Someone spilt sugar on the table.
This isn’t something I would usually focus on, but your mind will find any excuse when trying to keep you from being nervous.
I inhale softly, and blow out through puckered lips, clearing the little white crystals from the lacquered brown surface and onto the floor. I’ll let Julie deal with it when she sweeps up tonight. There are more important matters at hand.
I’m meeting someone today. Well, sort of. It’s not a scheduled meeting, but I’m hoping it will still be effective.
She comes in every Saturday, 2 PM, almost on the nose. She hasn’t missed a beat since that first day she walked in. I remember it was raining because the wetness of her hair made her look younger than she actually was. She shook a little, almost like a dog, and ran her fingers swiftly down the tangles in her hair.
I was standing behind the counter, bored as usual, and glanced up briefly without a second thought. Chad came up from the back room with his plain, empty corporate greeting “Hey, what can we get started for you?”
Just another customer. I thought.
But after I turned to the register and popped in my code, readying it for the transaction, I looked back up at her. She was right there now, in front of the counter, sifting through a small, black handbag.
“I’ll have a medium dark chocolate mocha, hot, no whip… and spare me on the chocolate shavings will you, that stuff accumulates at the bottom and makes it pretty unpleasant.” She doesn’t say this to me, but more to the inside of her purse as she reaches into the depths and pulls out a five. With a brief look up, she hands it not really too me, but at me. I take it lightly from her hands, the black fingernail polish glistening as I slide it out of her grasp.
She started to come in every Saturday from then on. Same time. Same order. I learned quickly to memorize the order, quicker than most regulars. It would even get to the point where I’d be in the process of making it as she walked in, she was that punctual. I was that smitten.
She never said too much, even fielding my friendly sales clerk-to-customer questions with brief, simple answers. She was fairly enigmatic, in a very easygoing sense.
After she took her coffee, she’d always land a test sip as she turned to the door, always with the same almost inaudible “Thanks” as she pushed her way back into the outside world. I’d watch as she turned to the left, walked a few feet, and disappeared behind the corner. The same pace every time. There is something so comforting about routine.
I shake the thoughts of the past out of my head and concentrate on the present. Noting he time, 1:47, I turn to the window next to me. It’s a pleasant enough day out, I suppose, mid-60’s, sunny, but not bright. A cool breeze sways the trees as they begin the growth process of early Spring. Across the street, I can see people waiting at the bus stop, all with the same bored waiting-for-the-bus expression on their face. The same people who are out there waiting everyday for that same bus. I suppose sometime routine isn’t as positive.
“Shit Charlie, are you going to seriously talk to her?”
I jerk slightly at Chad’s unnecessarily loud voice. Turning with half-amusement I respond, “And what if I am?”
He can get away with swearing because there is no one in the tiny coffee shop. It’s a privately owned place, and since there is a new Starbucks a couple blocks down the road, customers have been scarce lately. The room is empty except for the five bland wood tables with the worn matching chairs sitting, straightened, around them. Cliché presses of paintings sit on what little wall space there is. Ducks in a pond. A sunset. A rainforest setting. Boring. Nothing much to look at, at all. Just adds to the simplistic atmosphere.
“Fuck dude, you’ve got a bigger set than I gave you credit for”. He laughs a bit at this, as if it was really that funny. Chad’s like that, always laughing at the things he says. It’s not as annoying as you’d think, but it’s still noticeable. He runs his fingers through his perfect blonde hair, cut down just above his ears, running in waves along his head. He’s one of those “too beautiful to be human” types. The “hunk”. Pulled straight out of a surf gear advertisement. Compared to him, I’m pretty much crap. He’s the Anti-Me.
Yet Sarah pays no attention to him at all. She only responds to me. Or maybe that’s all in my mind. Wishful thinking.
Another glance at my watch: 1:54.
“You know me, Chad, always the risk taker”. I muster a small chuckle at this, trying to play along with the joke at hand. I don’t find it funny, but I might as well indulge him to pass the time. Even obnoxious conversation is conversation.
It’s not that I don’t like Chad, I’m just a little jealous. He comes in every week with his beautiful new girl. A different one every few months or so. Always the same perfect model girlfriend. Giggly and clinging, attached to his muscular arms. Little peck-kisses on the lips. The kind of beautiful happy couple that makes you gag, just a little. Yet it never lasts.
It makes sense that he doesn’t pay much attention to Sarah, despite her being quite pretty. She’s a much less obvious choice. She always seems to be in the same mood: Mellon collie. Not really sad, but not skipping and humming either. Her eyes carry with them a deep shadow, to hide the hazel color. The shadow seems amplified by her rounded thin-rimmed glasses. A slight blue tint to the frames, if I remember correctly. Every day she comes in, she always plays with her hair at least once. Her hair seems to be her favorite thing to work on. Always perfectly laid out on her head, roughly shoulder length. Hues of blonde and brown mixing together, giving it an almost copper-amber glint. Like the color of apple cider. Some would call it red, but it isn’t. It’s a color of her own creation, we guessed once. Worked on until it was just the right shade.
The warning bell on the door. That pointless ding that makes our lives just that much more flustering. I look up, and sure enough, as if she’s that bus those bored people are waiting for, she is right on time. 2 o’clock exactly. Unbelievable. Does she time it?
“Hey Sarah, same ol’?” Chad barks out, switching it up from his usual greeting since he knows her a bit. This is actually just as scripted, only for the regular customers.
How is it that one word can resonate through your head like that? All she said was “yeah” and yet it feels like we just had a twenty minute conversation about the meaning of life. It wasn’t really conviction as much as true feeling behind the words. Like everything she says has a purpose.
Alright, Charles, time to take that dive. Just say hi, see if she’ll even react. Would it seem weird to say hi? Is she going to think I’m some kind of creep for sitting here on my day off? We had to stop working two people shifts since business is down, so me and Chad trade off lately. She knows that.
My eyes widen a second, and look over. She’s standing next to me! Am I imagining this? Is it a dream playing out in my head of how I want things to go? No, she’s actually starting the conversation for me.
Hey you? Really? That’s all I’ve got? Fuckin’ hell. I could have at least said her name or come up with something better than “Hey You”.
“Just can’t stay away, can you Charlie? I don’t blame you, this place is rather lovely in a quant sort of way. It’s a shame you guys are losing all that business to that corporate shithole down the street.”
“Yeah, no kidding, my wallet is dry from the cut-backs Mr. Hassel has had to make.”
There you go, that was a little better. At least that sentence had some substance to it!
“It does suck, really. Here’s your coffee.” Chad slides the cup across the counter and turns to the machines
pretending to whip them down. He’s just avoiding being a part of this awkward scene.
“Well, nice seeing you Charlie. See you guys next week.” She turns over and slides the cup into her hand,
and begins her walk towards the door. “Oh, and by the way, if you want to ask me out, better do it before I leave.”
“What… I… what?”
I have to admit, that came as a shock.
“Come on Charlie, we both know that’s why you’re here.” She leans her back against the door and takes a sip out of the cup. “Do I have to do it for you? Fine. Charlie, we should hang out sometime. Actually, how’s tomorrow sound? One of my pieces is being put up in an independent gallery showing downtown, you could come with to the opening.”
“Um, sure…” I know jack shit about art, but I’m not even going to consider admitting that, let alone passing up this chance. “That sounds great.”
The sounds of the outside brush in as she leans back into the door. “Cool, meet me out front of this place tomorrow, say… noonish?”
“Yeah, of course, see you then.”
“Cool. Bye guys.” She wrestles her way out of the heavy glass door and takes her steps to the corner, and disappears out of site.
What just happened? That’s all that’s in my mind now.
“Shit man, now that was unexpected!” Chad lets out a bigger chuckle than he’s known for. “Good for you, I was thinking you’d just run out the emergency exit as soon as she came in. But that, that is pretty solid right there.”
I lean back in the chair, letting it creak on the wood floor, “Yeah, I guess that works just fine.” I let out a half-relieved, half-amused laugh.
There isn’t much else to this story. Just another day in another life. One in about five billion. Nothing special. I’m sure this has all happened many times before. But it really does catch you by surprise when it happens. I guess there is something to be said about the little battles won. Sometimes things work out in odd ways.
Sometimes only one roll of the dice is all you need to take the house.