Today's Lesson Was Brought To You By The Letter "O"

I met him at O's, the bakery-café nestled between Opus Record Shop and a second-hand bookstore. The proprietor of the café was named Odette, whose sun-streaked blonde hair, violet eyes and effervescent manner only made her already unconventional lifestyle more appealing. She lived in the flat above her café and owned a collection of fabulous gypsy hoop earrings. Already in her forties, Odette wore polka-dot sundresses and smoked a pipe, and when I was fifteen that made her the coolest person in the world.

It was July, mere days after summer vacation began. Only an air conditioner that hummed louder than a refrigeration unit remedied the hot summer air that would otherwise perfume the café with sweat. Though I had learned from my mother that Odette spent the little extra money she had on tobacco, I still regarded her mien with envy—she had a carefree spirit and willingness to see past bad hair, crazy relatives, or a first impression to the person within. Cheekily, she told me she only hired people whose names began with O, so for a while I called myself Ophelia. Suddenly, I had a summer job.

For two weeks I laboured over coffees and teas, washed the windows and the red-tiled floor, made sandwiches, and rubbed my nose in cilantro in order to distract myself from the inviting cupcakes O herself frosted with utmost precision and care. I had already begun to dye my hair, much to my mother's chagrin; she clucked with the same matronly air she reserved for young children who wet the bed. Under O's unorthodox supervision and influence, I styled it into a mohawk and started wearing eyeliner called Purely Plum and Timourous Teal bought from Mistress Primrose's Beauty Emporium down the block. I began to enjoy how young children looked at me with their eyes full of unconcealed mirth. My inward hilarity only compounded when their parents shifted uncomfortably, quickly ordering O's famous White Fudge with Walnuts and Dried Cranberries as if to swat me away.

He walked into my life the same way he walked into O's—unceremoniously and without any semblance of politesse. He merely plopped himself in a seat at the countertop and waved me over, demanding my attention. It was three minutes before our 9 o'clock closing. "Miss, some service here?" he called imperiously, a light baritone flecked with impatience.

I was in the middle of personalizing a blondie for a four-year-old girl (given the icing, my artistic skills were limited to stick figures), when I glanced at O and scowled in the boy's direction.

"You take care of him, Ophelia," she said to me, with a wink.

Just to be bull-headed, I took my time drawing a sheep with two different colours of icing, then ambled slowly towards him. He had dark hair, sharp cheekbones and the most charismatic set of white teeth framed by a lopsided smile.

"May I help you?" I asked stiffly. He couldn't be much older than I was, though I didn't recall seeing him at the high school. I later found out his name was Oliver, and that he had dropped out of Oakwood in tenth grade. His name alone should have been a big enough hint for trouble.

"No," Oliver said lazily, "but you can take my order." He asked for an iced hazelnut coffee and a madeleine. I brought it to him. The café was mostly empty by now—I was about to leave and let Odette lock up when two of his fingers neatly circled my wrist. With his other hand holding the pastry, he motioned for me to sit down.

He began asking me a series of rhetorical questions: whether I liked the Pixies ("Of course you do, you're a run-of-the-mill poseur"), what my favourite time of day was ("Dusk, obviously, is when you get the best photos"), if I were a colour would I change my name ("How about 'indigo'? You look like an indigo"), and so on. In the first five minutes, he had made me snort once, laugh twice, and sneeze.

By the seventh minute I'd learned his life story. By the eleventh, I was in love with him.

He became a regular at O's after that, coming every day a few minutes before closing. We childishly snuck pepper into O's Triple Chocolate Marzipan Deluxes, thinking that anyone who ordered one deserved some extra zing. He'd steal a flower from the florist across the street, and when the seller chased after him, the poor fellow would only find the two of us in a tree. Oliver essentially personified the heroes found in Jane Austen novels—romantic, but still restrained, honourable and far too sophisticated for his years—our years, I needed to remind myself. With his impressive vocabulary and silver tongue, Oliver charmed bouncers, reluctant baristas, carnival ticketers. We went everywhere.

He braided my hair into little buns, kissed my eyelashes, called me Ophie and traced his name onto my elbow. When I was with him, I was clever, brilliant, and full of grace, with enough witticisms to startle a room full of prissy socialites. I never spilled my drink, my clothes were always in fashion, and my shelf was always big enough to fill all the books I wanted.

One night, only days before going back to Oakwood and the dreaded P.S.A.T.s, Oliver did not come into O's at his customary time three minutes before closing. I was washing coffee mugs when I heard a shout from upstairs.

"Oh!" a familiar voice yelled. "Ohhh!"

"Oliver?" I shouted, wiping my hands messily on my apron, now blotched with Susie May's Sparkling Dish Detergent. I grabbed the meat cleaver from the drying rack and darted up the steps, prepared for any unthinkable danger he could have gotten himself into.

I opened the door, and froze.

O hovered over Oliver, half-clad, on her hyacinth-print bed and fuschia cushions. Both pairs of eyes flickered over to me in a panic, round as snickerdoodles, though a pale shadow of my own.

Like Odette's, my mouth was curved in the O's of our names.

Unlike Odette's, mine was empty.