Shout out to Laura, organiser for Power of The Pen for providing the prompt for this story!
Prompt: A person meets with the ghost of an old friend for tea every so often.
We meet every Sunday, at the same cafe, always at the same table.
This was our spot. Our place to hang out on lunch breaks and gossip. Who was sleeping with who in the office… Am I ready to get a pet or do my houseplants suggest otherwise… J’s elderly grandmother finally getting to grips with their preferred pronouns.
It was also the last place where I last saw J alive.
I got the news of J’s passing last Spring. We hadn’t seen or spoken much since I got a new job in the next city over. This was almost three years ago, but I still felt a wave of guilt wash over me.
You promised each other you’d talk every day, no matter what. The accusing voice floated into my head when I attended J’s funeral. You blamed longer working hours and awkward public transport routes, but you know you could have done more. I looked around at the solemn expressions huddled together. We all could have done more.
I started returning to the cafe again six months ago.
When I first arrived, I was a little shocked to see J sitting at our table. But I also immediately knew that this wasn’t the same J as before. This was J’s ghost.
Just like old times, we’d place our usual order. Me, a flat white. J, a peppermint tea.
“I never could stomach coffee,” they once commented. “I don’t know how you can drink the stuff. It gives me the jitters!”
“They do decaf, you know.”
J threw their head back and laughed. “And what’s the point in that?”
This time I notice that J has ordered something different. The server puts down a mug of hot chocolate next to my flat white.
J smiles at me and shrugs. “Thought I’d try something a little different today.”
This feels odd, somehow. As J reaches for the mug, their sleeves hitch up and reveal the scars across their wrists. I look away, trying not to flinch.
You see, there’s one thing J and I have not spoken about since we started meeting again.
I feel a cool, tingling sensation. I look down to see J’s hand closing over mine.
“It wasn’t your fault, you know. It wasn’t anyone’s fault.”
As J slides their hand away, I notice a translucent quality to their skin which wasn’t there before. And it’s not just J’s hand, I realise. I’m able to make out the edges of the chair behind them. They’re fading.
J takes a slurp from their hot chocolate, seemingly oblivious. I want to talk more about what happened. Why they decided to do what they did. But it doesn’t feel like the right time.
J has already launched into another topic. Asking me if my new workplace has as much drama as our old place. A foam of cream spread across their upper lip. Laughing, like old times. J as I’ll always remember them. As J would want to be remembered.
And I know when I return to the cafe next Sunday, J won’t be there. This is the last time that we’ll meet.