nicole lowered her mug from bright red lips and placed it on the shaky blue table at which her and carlos were seated. the table itself was not fit for a poor elderly couple's backyard, but it's gaudy blue pastel shine fit right in with the decor. another coffee shop in an affluent neighborhood modeled on a misunderstood notion of salvation army chic.
"i like this place," said carlos, "it reminds me of cambridge."
nicole thought of brooklyn and cambridge as being somewhat interchangeable, but felt little need to delve into any sort of discussion of geography, especially with someone as opinionated as carlos was on those matters.
"so how are things?" she inquired, "how are you doing without nancy?" carlos, seemingly willing to overreact to an expected query, replied, "rough. i just didn't see it ending like this. y'know? i guess i didn't see it ending at all."
"no one did," nicole lied, "you were so good for each other."
nicole thought of all the things she had said about nancy, hell, all the things everyone had said. nancy never even acknowledged any of carlos' friends, and they were all pleased with news of the break up. when carlos moved to boston to be closer to her, they had all reacted like he had been hit by a car.
"you know, she really wasn't that attractive..."
"oh," carlos interrupted, "you think that matters to me?" he seemed more insulted by nicole's statement then she had planned.
"no, of course not, i was just saying... i mean..." she drifted off, there was no saving that remark and she knew it. but seriously, she thought, wasn't she doing him a favor even being here to help him cope? hadn't he left town and left everyone behind? barely saying goodbye, off in pursuit of another bad decision...
nicole righted herself internally and steered the conversation back to a steadier course.
"are you going to stay in boston? how are things going with your job?"
carlos did something related to books, or the internet, or maybe it was financial. nicole never cared to ask, and if it was not to save this conversation from falling off a cliff, probably wouldn't have.
"i think i have to stay because of my job, i like my apartment... but i don't know, sometimes somethings just seem like they belong to another person's life, like they never were dreamed by me, like i jumped on another train's rails..."
carlos trailed off and took down another gulp of coffee. he was drinking it black. nicole remembered he always enjoyed it with a healthy dose of cream. she wondered if he was trying to prove something. instantly she decided that yes, indeed he was.
carlos turned the conversation,
"so how are you? are you still seeing what's-his-name?"
nicole briefly hesitated, then replied,
"yes, alan is his his name."
"ahh, right... alan. good?"
"things are going well, we kinda take it day by day."
things with allen were actually fantastic, but nicole didn't want to seem like she was rubbing it in. her mind drifted to him, momentarily replacing carlos' presence. her and alan had made plans to go to mexico in the winter. alan was due to spend thanksgiving with her and her parents. she realized how accustomed she was becoming to all of alan's idiosyncrasies; she realized her train was still running on a rail that she herself had built.
"you guys have been dating for awhile, no?" carlos silently wondered how serious they actually were. he smiled half way, raised his mug, and glanced a hundred miles slightly over nicole's right shoulder. noticing his impending detachment from whatever reply she offered, nicole though an extra second and decided to answer with a shrug of her shoulders and a returned half smile.
nicole and carlos had made out once, after a party in college. that was three years ago, and when carlos asked her to meet him for coffee, she worried he might want to rewind back to that night. she thought that he was handsome enough, and instantly felt shallow for thinking so. anyway, she was with alan, and thing were almost perfect.
"carlos, it's good that you're here, and i, everyone... we want to help you get through this," nicole continued, "you can always come back if boston is too depressing. y'know, things happen for a reason," nicole didn't believe herself, "nancy wasn't the one, but the right one is out there for you, you're such a nice guy. anyone would be lucky to be with you."
"thanks, that does make me feel a little better," carlos said, "it's just a shame to lose a year and a half of your life, to have missed out on whatever you all are doing down here. i want that time back, i, uh, i want.. i don't know, a redo or a do over."
nicole states, "yeah, but you can't have that."
"carlos," she reaches across the tacky blue wobbly table and places her hand on his forearm,
"you can begin today, you have your freedom. besides, if we had do overs, there would be no point to anything, right? wouldn't everything eventually end up perfect? and perfection would be normal? and normal is boring, right?"
carlos doesn't answer, but instead checks his phone for the time. he must leave if he is to make his train.
"will you walk me to the subway?"
"will you come up to boston one of these days?"
"i'd like to."
nicole immediately regretted saying that. not that alan would mind, he was understanding and they trusted each other. but it seemed weird at her age to travel that far to meet a platonic friend. she thought the only way she would make it up there would be if things went south between her and alan. she was ashamed that thought crossed her mind, and instantly felt sleazy for thinking so.
at once they both stood and took steps towards the door. a dozen or so paces out of the cafe, and nicole speaks,
"you know why you feel like the train you're on is riding rails placed by someone else?" she doesn't wait for him to answer, "because you're a romantic. romantics don't ride on tracks they build, they ride on tracks built by fate."
carlos understands. nicole is right. and sometimes those tracks take you three years back in time, to a late hour, perhaps after a party in college. however, when you finally get to the station, you realize that, due to budget cuts or just lack of ridership, the station has been permanently closed.