“Speaking. Wait, is this Beth?”
“Hi,” said Harry. “Congratulations. I should have called."
“Don’t worry about it,” said Beth. “I’ve had so many calls. I should have thanked you properly.”
“It’s fine. You’ve had a lot going on. You all right?”
“Better than ever.”
“That’s really good. That’s really good to hear.”
“Thanks. Actually, I’m calling to ask a favour,” said Beth.
“I know. It's not very polite.”
“Depends on the favour,” Harry said. “I’m not sure how I can help. What do I know? Benny had the right answers, not me. Still. That was mostly you.”
“I couldn’t have done it without you. All of you. But it’s not about chess,” Beth said. “It’s something else.”
“That’s a first."
“Ha, ha. Where are you?”
“Home. Quiet day, isn’t it?”
“Let’s meet somewhere, for coffee. Let me get it, my way of saying thank you.”
“Oh, I’ve had my coffee already. But, you know me,” Harry smiled. “Could always use that extra cup.”
They met at Blue Diner, on Blue Avenue. It wasn’t known for its coffee. It was known for its sandwiches. But it was 3pm on a Sunday, and neither of them were particularly hungry.
Beth had been making a list when Harry showed up. Her heart squeezed a little when she saw him; she hadn’t reunited with an old friend since Townes. She stood, and Harry wrapped his arms around her warmly.
“Hey, grandmaster,” he said, still holding her. “It’s good to see you again. You look well.”
“I’m well,” Beth grinned. “You look good, too.”
“I don’t mind hearing that,” Harry said. He sat down across from Beth. He had a pair of glasses on, which Beth hadn’t seen him wearing before.
“So, here we are. What are you working on?”
“Oh, nothing. It’s just a grocery list.”
“Nice. Gotta crack those eggs.”
Beth nodded, and changed the subject. “Have you been enjoying the weather?”
“It’s been lovely. Unfortunately, I’ve been inside a lot. Studying.”
“Still doing the whole college thing?”
“Pretty much. I’m starting to think I made the wrong career choice.”
“Oh no,” said Beth. “Seriously?”
“Probably should’ve stayed a chess master after all,” Harry laughed. “Nah, it’s all right. I hate it, and it’s difficult. But it’s all right.”
“Oh, all right. Good.”
“Hm. So, coffee?”
“I ordered a latte. It’s good. Do you want the same?”
“No,” said Harry. "Usually, I'll have espresso."
“No? Have you ever had a latte before?”
"I’m over putting milk in it. I’ll take it black.”
Beth was taken aback. “What’s the difference? The coffee isn’t that good.”
“I know, believe me."
“Okay,” said Beth. “It’s not that bad.”
“There’s better. There’s a place just around the corner.”
“Maybe you can show me, since you know it so well,” Beth said, suddenly annoyed.
“Sure, if you want,” Harry crossed his arms. “I’m passionate about it.”
“Of course you are.”
“I can’t go a day without it.”
“That doesn’t sound healthy,” said Beth.
“It’s better than some things,” said Harry pointedly.
Now Beth was angry.
A waitress came to their table, and Harry said, “Black coffee, please.”
She nodded, wrote it down, and closed her notebook. Beth coughed, and the waitress turned to her. “Something else?”
“A croissant,” said Beth through gritted teeth. She would pick at it for a while. “Thanks.”
The waitress walked away, and Beth stared intensely at Harry. "Look into my eyes. What do you see?”
“Is this a test?” Harry asked.
“Yes," Beth replied instantly.
“Well. You’ve got brown eyes.”
“What about my skin?”
“Come off it, Beth. You look healthy.”
“Yeah, I’d say so," Beth had a self-satisfied sip of her latte, driving home the point somehow.
“You know, I’m really glad to see you like this.” Harry smiled. “Are you happy?”
Beth relaxed. “I am. Mostly.”
Harry nodded. “So, um, what was the favour you were going ask?”
Beth flushed immediately. Her throat was dry, and what she had left of the latte was bitter when she finished it. "Harry," she started to say.
She’d just have to come out with it. “I want to have a baby.”
A lady at a neighbouring table looked over to Harry and Beth, with raised eyebrows. She looked appalled.
A certain silence fell over them.
Beth’s croissant and Harry’s coffee were brought to the table, and the waitress set them down with a clatter. Vapour from the coffee rose up in loose, white waves. The drink itself was dark as could be. Beth saw Harry’s reflection shaking in it as it settled.
After a minute, Harry looked up at Beth and asked, “What do you mean?”
“I was wondering if you would…” Beth sighed, and swallowed a piece of croissant. “I mean, you’d be a part of it.”
Now Harry seemed angry. “What do you mean, a part of it?”
"Whatever you want," said Beth carefully.
Harry asked, “Is that what you want?”
“Obviously, you’re saying no."
“No,” said Harry. “I’ll do it.”
Beth looked at him. “Okay.”
“On two conditions. You have to let me pay for your latte and croissant.”
“I meant three conditions. If you’re having a baby, you have to at least consider us getting married.”
“I’ll think about it," said Beth. "I promise."
She tore at her croissant, which was extremely flakey, and seemed too awkward to eat. Then, she remembered, Harry was paying for it. She didn’t have to eat this croissant at all.
The latte, on the other hand, had been satisfying.
"So, I'll pay for this," Harry said, as if reading Beth's mind. "And I'll have to get back at some point, look over some notes."
“You should come over,” Beth said. "You know, to study.”
"Hm," said Harry.
"I have to study as well. This doesn't change anything.”
"That's funny. You should tell me about how this won't change everything."
"I don't want to discourage you," said Beth, half-jokingly.
"You probably couldn't," said Harry. “And the fact is, I’m not trying to sound overconfident... but I know I’ll be good at it.”
“I’m ready when you are,” Beth said, after a moment.
“Are you sure?”
"Of course I'm sure."
“I can come by tonight, at seven.”
Beth's heart was doing something a little wild. She looked at the clock on the wall to her left. It was four o’clock.
Meanwhile, Harry drank his coffee, his hand unsteady.
Beth continued to pick at her croissant, since there was nothing else to say, for now. She would finish the croissant after all, so Harry would know she appreciated it.