BY PAM NOWINA
Copyright is held by the author.
FOUR O’CLOCK and nearly dark. Clara was thoroughly, seasonally, depressed as she pushed her way through the shivering smokers and into the café. Inside it was crowded and too warm, the only available table beside an overactive fireplace. She shed all her outer clothing and fired up her laptop before going to the counter.
“Grande low-fat latté with cinnamon,” she said. She paid and returned to her seat.
The computer had automatically linked to the cafe’s web browser. Clara smiled when she saw that there was a message from Kevin and she hit the Snapchat icon.
“Shit,” she gasped and looked around, sure that people would be staring.
She’d heard about these kinds of photos, but this was her first – a nude photo of Kevin, or rather a part of Kevin. She felt nauseous and disoriented but a small, rational part of her brain wondered why guys do this. Did he think she would like it? Or did it turn him on to think that she would be revolted?
“Grande low fat-latté for Clara,” someone said from behind the counter.
She’d thought he was one of the good ones. He liked Annabella, her fat and needy Persian cat. Let the cat sit on his lap even when he was wearing his Dolce and Gabbana suit, the one that made him look like an Italian film star. He didn’t smoke and drank moderately – fine wine and good Scotch. Sure, his job was politics but he wasn’t one of those big ego guys. At least she didn’t see it. He’d asked her questions about her music, offered to introduce her to people. She’d said no, she was going to make it on her own, but it was considerate of him, wasn’t it?
And now this. Were there any men who weren’t complete idiots? Not for the first time, she wished she was gay. She was torn between never wanting to see him again and seeing him just once so she could use the muscles she’d been toning at the gym to slug him.
She looked over to the next table where a couple of teenage boys smirked and giggled at the image on an iPhone. One of them caught her staring. He put his fingers to his lips, puckered like a fish, and blew her a kiss.
“Clara? Grande latté?” The call from the counter was louder now.
Clara slammed the computer shut, dropped it into her backpack, and rammed her arms into the sleeves of her coat. She held up her hand to the woman at the counter and said, “Mine.”
Before she left the café, she tossed the latté’s lid into the recycling bin. Then Clara walked out the door and hurled the coffee into the chest of the first man she saw — a poor unsuspecting soul whose greatest sin and biggest regret was his smoking habit.
When it happened, Angus, on break from his job as a social worker at the shelter down the street, had been outside the coffee shop for about 15 minutes, feeling like an idiot, stomping his feet in the cold, trying to stay warm, nursing a coffee and feeding his habit. He had seen this black-haired beauty about ten minutes ago when she’d entered the café. She’d looked straight ahead as though the smokers didn’t exist.
Angus had been in town for six months and none of the women he’d been set up with had worked out. His smoking habit eliminated a significant number of them. A couple of the others had been sweet and he liked them, but not enough, and they seemed to feel pretty well the same way. They had become friends and he valued that but he’d decided to stick to the single life for a while — concentrate on his job, on the men who needed him, on working on his Master’s degree. But this girl, there was something about her. Something about the way she carried her shoulders. Maybe when he’d finished his second cigarette he’d go into the shop and try to find a way to strike up a conversation. Maybe. Not likely.
Then through the window he saw her moving between the tables with her cup, heading to the door. He threw his cigarette down, stomped on it, opened the door for her, and smiled his best dimpled smile. Then — a coffee cup in mid-flight and his jacket drenched and steaming in the cold air.
“Fuck,” he said.
Oh my god, she thought to herself, I’m certifiable. She started to wipe him down with her pink cashmere scarf, a gift from Kevin.
“Shit, I’m so sorry,” she said. “I must have tripped or something.”
She could tell from the look on his face that he didn’t believe her. It was a nice face. Strong. He looked surprised, skeptical, a little bemused, but not angry.
She reached up and started tugging at the zipper of his jacket. “Here, give it to me. I’ll get it cleaned and bring it to you.”
He removed her hand from the jacket. His touch was nice too — gentle and slow.
“Uh, it’s cold out here. I kinda need it,” he said.
“But I have to do something.” My God, were those tears she felt on her face? Was she crying?
“Listen, it’s okay. It’s a pretty old jacket, Mark’s Wearhouse. It’ll wipe off and no-one will know the difference.”
He pointed down the street, “I gotta get back to work at the shelter. Don’t worry about it. Have a good one.”
And he turned to leave.
Clara stooped to pick up the empty cup and put it in trash, all the time watching him as he walked down the street. She thought for only a moment and then said to herself, “What the hell,” and began to run after him.
“Hey, hey,” she shouted. He turned and stopped.
When she reached him, she said, “What’s your name?”
“Angus, I was just wondering. Do you like cats?”
“Don’t know. Don’t have much contact. I’m allergic.”
So much for that, thought Clara. Not meant to be.
But Angus smiled and said, “I don’t object to antihistamines, though.”
Now they were walking together toward the shelter.
“Can I ask you another question?” she said.
“Do you have a Snapchat account?”
Angus shrugged. “What’s Snapchat?”
Clara’s spirit did a little happy dance.
“Perfect,” she said.