When I awoke, the world spun. The floor floated up, seemingly without my help or control, and as soon as I tried to focus on it, it resettled itself, starting the process yet again. The thirst impatiently scratching my throat that just wouldn't be ignored finally won out as I swung my legs out of bed and made the miserable, lonely walk to the bathroom across the hall from my bedroom. I splashed handful after handful of water on my face, rubbed my eyes to no avail. When I finally picked up the courage to look myself in the mirror, I was surprised and shocked to find I hardly knew the man staring back at me. Not that I wasn't recognizable, but it's still surprising to see the glossy veil so prevalent on such a familiar face. Anyway, I was hung over and it was to be a long ass day.
I saw her as soon as I entered the coffee shop. I was standing at the counter, courageously reading the day’s specials written in ostentatious calligraphy on a chalk board when the kitchen called her number. I was wondering about the quality of their chicken quesadillas and if even the most tasty chick quesadilla was good on tumultuous stomach, when she came strolling up to the pickup counter in a floral patterned dress dominated in turquoise. Some sort of sandwich, maybe a Panini, sat waiting on a ticket stub and she hesitantly peered over the counter, back toward the desolate kitchen, clicking her nails softly on the glass counter top. After a few seconds of looking for the vanished barista, she double-checked the ticket and cautiously grabbed hold of the tray.
She turned from the counter and glanced at me; I lost my nerve and suddenly pretended to study the menu. As I wore my best impression of a deep thinker, she walked away. Even from that split-second shared glance, I saw considerate, brown eyes off-set by wild and wavy hair carelessly swept off her face. I watched her walk away, and as soon as I thought her hair was light brown, it changed to dark, and vice versa. Multi-colored bracelets rattled as she brought the tray away from her stomach cutting through the chaos of the coffee house - the incessant laptop clicking, the background chatter, a sizzle from the suddenly populated kitchen.
Later on, my eyes and resolve grew tired from reading Tribune Op-Eds from a paper strewn about in the communal slush fund of half-filled crosswords, doodled napkins, and event notices. I set the paper down next to the plate containing the crumbs of a bland chicken quesadilla. As I plopped my hands on the table I noticed her walking in my direction. Swinging her arms back and forth, lightly clapping them together when they’d meet up before her, bracelets raising all kinds of hell. She floated across the floor, in her wake the dull reflection of overhead lights on the speckled black tiling.
We locked eyes for a moment and I surprised myself by not immediately looking away, maybe it had something to do with the hangover and the unsettling food. Trying to be casual, I clenched my lips together and downplayed a grin, possibly throwing in raised eyebrows. Like a gift, she returned with a smile. She offered such a direct and sincere look, a smile meant for no one else in the room; it was my smile and I buckled under its pressure. I felt the blood rush to my face the same way it used to when I’d get called up in front of the class in elementary school. I think I kept grinning like a fool, but who can be sure? That part became a blur, repressed into the recess of my mind. I sought refuge in the quesadilla crumbs instead of kind eyes. A few seconds later, returning from the abyss of self-doubt, I regained my nerve and sought her out with a new constitution, but she already had her back to me.
I knew why I looked away; I didn’t have anything to say to her. I didn’t want to say anything. From a few quick glances I was certain words could never suffice. All I wanted to do was take her firmly by the hand and walk with purpose to the back room tucked around the corner and out of view to a bench resting between the two restroom doors. I knew without seeing it that a bench sat there, waiting for nothing else at all. I’ve never been so sure of myself in my life. It would have been thin iron, with a tightly crisscrossed seat and backrest, with forgettable designs crawling up the armrests. The entire thing was painted a shade of forest green.
There, we would kiss. That’s all I wanted to do and I wanted it as much as I ever wanted anything. Sure, it would have been great for her to pull me into a stall and have her way with me, but honestly, pressing and holding her lips against mine wasn’t just enough, it was the only thing.
But how do you go about materializing a longing like that, honest though it was? You can’t. Even before boys are taught that spitting game is necessary, girls are taught not to be led by the hand by strange men. Maybe she would have resisted not because of the lessons first learned from public service announcements, because those eyes that searched the kitchen to offer a thank you would have seen my honest intent, but recognized in it another kind of danger. An act that would have been revolutionary, pulling her and me out of whatever smoke and mirrors world of convoluted decency and social protocol in which we then resided and thrown us headlong into the heart of everything. For my fantasy to happen, the earth would shatter. Plus I was hung-over, and the end of the world shouldn’t come on a Saturday morning.