It was a beautiful, overcast Seattle day. A couple was sitting at a small, round café table in the Pikes Place Market overlooking the Elliott Bay waterfront. The man was in his mid-20’s with short, black hair. His black, short sleeved tee-shirt showed off his slightly toned, lanky arms. He was a little self-conscious about how they contrasted sharply with his strong legs conditioned from a life spent exploring the outdoors. But his loving girlfriend had been building him up, so today he proudly showed them off in comfy, khaki cargo shorts. The woman sitting across from him wore a cap sleeved, pastel sundress. Her body was toned from years of competitive swimming. She batted away a few of the swirling golden curls from her steel blue eyes as she stared longingly into his soft, dark brown eyes. He gently took her hand in his.
She smiled softly. “This was a beautiful place you picked. I can’t believe that it’s only been one year since we met at the arcade on the waterfront. If it hadn’t closed, we could have repeated the event.”
He grinned. “I don’t know if you want to repeat getting stuck on the merry-go-round in there.”
She wrinkled her nose at him which only earned her a chuckle.
“I’ve really loved this past year.” His gaze dropped and his smile disappeared. “I really needed it after…” He shook his head. “Sorry, this is a happy day.”
The waiter arrived with his coffee and her tea. She looked down at her drink, her mind drifted back to how heartbroken he had been when they met and how, continually over the past year, when she had tried to deepen their relationship, he would aways bring up Marie. Minute lines developed on her brow.
“Emily?” He looked at her with concern.
She whispered, so as not to garner the attention of other patrons. “I can’t even get one drink with you without her worming her way in.” She raised her eyes as well as her tone. “It’s been four years Aaron. How long do I have to wait until she’s no longer the unspoken third wheel? I love you.”
Aaron’s hand tightened and his eyes mirrored her fear. “I love you too! I’m just being an idiot, forgive me?” Her facial expression didn’t change. “Just ignore what I said, we’re going to have a great time today.” He picked up his worn, well-traveled backpack from where it was leaning against the table leg. He tried to encourage her with a smile. “I made us a picnic. I had hoped that we could eat it on your father’s boat in the marina, rocking to the waves.” He made a little wave motion with his torso and shoulders for added effect. “I even got the mustard that you said was your favorite.”
Emily’s eyes softened and she smiled. “You’re such a sweetheart. Of course, I forgive you.”
“Great! Because I’m going to need your help with the puzzle today.”
The café Aaron had chosen for the start of their date had become one of their favorites lately when the owners added a fun twist. Each day they had a new word puzzle based off chemistry, math, or history and if you solved it, you won a piece of coffee cake. So far, Aaron and Emily had figured it out every time they had come, mostly through a combination of his science degree and her engineering degree. The history ones tended to give them the most trouble, but Aaron’s father was a history teacher and used every opportunity to drill the subject into his kids when they were growing up through repetition and curated family trips.
Aaron was happy to see that today’s puzzle combined knowledge of Alaska’s gold rush and the atomic weight of gold. He tried to feign needing her help to get her involved. She wasn’t buying his act but played along to humor him. Riding high from his easy cake win, he was on his best behavior for the rest of their coffee date. He held the doors for her as they made their way through the market and down to the waterfront. They walked arm in arm to the marina and onto her father’s boat moored there. Aaron took out the blanket he had packed and laid it on the open area at the bow of the boat. Emily joined him as he sat down.
“What did you bring?”
Aaron pulled out the items and laid them on the blanket as he answered. “Turkey and cheese with spicy mustard for the love of my life. Roast beef with jalapenos and string onions for me. Some berries I picked up from the market on my way to meet up with you and some of those spicy radish chips you liked from Thanksgiving with my family.”
Emily laughed. “Where did you find these? I thought your uncle picked them up at some weird stall at his farmer’s market?”
Aaron smiled. “You liked them so much that I reverse engineered them. It took seven tries to get this close, but I hope you like it. I had to break out my dehydrator from my backpacking trips to dry them out enough so that they could get a nice crunch.”
His smile broke a little when he saw his girlfriend’s face. The dehydrator had been a Christmas gift from Marie. He switched the topic and asked her how the work week had been with her job at the Boeing plant. That had the desired effect and she gushed about the project they were working on. One of the project managers had recently been promoted, leaving an open position. Emily was determined to really stand out with her wing design she was developing to strengthen her position when she applied for it. Her coworker Alan was already acting like he was going to be handed the position because his father is one of the program managers. But that just made it more satisfying to Emily to try to earn it from right underneath his nose. She loved a challenge and wasn’t accustomed to loosing when she put her mind to something.
After they had finished eating, Aaron wrapped everything back up and stuffed it in his backpack. Emily thanked him for all the work he put into recreating the snack. She smiled and said that they’d have to bring it to his family’s Thanksgiving party this year so that they can compare. Aaron returned the smile and said that he’d love that. The two of them cuddled up together as they watched the ships going out past the Olympic Peninsula.
“When is your father going to be back from his latest honeymoon?”
“Not for another few weeks. He’s enjoyed having a break from the fanatic’s letters. Besides, the Bahamas are beautiful this time of year. You could find out for yourself.” She nudged him and smiled. “After all, I did catch the bouquet.”
He gave a half-hearted chuckle but kept looking out to sea. “Not yet. But I would love to go someday so that you can teach me to scuba.”
She turned her face away so that he couldn’t see her face dimming. “You’re going to have to get better at swimming if you want to check wreck driving off your bucket list. I could take you along with me during practice.”
He laughed. “Or we could do a reverse of the race we did with spring with me in the kayak and you swimming.”
“I almost beat you!” She smiled and looked longingly at him. She signed deeply. “Didn’t you say that you had some more papers to grade for your summer classes?”
“Oh, no. You’re right! Thanks for the reminder, you’re always looking out for me.” He kissed her on the cheek and stood up. After grabbing his backpack, he helped her to her feet, and they started towards the dock. He chuckled to himself. “I think I’ll walk you back to your car. I know that you grew up here, but I wouldn’t want you to get lost.”
She laughed. “Well, thank you for your GENEROUS offer.”
“Oh, my pleasure.”
Smiling, they walked up to the boardwalk in relative silence. They were almost back to her car when Aaron stopped dead in his tracks, staring wide-eyed in disbelief.
The woman he was staring looked up from her phone. Her face brightened when she saw him. She closed the short gap and gave him a strong hug.
“Aaron! I haven’t seen you since graduation! I know that I’ve been a little MIA, but we’ve missed you at our holiday parties. Are you visiting Seattle too?”
“N-no, I live here now. I got a job at the university.”
“That’s great! I’m so glad that you got your dream job. But I’m a little surprised to see you here of all places. When I used to talk about how much I loved Seattle in college, you always said it was too gray and depressing.”
Emily’s eyes narrowed on the woman she had seen in so many of her boyfriend’s photos. Marie’s mousy brown, straight hair had grown longer, and she appeared to have lost muscle mass and gained some weight in the four years since graduation. She had lost her tan as well, so Emily assumed that Marie hadn’t kept up hiking and backpacking.
Emily gave Aaron a small nudge. “Oh, I’m sorry. Marie, this is my friend Emily.”
She corrected. “His girlfriend.”
Aaron tried to save it. “That too. She’s my best friend and girlfriend.” He put his arm around her.
Marie smiled. “It’s really nice to meet you.” The phone in her hand started to ring. She sighed and started to walk off past them as she spoke. “That’s the florist. I’d love to stay and catch up but I’m on my way to meet up with my family to finalize some wedding plans. But I’ll give you a call later to work out some time to hang out though. You still have the same number, right?”
Aaron stumbled over an agreement as Marie waved and walked off into the crowd.