In part inspired by having run into Tyler on the Greyhound, Cather tried an old number for another member of the Fantastic Four: Jim Getner. While Jim was pleased to hear from what he had once thought was a long lost friend he found himself, since his job loss two weeks earlier, somewhat circumspect in his willingness to divulge too many details of what had fast become a life sadly lacking in drama and intrigue. Maybe that was why he cut the conversation short and instead suggested they meet for brunch at Cara’s Café, where Laura worked. Cather wholeheartedly agreed with Jim’s idea, and the next day the two found each other on the corner of 40th St and Broadway, amidst a minor crowd waiting for a table.
Jim was sitting on the plastic bench pulled up in front of the restaurant’s front window. He saw Cather walking towards him, put a smile on his face, and stood up.
“Cathy, what’s up man?”
“Hey Jim, good to see you.”
The two clapped hands and pulled each other in for a warm hug.
“We on the list?” asked Cather.
“Yeah, let me go in and tell them you’re here.”
Jim entered the restaurant, found the list, and marked that his guest had arrived. He waited to make sure that his message was received.
Laura appeared from around the corner to the next room over.
“Jimbo!” she said. “Are you alone?”
“I’m here with Cather. Remember him?”
“Oh, no way. Absolutely. Let me see the list.”
Jim handed her the clipboard.
She nodded: “Perfect. There’s a party leaving a booth soon, my section. I’ll make sure you guys get it.”
Jim went back outside. This would be the first time he’d been here since meeting Laura, and since joining the ranks of the unemployed. He felt smaller in seeing her; now he had far less, he felt, with which to recommend himself.
Cather was standing on the sidewalk, hands in his pockets, and he looked as shy and eternally disconcerted as Jim remembered him. This observation made Jim smile. He wondered where Cather had been over the years in order to so aptly retain his mild manner.
“We’re gonna sit in Laura’s section,” said Jim.
“I must have forgotten to tell you, Laura works here”
“No way, I’m glad about that.”
“She hasn’t changed a lick.”
“You don’t say.”
“Neither have you, as a first impression.”
“Don’t worry,” Cather replied, “looks can be deceiving.”
Well that goes against the expected, Jim thought.
They stood in a somewhat unsteady silence. A hostess came out and usured in the next party on the list.
Cather sat down on the plastic bench, and smiled up at Jim.
“So where are you living these days?” he asked.
“Off of Shattuck. I share a house with two roommates.”
“Off of Shattuck. Temescal? The old neighborhood?”
“Further North than that, closer to Berkeley.”
“How about you? You’re only recently back in the Bay from what you said, right?”
“I live in West Oakland, near De Fremery Park.”
“I don’t know where that is.”
This struck Jim as some kind of underhanded insult, but he shelved this impression so as to learn more about this freshly adult Cather who already seemed more appealing than had the pre-teen Cather.
“Bad neighborhood?” Jim asked.
“Yeah. It’s okay. I’ve lived worse.”
“In New Orleans?”
“Yup. Place was fucked with a capital F.”
“Well it did get hit with a hurricane.”
“It was fucked up before that too.”
“What? And not Oakland?”
Cather shrugged. “It’s a question of relatives.”
“I think Oakland holds its own.”
“I’m not saying it doesn’t. But there’s this weight of history in New Orleans.”
“This seems like a stupid conversation.’
“Just answering your questions.”
“Okay, we can leave it there then.”
The hostess came out and called another name. Several hipster looking young people followed her in.
“You know,” Cather said loudly, “I ran into Tyler coming back to Oakland.”
“Tyler Burrell? No way!”
“Yup. Did you know he was a Marine? He’s come home from Iraq.”
“Wow, that’s crazy. Where’s he staying?”
“I don’t know, I forgot to ask.”
“We should hang out. All four of us.”
“Dude, I’m way ahead of you.”
That was when Laura came out, holding the clipboard.
“Jimbo, where y’at?” she asked.
“Right here girl.”
“Well come on in. This booth ain’t going to seat itself.”
She held the door open and grinned widely at Cather as he passed her.
“Good to see you, man,” she said.
“Thanks, same to you,” said Cather.
“Right around the corner. There you go.”
Jim and Cather took their seats.
“Any drinks to start with?” Laura asked.
“Coffee for me,” said Jim.
“Just water,” said Cather.
“Sounds good,” she said. “What a trip to see you two here together.”
“Yeah it is,” said Jim.
“My break’s coming up. I might be able to sit with you.”
“That would be awesome,” said Cather.
“I could be wrong, I’ll let you know.”
With that she left them.
Cather leaned forward and folded his arms on the table. He smiled at Jim, who was looking at the menu.
“You come here often?” Cather asked.
“Only once. A few weeks ago.”
“To see Laura?”
“Just to eat breakfast, man.”
“So it’s a coincidence?”
“If you say so.”
When they were younger he had suspected Jim had designs on Laura. Tyler too. Cather couldn’t say the same about himself. Laura had never shown him any obvious interest, overshadowed as he’d been by the other two. She’d openly flirted with Tyler, though.
At that moment, interrupting his line of thought, Laura appeared with their drinks. Jim took his coffee in hand and looked up at her.
“Thanks,” he said.
“No problem,” she replied “As it turns out I’m not taking my break for another half hour, so I don’t want to burden you guys with waiting for me.”
“Listen, I want to talk to you,” said Cather. “I ran into Tyler on my way back into town. You remember Tyler, right?”
“I think it would be awesome if the four of us hung out some time.”
“That would be great, absolutely.”
“Give me your phone number. I’ll call you all and set it up, where and when.”
Laura took out her phone and took Cather’s number. She called it and Cather answered and started dialing in her name.
“My place is no good,” she said. “Too small.”
“Mine too,” said Cather.
“We can have it at my place,” said Jim. “My roommates have people over all the time.”
“It’s a great idea. Listen, you two work it out, I’ve gotta get back to work. Call me sometime, Cathy.”
With that she left.
“That was a good idea,” said Jim.
“Thanks, I thought of it myself.”
“How was Tyler? When you saw him, I mean.”
“Honestly there was something a little strange about him. A little removed, you know?”
“Maybe that’s what time spent in Iraq will do to a guy.”
Jim scratched his chin and took a sip of coffee.
“Well we better figure out what we’re going to order,” he said.
“Yeah,” Cather replied, and they both took up their menus.
“Strange, you running into him,” Jim said over his.
“Serendipitous,” said Cather. “I don’t know, I felt a compulsion to help him. Cheer him up or something, make him feel welcome. He was one of my best friends back in the day.”
“I think he could really use it. Help I mean.”
“We’ll be sure to do that when the four of us hang out.”
Cather found Jim’s tone somewhat condescending. He went back to looking at his menu.
A few minutes later Laura reappeared and took their order, then their menus, leaving the two, once she’d left, with nothing to look at but each other.
“I can tell I’m gonna hate unemployment,” said Jim.
“You and most people.”
“Are you looking for work?”
“Gigs. Just gigs. I’ve found one so far, but it’s not quite enough to live on.”
“Where is it? What’s the story?”
“Lounge lizard at a restaurant in the city.”
“Hey hey, look at you.”
“Yeah, it’s cool, it’s what I’ve been training for.”
“You were really good in high school.”
“I’m even better now.”
“I bet you are.”
“It’s what I love to do.”
“I’m happy for you, man.”
“Appreciated. Maybe you and the rest can come visit some time. I’ll get you the best seat in the house.”
“Didn’t I just tell you I was unemployed? Unless you can get me a place for free in that fancy San Francisco restaurant, or at least a discount, I’m afraid you’re barking up the wrong tree.”
“What an interesting turn of phrase.”
“Barking up the wrong tree. What? You think I’m gay?”
“Oh come on, I didn’t mean it that way.”
Cather grinned. “I know. Just joshing you.”
Jim snicked his teeth with his tongue and went back to his coffee. A new silence appeared between them, and this time mostly stayed for the rest of their meal. When they said goodbye it was with a welcome sensation of familiarity, but also, both thought, with the possibility of many interesting things left unsaid.