It had been raining all week and my shoes were wet.
I stood at the counter of my local coffee place, watching as the barristas rushed around clattering cups and spoons. The espresso machine hissed like the Vermithrax Pejorative demanding sacrifices from the people of Urland, and the smell of toasted coffee beans filled the room.
I like the atmosphere of coffeehouses, but because coffee gives me heartburn, the designer-bean revolution has been completely wasted on me. I haven’t had a cup in at least 15 years. So usually I get tea, or cocoa, and take my place at a table where I can read and people watch. I’m always amazed at how many people have time during the day to hang out in coffeehouses. I suppose some of them are actually working, hunkered over laptop computers or scribbling furiously on legal pads. Sometimes I see people having meetings or conducting interviews. But so many people seem to be whiling away time, chatting, playing Scrabble or chess, and mostly, watching each other.
Today there was no escaping the ambient sound of rain falling and the pervasive damp. It gave the warm coffeehouse a thick, steamy air that felt almost tropical.
Since I was feeling a little sorry for myself, I ordered a fancy-schmancy chai latte with caramel syrup and whipped cream. It was a big, silly drink, with caramel swirls and cinnamon sifted over the top, and I felt a little conspicuous as I sat down at a table near the window to read my horoscope in the local weekly:
“Stop feeling sorry for yourself, sulky Sag. This week brings you new understanding of how much love is like a ribbon or thread that winds its way through tangles and bows and straightens out again. Surprises are tied along its length. You need to be willing to step off the highway and follow that thread. It winds through all your desires.”
I snorted. I’d always thought of myself as sort of a straight-line girl. The shortest distance between two points, an true arrow shooter, straight edge… okay, gay blade… but that kind of girl.
When I glanced up, I saw you across the room on a red velvet sofa. You looked like someone I used to know and, yet, no one I’ve ever met before. I’m sure I stared at you for too long as I tried to figure out the familiarity in your face. You were sitting on the couch, knitting an impossibly intricate sweater, and barely paying attention as the yarn flew through your fingers.
I think you felt my gaze and you looked up and smiled at me once, and then twice, your fingers continuing to fly as your eyes left your work. I drained the last of my chai and walked across the room to put my empty cup on the counter and get a cup of plain green tea.
I think the warm spices in the chai were making me brave so I grabbed my soggy jacket off the back of my chair and picked up my cup of tea, thinking I would cross the room and introduce myself.
But when I turned, some guy was there next to you, filling the space into which I had already projected myself. He leaned into you and whispered something. You laughed and pushed your hair behind your ear. You both looked in my direction. I turned away quickly, caught in the moment of my awkwardness, and managed to splash some of my tea on my already soaked shoe.
The moment seemed to last forever. I heard the rushing sound as someone emptied the bean roaster, and the sound system playing the Cowbody Junkies’ cover of the 1930’s ballad “Blue Moon”. A slow melody for the gray day, it seemed to blend into the sound of the rain.
I felt frozen to my spot and couldn’t bring myself to sit back down so, finally, I took my mug to the counter. “I’ve changed my mind. Can I have this to go?”
While the barrista filled a paper cup, I looked at the clock on the wall opposite you. Then I headed to the door.
I was almost outside when you touched my elbow.
“Are you leaving already?” you asked.
You startled me.
“I was, but I guess I could stay.”
You were taller than I had realized. I followed you back to the sofa.
“That would be nice.”
The guy had gone. I settled into my spot self-consciously, smoothing out the front of my t-shirt.
There was a tentative silence.
Finally, I held out my hand. “I’m Amy,” I said. “I think I’ve seen you in here before. You seem familiar to me.”
“That’s funny,” you said as you looked at me intently. “You look familiar too, but I’ve never been here before.”
I took a sip of my tea.
“That’s a beautiful sweater.” I was making small talk but being truthful. I reached out and fingered the soft yarn as it unwound from the ball. “Is it for you?”
“No,” you said. “It’s going to be a gift.”
I know I must have sounded disappointed.
I remember how you glanced sideways at me as you said, “I keep hoping the right girl will show up by the time it’s finished. I’ve been working on it off and on for years, waiting for that special someone to wear it. I guess I’m either hopeless or a hopeless romantic.”
The you held the sweater up to my shoulders and said,”Look at that. I’m almost done and it’s just your size.”
I’m wearing it today as I write this all down.