Thursday, April 5, 2012

Short Story: Missed Connections

Hey.  You see me every morning.  I order the same coffee, and the same breakfast.  We make small talk while you make it, and you ask about my day, or my night, or anything to pass the time.  I doubt you even really notice me in the crowds that pass through every morning.  But I have noticed you and hope against hope you’ve noticed me.  If you have, and would like to make more than small talk across the counter, email me back, and tell me what my morning coffee is.

Goeff stared at the screen and the words he’d typed in.  They had joked so much about Craigslist and the dramas.  She let slip that morning that she’d always considered the Missed Connections postings to be sweet and romantic.

“Wouldn’t it be so romantic,” Micky had asked, “to see someone, and share that look?”  She had handed his coffee over, her eyes lost in thought.  “And then see later that it really wasn’t just in your mind, that you really did have a connection?”

“Do people really check those?” he had asked.

She had blushed.  “Well, it’s not that odd to just skim through them for the stories.”

He had nodded and smiled and said something that he had hoped sounded witty.  He couldn’t remember now what it was.  In hindsight he was convinced it was anything but witty.

He reviewed the ad again.  It sounded corny.  It sounded desperate.  He clicked into text box and highlighted all of the text in the ad.  His finger hovered over the delete key.  This was a horrible idea, really.  

But instead he moved his hand to the mouse and clicked “post”.  Now it was just a matter of time to see what happened.

* * * * * * *

“So,” Geoff said as he handed over his debit card, “are you still checking Craigslist?”  He was hoping to sound casual.  Micky hadn’t said much to him all week, instead just taking his card, and then moving off to the side to make up his drink while the cinnamon bun warmed.  Five days in a row and so little had been said between them.   He had made a point not to bring it up until now but his curiosity and impatience won out.

She looked up at him.  Her eyes met his, and he smiled at her.  She did not smile back.  Instead she stared back at him with wide eyes, her face almost paling.  There was a long awkward silence before she swallowed and spoke.  “I have been,” she offered.  She ran the card through the machine and watched the icons on the screen changing over as it was processed and approved.  It seemed a reasonable way for her to avoid his gaze.

Geoff took the card back and tapped it against his palm while he waited.  He had already opened the dialogue.  There was little point in not following through.  “Anything catch your eye?”

She sighed and put her hands on the sides of the register.  She lowered her head as she thought, locks of her auburn hair slipping down to partly cover her face.  She shook her head a little as she considered what to say.  

“Can I help you over here?” the other barista asked of the woman standing behind Geoff in line.  She stepped around Geoff and made her order.  A second woman behind her also stepped to the side.

Micky looked up and forced a smile.  “I’m sorry I didn’t email you.”

There it was.  She had seen the ad, and she had decided not to respond.  He had stepped out there on the plank and she had pushed him over to the sharks.  He pressed his lips together and drew in a long slow breath through his nose.  Now came the awkward moment where they had to figure out how to go on.

“That’s okay,” he said smiling again.  “It’s been a busy week around here, with midterms and spring break and stuff.”  Perhaps by offering an easy out the ship could be saved from the iceberg looming in his mind’s eye.

Micky shook her head. “No, I’m really sorry, but that’s not it.”  She looked to her side and her coworker standing right next to her.  She bit her lip, then looked back at Geoff.  Finally she turned around to take his cinnamon bun out of the warmer.  “Here,” she said, “let me find you a napkin for this.”  She walked to the far end of the counter, and leaned her elbows on it.  Geoff followed from his side and regarded her curiously.  When she spoke her voice was low, clearly not wanting the other barista to overhear.  “It’s not that I don’t like you.  I do.  You’re charming and sweet and handsome.  You’re just not really who I’m looking to be with right now.”

“But you just said that I was,” he stammered, struggling to keep his own voice low.  “I mean, is being charming a bad thing?”

“It is, sort of,” Micky answered, pausing to look over her shoulder at the blonde woman now completing her order for an iced mocha.  “But,” she looked back at Geoff.  “I’m gay.”

He stared at her.  For four years now he had come here.  Sure it had been small talk but he had told her about his first job, the first client he landed for the firm.  She had talked about graduation, about starting classes and about her changes of majors.  Maybe there was nothing between them.  Maybe he had read too much into their laughter, their in-jokes, their daily five minutes of contact.  

He could not believe that she would lie to him like this.  

“That’s okay,” he said standing up.  “It’s fine.  You don’t need to say anything, really.”  He chuckled a little.  “You definitely don’t need to make up some story about being gay.”

He took the small paper bag with his bun, and lifted his coffee.  “Have a good one.”  He was going to walk out with his head up.  He might even come back for tomorrow’s coffee.  So she was not into him.  That was nothing to be embarrassed by.  He still had some pride.

* * * * *

She watched him walk out, unable to respond.  Her mouth was open a little, as though the shock of his words had been an open palm to her cheek.  He was one of the first people she served when she started four years ago.  He was one of the bright spots in her morning.  Through all the horrible break ups, all the wretched first dates, he seemed like the last person who would judge her.  No matter how wretched her morning had been, he had always tried to cheer her up.  

She lowered her head to the counter.  She had spent all week trying to find a way to tell him without hurting his feelings.  She wished that it was different, that she just felt differently about him.  

“You okay, Micky?”  Her supervisor came up behind her and put a hand on her shoulder.  “Something happen?”

She stood up and blinked a few times.  “I’m fine,” she said.  “How are we on breaks?”

The supervisor turned to look at the clock. “We’re managing.  Go ahead and take a tener.”

Micky nodded and pulled her tablet PC out from under the counter.  She held it to her chest as she walked out into the shop and took a place at a table in the corner.  The screen lit up at her touch and she scrolled through her email.  There was the usual spam, and sadly nothing of interest.

She opened up a web browser and started to skim through the ads on Craigslist like she usually did to kill some time.  She took a deep breath and tapped on the link labeled “Place an Ad.”  Her fingers danced over the keys.

Hey.  You come in every morning and get coffee from me, the awkward one with the freckles and the red hair, the one who probably talks too much.  I really wanted to talk to you today, to tell you that I think you’re beautiful, or to tell you that your skirt looked great or to ask you to stay and hang out while I was on break, or to just say hello again.   I’m sorry I didn’t get to serve you your drink this morning, being busy and all.  I don’t know if I’m looking for a date, but I do know I need someone to talk to.  Hopefully you need that too.  The guy ahead of you got a caramel mocha.  What did you get?  Email me so we can complete our missed connection.

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