Heads in the streets turned toward my direction as I passed. For a moment, I become wary of my own appearance. Is my hair messy and unpleasant? Is it the bizarre color of it? Do my clothes look out of style or is it that they look too big for someone of my height who could be mistaken for a child? The questions did not bother me too much but they continued to circle through my mind as I made my way. It was then when I heard the fast approaching sounds of running behind me.
A cat dashes towards my direction, another tailing it in chase. I lifted one of my legs off the ground in attempt to not obstruct the paths of the playful felines. Not a single moment did they stop as they pass right under me, and so they continued to sprint into the depths of the town. Each person they pass by, their attention becomes lost shortly afterwards. A brief sight that was full of life. Everyone must've felt lucky to see those cats. And yet, with that little encounter over, I continue to make my way.
Out at the streets, a sound called out my name. Among the bustling employees and students hastily heading home, some fall out of the beeline back and relay to the comforting arms of an outdoor cafe. There she waited for me, waving from the table with an inviting smiling face and emerald eyes. Well-kept brown bangs, braided pigtails finished with cutesy bows and still enough hair to tie into two buns. Were it not for her physique and demeanor, you could mistake her to be younger. Jun, she calls herself. Just Jun. She clearly has a full name, but she just likes to keep it a secret for no particular reason.
"Go on ahead, order anything you want! It's on me, as I promised!"
She places her elbows on the table and rests her chin above her poised hands, leering at me as I pick through the menu. We make our orders.
"So are you doing fine, Elaine? How's the town treating you?"
I answer, "It's nice so far... I saw a cat today." I pause, "Two cats."
She repeats what I say, "Two cats! Do you know what they say about two cats running into this town? Some people say it represents the return of the young after they've left and grown up. We rejoice over our family and friends coming back home."
"...I don't see it."
"It's pretty specific, yes. A lot of old folks kept telling me that back then and I thought it was absurd too."
"Did you grow up here, Jun?"
"I've been here for most of my life. I moved out for a few years for my studies."
"Are you back here because of me...?"
"Actually, I was just about to go back to living here. It was just convenient that I met you when you needed a place to stay."
There is brief moment of silence before I utter out of impulse.
"That makes you a cat..."
"Excuse me?" She giggled, "I guess I fit the description." She tilts her head in a pondering manner, "Say, Elaine, what kind of cat would I be?"
A sudden question. "Um... I'd say you'd be... a calico."
"Pfft... I was thinking more along breeds, but you gave me a fur pattern. Why a calico though?"
"I just think it suits how you look."
"You came up with it so quickly too..." Her eyes glow with an idea, "Ah, now if you were a cat, you'd be a-"
I quickly cut her off, "A short legged?"
"...I was going to say british shorthair. But a short legged seems fitting.."
I turn away in slight embarrassment, "O-Oh... okay. Sorry, I just thought you were going for that obvious joke."
"That's just too easy... Also, those breed of cats are called munchkins."
A waitress arrives carrying our desserts.
"Oh, and looks like your order is here, miss Larkspur."
I stay silent.
"You know, the flower your surname is based on, 'Larkspur'... Does it have any sort of special meaning? Any romantic or lively connotations?"
"I don't really know." ... "Also, please just call me Elaine."
A fancy bowl of ice cream lies before me. The very embodiment of desires in front of me. And on her side, a piece of strawberry shortcake. The most peaceful looking of cakes.
"Well then, let's enjoy ourselves now." she grabs a spoon and slowly she slides it down the cake instead of scooping out of it. Somehow, she lifts the entire piece of cake with the base of the spoon. I awkwardly observe as she forces the entire shortcake into her mouth. Her face scrunches oddly, clearly showing discomfort as she chews it, her eyes looking forward, not focused on anything, not even noticing I'm watching. I just sat there with a worried look on my face, wondering if this was suppose to be a gag or if she has a physical disability when eating and will gag any moment soon after. Rather then let the question wander, I set it on course.
"Um... Do you have a problem eating, Jun?"
"I don't! I just have a habit of trying to eat cakes and other treats in one go."
"As a kid, I've choked on a chicken leg before. So I set my limits to soft things."
I lay my face against my fingertips, stunned, "But how do you indulge in desserts that way?"
"We all have different ways of enjoying things." She laughs and continues, "I know you like ice cream the most, but how do you enjoy it the best?"
I felt my frown widening as my fingers presses hard on my cheeks, my eyes averting their gaze as I think. I wanted to say I love my frosty treats the most with company, that I really enjoy having her with me today. There's no wrong answer to this type of question but I still wondered if that was a right answer.
"I just... really like ice cream. That's it."
She nods in understanding, accepting my bare bones compromise. And yet, that tells me she was suspicious anyway.
Alongside her possible suspicion, I noticed a glaring detail missing from our little outing.
"Jun... I just realized now but are you alone here?"
"You're asking about my dear friend, right?" She turns her back and energetically points to the inside section of the cafe, her head still facing me, "The darling is inside!"
"W-What is he doing?"
"He's taking barista classes!", she proudly remarks.
"He's learning to serve coffee...?"
It's not so weird momentarily until one remembers her friend is a literal giant talking fish. Fish barista. Did she just call him 'darling'...
"Why is he taking barista lessons? Is he planning to work as one?", I ask.
"No, but it sounds like a useful skill, don't you think? That's why I'm making him take them."
My eyelids lower as I give a look of concern.
"And it's funny!", she adds on.
"It costs money...", I add to.
"Elaine... there's nothing wrong with that." Coming from the woman who pays for my rent as well, I'm baffled she can still afford to say such a thing.
"If every skill we learn is supposed to be for some sort of career, or dedicated to being the best... That'll just becoming tiring, wouldn't it? I never regretted taking piano classes when I was young, despite never looking to become a pianist."
"You took piano classes?"
"My parents made me do it. I think it was a pretty common trend when we were young, isn't it? I'm sure you took some form of artistic class long ago too. Am I right?"
I shrug, "Yeah..."
"So you did? What did you take?"
I meekly answer, "...Ballet."
Her face lights up and she claps her hands together, her posture bending forward a bit more in amusement.
"Oh! Ballet!", she excitedly exclaims, starry eyed. "Did you like it?"
For once, I could confidently say, "...I adore it."
She gestures with her head bobbing sideways, "Can you show me?"
I jerk a bit from my seat, flustered, 'What?! H-Here?!"
"Yes! Show me a little bit!"
"O-Okay...!", I'm not sure why I instantly agreed. I was anxious the entire time.
I stood up from my seat. How does one demonstrate an example of ballet? My hands become finicky as I decide. She watches in anticipation. I decide to go with something simple. I stand firm, my legs in place next to each other and my feet facing opposite directions, stretching out into a straight line. A 1st position, I remembered that much. No reaction. Before I did anymore, I scanned the area around me.
Not only are there still numerous people passing by during this busy time of day, but all the outdoor tables have customers seated. Even if no one passing by paid attention, the patrons surely would. Some have already begun eyeing me wondering why I have stood up. Though I didn't wish to disappoint.
I raise my left leg up and bend it as my right remains straight, my left foot resting above my right knee while my right foot slightly elevates while remaining on the ground.
I try to explain, "Um... this is a passé."
She scratches her chin, "Hmmm... Don't they usually stand on the tip of their toes."
"The actual tips."
"I could, but..."
I point below me with my eyes and she notices, "Oh. Oh right. You're wearing mary janes. Don't want to tear those up accidentally." She stares for a while and asks, "So what else can you do?"
As we converse, I remain in position, people paying short attention as they come and go, "I can do spins... uhh... They're called fouttés, if I recall. Let me show!"
I demonstrate, performing spins. As I turn, I rest my left leg down before elevating it again, right foot barely grazing the tiled flooring as my whole body rotates and moves forward, crossing by several tables, every seated guest spectating me. After I finish my short performance journey, every single one of them clapped, Jun included. Feeling both a sense of dread and accomplishment, I ran back to my seat covering my face.
"You're really good if you can still remember how to do it like that!"
"You still really like ballet, right?"
"So why did you stop?"
I didn't answer. Instead, I looked down, holding my spoon and slowly turning it as it scrapes the remainder of my order.
"Why did I stop...?"
I tried to remember why. I really loved doing it and my sister took piano classes. I remembered one of my favorite past times was combining both our talents. After some point, I couldn't do it anymore and I stopped taking classes. It was a painful memory.
"I kind of just stopped."
She clearly doesn't believe me, but she smiles, "Well, happens to most of us, I guess. Lost the drive to learn the piano myself, but I can recall a bit of it. You seemed really into it just now, though." She looks up as if she were trying to remember the name of a place, "Say, there's a local studio here! Think you'd like to get back into it?"
My heart stops as the offer hits me.
"J-Jun, I was twelve when I stopped... I'm a bit too old now, don't you think?"
"Elaine..." She leans forward even more, "You're never too old to try again."
I lower my view further, "..You've already done so much for me."
"Elaine..." Her voice becomes more reassuring.
I look to her, "Can I really...?"
"You want to give it another shot, right?"
"I do... but give me time to reconsider."
"I have a lot stuff in life to juggle through."
"This might just be what you need."
Sighing, I show a bit more gratitude, "Thank you, Jun..."
She giggles, "Just tell me when you're ready to accept the Jun sponsorship!" Her eyes fill with mischief, "Just to be sure you're actually still in touch, why don't you show me that one fancy pose you ballerinas like to finish off with? The one where you stand with one leg and form a wide angle with the rest of your limbs."
"That's an Arabic artistic thing."
"It's also what we call the position."
"Ah, really now? Can you do it?"
In public? In this skirt?
We eventually left the cafe, as Jun stated that the day was still young as the evening sky has only started to turn slightly orange, and that we can pick up her friend later. He was still having lessons dripping coffee, I wouldn't have minded just staying, but a girl like her clearly hated when the world stops moving. She marches in front of me, each step, she swings her arms forward and backwards in sequence, the foot of her leg raised in the air as she moves. Despite being older and also more than a foot taller than me, she walks like this...
The road we travel on is decorated with finely trimmed bushes and trees growing out of the patterned cement walkways. As our stroll goes on, the day ages and the population lessens, now mostly of people leisurely spending their time rather than rushing home. We stop our little walk once we spot a piano, out in the open, between two bushes.
"This is a sort of landmark here. Just a piano out here in the open, available to all of the public to play. A lot of parents who made their kids take classes would bring them here to perform. Kind of a flex, don't you think?"
"What about you?"
"Mm hmm. Yours truly did too. Everyone and their mother wanted a piece of that piano. Quite literally everyone!"
"Can you still play?"
"I wasn't exactly the best, but I could still play some songs from the top of my head."
She sat down in front of the piano, giving company to the isolated instrument, brushing away the fallen leaves that invade the cover only to make way for more.
"Okay then...! Any suggestions? Just a little fact, Elaine, almost every single child that gets thrown on this pedestal of a seat just plays Beethoven over and over again."
I breathe in, picking from faint memories, "How about Debussy?"
"Clair de Lune?"
Silently I nod. She presses her fingers against the base, trying to recall how it goes. And so she began to play.
As the tranquil tune goes, motionlessly I stood there watching her play. Her face was lacking focus, clear signs of having not played in a long time. Despite her occasional missteps, she continued to keep playing, not stopping to tell the world that dared witness. Slowly but surely she was finding her footing, her form visibly giving way to grace. This familiar tune, how I stood, and how she played, all this wore a nostalgic meaning, something I'd always ask someone else to play. Always I spectated and listened, and always I adored. Indulging in the moment, feeling content, I've realized how tired my heart has become.
The twilight softly focuses upon my view, reflecting on her serene face as her hands do their work. Not a soul stops to praise with their presence, however none of that mattered. I just wanted to adore her all day. And so she goes on and on.
"I just realized...!" I interrupt, though it does not faze her as she continues trying to play the song right, "You'd be a Persian!"
"What was that?"
"They're extremely high maintenance with their hair! Just like you are!"
"Are you still talking about cats? You must've felt really lucky seeing one today."
I smile, filled with self-assurance, I really was glad I met a cat. I really am glad that I met her. And she tilts her head and delivers a sweet smile back, which made me realize that I've spoken words without realizing. What on Earth did I say?
"I'm glad too."