Amber and I have decided to come and sit for awhile. We want to catch up because it has been several months since we last saw one another, and friendships require tending or else they wither. We choose Auggie’s because friendships are plant life, reunions water, and coffee houses rich soil.
The door has a golden panel of brass instead of a handle. I wonder briefly how they lock it at night. Then I push it open and it gives easily because the young man who works the counter oils the hinges every so often. I have never seen him do this but it makes sense to me given the circumstances.
Amber enters while I hold the door and her long slender limbs part the air in a knowing way, a way that raises images of rising silk above a vent or of sandwich bread with the crust removed. She works at “The Frugal Frigate,” a bookstore that sells children’s literature. I classify it as literature because I know that she would never settle for just selling books to a child. She reads each one before she accepts it. She repeats this practice with her own sentences. They hover in her mind and she observes their total shape, then separates them into organs with very precise tools, managing everything neatly. Upon inspection, the organs meet with standards she cannot properly articulate, and then she fits them together again and speaks, while in her mind she cleans the very precise tools, and in the room everybody admires the beautiful body. She never appears distracted so I have had to learn other ways to judge than by appearance.
The small room always undergoes construction or renovation of some kind. Today’s version of Auggie’s presents a few young people standing on the counter, removing painter’s tape from the window sills behind the counter. These windows face the back of a neighboring brick building. They are set high on the wall, so that no one can see through them directly. The picture they afford is (in order of elevation) brick, then sky; (in order of color) sorrel, then blue; (in order of anatomy) blood, then veins. Since the patrons cannot do but look upward through these windows, they cannot help but look inward as well. Auggie’s is owned and operated by a Christian family. I tell myself this, anyway.
Amber sits promptly in a burgundy armchair and the leather does not squeak. She laughs because our friend Mike sits quietly across the room, in a corner he has probably made his own through frequency. It might carry his scent. Places do that over time. She rises just as promptly and approaches his table; he does not look up immediately, because he already knows she is there and wants to play a friendly game. She says nothing but returns to the burgundy armchair across the room, and he joins her shortly in a neighboring armchair, also burgundy.
The room has few open chairs. I have stood at the doorway for about nine seconds by the time I realize this. I look for a chair I might use and I see my friend Jeremy at work in the corner opposite Mike’s. Jeremy’s forehead creases when he sees me, because it has been more than several months since we shook each other’s hands. We both smile simultaneously and I hope mine appears as genuine as I feel. He pulls out a chair and indicates that I should sit in it. His earbuds are still in but as I sit he removes them. We talk about where life is going. He approves of my decisions as well as my attitude. I become friends with him on Facebook. We acknowledge the difficult times, the promise of the future, and the need for prayer. We laugh over some quotes from television series and films. We sit in brief, comfortable silences. He suggests I stop neglecting my friends. I nod and we pound each other’s fists.
Amber and Mike have engaged in conversation. I take the same chair and move it to a place facing them. I sit near the center of the room. Amber warns that I might be a fire hazard, but I do not move because nothing is on fire at the moment. The three of us do not speak much. Mike suggests that we go to dinner at the Gourmet Pizza Shoppe. He suggests we accompany this with a pitcher of Orange Wheat beer from Hangar 24, a local brewing company. Amber and I express enthusiasm. I can see in Mike’s eyes that this was necessary.
The walk from Auggie’s to the Gourmet Pizza Shoppe always feels the same because the old part of downtown Redlands has always been old. Redlands shelters the old and the young but there are very few in between. We walk abreast of one another; I lean a little forward and Mike a little backward. Amber cannot lean, I imagine. We talk little.
Amber opens the door for us and I enjoy the reversal of chivalry. I resist the urge to curtsy my thanks and the smell of pizza dough changes my thought process. Mike takes a menu and the two of them look it over. I do not consider my own pizza ideas valid because I plan to eat later, though I commit myself to one or two slices. They decide on a vegetarian pizza, whose name I have never heard but with whose contents I am more or less familiar.
The ceiling is very high – this provides more room for the smell of pizza dough, which is aggressive in its own way, to soften. The high ceiling also generates a kind of amplifier so that conversations reverberate from the tile flooring and clash with one another because they don’t look where they’re going. The general self-absorption of human sound becomes apparent when heard in a pizza parlor. However, this is a pizza shoppe so the conversations carry a kind of vague poise.
Amber and Mike do not know they are flirting. Or perhaps they do. I hope that they know about it because it makes me very comfortable to know about it and I expect it would feel the same for them. They are good friends. The three of us are good friends. The beer refreshes indescribably. I do not sip it. The pizza arrives and we each begin to eat, and our conversation swells with all the weight of time, because I have not been around the way I used to be. The two of them bicker in small ways and Mike’s Indian accent comes through at particular points and I suddenly remember how much I used to think about race but I see the thought from a distance because I have drunk three mugs of beer and another pitcher has just arrived. Amber refuses to drink more than one because she drove me here but Mike and I confidently assert that we can take care of it. The pizza disappears because we eat it, and then the metal tray disappears because a waiter takes it. I do not see him take it, but this makes sense to me given the circumstances.
The talk turns and turns, until it comes to rest on the subjects of discernment and marijuana. The three of us are in periods of transition; I have been out of school for three years now, Mike for one, and Amber graduates at the end of this year. Our interests mesh well because they are so different. But we are all in need of direction. We discuss the making of decisions and the strength of God to effect His will. We confess to one another ways that we are sorry for being absent. I especially lament Mike’s loneliness and frustration. Our eyes shine briefly and we excuse it by blaming the beer. Amber does not have this excuse. I recall a time when Mike and I decided to try smoking weed, and I mention it in passing. Mike responds and suggests we try it soon; Amber offers to mediate because she has had a lot of experience with friends who smoke, though she has not done so herself. I appreciate her suggestion, and though I do not particularly care to smoke it, I remember that I care for Mike and seek to spend time with him in a memorable way. Through the lens of Christian ethics we discuss the experimental use of a substance, and the possibilities of considering God while high. We reason to each other that God made all things, and what we do we ought to do for His sake – so we ought to figure out what the benefits might be of smoking marijuana, at least for this one occasion.
Amber suggests that we examine our motives. She speaks plainly concerning the matter, admonishing us to be wary of seeking enjoyment in things rather than in God; I see the truth to her words, and do not feel any resentment, because I would rather have more joy in God than in anything. I recognize, as I think, that I have not reached such a point. Following this realization, I spill my beer and it drips onto Mike’s shirt. After drying off, he rises and we rise and we leave. I take a handful of toothpicks from a ceramic bowl on the counter, and two mints from a neighboring cup, also ceramic. Upon exiting the shoppe, I lament that I took only two mints, because there are three of us, so I offer the mints to my friends. They refuse them so I place one in my pocket and begin to eat the other one. We walk back to the Auggie’s parking lot arm in arm in arm.
The sound of our laughter returns to us from brick walls, much older because of distance.