The coffee shop we supported was directly across the street from our building. I trudged through the snow, cursing the fact that I’d chosen to wear suede boots, and fell into line behind six or seven other late-night caffeine addicts. The ambiance was wintery and jovial, with comfortable jazz playing in the background. It made me ponder the relation between music and human behavior. Like how there was always oldies playing in the grocery stores, rock in the mall, and classical in elevators. Must be something to do with Pavlov’s Theory. But it bothered me to think I might be being manipulated.
Finally, it was my turn to order.
“Tall, no whip, non-fat, half-chocolate mocha, please.” I rolled my eyes. “That’s not for me.”
“Anything else?” The robotic blonde across the counter was writing with a felt tip on a white cup.
“Yeah. Do you still have the holiday specials?” I asked.
“Um…” She looked confused. Either the word ‘specials’ or the word ‘holiday’ had rendered her completely dysfunctional.
“I mean, I know that it’s January, but I really liked the caramel one…” I hinted, hoping that would be enough information.
“We have the peppermint mocha?” she offered hopefully, pen poised.
“Peppermint is not caramel,” I told her.
She thought about that. “We have white chocolate.”
“Still not caramel.”
She rolled her eyes. “It’s basically caramel.”
What is happening? I narrowed my eyes, unsure of how to respond.
“They’re both made with sugar and cream,” she informed me in such a snotty tone that I wanted to reach across the counter and poke her in the eye. But I didn’t.
Instead, I sighed. “Then water and hydrogen peroxide are basically the same thing.”
She stared, blankly, pen still waiting to write down whatever drink I finally ordered.
“Because they’re both made with hydrogen and oxygen?” I supplied.
“What?” She asked.
I was beyond irritated. “Fine. White chocolate. Venti, whip cream, sprinkles. If that’s my only choice.”
The last of my words were meant to be under my breath, but apparently the person standing behind me had been listening. Just as the barista was about to write my order, a rough, Boston accent came from over my shoulder, saying very calmly, “I think she wants the Butter Praline you had for Thanksgiving.”
The girl smiled. “Oh, that one. Sure we still have that.”
I turned to thank whoever thought he was doing me a favor, and my voice caught in my throat. The guy was a masterpiece, with beautiful wavy black hair and eyes of such a light blue they were practically transparent.
“Thanks,” I muttered.
As I turned away, change in hand, I heard him order. “Quad Mocha - doesn’t really matter what size.” Only it sounded like, ‘dos’n really madda wut size.’
“Sir, you have to specify a size.”
He chuckled. It was a warming, sarcastic sound. “Fine. Tall.”
The girl went about ringing him up. I tried not to watch him, but it was impossible. He was a walking contradiction in military boots, cargo pants, and a wool coat. He could have been a thug or a lawyer. The wallet he pulled from his back pocket had a skull burned into the leather, but the ring on his right hand was an elegant band of gold.
As soon as he was done paying, I found the paintings on the wall to be of extraordinary significance. I paced the counter, searching the indecipherable drawings for even an inkling of purpose. But they were all very much in abstract form.
“Geoff Berogio is a local artist.”
I jumped and turned toward the husky voice. “Right. Of course,” I agreed, like I was an expert on local artists. Especially Geoff.
The beautiful guy was watching me kind of intensely. He exuded confidence and sarcasm, as though maybe he could see through us all and didn’t hold much optimism for humanity. “Do you know who Geoff is?” he asked me with a teasing, if not tired, smile.
“Uh…” Honestly, I’d been too absorbed in online politics to pay much attention to rising, local artists. “Not really. But it looks like he has a passion.”
“Yeah,” he shook his head a little. “I don’t really like art either.”
I loved how he left the ‘r’ out of art.
“But Geoff is a friend from high school.”
“Oh.” Yeah, I was really showing him the extent of my vocabulary. I hadn’t even brushed my hair.
“It’s cool that he got his stuff in here – should help him along.”
I wasn’t really sure what else to say about this Geoff guy, a local painter of whom I knew absolutely nothing, so I just continued to feign fascination with his work. That seemed like the polite thing to do, and it was less uncomfortable than standing there in silence. Beautiful guy didn’t look worried about the silence, though. He didn’t look around for something to stare at or be distracted by, he didn’t make an excuse to end the conversation, he didn’t look for an escape. He just stood there and analyzed me until I finally met his eyes again.
Then he smiled at some unspoken realization.
I couldn’t take it anymore. “Did you just get off work?” I asked.
He nodded and chuckled at what appeared to be an inside joke. “Kind of. I do programming. So the majority of my job is sitting in an office, listening to music.”
At the irritation in his voice, I had to ask, “Bad night?”
“Naw.” He shuffled his feet. “Just got into a kind of argument. I think I pissed someone off. It’s nothing...”
I didn’t believe him.
For a split second I just stared at his outstretched hand, like maybe I was from Mars, and we were used to smacking heads in formal greeting. Finally though, I offered my own hand, and we shook like mature adults. “Laura,” I introduced myself.
“So, what do you do for fun, Laura?” The way he said my name made me all warm inside.
“Ah-ha,” I chuckled. “I don’t really have a lot of fun. Not a fun person.”
His eyes twinkled at my remark. “I bet you’re lying.”
“No really. I’m totally boring. I don’t even have a job.”
“Must be nice.”
“Yeah, it’s dynamite,” I grumbled, picking at a hair trailing along my shoulder. It turned out to be attached to my head.
“Dynamite?” Mason echoed. He was now holding his drink, but looked in no hurry to leave.
“Yeah,” I chuckled to myself. “It’s my word of the day.”
“Venti Butter Praline!” the barista interrupted.
Mason gave a very slight nod and bit his lip. There was a quizzical look on his face, as though he wanted to ask me to explain even though it seemed like pretty personal conversational territory considering we’d only known each other for about five minutes.
“It’s just... whatever,” I stuttered and sighed. “Someone was making fun of me earlier. At least, I think he was making fun of me. And it really got under my skin, even though I shouldn’t even care. I mean, who cares what a stranger thinks of you, right?”
Now he looked concerned for my mental well-being.
“Sorry, it’s not your problem,” I stated quickly, wishing there was something I could hide under. Like, a rock.
He continued to watch me with quiet contemplation. Maybe he was waiting for another dramatic monologue. Or a complete mental breakdown.
Thankfully, the barista interrupted with, “Tall, non-fat, no-whip, half mocha, mocha!”
“Okay,” I said, not knowing how else to transition from awkward foray into the struggles of my life to ‘have a nice day!’ I took my drinks from the counter and resisted the urge to literally run from the building. Instead, I took a slow step sideways, toward the door. “It was nice to meet you.”
“Yeah,” he said, even though he didn’t seem very sure.
We left the cafe together, a gust of snow welcoming us into the storm, and parted ways. But not before he gave me a lazy smile that wretched at my heart.
“It was definitely interesting,” he chuckled. “Take care.”
I watched him disappear down the street before heading back to my apartment on the tenth floor, wondering if I would ever see him again.