He is the last person you expected. Of all the people who have made their mark, however faint, upon your life, he is the one that you were sure you would never see again. He is handsome, as he has always been, but his air of disinterest keeps you from making spider’s webs of dreams. He is only buying a pot, a tiny ceramic one that looks like it wouldn’t hold a lichen plant. It is meant for doll’s houses, and yet he cannot be meaning to play dolls. You think perhaps he is buying it for some daughter or young sister. You open the cash register mechanically, your fingers so used to their job that you do not have to think about it as you take his money and ring up the change. The rain on the roof is a soft drumming as you put the pot in a little brown paper bag and he says hello as you make the sale.
“You’re doing pretty well,” he says, looking around the tiny shop with the air of someone appraising it. You nod politely.
“Yes, business has been good.”
You both are silent after that, there seems nothing more to say. But the shop is empty and the day has been slow, and you want to have a conversation, with anyone. The fact that you once knew him is not as much of a deterrent as you would think it to be, not on a day like this. You draw a face in the dust on the counter.
“A present?” you ask, handing him the paper bag.
His eyes fall and he hesitates.
“You might call it that,” he says.
“Most little girls buy it for their doll houses,” you tell him, hoping to make him speak further, and he takes the bait.
“I’m not getting it for a doll house,” he says. “It just reminded me of something and I thought I’d buy it.”
“I’m glad you came in,” you say, not yet sure if it’s a lie or not. “It’s been a while. Is your family well?”
“They’re all fine,” he says. “And yours?”
Your father’s health is failing, and your mother snaps every day. Your sister, once your best friend, ignores you more than anything else, and your little brother smokes and sneaks out at night to the wrong side of town with the friends he should never have made. And yet you wear your false smile and say,
He nods and picks up his little bag. “I’ll see you later,” he says.
“Are you moving back here?” You hope your tone is casual. You are not sure what you want him to say. He hesitates.
“Yes. For a while, at least.”
He goes out, and the little bell on the old wooden door jangles. A moment later there is nothing but the sound of the rain, and you sigh and sit down on the little red stool behind the cash register.