‘I hope you like coffee,” I ask him in a small light voice that sounds much higher than I intend.
“Sure,” he says, “although it is getting late.”
“Well, decaf then?” I ask, again my pitch is too high and I blush, but he doesn’t seem to notice.
I am determined, I say to myself, that this is going to work.
“Whatever you like,” he answers non-committally, so casually. He has pulled his car into the parking lot, “Drive thru?”
“What?” I say, “No, let’s go in and have a proper…” Proper what? Date of course, but I cannot quite say it, as much as I want to.
“Proper…” I say, trying again.
“Proper… cup of coffee?” he asks. He looks over at my giggle. “Can’t we order at the drive thru, then sit in the car in the parking lot?”
“No! Let’s go in,” I say, daringly pushing on his arm so as to leverage him out his car door on the driver’s side. I beam into his face. What do I see in his? Reluctance, anxiety, concern, interest, a trace of what? Excitement too?
“How about we sit in a quiet corner and I get the coffee and I bring it back to us?”
“Alright,” he says. I am sure I can hear the reticence, but maybe surprise too.
“And the lighting is better inside,” I glance in the mirror. Maybe he’ll think I am pretty in the tinted coffeehouse lights, “but not too bright.”
He looks over at me as if weighing what I am saying. Does he mind being seen with me? Don’t think about that, I say to myself.
He gets out, walks around the car, opens my door and hands me out like a gentleman would, but without any artificial flair. I like that, not too goofy, too foolish. Let’s not go too fast. It won’t be real then.
There are only a few people in the coffee shop as we enter. I pick a table to the side in the back, far from the cashier, the few other seated customers, and the window. He sits down where I indicate, crossing his arms and settling his mouth into a grimace. I say nothing.
He starts tapping his finger on the tabletop, looking around. I feel a little confused by his attitude but then simply ask him for his order.
I come back with the coffee quickly. I am eager to talk to him.
“Just like you ordered, sir,” I say, smirking at him. I set his cup down. He gives me a curt nod. He seems to have relaxed while I was at the counter. He takes a sip as I sink down onto the hard chair, its leathery covering doing little to soften things.
“Mmm,” he says. The coffee here is delicious. He closes his eyes to more deeply appreciate the taste of the warm drink. “Mmm.”
I look at him in surprise. He seems so contented by this small thing. I look down at my hands around my own coffee mug, feeling slightly embarrassed and gratified.
“I want to go to graduate school after…” I start. He would understand.
He asks me, “Do you like poetry?” He has started speaking at the same time as I. He has pulled a small book from one of the many pockets in his cargo pockets. He sets it down on the table and strokes the black leather cover of the small book once. I realize it is his poetry, stuff he has written. He gives me an odd smile.
“Oh,” I grunt, as if I have been punched in the stomach.
He slips the poetry book back into his pocket suddenly though. I hang my head. Did my response startle him? What was I supposed to say? My tongue is stuck inside my mouth like mud, suddenly freeze-dried. Is he wanting to share with me his innermost thoughts? I think of my own poetry, written in secret under my pillow at night. I do want to hear his, I do. I love poetry. My tongue is now petrified wood. Maybe his “stuff”, his poetry, is not even so personal as mine — and I don’t have to share mine. I can feel my face working. What kind of signals am I sending? It dawns on me that maybe he wants this date to work as much as me, he has realized he has gone too fast.
I lift my coffee to my desert of a mouth, my attention on the rim of my cup. Am I going to mess up? Pretend everything is fine, I say to myself. Maybe he is really sensitive about this. Maybe he is trying to trust me and I am sending the wrong signals? What am I supposed to do? I always seem to get the cues wrong.
I flick my eyes up to his. He is looking up too, but over my shoulder.
“Oh, no,” he mouths.
“What?” I am instantly alert for danger. No, I have been on the alert this whole this time. Something is going to ruin this.
“Just the cashier,” he sighs, obviously displeased at the interruption.
“Hi, you forgot your change,” the young cashier woman says a bit too loudly as she approaches our table, wearing a brilliant smile … all for him. He is looking away now though at the empty tables.
The cashier has stopped in front of him with a full frontal dumb smile on her face and is staring at his handsome features as if entranced. Rooted there, she flips a curl of her long hair and continues to gaze at him as if transfixed. He glances up at her impatiently, and then away again.
“Oh, the change, I completely forgot,” I say. I put my hand down reflexively on the table where our receipt is resting. My elbow is over the coins and bills on the table, the currencies she has previously given me at the counter. He has lifted his coffee in front of his face and is taking a long slow serious swig.
I nudge the cashier, breaking her trance.
“Thanks for bringing the change,” I say to her. Lowering his cup, he turns his head and smiles at me.
Anne Tabor-Morris, who uses the pen name Cassiopia O’Star, has been writing stories and poetry since eighth grade. Her love of literature and poetry as well as science — she teaches astronomy at the college level — are brought together to create her stories and poems. She lives in Howell.