The Candidates, Ch.3 - Grande Skinny Latte

The delicious, overpowering smell of fresh coffee dances around my nostrils whilst the chatter of noisy and cheerful customers brings a tuneless melody to my ears. The popular chain coffee shop was typically over crowded, with not enough seats to house to continuous sea of people parading through its doors, but it was this particular element that I wanted – and currently needed – in my life at the time.

As much as I loved my new apartment, and had enjoyed Lee’s company on occasion, I hadn’t half felt isolated and lonely all by myself. Which is why a catch up with Karen and Damian was required. Since meeting each other through social events during Fresher’s Week in our first year of University, we’d soon each grown impossibly close and practically inseparable. Despite the fact that neither or us shared the same courses, our similarities and interests connected us in a way that I’d never experienced with childhood friends which gave me the ability to grow closer to them more than I’d ever been able to with any other person; other than perhaps my sister and Malcolm, at the time.

Karen Andrews had studied History and was top of her class throughout her University career, graduating with a very impressive first class degree. In appearance, although both roughly the same build and height, we were quite the opposite to each other. When I first met her, she’d sported a very stylised, asymmetrical platinum blonde short bob with subtle pink highlights blended neatly throughout. From judging her by first appearances alone, you would just have assumed she’d be a floater, rather than the intellectual young woman she actually was, and still is. Her fresh outspoken personality had always reflected in her choice of clothing with her motto ‘less is more’ being a perfect representation of this. She certainly didn’t dress the part of an academic intellect but she never let this bother her nor let critique get the better of her. She soon did mature quite substantially by the time graduation came around and she now looked the part worthy of her first class honours. Beautiful honey tinted curls now fell perfectly down her face in soft curls with subtle, natural make up with a stylish yet sophisticated wardrobe to match. Her crimson form hugging shift dress fit her like a glove and her tan heeled brogues added a timeless class to her now elegant and professional look. Her beauty had always been something I’d envied but she’d always seemed oblivious to how beautiful she actually was and would shy away whenever it was brought up in conversation. Karen had definitely come a long way since her wild partying days but she still remained the humble, sweet and caring Karen I knew and loved.

Damian Price, on the other hand, had not changed what so ever since our first meeting, but I wouldn’t have him any other way. He’d studied Business Studies and had only graduated by the skin of his teeth. He’d been the epitome of a boozy student and had blown most of his student loan within the first month of his first year, miraculously. Although he wasn’t too bad on the eye, his over exaggerated enthusiasm and rather feminine personality had bracketed himself as one of the camp guys that you could see as your best friend but not as your boyfriend. No one actually knew whether Damian was actually gay or straight – even his own mother had given up trying to guess whether or not to expect any grandchildren from him – because he would always contradict himself. For example, one minute he’d be stereotyping his ideal woman but the next minute he’d be pointing out the fashion flaws of the nearest guy without taking his eyes away from him for a second. Another baffling factor in this confusion was the fact that he only ever seemed to wear – and possibly own – paisley shirts in assorted shades and colours. He was, and still is, obsessed with them! He really is a mystery to us so, to rid myself of confusion, I simply deem him as my gay best friend, just to make things simpler and easier if ever anybody asked about him. Today, he was revelling in a soft lilac paisley shirt with indigo lining on the underside of the collar and cuffs paired with a pair of ridiculously tight black denim jeans and shining black shoes. His hair had remained the same since the day I met him with his trademark unkempt, shabby chic auburn locks being one of the main attractions on his appearance. Despite his questionable sexuality, I couldn’t ask for anyone sweeter than Damian and am truly grateful to have someone like him in my life.

“You’re daydreaming again,” Damian whispers in my ear, startling me as he places the Grande Skinny Latte he’s ordered for me on the table between us. He smiles cheekily as he takes his seat in one of the chairs circling the small table we’d managed to scoop up. Karen glares jovially at him, chuckling to herself before turning her gaze back in my direction.

“What were you thinking about, Hannah?” she asks, taking a sip from her cappuccino cup and looking me directly in the eye.

“Nothing of importance, really,” I lie. I’d actually been lured into the forbidden part of my mind that now contained all memory of Malcolm. Although I’d said he no longer meant anything to me and I’d moved on, his comments still haunted me and constantly hindered me whenever I dared to attempt to do the smallest of tasks.

“You’re lying,” Damian added. He reached over to me and untangled my fingers from my hair, “you always twirl your hair around your fingers when you’re not telling the truth. Now spill.” I hadn’t even realised I’d been doing it until he’d pointed it out; I never had. I sighed ashamedly and focused my attention on my coffee cup, curling my fingers around the tall slender ceramic instead.

“I was thinking back to what he’d said before he left... Malcolm. It still hurts me how little he thought of me.” A mirror image of eye rolling and outward sighs followed and two pairs of eyes stared back at me tiredly. They were, by now, sick of me talking about Malcolm and desperately wanted me to forget him.

“Hannah, honey, it’s not doing your any favours to keep thinking about that dick,” Karen begins, leaning forward in her seat towards me and tilting her head to one side, “you can’t keep letting yourself be tortured by his words. It’s not good for you.”

“The guy’s a complete tool who never deserved an angel like you in the first place,” Damian then continues, removing one of my hands from the coffee cup and grips hold of it tightly in his own, “what he said was complete rubbish and you of all people should know that. You are a smart, beautiful woman and we love you. You do not need guys like that in your life, believe me.”

“Damian’s right, we love you and we only want what’s best for you.” Karen beams, taking my remaining hand and cupping it preciously in both of hers. I look from left to right at the pair of complete goons start either side of me and sigh loudly, returning their comforting smiles with a weak attempt of reassurance.

“I know I’m better off without him, but it doesn’t change to fact that he said what he did or betrayed me the way he did. It’ll always be there no matter what I do in life. I will always have that thought in my head that the guy I thought I loved saw me as being pathetic, worthless and nothing to brag about in the bedroom.”

“And we’re not saying that you should just ignore it, we just think that you should take it into stride and prove him wrong.” Karen adds letting go of my hand and tucking a loose tendril of hair behind her ear. I return her warm smile and close my eyes, banishing all thoughts of Malcolm from my mind. I will not let him ruin a perfectly wonderful day with the two most important people in my life. I refuse. I reach down to pick up my coffee cup when I realise that Damian is still clutching onto the hand he took. He releases it a little too quickly, almost throwing it back in my direction, and whisks his own coffee cup up from the table and takes a large gulp, smiling awkwardly beside me. I shake away this bizarre behaviour, which I have grown accustomed to over the years, and take my own cup and sip tentatively. It’s still a little too hot for my liking but I feel silly having to leave my coffee to stand a little while to cool before I can drink it.

Conversation on a much brighter note soon fills our table and the joyful sounds of laughter can be heard from my direction all over the shop. Some people turn and stare, boring their eyes into the back of my head cursing me to quieten down and stop disrupting their peace. Time seems to breeze past and the afternoon lunch crowd soon disperses taking with them the background soundtrack that once filled the coffee shop. The casual chatter from the odd customer here and there makes conversation between the three of us much easier and calmer. I feel more relaxed now than I did before and I owe it completely to the two people sat before me. I reach to take my coffee cup and sulk when I notice that there’s nothing left but a faint coffee stain. I spy at the clock on the wall behind the counter in front of me and am shocked when I see that it’s later than I’d originally thought.

“We’ve been sat here for three hours,” I exclaim, chuckling to myself.

“What? Have we really?” Karen replies, genuinely shocked, “People will be leaving work soon!”

“And here’s us three sat dossing in a coffee shop spending money we don’t have when we could be one of those people working their arses off for a measly pay cheque at the end of the month.” Damian adds, rolling his eyes but finishing with a cheeky smirk. I know he’s only joking, but he does have a point. Both he and Karen have jobs but they’re nowhere near the level they should be at with their degrees and I don’t haven’t even so much as looked for a job since the move and I’m literally spending my rent money.

“I need a job.” I sigh, looking pitiful and sorry for myself.

“You’ll find one soon, sweetie,” Karen enthuses, smiling wildly, “you’re in London! They’ll be plenty of jobs out there with your name on it. You’ll have no trouble at all.”

“But if you do find yourself struggling, you could always resort to being a street performer. I here there’s always opportunities like that here too.” Damian teases.

“Very funny, Damian, but I think I’ll give that career aspiration a miss for now,” I add, rolling my eyes jovially, “I’ll get started on revising my CV as soon as I get home and will down the rounds to all the Publishing Houses in the area. I’m sure there’ll be something for me to do somewhere whilst I myself on my feet.”

“That’s the attitude you need!” Karen enthuses, “But I do think I should start heading back now, it’s a fair journey back on the train.”

“Me too, Han,” Damian joins in, “Would love to stay longer but I have something to do with work later this evening and can’t be late.”

“It’s okay, I understand. We’ll have to try and arrange something another time when all of our schedules are a little more lenient,” I reply, trying not to sound too disappointed. The thought of going back to the apartment and spending the rest of the evening by myself again has slightly dampened my mood, “I think I’ll get another coffee to go before I leave though. Do either of you want one?”

Both respectfully refuse my offer so I join the small queue at the counter by myself, mulling over the various menus on the back wall and examining the prices to see which would affect my bank balance the least. Cappuccino... Latté... Mocha... coffee isn’t cheap. The customer in front of me has just been served and has now moved forward to the collection point. The young barista – most likely a student trying to earn some extra money during their studies – smiles warmly as she waits for my order. Her name badge informs me that she’s a Jenny. She doesn’t quite look like a Jenny. Perhaps she maybe looks like a Jen... but no, not a Jenny. I still haven’t quite fully decided. I gaze over to the collection point where the woman who had been in front of me collects an iced tea. I like iced tea.

“Can I get a medium passion fruit iced tea, please?” I ask the barista politely. She takes down my order and asks for my name. I give her my name – one that people have always said suited me to a tee – and pay by card. She smiles at me again before turning her attention to the next customer. I move over to the collection point and wait patiently for the iced tea I’d just ordered. It wasn’t too expensive actually, I should make a note to try and order them more often; particularly if money’s going to be a little tight.

“Hannah.” Another barista calls, I look over to the direction I heard my name and am greeted by another warm smile, this time from a young man of perhaps around his mid-twenties. His name badge says Tom. He looks like a Tom. I thank him and take the iced tea he’s placed on the counter. It’s not until I turn around to rejoin Karen and Damian that I realise the person who had been stood behind me in the queue had also joined me in the collection point. I also hadn’t noticed how close we had been standing together and walked straight into his chest, spilling half of the contents of my drink down both mine and his front. I gasp in shock, embarrassed by my clumsiness.

“I am so sorry!” I splutter, beginning to fluster, not quite knowing what to do or say. I haven’t even dared to look up at his face in fear that his reaction will be bad. He’s wearing a pale blue shirt and dark jeans; smart casual. At least he’s not one of the ‘suits’ that come in here during their breaks, I’m sure it’d be a completely different story if he was.

“It’s okay, don’t worry,” I hear him say calmly in a fairly deep, masculine voice. He doesn’t sound mad or annoyed, just polite and reassuring. I dare myself to look up at his face. I am pleasantly surprised to be welcomed with a similar smile given to me by the two baristas. His teeth are pearly white and perfectly straight and there are slight dimples in his cheeks as the corners of his mouth rise for a smile. His eyes are a dark grey with flecks of blue surrounding the pupil. His eyes, combed neatly but casually, is ash blonde which curls slightly at the end, possibly a sign that he is due a haircut. Other than a slightly crooked nose, his face is almost perfectly symmetrical. He’s a very attractive man, “are you okay?” I realise that I’ve been holding my breath the entire time I spent admiring his beautiful face. I exhale gently and attempt to return his kind smile, though mine most likely looks a little confused or dazed; which is exactly how I feel.

“Yes, I’m fine. I-err... sorry again, I’ll pay for your dry cleaning.” I gabble, sounding completely flustered.

“No, no, don’t worry about it. It wasn’t your fault. Could have happened to anyone,” He reassures me, “in fact, it should be me offering to pay for your dry cleaning. I was standing too close, it was my fault, and I’ve made you make a mess all over that pretty white dress of yours.” I look down my front and notice the pale orange stain dripping down and staining the cotton dress I’d only just bought the previous day and sigh; it would be very difficult to get out.

“Don’t be ridiculous.” I argue back jovially, trying to sound upbeat and carefree. I’m about to say that he need not feel guilty when the barista who’d previously served me, Tom, interrupted by producing his order:

“Grande Skinny Latte for Simon.” I smile weakly to myself. We both like Grande Skinny Lattes. He reaches past me to the counter and retrieves his order, smiling politely in response. I see past him and notice the next customer approaching as they await their order. We both move to the side so not to get it their way.

“Simon.” he introduces himself, offering his free hand for me to shake. I smile politely, taking it and shaking it firmly.

“Hannah.” I reply. His smile widened and a small chuckle escapes his lips. I don’t understand the joke – if that’s why he finds my name so amusing – but I don’t think into it too much.

“Well, Hannah, if you won’t let me pay for your dry cleaning, I’d like to somehow make it up to you.”

“Oh?” I answer. I mean for it to sound more of a tease, but it comes out more flirtatious. I blush slightly at my own embarrassment. Releasing my hand, he reaches into his jeans pocket and retrieves his phone. He begins to tap at it before handing it over to me. I look down on the screen and see that he’s added my name to his contacts list and now just needs my number. I chuckled inwardly and type in my number without thinking about it too much. Simon seems like a nice guy and very genuine. Giving him my number won’t hurt. I hit to accept button and return the phone to him. He smiles and places it back in his pocket.

“I’ll call you and we can arrange something sometime. Yeah?” he asked, offering a heart warming smile. I feel my brain turning into mush. The effects this man has on me, even though I only just met him, are indescribable. I nod a little too enthusiastically and his smile widens, “Good. Well, speak to you soon, Hannah.”

“You too,” I respond. With a last small smile, he turns and heads for the exit. I am momentarily frozen as I watch him leave, dumbfounded and not quite knowing what just happened. He turns back to look at me as he reaches the door and waves smoothly before leaving the coffee shop and joining the busy crowds outside. He’s gone and I’m still frozen to the spot. I finally remember Karen and Damian and spot them staring at me with open mouths. I smirk and force myself to return to the table where they remain speechless. I giggle and sip at what’s left of my iced tea. I feel my phone vibrate in my handbag so I place my ices tea on the table and use both hands to try and locate it. Once I find it I look at the call ID. It’s an unrecognised number. I hit the answer button and press the phone to my ear, “hello?”

“Hey, it’s Simon.”

The End

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