Single with a Side of Creme Brulee
How many times I'd hovered on the edge of a pool of golden light, craving to step into its glow. Afraid to because I hadn't been invited – figuratively and literally. I stopped this time, unable to leave. I had wrapped up dinner with friends earlier than expected and had decided to wander around the historic downtown of the city with just my sister for company before heading home. Now my sister and I lingered here on this odd bit of cobblestone street, tethered by longing to this sight; a hot day had steamed away into cool darkness. The French bistro tucked into the row of darling shops had expanded tonight to include a pop-up outdoor cafe. A square of white picket fencing, two-top tables, gentle globe lighting. The rest of the cobbled street seemed lately deserted. Adorable couples occupied the few tables while Ella Fitzgerald's voice soothed over them from some hidden speaker.
“I want to be part of a couple and come here,” I admitted to my sister.
She smiled, accustomed to such comments from me. Perennially single, sometimes the comments sprang innocently – like tonight – from a desire to have a particular experience with a companion of whom I am fond.
Sometimes they came from a place of frustration. So she smiled and kept her peace and together we wandered up one end of the street and down the other. Still I could not bear to leave. Not just yet. A little while longer. It was all so charming. An excited wind chattered up the street, driving the first few fallen leaves before it, a whisper of autumn to come. At the French cafe Louis Armstrong had begun to sing and something compelled me to stay. Not that staying lessened my desire to be a part of the scene. To belong. To join the golden reverie.
Stalling, I wandered to the wall of the bistro watched through the kitchen windows, then absently read the menu pasted to the board, the writing painted on the gleaming glass windows. Creme brulee seemed permanently advertised in the window-panes and my never-long-absent craving for it growled to life.
“Excuse me?” I stopped the waitress. “Are you serving crème brulee tonight?”
My sister stared.
I smiled. “Then may I have a table for two?”
In a few short moments my sister and I had been pulled into the golden glory, seated at a table, served water from a tall glass bottle. A small white dog – Remy, the owner called it – visited each table. In a moment the waitress returned. Black coffee and crème brulee. Two spoons. A warm smile. She left, and the crackling strains of “La Vie En Rose” poured into the darkness and the golden bubble in which we sat.
My sister laughed at me. “You're doing your happy bounce.”
“Well, I am perfectly happy.”
I raised a spoon and cracked the melted sugar which covered the pot of crème Anglaise. With the shattering of the sugar-glass, sweet joy sprang into a thousand shards, got into every fraction of my soul. Here I sat included, entranced, entangled in a moment of pure, amber warmth. Could I be any happier if the person across the table from me was a handsome man instead of a younger sister? No. Could I enjoy this tannic black coffee and a spoonful of silky custard any more if a date had paid compliments and the bill? Hardly.
And with the next sip of coffee and the playlist which seemed to play all my favorite songs, the truth hit me:
How many amber-shot moments had I missed by wishing for an invitation?
Mama always told me to have a plan. Fairness, equality, invitations – life sometimes brought them, sometimes did not. But if one had a plan of one's own, if one chose to be the hostess instead of the guest of honor and focus on enjoying the things right before one's nose, life showed a golden face.
It is always the way you cup life in your hands – your perspective, you might say – that determines your satisfaction with it. How you lift it to the light. How you tilt it so that the sun catches on its facets, throwing colors into your eyes. There is always more to life if one chooses to see. I felt like a blind man healed to see again, dazzled by the range of color and texture. It was like magic, this second-sight.
I took the second spoon and slid it across the white-cloth'd table to my sister. “Taste it,” I said.
And recklessly, I meant it all – crème brûlée,
God's goodness, black coffee, life.
Rachel Heffington is a recipe developer and writer at www.lipstickandgelato.com. She lives in South Eastern VA, spends far too much on coffee dates, and can usually be found with her watercolor paints, confusing her mug of tea with her rinse water. Follow her on Instagram and Facebook.