He must’ve worked out today, I thought, almost aloud. I instinctively drew as much breath into my lungs as I could discreetly muster. He looked as if he were searching for the most fitting theme music for his commute, head down, ears wrapped by shiny, chrome finished Sol Republic headphones. He flashed an easy smile and nodded in my direction. He was looking for me. Yep! Confirmed! The moment his gaze fell on mine, I felt a rush of warmth rise and radiate through my every limb, from my tips to my toes. The beams quickly turned into a wave of self-consciousness, and I inadvertently touched the letters on my fading black T-shirt that spelled out, The Corner Bakery and cast my eyes downward. Where was he coming from? Where did he work? What’s his name? After saving a seat for him every single day of the work week for the past three years, I still had tons of questions. Quite frankly, we were strangers. “Hey.” he said breathlessly as he plopped down, releasing a single, beautiful and glistening bead of sweat. It glided down the side of his face. I wanted to catch it and take it to work with me.
“Hi,” I stammered. “Were you running?”
“Nah,” he answered in his nondescript accent.
Was he from up North? Out West?
“I worked out late today and just jumped out of the shower at work. I know you don’t usually see me dressed like this.”
I didn’t usually see him dressed so casually. He was usually dressed in office attire, but not the boring kind. His shirts were fitted enough to show that he worked out and were obviously dry cleaned--not washed at a coin laundry or ironed with an old, leaky iron that had to be scraped with a butter knife. They were always crisp and smelled new. Even his pants were upscale. I’d started calling them, slacks. Slacks was a better word to describe what he wore against those thighs, that were brushing up against mine as the train bumped and grinded against their rails. But today, he was wearing a fitted white T-shirt, made of a thicker and softer cotton than the cheap, peeling one I was wearing, and heather grey sweat pants--the kind with straight, open legs and tailored cargo pockets.
“Pockets,” I said just under my breath with a giggle. “How much money does this guy make.”
I settled myself with a silent little affirmation, Pockets on his sweats or not, he’s no God, just a man--a beautiful, educated, office attire wearing man with creamy, sepia toned skin too smooth to have ever experienced a single one of his pores being clogged by porky steam water and bacon grease...I’d digressed.
“Cami Ann Robbins, you are good enough! And beautiful.”
People were always saying, saying how pretty I was.
“She’s too pretty to be living over here. She’s so pretty she could have been anything if it weren’t for her having to take care of her good for nothing Mama,” they’d say.
I’m educated. It probably took me a little longer and it didn’t come in a fancy leather bound cover. It doesn’t hang in a high dollar office with lots of windows and a view of the King and Queen buildings, but I’ve got a degree—a real one. And so what if I don’t wear blouses and pencil skirts to work. I am a manager and a darn good one! I’m what my bosses call a go-to type and I’ve got a great benefits package, too!
“No more comparing pores, Camisha Ann.” I whispered. “But he is a beautiful man.”
I shook my head, clearing my chatty psyche and smiled at him.
We settled into our routine silence, thighs grazing every now and then, stolen glances and awkward little smiles volleyed back and forth, until that sad and unwelcome stop at Lindbergh Station, where we would both exit. He’d let me off first, because he was that kind of man—a gentle one, cultured and thoughtful. He’d say, “Aight, be good, Ms. Lady.” and I’d say, “Thanks, have a good one.” Just like always, and I’d kick myself for not coming up with some new, witty retort, something kind of flirty. Would a coy wink be too much—too cheesy? The train grinded to a noisy stop. We stood, and so began the farewell ritual.
“Be good, Ms. Lady.”
“Thanks, have a good one.”
Hisses from the frothers and the lazy moans from Nancy Sinatra’s cover of, Bang Bang, My Baby Shot Me Down, snapped me from my daze.
“Excuse me.” I said, squeezing by a not so gentlemanly patron.
He shoved my svelte 125 pound, 5 foot 5-inch frame into the jamb of the door as he made his hurried exit.
“Hey, Boss Lady! What it do.”
My assistant manager, Oliver Barnett was leaning against the counter with a cup of something steamy in his hands. Today his salon-perfect dreadlocks were neatly twisted away from his face displaying his bright, expressive eyes.
“Was he on the train? Did you actually talk to him today?”
He followed me to the back to the employee locker room, firing questions at me. “Really.” I fired back turning to face him.
I turned so quickly, he rammed into me sending his Chai Latte spilling down the front of my shirt.
“Jesus! Oliver! Look at what you did.”
I stormed off with a teeth bearing growl, shaking my fists high above my head for a dramatic effect. I really welcomed the built in escape and the opportunity to feign anger and give Oliver the cold shoulder for at least another hour. I wanted to avoid his questioning and my disappointing answer. Sadly, there was no new news to report. Yet again, I was too afraid to even ask his name or where he worked. I didn’t find out where he went when he turned left on Morosgo Drive? No Ollie, there was no news to report. None.
Oliver avoided my icy glance as I walked around the counter, dramatically patting my damp and sticky shirt.
“May I please have everyone’s attention.” I said to the crew on duty.
“We are here to serve quality food and beverages to our patrons, not to discuss personal issues. Please conduct your personal discussions on breaks and/or after your shifts are over.” I said nodding authoritatively. “Thank you.” Everyone, except Oliver, looked completely dumbfounded. His annoyance was obvious, as his eyes narrowed and he smirked at me. Beneath the side-eyes and teeth smacking, I heard someone mumble, “What the hell is her problem.” Oliver said nothing, until later when he walked by me and delivered his own announcement, “Message received, Boss! But, you remember that when the shoe’s on the other foot.”
It hit me in the gut like a fist blow. I’d handled the situation poorly. I was wrong. He was my best friend and only wanted me to go for what he knew I wanted. I made a mental note to apologize later.