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From the Outside Looking In

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Mallory Nolan sits at a corner table at Potter's House Coffeeshop, gazing out the window, impatiently watching passerbys. Her long fingers rub at the still-warm porcelain mug, the coffee she ordered all but finished. The remnants were cold, nearly undrinkable.

She's late, she privately broods.

In truth, that wasn't entirely fair—she didn't know that anyone was waiting for her. She had no idea that every day at three-forty-five Mal, a bored Congressman's wife, wandered into this coffee shop and ordered a coffee, taking a seat with nervous anticipation, just hoping to catch a glimpse of her.

It was pathetic, Mal knew that—and yet, she'd made peace with that and accepted it for what it was. She'd always been drawn to the things she couldn't have—this was no different. It was harmless, she'd decided. Innocent, even.

But every afternoon as the minutes counted down to four o'clock, her heart would beat just a little faster, and then without fail, the bell on the door would jingle and briskly she'd stride toward the counter. She moved with an air of confidence, her shoulders squared and her head held high.

She always ordered the same thing—black coffee, to go. It was quick and easy, and allowed her to go as quickly as she came. She never stayed. She never took her up to the condiment bar to add a like cream or sugar, never lingered momentarily to admire the ever-changing art that hung for sale on the walls. There and gone, leaving with the unspoken promise of tomorrow...

Bristling, she looks away from the window, her eyes searching for the large circular clock that hangs on the opposite side of the coffee shop. It's half past four—she's not late, she tells herself, she's just not coming today.

With a heavy sigh, she stands, telling herself to not feel so rejected—after all, this woman doesn't even know that she exists, much less that she's been waiting for her. So, Mal rises from her table and slips her arm through her purse strap and slowly lifts to her shoulder, all the while keeping one eye on the door—she's delaying, holding out hope.

Pathetic, she chides.

Mustering a smile, she returns the cup to the counter, thanking the barista and offering a little wave.

"I'll see ya tomorrow, then," he calls out to her, his smile warm—he's picked up on her routine. "Three forty five, coffee—two creams, one sugar."

"Yes," she nods. "Tomorrow."

He offers a jovial wave as she turns, her smile fading as she pushes open the door, the icy winter air rushing at her, and forcing her eyes closed.

"Oh!"

She halts and straightens at the sound of a voice, her eyes flying open as she readies an apology—but as her eyes open, her mind goes blank.

It's her.

Standing only inches away.

There's an awkward moment where they both step in the same direction, then in an effort to clear the way, they both step in the opposite direction, again at the same time.

And then they laugh.

"I'm sorry," Mal says, her breath puffing out between them as she finds herself glad for the cold—it hides the flush of embarrassment from her cheeks. "I wasn't paying attention, and now I'm completely in your way."

For a moment the other woman holds her gaze—her brown eyes bright and expressive, and they narrow a bit as they take her in. "Well, today's a good day to slow me down. Nothing could spoil my mood today."

Mal nods and wonders if that's why she was late. She has a dozen questions, but can't ask a single one of them. So, she steps aside, waving a hand toward the door and grinning, giving her a free pathway to the door.

A smirk tugs up at the corner of her mouth, and she nods before proceeding forward into the coffee shop, the little bell jingling as it opens then closes behind her.

She lingers for just a moment—a heaviness washing over her. She had her moment and she missed it.