I wasn’t prepared to meet her the day we met. If it matters at all, she approached me first. I hadn’t had the nerve to do more than smile and nod at her a couple of times when she looked up while I was leaving. I was feeling jumpier than usual that day. I kept getting up and fiddling with the different kinds of sugar packets that they keep in bowls on the counter, humming a Prince song that was stuck in my head: let-me-touch-your-body-baby-come-on, let me feel U up. When I saw her walking over to me, steady and focused, I tried hard to hold still and look natural at the same time. She was carrying a paper cup with a napkin wrapped around it.
“Hello,” she said. “I see you in here a lot, and I thought I’d introduce myself. I’m Francesca.” God, her voice. She had an amazing English accent. It sounded like warm butter and honey on toast. I wanted to just sink myself into it. Her name made me think of a journey somehow. Fran-chess-ca.
I put on a hasty smile and stood up to shake her hand. “Hi. I’m Aaron.”
“Aaron. May I join you?” The upper parts of her eye sockets were her most beautiful feature, I realized at that moment. The question gathered there and drifted in wisps toward the other chair. She knew she’d spooked me, too.
We sat down, and she put her cup and napkin on the table. “Do you live nearby?”
I nodded, swallowing a mouthful of warm coffee. “Not too far. Maybe a mile? Over that way.” I waved my hand toward our neighborhood.
Her napkin was in the middle of the table, and it had something written on it: “Why are U watching me?”
“What do you do with the rest of your day?” she asked. Her fingernails were painted dark red. She wasn’t wearing a wedding ring.
If I said “Housework,” it would have sounded too much like nothing. “I tend bar in the evenings.” She didn’t say anything, so I added, “I’m getting ready to open a store with a buddy of mine in a few months.”
“Ambitious,” she said neutrally. There was a pen on the table now. I picked it up with a quick glance at her and twirled it on my thumb. It was dull silver, and it felt cold.
“Yeah,” I said. “We still have a ton to do to get ready. Uh, how about you?” Pressing my wrist against the table to keep my hand from shaking, I wrote, “You’re beautiful.” I dropped the pen, which made a heavy clack in the middle of her answer.
“I’m an organizational consultant – freelance. I also plan events for some of the larger charity groups.”
“Wow,” I said. “I guess you get to meet a lot of people that way.”
“Yes.” An annoyed look crossed her face, and she looked at the book beside me. “What’s this you’re reading?”
“Oh, it’s -” Instead of saying “It’s my girlfriend’s,” I showed her the grinning green planet on the cover.
“Aha, Douglas Adams. Do you like his work?”
I didn’t know what to say. “Uh, this is all I’ve read. The story’s cool, but some of the jokes sound like he was high and never went back and changed them.”
“Well, that’s the Brits for you.” She was staring at me and not really smiling. I was freaked out, but trying to hold on to every detail.
“You sound like you have a British accent.”
“Yes, I’m from England originally.” She’d written “ARE U CRAZY?” on the napkin.
“No, I’m a perfectly normal guy!”
“I came to the States several years ago,” she continued, like I hadn’t said anything.
Trying to recover and get back to the conversation, I raised my cup and said, “Greatest country in the world.”
She held the pen like she was just doodling while she underlined “Why are U watching me?” “You clearly haven’t traveled much,” she observed.
I let out a half-sigh. “No, not really.” Since she wanted more of an answer, I picked up the pen and wrote, “I want u” on the napkin.
She stared at the words, then stood up, avoiding my eyes. While she gathered her cup, the pen, and the napkin, she said, “I’m sure you have better things to do with your time. I must be twice your age. How old are you?”
“Close enough.” She leaned in and said more quietly, “In any case, I’m becoming a lesbian.”
“Becoming …?” I was baffled.
She gave me a look that seemed to say she didn’t have to explain herself and I should leave her alone. “Have a good day, Aaron. Enjoy your book.” She walked back to her table, collected her bag, and left.
I sat there for a while, staring at the open book and thinking, Fuck! I’d blown it. Now I’d never have a chance to get to know her and have a normal relationship with her that might or might not go somewhere. How had she tricked me into putting it right out there? “I want u”? It was the truth, but it’s not the first thing you tell a woman – not a woman like her. Now I was just going to be that slacker pervert at the coffeehouse. At the time, I thought it was just as well, since I had a girlfriend already. You treat Nat right and move on, I told myself.