“You go on ahead. I’ll just throw this out,” he nodded, his mouth twisting into a half-smile of pursed lips and sunken eyes. As she left, he watched the bell above the door ring once, twice, three times, announcing her departure. She won’t be calling him back. Their corner table had been slightly uncomfortable, but it served its purpose. Five coffees were made behind the counter; the timer going off at one-minute intervals. The two cups which he’d promised to throw out still sat side-by-side atop the smooth wood, slightly taunting him with their stillness. How can anything in this world afford to be so peaceful? He scratched at his beard, looking between the two cups for a brief moment before picking one up. A soft breath escaped him. Ting. Another coffee. Ting. One more. Ting. He stood, leaving his own untouched cup and pocketing hers. The last time he’d seen her, she’d wrapped her lips in maroon. It was difficult to concentrate on anything but the stained water glass she left behind. The waiter was forced to usher him out.
“You’re staying too long, sir.”
“What? Oh. How much for this cup?”
“I’m sorry, sir?”
“How much for this cup? I want it.”
“Sir, the cup is not for sale, so if you’ll please leave the restaurant. We are just about to close.”
“I’m taking the cup. You either sell it to me, or I take it. Choose one.”
The waiter faltered. He seemed to be a teenager fresh out of school, with sweaty palms and a slightly awkward posture.
“Sir, I’ll take twenty dollars for it if you promise to hide it as you walk out.”
His favorite type of person was one who didn’t ask too many questions. He gave the waiter thirty, slipped the cup in his coat, and walked out. The glass still sat on his mantle; it was his favorite of hers so far. This coffee cup, however, was tinged with a dark nude. The rim jutted out in the color of bare skin, as if ridiculing him with its jagged lines. There was little else to do in the cab ride home but stare and trace the imprint with the nail of his index finger. This was a completely new color. He didn’t like it. It wasn’t /her/. Was it? No. He sighed, stepping out into the cold air and into his building. It was always so much fun walking into the apartment. He imagined her sitting there, waiting for him. Her new body would surprise him at first, but she’d be wearing the lipstick and he’d know. Of course he’d know. The living room was empty. So were the bedrooms. And the bathroom. He lay on the floor in overwhelming sadness, wiping the sweat that had started beading on his forehead. The dimness of the room cast a shadow against his curled body. In that moment, he looked like he did five years ago: scared, vulnerable and out of his wits. The cup in his coat slipped out, and he smiled slightly, shivering with the cold. “Hello,” he grinned, taking the lid off. There was still a sip of coffee left. It swirled when he placed the cup down, but he was too focused on the lid to worry about it staining the carpet. The box slid out from underneath the sofa, the lids rattling softly in their resting place. They were placed three by three, arranged by color and date of imprint. Plum, burgundy, black, dark blue. None of them hers. Those were hanging on the wall, each with its accompanying tube. She lived, in the art she left behind unintentionally. Sometimes he would wonder what decisions she had to take to wear a specific shade. Was it red on stormy days? Pink on bright days? What about maroon? It made him sigh every time he thought of it. Maroon was his favorite. He had those in a special corner of the room. One day she’ll come back and see what he’s done. Know that he’s been looking for her for years. That he’ll check every woman in the world until he finds her. She must be out there somewhere.
He placed the latest lid into the box, thick fingers almost creasing the ends of it. His breath was labored; thinking did that to him. Sometimes he wondered if her soul every made it to another body, and her promises of finding him in her next life were merely promises. This world was vast. Probably vaster than anyone will ever know. Who was he to think that she would even want to come back? He held his breath now, closing the box and sliding it back beneath the sofa. “Please come back,” he murmured, laying back down to stare at the ceiling. Cars rushed by. The night slowly crawled forward. He laid there for hours, panting, staring into nothingness. If this world was sweet, if this world was good, he would find the woman with the right shade of lipstick.