If I were to describe the girl sitting in the corner of the coffee shop, I'd say she was a high schooler. Her face was unmarred by age and her eyes held a touch of the youthful innocence that adulthood stole away. Her hair was plain brown, without any accessories. On occasion, her hand would reach up and twirl a lock around her finger. She was waiting for someone – a date?
I was a struggling writer living paycheck by paycheck, working as a journalist. Needless to say, I wasn't very good at it. I wanted to live in fantasies, fighting treacherous snakes and rescuing benevolent princesses, not trying to make a twelve-year-old's winning goal in a soccer game seem heroic. Unfortunately, life wasn't going the way I wanted it to.
It was stroke of fortune that I even noticed her. She wasn't the type that journalists were supposed to keep an eye out for. I wouldn't have thought anything of her, except that she was alone.
She ordered nothing, and when the waitresses came to ask her to leave, she ushered them away with a twenty dollar tip. It wasn't like she was working. The girl tapped her fingers on the table top. Perhaps she sought refuse from the winter evening outside? Her parents never came calling.
It was a busy night, and all the tables were full. The waitresses came again. Sitting three tables away, I managed to catch a few of the exchanged words.
"…need…table…customer…paying…" said a waitress.
The girl answered, gesturing to the menu hanging above the counter. One serving girl retreated to the kitchen.
The waitresses exchanged glances. One of them asked the girl why she was there.
"…waiting…someone…" said the girl.
An anxious waitress returned with a cup of hot chocolate, weaving her way through a line of customers without tables.
Finally, the girl seemed to realize what the problem was. "…wouldn't mind sharing…" she offered.
Around this time, an elderly woman walked away from the counter with an order of green tea. She looked around almost patiently, and I hopped up and offered her my stool.
"Thank you, son," she croaked, taking my seat.
I picked up my laptop and shuffled over to the wall, closer to the girl. The waitresses had left, and a man was approaching her.
He took a seat across from the girl without giving her a glance, sighing into his coffee. This man was ordinary as well. Handsome, yes, with dirty blonde hair and a sharp gaze intoxicated by remorse. Still, none of his features were unique to him alone.
He slumped into his seat as if he were alone in the world.
"Something wrong?" the girl asked.
Now that I was closer, I realized her voice was deeper than I'd imagined. Maybe she just appeared young for her age? Her outfit resembled a school uniform; that might have thrown me off. I was suddenly unsure of her age.
"Nothing I won't get over," the man mumbled. His eyes were rimmed with dark circles, and he appeared to have gone days without bothering to shave.
The girl tilted her head and inhaled the steam of her hot chocolate. She didn't drink it. "It will be easier if you get it off your chest."
"Don't want to talk about it," the man cut in harshly.
She nodded and waited for a minute. "My name is Tara."
For a moment, I thought that the man glares at her, but then I realized that his eyes are soft. His gaze was more dismal than angry. "Jayden."
"What's wrong?" she said. Subtle, she was not.
"Just because you know my name does not mean I'm going to talk to you," Jayden said curtly.
Tara nodded and paused once more. "Okay, so what do you like to do?"
Jayden scowled, bringing his coffee to his lips and sipping. "I make things. I draw. I travel. Does it matter?"
"It's who you are," replied Tara. "Of course it matters."
The man rolled his eyes and folded his arms across his chest. "You're one of those. Optimists. Is it past your bedtime yet?"
Tara wasn't dissuaded, though that served to strengthen Jayden's point. "I like to help people," she said, pointing to herself. "I also like sing and rhyme. Flowers make me happy. When I'm happy, I laugh. I think smiles are the most beautiful thing in the world."
"Good for you," Jayden deadpanned, clearly not amused.
"Why are you here?" Tara said.
The man began to look around like he was considering moving tables. Of course, there wasn't any free seats. "If I tell you, will you leave me alone?"
Tara smiled. "Whatever you want."
There was a heavy silence before Jayden gave in. "Fine. I came here so that I wouldn't have to spend another second in that godforsaken house any longer."
"Why?" Tara probed.
"My roommate, Tyson," he answered. "He used to be my best friend, but I don't know anymore. We're having this big fight… God, this is dumb. But I'm not going to forgive him until he apologizes."
Tara cocked her head. "What was the fight about?"
Jayden licked his chapped lips, eyes glazing over in remembrance. The cup of coffee made a dull thud against the table as he set it down. Both ignored it.
"Something stupid. I don't really even remember. He lied to me. I think I wanted him to cover for me…for something, and then he went and stabbed me in the back. He's such a loser…"
The girl didn't say anything now. She stared at him until he conceded.
"I didn't mean that. Tyson's a cool guy. I just… He insists he didn't do anything wrong. He thinks I'm overreacting – I'm not! – and he won't talk to me until I admit that."
Jayden sighed (it sounded like a sob, but he wasn't crying) and turned his face up to the ceiling. "It's only been about three days. I want to make amends, but I'm not going to lie and say it was my fault. Tyson needs to learn that he makes mistakes too."
Out of the blue, Tara began to hum a tune. Jayden looked at her, puzzled. "Tara?"
"I think you should make up!" she concluded just as randomly.
The man blinked. "I…just told you why I couldn't do that. Were you listening? This is why I didn't want to talk to you. You're too young to understand that—"
"He's your best friend," Tara said simply. "Do you value his friendship more than you value being right?"
Jayden didn't answer. His hand returned to his coffee cup.
Voice softening, Tara said, "You say it's his fault. He says it's your fault. You're both casting the blame away from yourself, and why? What for?"
"It's not about him," Tara interrupted. "This is you. It's all about you. He isn't here. What about you?"
"…" Jayden looked as if he wanted to say something, but mental restraints stopped him. He looked at the floor.
"Friendship is a beautiful thing. Smile, Jayden. You don't really want to win over Tyson. In the end, wouldn't it be nice to smile with him again?" Tara said softly.
I don't know what happened to Jayden and Tyson after that. I faintly recall, as Tara took her leave, Jayden saying, "And what were you doing here? No one came to meet you."
Tara smiled brilliantly – the sun, I thought – and said, "I was meeting someone," before exiting through the front door.
The bells tied to the handle rang as the door closed behind her.
Later, when I returned to the coffee shop on a warmer spring morning, none of the waitresses could remember the plain high school girl who shared a table with a troubled man.
"No one can remember all the faces of their customers," one woman told me. "And we get a lot of high schoolers. She probably wasn't anything memorable. Are you sure you have the right store? No one remembers her."
But I did. I do. I remember the enigmatic girl who appeared one evening to help a distressed friendship. I remember her smile, her voice, and the jingle of the bells announcing her leave.
I remember the little angel called Tara who made her mark on my world, even if nobody else does.
A reporter thrusts her microphone into my face. "Please! Sir, please tell us your thoughts on your first bestseller, The Rescue. Two years ago, you were a struggling writer living paycheck to paycheck. How did you get the inspiration to write an inspiration novel like The Rescue?"
I have recounted my story many times. I wouldn't say I'm living the good life, but it's definitely better. I have my share of troubles and arguments, of fights and tears, but considerably less now. I have my dream job, and I make decent money off of it.
I smile brilliantly, hoping I can change a misfortunate life for the better, and began to spin my story.
And every day, I thank fair Tara for her wisdom and strength.