed by a Fedora, a Panama, a Newsboy, and a Baseball cap at the end. Their howling laughter punched through the silence inside the dining area and Hayworth knocked over her coffee cup, which then fell to the ground and remained there unheard for several minutes as the Hats settled into a round table across from Hayworth’s rhombus.
The waitress took the Hats’ orders and came over to Hayworth to clean up the broken cup. She apologized for not coming sooner and that she would bring over some more coffee as soon as the new batch was finished brewing. Hayworth smiled and nodded at the waitress.
“It’s not your fault.”
Hayworth watched the men remove their hats in the same order in which they entered, except for the man in the Baseball cap. He left his on, merely adjusting it before he noticed that a woman with brownish-red hair was looking at them. He nodded at her. She blinked in response.
There was something familiar about this woman. The way she touched her neck, the way she moved her foot in circles, even the way she looked at him. He couldn’t place her, though. His attention was then yanked around towards the Top Hat.
“So, are you in or are you out?”
“Next weekend we’re going to Miami,” the Panama said. “My cousin knows a guy who works the front desk overnight and he can get us in and out no problems.”
The Baseball cap looked over at the woman with the brownish-red hair, who was now eating yogurt and turning the pages of a heap of white papers.
“You guys go on without me,” the Baseball cap began. “Some last minute loose ends need to be sorted here.”
“All right but we may not be able to split this one five ways,” the Fedora remarked.
“Yeah, cause payment is going to be on site, you know?” the Newsboy added.
The Baseball cap nodded.
Hayworth wondered why the Baseball cap was the only one who didn’t take off his hat. Bad hair day? Bad scalp day? Was his cap like her watch, something that is only removed inside one’s domicile? As she watched him and the rest of the Hats drink coffee and eat large mouthfuls of biscuits dunked in grits and gravy, she realized there was something familiar about the Baseball cap. It was the way he nodded, it was the way he chewed and swallowed, it was the way he looked at her. A memory was just under the surface of her consciousness, but it was one that she couldn’t address until she finished reading Taylor’s manuscript.
Five minutes later, the waitress brought over a new (larger) cup of coffee — only, it wasn’t the waitress standing before her, it was the Baseball cap.
“Hi,” he said.”
“I convinced the waitress to let me bring you another cup of coffee.”
“Because I wanted to talk to you,” the Baseball cap replied. “May I?”
Hayworth gestured for him to sit down. The Baseball cap put the cup on the table and took a seat opposite her. He cleared his throat.
“I know you.”
“I know,” Hayworth said. “I know you too, and I suddenly remember from where.”
“Mrs. Monroe’s English class. Eleventh grade. You sat behind me and always asked to borrow a pen.”
The Baseball cap started smiling. He remembered too. One day, she gave him a box of seventy-five black ink pens.
“You’re Mason…your parents were huge fans of James Mason but there was already a ‘James Mason III’ in the family and so they had to settle on ‘Mason.'”
The Baseball cap nodded.
Hayworth took a sip of the coffee and ate another mouthful of the waffle.
“This is a really good waffle.”
The Baseball cap nodded.
“Your parents were big Rita Hayworth fans and since your dad was a PE teacher, they named you ‘Hayworth’?”
The Hats asked for the check. The Baseball cap glanced at them. When he looked back at Hayworth, he asked her what she had been up to since high school graduation. She went to university and studied linguistics before switching to sports psychology. Hayworth asked him how he spent his years post-high school.
“I did a bit of traveling. I lived with my sister and her husband for a few years in Italy, helped them with their vineyards, and then I met these guys,” the Baseball cap said as he pointed behind him.
“And what to these guys do?”
“We make and install fish tanks. Sometimes natural ponds, depending on the client’s backyard.”
Hayworth looked back down at the remaining fifteen pages of Taylor’s dissertation and didn’t much feel like reading it anymore. Again, Taylor was right. She was always right.