Disclaimer: I stalled on my 30-day writing challenge because the next assignment is to write about my star sign. And I don’t buy into all that so writing a non-fiction piece about my horoscope seemed like an insurmountable task. Which led me to the decision to mingle some fiction into my blog. So, I present to you a short scene from my someday-book. Who knows? It may be the first of more-to-come fiction pieces here.
Ben – February 2000 – Spring semester, sophomore year
“Is this seat taken?” I asked, a calculated choice. I’d seen her around before. And by “around” I mean here, at the coffee shop. A bit mousy by most peoples’ standards, in appearance and in mannerism, she was not suited to be a barista. Not bubbly enough. Not outspoken enough. Maybe not pretty enough, to some. Instead, she seems to have been hired on to do the background tasks. Mopping the floors. Picking up errant straw wrappers. Refilling the plastic bins of wooden stirrers and cardboard coozies and multi-colored paper packets of sweeteners. Sanitizing tables when patrons had finally folded up their newspapers or paperbacks or notebooks of lecture notes and left. The jobs that nobody thinks of until they’re not done, suddenly a blaring problem in their not doneness. But to me? She’s never been a background player since the first time I saw her.
She glanced up from her laptop, eyebrows raised as if they were solely responsible for her ability to see over the top of her square frames. I pretended not to notice when she cut her eyes to the empty tables on either side of her. I didn’t want those tables. I wanted her. I had played out this scenario in my mind countless times over the past few months and not once had I considered that she may rebuff. Until now, that is, as I hovered, clutching my textbook to my chest and waiting for her to say something. Anything. But she didn’t. Instead, she pushed her glasses up with one finger placed on their bridge and pushed the chair across from her out with her foot, a silent acceptance of my presence.
Lowering myself onto the pine, I observed quietly as she focused her attention back to the screen before her, its bright reflection gleaming in the surface of her glasses. Her hair, the color of burlap and usually pulled into some semblance of bun at the nape of her neck, fell to her shoulders today. I never noticed its wave before. Or the way she gnaws on her lower lip when she reads. Two tiny slashes appeared above her eyebrows, dimples that screamed, “Hush! I’m trying to concentrate.” But I ignored them by talking anyway. “Day off today?” I asked, grasping at anything to strike up a conversation. I had anticipated a much warmer welcome. When she didn’t respond, I repeated myself, a bit louder, which finally got her attention. “Hmm?” she asked, chin raised. “Oh, I was just asking if you had the day off today.” She shook her head and returned her gaze to her screen as she mumbled, “No, I tend not to wear my uniform on days off. Just getting some homework done before I have to clock in.”
Uniform, right. Idiot. “Ah, so the Common Grounds polo shirt isn’t what you wear normally? Outside of work, I mean,” I grinned. She shrugged one shoulder and without looking up from her screen again, replied, “The shirt, yeah. Just not the nametag.” I stretched my spine taller to peer over her laptop to read that aforementioned nametag, pretending like I hadn’t already read it a thousand times before. “Ana,” I pronounced, then asked, “Or is it Ana?” changing the leading sound to a softer A that sounded more like a yawn.
“That’s you,” she said impatiently, glancing up from her screen finally. “I’m sorry?” I asked, leaning forward as though being closer to her would somehow help me understand her better. She motioned over my shoulder to the counter where, when I turned to look, I saw the barista holding a large paper cup and repeating, “Ben?” I turned back to face her, Ana (yawn) or Ana, and took a moment to flash her a cool smile before scrambling up to collect my coffee. On my way back, my toe hit the chair leg and made the seat clatter against the table loudly. She chuckled softly and shook her head but didn’t avert her eyes from her work. “Am I bombing at this? I don’t usually bomb at this,” I laughed good naturedly as I sat myself down again, cradling the cup between my hands, thankful for its warmth.
“It’s neither. It’s Analisa but the manager said that wouldn’t fit on the nametag,” she replied, sidestepping my embarrassing question by reverting to the question before it. (Like a yawn, by the way.) I took the lid off my cup, letting the steam escape, and blew on the surface of the caramel colored liquid. “Well, Ana works, doesn’t it?” I asked, sipping more cautiously than I was speaking. She shook her head, glancing at me briefly to say, “My friends call me Lise. But nobody asked me before printing the nametag.” Setting my cup down on top of my textbook, I pressed on. “That’s shit, isn’t it? Why not say something? Ask them to make you a new one, Lise.” Without skipping a beat or looking up again, she sniped, “You and I are not friends, Ben.” It caught me off-guard. How do I respond to that? “Right. So, please, call me Benjamin,” I smiled back at her.
She reached one hand up, its fingers slender as bone, pale pink polish chipped almost completely off, to close her laptop. Success! I thought. “Well, Benjamin,” she said, emphasizing the last two syllables of my name. “If by ‘this’ you mean interrupting a study session before a girl’s got to go to work, then no. You are very much not bombing at this. You do this often?” She crossed her arms over her chest and leaned back in her chair, waiting. It was unnerving. Her watchfulness. Her coldness. None of it was expected. I stared back at her, letting myself break into a wary smile only after she relaxed and set to fastening her hair back with the elastic that had been lying in wait around her wrist. “Look, Analisa,” I began, pausing for a sip of coffee. “I’ve bided my time pretty patiently. So, I’m sorry if you feel I’m interrupting something here. But I didn’t want to let another day slip away without saying hello.” She finished pulling her hair into its signature bun and leaned forward on her elbows. I’ve got her now, I thought, invigorated by what her change in body language conveyed. “Let me take you to dinner Saturday,” I blurted.
“Tomorrow? No can do, Benny boy,” she shrugged. “It’s my birthday tomorrow and I’ve already committed to dinner with my parents.”
“Happy birthday,” I acquiesced before adding, “That explains so much.” She gazed at me somewhat quizzically until I said, “You’re a Pisces.” Her demeanor changed then. She tapped a finger on my textbook and taunted, “Tell me. What’s a boy who carts around a book called The Fundamentals of Political Science know about astrology?” I replaced the lid on my coffee and sipped it through the spout. “Well, Pisces tend to be a little closed-off, preferring to be alone. So, this cat-and-mouse game really couldn’t have been avoided, could it? It’s in your DNA to be cautious,” I asserted.
She scoffed, “I’m closed-off just because I’m busy tomorrow?”
I locked eyes with her, flirting with nothing more than a glance and a smile. “But Pisces are also an empathetic and generous people so really it’s only a matter of time before you appreciate that I’ve put myself out there and give in to letting me take you out.” Her smirk was the only indicator I needed to seal the deal with one final blow. “I’ve also heard that Pisces are mind-blowing lovers. And I intend to find out.” She chuckled softly then, shaking her head with derision. “What about Sunday?” I asked.
“I’ve got plans on Sunday,” she beamed back.
“Yeah? What have you got going on then?” I asked.
Something changed in her face just then and I was almost ready to concede to not having been able to crack her open. But then she went and did it. She lowered her chin and her voice by an octave to said, “I’m working until 5pm and then having dinner with Ben.”
I nodded once, rising from the table and picking up my coffee and my book. “I’ll pick you up here at 5:00, then, Lise.” And I turned to the door before she could change her mind.