Will was seating at his desk, looking out the window. It was dusk and the wind was pushing the remaining leaves on the ground, the one he had forgotten to sweep. The garden was bare and cold-looking. His mother was out at a cocktail party for work. She had managed as always to make herself look smashing, hiding the wear of her face, the shadows under her eyes that she got trying and manage it all. Will helped as much as he could, but she had put her foot down at some point. His studies were important. Enjoying his youth was important. So, here he was, his books open, his attention drifting after two hours focusing. A bird started singing outside, a heartfelt, simple melody, with shrill notes, that made it happy. Will felt melancholic. Youth was turning out to be less easy than it had seemed. For example, girls. He liked girls. Hanging out with them was fun. Wanting to kiss them didn't occur though and after some soul-searching, he had sat his mother down and told her that he was thinking of trying it with men instead. She had resisted, hard at first, and when he didn't cave, she had backed off, seemingly keeping her thought to herself and they lived in that awkward balance, full of love, but also of incomprehension. Her main argument was that he hadn't tried yet, that if he did, he might realize he was mistaken. With girls, she meant. But truth was he hadn't with anyone. So she could be right.
It was a small house they were all tucked in. His mother had married twice and never to his father. Now she was alone and his siblings were growing up. Filling the house with cries and running down the many stairs. Will didn't believe in love. But he dreamt of it. A manuscript lay beside him, filled with a story that would never happen, where he met someone who would make his life better because he would think Will was the most important person on the planet.
He decided to take a walk before dark, to clear his head of the hopes and sorrows that were nested in here, like a big sad bird with a broken voice. He went to the park at the end of the street. The real bird had followed him there, or it was another one and Will whistled in accompaniment, aware that this one had a busy little life and had chosen to be happy about it. He could build a bird feeder with his brother and sisters and hang it outside. They could paint it in bright colors to attract the bright birds. The one he was listening to came flying just under his eyes. He was all red, even the beak and sported a crest that made it look quite cocky. Will smiled and walked on, pressing his jacket against his chest. He should have taken his winter coat. He was about to turn around when he saw someone on one of the bench.
If that man had been a bird, he would have been a raven or a crow. Because of his dark crumpled hair, like creased wings, but also because of the way his head was bent, supported by big, virile hands. He looked like he had given up and Will didn't want to turn his back to him and leave him there with his worries. He sat, careful not to make any noise, his hands in his pockets, shivering lightly under the strengthening whiffs of wind.
After a minute or so, the fingers changed positions, allowing Will to spot a brown eye looking sideways. He looked ahead, not sure if he could intrude. Maybe the man wanted solitude. Maybe he would get up and go to another bench, or even walked out of the park. When he was sure both of them weren't moving, he smiled just a little and turned his head a quarter of an inch:
"Hello", said the stranger. He looked surprised but not guarded, so Will relaxed a little
- You look cold.
- You look sad."
The man managed a smile, while his eyes were still sad. He sighed and sat uptight, his back now against the wood and the metal. Will had avoided the cold contact and suggested, as if in passing:
"We can go have a drink somewhere and you can tell me why you're sad?
- You might not want to hear it."
There was hope in the man's voice, prompting Will to answer:
"Give me the benefit of the doubt. I'm not in a great mood myself and tonight, I'm on my own."
The man looked at him thoughtfully, weighing him down. Then, he nodded and got up. They walked in silence. Will had taken note of the new coffee place a few streets away and intended to try it so now was the moment. He gestured to it and saw the man hesitate, then give in.
It was warm inside, but not too heated. They could come here for Allie's birthday. He could ask if they did cakes. Their mother didn't. She couldn't even cook pastas. On the list of things to do as an adult, Will had "learn how to cook" somewhere. If he was to live alone he would have to, not to spend too much. He had no clear idea of what he would do. So he was studying economics. It was down-to-earth, far from the dreams he was living in, most of the time.
He sat in front of him, him he still called "the man" and defied his shyness once again:
"My name is Will, short for William.
- I'm Jackson, but you can call me Sonny."
Will put his head on his hand and looked straight in the brown eyes. They looked a little cheerier or maybe it was his imagination, hard to say. He went on:
"So, what is putting you down? A woman? Or is it your job?
- Neither. There's no woman in my life and my job is doing fine.
- So, what is it? You can tell me anything. I'm a stranger, you don't have to hide or pretend.
- What were you doing in that park if you're a stranger?
- I was following a bird song. I live here but I don't think we've met before.
- No, we haven't. I would have remembered. I'm good with faces.
- I'm not. But I'm good with expressions and you look like talking would do you some good.
- You're not going to let this go, are you?
- Nope. I don't have lots of people to confide in either. There's my grandma but she's in Europe now.
- How old are you, Will?
- 19. And you?
- I'm 23. You look younger.
- I know. My mom appreciates it, it makes people think she's younger too."
He chuckled and Will had won. He waited. Sonny, of the bright, funny name, and the bright, friendly smile, would open up. Will's body was relaxed, as it hadn't been for a while. Maybe it was the coffee-house atmosphere, intimate and colored at the same time. Maybe it was the pride of having acted out of concern. He didn't make many friends, not real ones. He kept big parts of him secret and it impeded on his freedom of movement. So, he understood the restraint the man was showing. He studied his traits. He was handsome but there was something more. Even looking gloomy, he carried an energy that blew Will away. He wanted to know why, to reach him, to find out what explained the warmth in the dark eyes.
He was studied back and a sparkle appeared in these very eyes. Then Sonny talked, and Will forgot himself for a moment:
"I've been facing a ghost, recently. Someone from my past I had almost forgotten about. Someone I'd left behind.
- What does he want?
- She wants me to be with her. And I can't. Things have changed and she doesn't get it. She's been very insistent. I've spent two hours talking her out of killing herself.
- Holy crap! I can see why you're down...
- I'm feeling a little better actually. Thanks for listening. So what about you? What are you hiding?
- I'm not sure you'd be interested to know.
- That's not fair. I opened up, now it's your turn."
A barista brought two cups of coffee and placed them on the small table. Will inhaled the intoxicating smell of his dark coffee and frowned when he saw Sonny's cup.
"I don't recall you ordering. How did she know? The place just opened and you're already a regular?
- Not really, no. Although I think your order will be easy to remember. You don't like fancy coffees?
- No, just the basic stuff. I'm easy to please.
- I'll keep that in mind. But you've changed the subject. What are your ghosts?
- None, really. I just feel out-of-place, sometimes. I'm quiet, so life tends to pass me by. I don't want to make mistakes but if I don't make any, how will I know who I am?
- Well, you are a kind soul, for one. And observant, too. Thanks again for your time.
- Sure, maybe we'll meet again, who knows?
- It depends how much you like coffee."
And with that, Sonny got up and went behind the counter to take something. Will looked at the barista, as she barely acknowledged it. So, he was working here. Well, Will liked coffee a lot. And he liked Sonny too. Maybe, he could make a friend, a real one this time.
Sonny came back with a muffin and hold it to Will:
"There, hope you like blueberry.
- I do, thank you. Is it baked here?
- Yes. These are the easiest for me. I hope you'll like it.
- If I do, will you teach me how to bake?" Will paused. The man must be very busy. He was assuming...
- That's a deal. Come back when you want, I'm often here.
He grinned fully and Will caught his breath. He nodded and walked to the door. When he got there, Sonny handed him his coat.
- Here, you'll need it. It's even colder out.
- No, it's OK, I don't live that far. Keep it.
- I live upstairs and I have another coat. That way, I'm sure I'll see you again.
- Are you that desperate for new customers?
Will moved on the side, not wanting to hug the man, not wanting to just go out. So, he held his hand awkwardly. Sonny's skin was soft and his grip was firm. Will liked that. He walked out, in the windy and cloudy night and walked home. The birds were silent now, it was time to go to sleep. But Will felt he had gotten past his melancholic state, and felt hopeful for the future. He would have to return the coat to its owner. He opened the front door, whistling again, a smile on his soul.