Chapter 14: Libby
I love the smell of New York in the morning.
I can’t exactly point out what’s so different about it rather than mornings in Texas, but it just seems fresher and... cleaner. Blinking my eyes open, I find the rutted ceiling and I smile. New York. I’ve been dreaming this since... always. The thought of escaping home and never coming back used to always make my heart race, and now that I’m actually here, fourteen hundred miles away from my city, my lips are permanently curled upward.
The warmth my bed offers is inviting, but the coffee machine that sits on top of the mini-fridge beside me is even more enticing. I flip the bed-sheets and comforter off my body and swing my legs to the side of the bed, opening the fridge and searching inside for coffee beans. It’s the only thing in there. I take the full bag out and prepare the coffee, using the bathroom sink to my advantage.
This coffee machine is dinkier than the one I have at home and ten times less complex, but I seem to find everything at ease. By the time I hit the button for it to start brewing it’s seven thirty and the sun is peeking behind the tall buildings outside.
I scan the details of the room and decide that it’s not as bad as I had thought last night, the sun’s magnified rays doing the walls and carpet justice.
I walk to my bed and snuggle back under to covers, grabbing my book from the floor to pass the time. But after reading the same paragraph numerous times and not even understanding the words, I give out an agitated umph and set it aside, suddenly remembering that I had my very own adventure last night.
A smile tugs at my lips, remembering the taste of coffee on his lips, and the raspiness of his voice when he introduced himself. He was charming. Special even. Remembering our pre-arrangement of our meeting at the coffee shop, I once again crawl off of my bed and over to my pile of unpacked suitcases, searching for the ones with my much nicer clothing - clothing to impress other and myself.
Finding a white flannel and a nice pair of skinny jeans and a black fedora, I find myself doing a little happy dance on the spot before I stop myself for being ridiculous. It’s not even a date! I remind myself. It’s just... a meet-up. A hang out... A play date.
Glancing at my clock, I see that I still have several hours to prepare. Great. Several hours of agony, it’s going to be. Catching the sight of my camera bag from the corner of my eye, my body slouches in disappoinment when I remember how I’ve already broken one of the things on Liv’s list. Take a picture of every one of these things. I did not get a picture of Liam... I was, uh, too busy I guess.
“That’s not an excuse,” I mutter to myself, brushing my hair back in exasperation. I need to get my priorities straight. And how am I suppose to tell Mom about my new friend? Wasn’t that the one condition? No boys?
Settling on just taking a picture of him at the Cornelia’s to make up for it, I stand up from my spot on the floor and search for a mug in the room, finally finding one on the bathroom counter. Filling it to the brim with coffee, I walk to my bed and set the mug on a coaster on the bedside table, reaching for my laptop that lies on the floor adjacent to it and powering it up.
The first thing I see when I log onto it is an email from Mom. Oh God, I think as I click it open.
Just seeing how you are and if you’re still alive, y’know. Didn’t receive a call when you landed so that’s honestly the big question here. And if you are alive, then what adventures have you been on so far? Anything exciting? I’m sure you have, knowing you. I know you would’ve wanted to jump onto the project pronto.
I love you, sweetheart, and Dad sends his best wishes too.
Well, that wasn’t so bad. Writing back a quick reply to assure them that yes, I am alive, I shut down my computer and take a sip of my now warm coffee. If only this contentedness would last for the rest of the day.
Looking away from the amazing decor, I spot a young woman about my age from behind the front counter with a welcoming smile. I kindly smile back, briefly glancing around the cafe in search of him - Liam. When I conclude he’s not here yet, I approach the woman and gaze at the mouthwatering pastries inside the glass domes. My stomach grumbles but I ignore it.
“Hi,” the woman says again, giving me a blinding smile. “May I help you?”
I look behind her at the menu written in beautiful calligraphy on the chalkboard, weighing my choices quickly so not to leave her waiting. Spotting her name on the chef’s hat she’s wearing, I say, “Well Jenny, I think I would like to have a plain black coffee, please.” She smiles at me, seeming to like that I called her by her name. She enters the order in the cash register, asking if I wanted anything else.
But right as I’m about to say no, an elder man comes up behind me and says, “Yes, me and this young lady will split one of those strawberry things you gave me yesterday.” She smiles kindly at the man, seeming to know exactly who he is, but I can’t help but feel utterly confused and helpless. I look at her for help, but she just enters the price into the cash register and announces the total.
Speechless, I hand her the money, but the man beside me gently pushes my hand aside and pays for me. I open my mouth to say thank you, but he just says, “You can pay me back later.” What the hell am I getting into?
Jenny hands the man the plate with the strawberry shortcake slice on it, and hands me my coffee. When he’s walking off to a table, she leans over the counter and quietly murmurs to me in a kind voice, “It’s okay, he’s a sweet man. He won’t hurt you.”
Grateful for her assistance, I hand her a few dollar bills as a tip and head over to the table that the man awaited me at. He gives me a tender smile and slides the plate to the middle of the table. “You want a piece?” he asks, his voice gravelly and worn.
I purse my lips and shake my head, quietly murmuring a “no thank you.” The man suddenly places his hand on his chest, his mouth dropping in horror. I pause, waiting to see if he’s okay, but he just says, “My dear, I’m so sorry. I forgot to introduce myself.” I relax back into my seat, smiling at the old man’s dramatic ways. “I’m Tim Bentley, but most people just call me Bentley.” He offers me his hand.
Sliding my hand off my lap, I gratefully take Bentley’s hand and give it a gentle shake. “I’m Elizabeth Earnest, but most people call me Libby.” He chuckles and I smile, glad for this man’s pleasant company. Sighing, I decide to be outspoken about my feelings. “I’m not going to lie, sir, but I was admittedly about to have a nervous breakdown when you ordered for me.” He raises his eyebrows in shock, but then I say, “But now that I see that you’re sweet and not trying to kidnap me, I guess I can forgive you.”
He chuckles again, the sound seeming hard to come out, but noticeably very happy. He sighs, patting his stomach, his mouth still forming a smile. “Have you changed your mind about the cake?” he asks, and I kindly shake my head no. He shrugs, and pleasantly takes the plate into his possession. “Your loss, my dear.”
I smile, but the absence of the person I was really suppose to meet here constantly claws at the back of my mind. He’s still not here. Trying to keep myself from getting upset, I look back at Bentley and see that he’s almost cleaned off the plate. I now see why Jenny knows him so well - he must come all the time.
A giggle escapes me when he sighs and looks up from his plate, cream smudged on his chin and upper lip. He tilts his head at me in confusion and I blush, handing him the napkin that had been covering my brown to-go cup of coffee. “There’s, uh, cream,” I mutter, tapping my chin to show him where. His mouth drops into an “O” and pleasantly takes the napkin from my hand, a laugh bubbling from him.
“My dear,” he sputters between chuckles, “I think this is the most amount of fun I’ve had here at Cornelia’s.”
My heart thumps in my chest and I place my hand over it. “That’s so sweet, Mr. Bentley, thanks.”
He waves his hand at me like he’s telling me to calm down. “No, no, don’t thank me, thank you,” he replies, wiping the mess off his mouth. “Laughing’s good for the soul.” He pauses. “And the life span.” He dabs at some cream that had somehow gotten on his shirt, and my breath catches in my throat. He looks up at me, “Are you alright?”
Coughing, I nod. “It’s just, um, ” I stutter, “your shirt is awesome.”
He looks down at it as if he forgot what he’s wearing, and then he smiles. “The Smiths?” he asks, reading off his own gray band t-shirt. “Oh yeah, they were great.”
“I listen to them all the time,” I say, thinking to my piles of ancient vimyls Dad had passed down to me to listen to. “It’s good for the soul,” he had told me when I was younger. He gave me them when I was twelve, but I didn’t start really listening to them until I turned fifteen and the idea of vintage stuff was getting popular.
“Oh yeah?” he asks, placing the now dirty napkin onto the plate. “I own a music shop down off of Times Square. We do all sorts of music lessons, and we sell records, CDs, instruments...” he says, pride in his store obvious in his tone. He smiles. “You should come by sometime.”
Hesitating, I glance at my phone to check the time and take a look around the cafe. It’s thirty minutes past. He’s not coming.
Sighing, I pull on my best smile and say, “I’ll come now, if you don’t mind. I’ve got nothing else to do, and it sounds like my type of store.”
He gives me a look, and I suddenly feel like he’s looking right through me - like I’m a window and he’s reading my thoughts and feelings like an open book. “Yer not waiting for somebody?” he asks, clearly knowing the answer already.
I sigh, slouching in my seat. I feel like he’s known me for years and we’ve only been sitting in these seats for twenty minutes. I take a sip of my now cold coffee, trying to drown my thoughts with caffeine. “This guy,” I mumble, and Bentley chuckles.
“He’s not comin’,” he pans.
I frown. “Why not?”
He crosses his arms on the table and leans forward. “Is he from New York?” I nod, even though I don’t really know. He had a small accent, but he’d only spoken so many words to me that I can’t be sure. “Then he ain’t comin’, dear.”
I sigh, my eyes burning. I flashback to the safety I felt in his arms; the warmth his words gave me. He had been so sincere. I wouldn’t have ever imagined he would be a no-show during those few minutes with him.
“Let’s go, hon.”
Picking up my coffee and shaking off my disappointment, I go up to the counter and politely ask Jenny to warm up my coffee. After refilling it instead, I thank her, and then Bentley and I exit the cool coffee shop. “So how far away is this shop,” I ask, blowing on my coffee in an attempt to cool it down faster. This weather is surely not helping.
“Eh, about ten minutes away. Where are you from?” he asks, shoving his hands in his jean pockets. For such an old man he walks pretty fast. I change my pace to catch up with him.
He nods, his face seeming to clear from understandment. “I thought I knew that accent,” he teased, and I blush. I have an accent? After a few minutes of walking in silence, Bentley says, “My son works at the shop - at Juke Box Hero. Or, he’s not really my son, but he’s like my son.” His tone shifts to a more melancholy tone. “You see, my wife was unable to have kids, but when my boy, Nottes, walked through my door at the small age of fourteen, searching for a job, it was like God had sent him to my wife and I for a reason.
“I wouldn’t usually employ a kid, but he was so sad. He had this terrible backstory and he was lonely and had no where else to look to, so, of course, I took him in.” He sighs. “He’s a great kid - very brilliant. He just... he won’t push himself hard enough, y’know?”
“Does he know what he wants to be?” I ask, wanting to learn more. Kids were always a favorite of mine, with me not growing up around any and constantly being around Liv’s three siblings.
“Looks like he’s looking at working for me for the rest of his life, but, Libby... look at me. I’m a ticking bomb. My time is coming, and it’s like he can’t even see that. He needs an education. He needs a better life than the one I’m giving him.”
“Is he not attending school?” I ask, trying to get a handle on the plot twist he’s just given me.
“No, he’s done. He’s, uh, about the same age as you,” he says, giving me a once-over. “Nineteen, going on twenty.”
Shit, I think, having been thinking we were talking about a teenager all this time - not a grown man. “Oh,” is all I can come up with.
“Yep,” he says, motioning to the next door on the right. “Here we are.”
On the front door is gold lettering, reading “Juke Box Hero; music extraordinaire.” Smiling, I hold the door open for Bentley and enter after him, being overwhelmed with the amazing decor. On every wall there are different signed posters of vintage bands from way back in the sixties and seventies, and hanging off the walls are beautiful, newly-polished guitars. I’ve never even been interested in playing an instrument, but after being in this store for less than ten seconds, I want more than anything at this moment to buy lessons from Bentley.
Over to the right of the store are the records he had been talking about, and behind those are the CD racks. There’s a main counter in the middle of the store where Bentley had wandered off to, and I hesitantly walk up to the cash register. “So this is where you work everyday?” I ask, my eyes wandering back towards the posters of the people I listen to in my bedroom every day.
Bentley nods, smiling. “Yep. Beautiful, eh?” I nod, mute, and he laughs. “Yer cute, kid. I think I’ll keep you around.” I laugh and playfully punch him in the arm, and he chuckles, calling help from “Nottes.”
“No, no, he’s fine!” I call to the stranger, but the guy didn’t seem to hear. He walks out of the back room that must be the storage closet and looks at Bentley, and then at me.
Locking gazes with him, I stop in my tracks.