After that one night in the city, I was pretty sure it’d be a while before I went back. I was ninety-seven percent sure that I would wait longer than the following day, and I was damn well positive that it wouldn’t be because I was meeting the stranger that I’d started macking on in the middle of a show. Nonetheless, I found myself sitting in a nearly-abandoned train car while it steadily rolled toward Penn Station.
I was in one of those five-seat sections–the ones that have a few chairs facing forward and a few facing backward–and I had my feet up on the seats across from me. Normally I’d sit toward the back of the car in an unobtrusive two-seater, but being a quarter to four on a Thursday afternoon, it didn’t seem like anyone else needed the space.
I had my Ipod in my ears, but it was about two minutes from going dead. I had, however, remembered to charge my phone this time. As I leaned against the fake leather seats, I could feel the dampness of my hair while it clung to my neck. I had jumped out of the shower and left it to dry by itself. Now that it was so short, there was little I could do with it. Sometimes I would blow-dry so it might seem as though I gave two craps, but it was useless on a stifling day like today. It would dry in flat, intolerable waves no matter what I did.
I felt the train car shudder to a halt, and then a robotic voice told me we’d reached the last stop. The doors made a noise like an airtight container when you twist the lid off for the first time, and there was a man in the very back of the car whose head had been lolling forward, bobbing as he slept, but the sound was enough to jolt him awake.
The sun was trying desperately hard to shine through the hazy clouds. It gave the illusion of the light somehow being polluted, and though it could’ve been the feeling of humidity sticking to my skin, it made the city streets seem even dirtier than usual. I turned left at the train station and continued walking straight, just like Macon had told me to. I didn’t particularly know where I was going, but he’d said that if I kept my eyes peeled and didn’t make any turns, I’d find the place alright.
About three blocks down, I saw it nestled between a clothing shop and a Duane Reade. The exterior was plain, just as Macon had described it; nothing but a giant black slate of glass and a brick wall.
I stepped in to find that the coffee shop went way deeper than expected. Inside, it looked like an underground bar with three steps leading from the door to the main level. The coffee counter was pushed to the very back of the room, and there were railings everywhere, even where they didn’t seem necessary.
The place was way louder than any coffee shop I’d ever been to—chatter, blenders, typing—but it somehow still held that serene, artsy feel. I scanned the room for Macon, but I only found strangers at the round café-style tables. I figured that he must’ve been running late, so I made my way over to the coffee counter to order something while I waited.
There was only one dude on staff, and he jetted from the espresso machines to the cash register roughly twenty times a minute. I assumed he’d been on shift all day, because, for twenty-five or so, he sure as hell looked exhausted. “Can I help you?” He stopped moving long enough to utter the hackneyed phrase.
I hadn’t even brought my eyes up to the marker board yet, but I wasn’t about to take my time and make this guy’s life any harder. “Uh, just a small regular, I guess. Milk and sugar,” I said, it being the first thing that came to mind.
He shoved the money into the cash register drawer, tore off my receipt, and handed it to me. After stuffing the change into my pocket, I turned and scanned the coffee house again.
Eventually, as my eyes were drawn to the slate of glass in the front, I saw Macon sitting at the counter that was pressed up against it. He was holding a cup with two hands in front of him, his shoulders hunched over and his attention on the street outside. I realized that the huge pane of glass, seemingly black from the outside, was a perfectly-clear window from the inside.
After grabbing the coffee cup with my name scribbled across it, I side-stepped my way through the tables. I kept my eyes on Macon as I moved, paying close attention. For whatever reason (I guess I’d been too scatterbrained at the time) I hadn’t taken any notice of his clothing the night before. Now he was wearing a brown t-shirt with some band logo written in white, a pair of cargo shorts, and some pretty destroyed classic Etnies. He glanced over his shoulder, as if to search the room, but his eyes landed on me before anything else.
“Hey,” I murmured.
He offered me an easy smile and moved a patched knapsack off the stool beside him. I sat down in the previously-occupied chair.
“How was the train ride in?” he asked.
“You didn’t have to come all the way out here, you know,” he told me. “I would’ve taken the train out to Long Island or something.”
“Awesome plan. As your reimbursement for buying a one-way train ticket for me, you now have to buy a two-way train ticket for yourself. How does that one work out?”
He chuckled and brought his gaze over to the street again. I turned to face the window, too, taking a sip out from my coffee as I did so.
“This place is pretty cool.”
“It is, right?” Macon said, and he sounded excited about it. “I think they just built it. I’ve lived in the city since I was ten, and I just started hearing stuff about it recently.”
“You spend a lot of time here?” I asked.
Macon shrugged and then nodded. “I’d say a few hours a week. When I finish work.”
“Nah,” Macon said. “I can’t stand that shit, actually. Tastes like gasoline to me.” He nodded toward the cup in front of him. “Green tea.”
I raised an eyebrow. “You come to a coffee house on a regular basis so you can purchase boiled water?”
“Boiled water with a bag floating in it,” he corrected.“And yeah. I like the atmosphere here. I kind of feel like I’m on the outside of a fishbowl or something.” When I did nothing more than offer an expectant glance, he said, “People-watching, I mean.”
I followed his eyes through the giant window again. People briskly went by, unaware that anyone was watching and, quite honestly, uncaring. They all had somewhere to be, and nothing was more important than getting there.
“If that’s what you’re into,” I commented.
He nodded resolutely. “So what’re you into, then?” Macon asked. “Besides breaking yourself while crowd surfing and leaving disturbing messages on people’s answering machines.”
My mouth dropped opened and I started a few sentences, but none of them made it past the first syllable until, “You told me you wouldn’t listen to it!”
“I couldn’t help it! It was there, and the button was flashing, and it was twice as tempting once you said I couldn’t hear it.”
I bit down hard on my lip. “Well, shit,” I declared.
“Relax. It was funny,” he stated, and he playfully nudged me. “Although I didn’t know I was listed on White Pages. I should probably get around to changing that. You know. For safety reasons.”
“That is so embarrassing.” My voice muffled as I put my hands over my face.
“So whatever, you’re kind of spastic on the phone. Everyone’s got their quirks, right?”
“I wouldn’t exactly call it a quirk.”
“Oh?” Macon asked. “What would you call it?”
Macon laughed. I decided that his laugh was different, just like his name. It was low-pitched and came in spurts as though the more he reflected on whatever it was, the more amusing he found it to be. It suited him, too.
He and I fell into a silence while we stared outside and took consecutive sips from the Styrofoam cups in our hands. After three or so minutes, Macon finally opened his mouth again. “So how’s that pail-or-whatever list thing going?”
“What?” I said, and then I laughed. “You mean the bucket list?”
“Same as last night.”
Macon nodded musingly, and then he asked, “Can I see it?”
I choked on the coffee that had previously been making its way down my throat. Then I wiped my mouth with the back of my hand. “My bucket list?”
“Yes,” he declared. “What about this topic are you having trouble comprehending?”
I stared at him, blinking as I debated the outcomes. Then, reluctantly, I took the piece of paper out of my back pocket and handed it over. I made sure to fold down the top margin first, though, so he didn’t see his phone number scribbled across it.
Macon pressed it against the granite counter, attempting to smooth out the wrinkles. Then he scanned down the writing on the page, but I don’t think he got past number four.
“You want to ride a mattress down a set of twenty-five plus stairs?”
“Yeah,” I said. When the lines in his expression deepened, I asked, “So?”
“So it’s not exactly a normal ambition.”
“Yeah, I guess not,” I said. Back when my brother and I had been close, we’d always tried to do it on our stairs at home. We’d never been able to find a mattress that fit the narrow staircase, and pillows just didn’t compare. I took the empty Styrofoam cup and absentmindedly tapped it against the counter.
“Nonetheless, I can probably help you.” As I stared at him, Macon took one last swig of his boiled water (with a bag floating in it) and then he tossed it into the garbage. “C’mon,” he said.
Before I had a chance to question him, he had gone up the steps of the coffee house and moved out into the muggy June air.