Bittersweet Coffee
Posted on October 31, 2011
What are the chances that the guy of my dreams, from my computer programming class at NYU, is on the other side of the river in Jersey, standing on the line leading to my register? When our eyes meet he smiles at me and widens his eyes at the colorful display of cans spread out on the grocery belt in front of him.  With a heavy sigh I look down at the load of cat products being purchased by a hunched-over, little old lady with curly white hair. Maintain my composure as she places her items onto the belt, one can at a time, I remind myself that I am working at a register with a red uniform shirt in a Target super store. Mr. Right is here shopping for something, not to see me.

As the old lady loads her groceries I scan the items as quickly as possible so that he does not lose patience and move to another register. Mr. Right smirks at me when he catches me sneaking a peek at him. A smile escapes me and I continue scanning.

In an effort to calm my nerves I start mental preparations for my trip home on the ten-fifteen bus.  Need to finish my programming assignment so there is no partying this Saturday night. Twenty more minutes and I am on my way to acing this Basic Algorithms class.

“Hey,” Scott, my trusty late-night-bus-riding partner, interrupts my concentration as I scan the thirty-fifth can of cat food. “I need to leave now. My mom just called. She’s got a flat.” He grunts as he puts on his jacket. “I have to go change her tire in the middle of this ridiculous thunderstorm.”

My hands freeze in mid scan and I turn to face Scott, “Is she alright?”

“Yeah, she’s fine. She’s cheap for not having road side assistance, but who needs it when you have your own personal mechanic?” He shrugs his shoulders and purses his lips. “You’re ok to take the bus by yourself right?”

I scrunch my forehead and nod. “Don’t worry about me, I have my goose-neck umbrella, I’ll be fine.  Besides, serial killers rarely go out during thunder storms; it disrupts their obsessive-compulsive tendencies.”

Scott chuckles as he walks away. “See you tomorrow.”

As I pack the seventy two cans of cat food and four gallons of milk into this little old lady’s shopping cart, I imagine wall-to-wall cats walking about in her house, meowing at the site of her with their dinner. Off she went pushing her shopping cart out the double automatic doors into the rainy night.

While I was helping the cat lady with her bags Mr. Right had loaded his bottles of soda onto the grocery belt and now stands across from me at the register.  I ring him up and announce the total while avoiding eye contact, but my plan to be aloof fails when I notice that he is not moving. I finally force my look towards him and he pierces me with irresistible blue eyes.  He grins. My stomach cartwheels.

“Are you done with Oberman’s assignment?” His question catches me off guard, not only because we had never spoken before, not even in class, but also because of his British accent.

I press my lips together holding back a smile. “Not yet. I hope to have it done tonight.”

“What did you build?” His eyes trap me but after a few seconds I break the trance and look away.
Self-conscious of my coworkers noticing Mr. Right lingering at my register, I reply in a rush, “I wrote an anagram game with a timer. Basically, you enter a twenty-character word or phrase and the application gathers all the possible words that can be made from it. You have two minutes to guess as many of the words as possible. Three-letter words are worth three points; four-letter words are four points, and so on. There is a score board online for the world to see. If it gets too easy, you can change limitations to the game by requiring thirty letters, less time, and a few other restrictions.” I shrug my shoulders and raise my eyebrows, surrendering to the simplicity of the program.

He starts laughing and my eyebrows furrow as I get more insecure with each chuckle. “No, I am not laughing at you. It’s pretty complex, all the rules you are building into it. Most people are writing knock-off versions of Angry Birds and the like. I’m impressed.”

His accent distracts me. Do his lips always move so sensually or is it because he is flirting with me? He reminds me of Hugh Grant’s womanizer role in Bridget Jones’s Diary. My eyes narrow as I try to decipher his comment, was he really complimenting me or just trying to earn points? I reply in an uninterested tone. “Yeah, I wanted to do something different.”

Mr. Right pulls out his credit card and places the bagged groceries into his shopping cart. I hand him his receipt but he does not reach for it. “I overheard you say you are taking the bus by yourself and planning to use your goose-neck umbrella to ward off axe murderers. Am I right?”

“Serial killers.” I smirk back.

“Right, because axe murderers aren’t bothered so much my unpredictable weather.”

“I’d be screwed if an axe murdered got on my bus.” We both smile. He blushes and I turn towards the register, attempting to hide the heat on my face.

“So, if you need a ride home, I can give you a lift. I am heading to my parents’ house on Seventy-Ninth Street, not too far from here.”

“That’s alright; I’m used to the bus at this hour.”

“Do you usually take it by yourself?”

“No, but-”

“Please, let me take you home. If something should happen to you because I was not persistent enough to convince you to accept my offer, I will wallow in guilt forever.”

His eyebrows curve upwards and my decision is swayed by the big blue eyes staring into my soul. “Ok, but I don’t live in town. I live in Jersey City, about fifteen minutes away.”

“No problem. How long are you going to be?”

“Another fifteen minutes. I get off at ten.”

“Alright, I will wait for you outside then.” He starts pushing his cart but then pauses, turns around and sticks out his hand at me for a handshake. “By the way, my name is Elliot.”

“I know.” I freeze. Did I really just say that? I shake my head as if I could make the words be unsaid. I clear my throat before replying, “I mean, nice to meet you Elliot.” My face burns as I take his hand in mine and lower my eyes again.  Now he knows that I have been obsessing about him all semester, daydreaming about his blue eyes and stunning smile. My slipup gave me away, I am sure of it.

“Nice to finally meet you too, Casey. See you in a few.” When I look up at him he presses his lip to hold back a smile before turning to walk out the double automatic doors. My forehead wrinkles as I replay our conversation and try to recall the moment when I had introduced myself.

The moment never came; he already knew my name.

* * * * *

After telling Alyssa, my coworker and friend, the details of Elliot’s invitation, and about my decision to turn it down the instant he walked away from my register, she immediately turns into Elliot’s personal cheering squad.

“Come on. He must have been asking around about you.” Her eyebrows shoot up three times to insinuate something naughty.

“Or, he heard Oberman call my name.” I defend Elliot in his absence, refusing to believe he has been pining over me.

“Please. Tell me the names of other students in your class.” I stare at Alyssa as she grins victoriously. “See. You only remember Elliot’s name because you like him.”

After wetting my hair with water from a faucet in the ladies room I comb it into a tight ponytail. “Elliot knowing my name means nothing.” Alyssa shakes her head in the mirror. My eyes narrow at her reaction. “I am not going with him. He could be a psychopath.”

“Or,” her eyebrows do their dance again, “the fact that he is here tonight, in Jersey, on a night that you are filling in for Anne because she was sick, a night that Scott’s mom has car trouble and you just so happen to need a ride home – maybe it’s a sign, an alignment of the planets, fate beckoning, whatever!” Alyssa’s eyes popped out at me when she waves her hands over her head as if conjuring up a spell. Her arms relax and she leans closer and whispers at my reflection in the mirror, “Maybe it’s meant to be.”

My heart starts racing, “You are making me nervous. Stop it.”

“I am trying to get you to live in the moment. Get your head out of the text book for a second and see the blue-eyed angel that was sent to you.”

“I don’t know anything about him. He seemed too confident. What if he is a jerk?”

“Then what the heck. At least you took a chance, right? No regrets. But,” her mischievous grin teases me, her voice turns seductive, “if he turns out to be awesome, then you will owe me coffee for a whole month.”

Smirking back, I jump right at her bait. “Alright, but if he turns out to be a complete ass, you owe me coffee for a month, every day at ten, in front of Cozy’s Diner on Broadway, before classes start.”

Alyssa stands up tall and steps back. I turn to shake her hand and we settle the bet. “Deal.” My skin tingles from the excitement of the pending evening full of endless possibilities. Alyssa claps her hands in high-school-girl fashion and squeals before leaving the ladies room to go back to work.

A wide smile escapes me as I envision Elliot opening the car door for me, getting soaked in the process, and taking a scenic drive so that we may spend some time together. Elliot is smart, incredibly handsome, and that accent! I sigh heavily in the mirror and recall his tiny moment of insecurity when he offered to take me home, unsure if I would say yes or no. My stomach twirls again. I shake it off and whisper to myself in the mirror, “Keep it together girl.”

When I walk out to the double automatic doors at ten, with my umbrella struggling against the windy rain, I realize that I do not know what Elliot’s car looks like, so I just stand there and wait in the thunderstorm.

Five minutes pass.

Twelve minutes pass.

Finally, at ten twenty, Alyssa spots me as she leaves with a few other employees. She runs over to me with her umbrella fighting against the storm, raises her right hand with her arm bent upwards and shouts at me, “What happened?”

My face is angry but my voice is victorious as I shout back, “You owe me coffee for a month, that’s what happened!”

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