day, (well, it seemed like every day), Neal would find himself in a coffee shop surrounded by (sometimes) low chatter, and the busy buzz and whir of baristas making coffee magic, scrambling to fulfill just-so orders of people who would be better off brewing at home.
He didn’t know how they managed.
He didn’t know why he cared.
His laptop was a comforting weight against his side, and he’d hoped he beat the rush of college students and other wanna-be writers like himself who would camp out at tables for hours, slowly sipping coffee he thought was too steep in price.
It was just because the barista he had a crush on worked this shift, and he always felt lucky when he was able to land a table, because as it turned out, he wasn’t the only one who had a crush on her.
These days, though, one couldn’t be too careful; he didn’t want to be seen as a stalker.
Truth was he had all the confidence of a tasered turtle, and for the life of him, being a wanna -be writer and all, could think of nothing clever, witty, romantic, (and if the day was going on a particularly sharp downhill angle, intelligent) to say that would make the opposite sex pay him any attention.
He wondered sometimes if that was, in fact, the reason he wrote at all. He could be anything in a story, and with enough research, he could pull it off. A knight, an assassin, a military genius, a cutting-edge scientist, a brilliant fencer, a chess master. It occurred to him, the way one sees through thick fog, that he never made himself a boyfriend, a husband, or even a friend with benefits.
Truth was, (well, another truth was), that he actually preferred a connection. It was less risky if the liking of each other was not only mutual, but constant, steady, like the North Star guiding sailors into the harbor for centuries.
But that wasn’t the climate of today’s milieu. It was all so loose and casual, messy and shallow, like a ball pit in a fast food restaurant playground.
He felt he had more to give, but it seemed he could never get around to saying it, much less asking for it. Monogamy was a thing of the ancient past, like illuminated manuscripts now kept in climate controlled cases in parts of the library nobody visited.
The line moved, and he was next, and his crush was there.
“Can I help you?” she said, all smiles and pretty eyes, and he dared not look to see what else.
“Uh, yeah. I’d like a caramel macchiato, please.” He sometimes thought he could die drowning in a vat of caramel. It would be ugly, but sweet…
“Okay. What size?”
“L-l-large, please.” When did that develop???
“Okay, that’s five twenty five please.”
He gave her his card; her fingerprints would be on his card.
Don’t swoon, Neal.
“Thank you. Marta will have that for you at the end of the counter.”
“Th-thank you.” Dammit.
He was still holding the card, where their fingerprints now mingled in delightful oblivion to their union.
“Here ya go,” said the comparably nondescript Marta.
Neal took his coffee, the cup pleasantly warming his hands, and settled himself in a corner, pulling out his laptop, setting up his writing camp.
There was this part in his story he was wrestling with, where the character was at a crossroads between a bold choice that might propel him forward to someplace he might regret, or turning back toward the sacred obscurity of his own cocoon, where he was quite comfortable, thank you.
The laptop fired up, and he took his first sip of the macchiato. It was perfect, the second bright spot in his day.
Glancing up, he saw his crush looking his way.
The bobbing of his Adam’s Apple suddenly hurt as he accidentally slurped more than he wanted to, and began, to his mortification, to cough as the hot liquid streamed the wrong way.
She smiled and gently shook her head, and walked into the back to see about something.
“Are you okay?” the comparably nondescript Marta asked.
“I-I…y-yes, I’m okay.” He closed his eyes, and sighed in resigned embarrassment.
I’m never coming back here.
Even as he thought it, he knew he would.