He pursed his lips and blew gently on the rich, brown liquid, creating tiny decaffeinated tsunamis that crashed on the far shore of his cup. He needn’t have bothered. It was barely above warm. He’d let it sit too long. But he wasn’t upset. Good coffee is still good, even if it’s a little cold. Only bad coffee suffers appreciably from not being piping hot. And he would trade cold coffee for extra time drinking her in.
Her name was Mel. Short for Melliflua, she’d told him with a laugh the first time he beheld her. He’d stopped at the Coffee Bar on a friend’s recommendation. To be honest, he didn’t remember anything about the beverage he’d ordered. He was too captivated by her. She told him that her mother was a hippie and her father was a bibliophile. They’d agreed on the name because she said it had a musical quality and he liked that it sounded like a Greek goddess. And it perfectly fit her melodious laugh and quiet but confident voice.
Despite how stalkerish it felt, he figured out her schedule and made sure he was there every day that his work allowed. He hadn’t gone so far as asking his boss to change his hours, but it crossed his mind. And it wasn’t always easy because he lived in Mineral Wells and worked in Williamstown. Going to work by way of downtown Parkersburg instead of just hopping on the interstate meant having to leave even earlier than normal when he worked late. But it was worth it. She always seemed so happy to see him come in, but he was sure that was just her being a professional server.
Being a little chubby and, in his mind, hopelessly plain and boring, he knew she, an exotic, dark beauty with flowing black hair and a face that inspired poets, was so far out of his league that it never even occurred to him to ask her out. She deserved so much better than someone like him. She should be on the arm of some bronzed Adonis.
Which is why it was so puzzling that she would go out with that numbskull Ever. “Who, he asked her from his table, “would ever go by the name Ever?”
“Well, who goes by the name of Newberry?” she asked as she fished something from under the counter.
“It’s the one my parents gave me. What’s his excuse?”
“It’s short for Everett,” she said, cutting a slice from a pastry he didn’t recognize.
“Everett’s a human name,” he said. “What, is he too good to be an Everett?”
She laughed. It caused a reaction in him he’d literally never experienced before he met her. It could only be described as painfully joyous. He resolved to spend the rest of his life getting her to laugh as often as possible.
She stopped at his table after delivering the dessert to someone in the back. Her eyes were downcast. “It doesn’t matter. He’s moving to Charleston.”
“That’s only an hour.” He felt like throat-punching himself as the words came out of his mouth. He intensely disliked Ever and he hated that she was with him.
“And you’re right. He’s full of himself.”
He stopped with the cup halfway to his lips, his eyes wide. “I never said he was full of himself.”
She leaned over and patted his head. He got a faint whiff of her perfume. It was lightly floral and yet spicy with a little musky undertone. It was mesmerizing. “You didn’t have to, sweetie.”
He put down his cup, reminding himself that she called everyone sweetie. “Am I that transparent?”
“You are to me.”
He took a micro-sip of his coffee, now somehow less than room temperature. He had to nurse what little was left because he couldn’t afford another cup and he didn’t want to have to leave. As she glided back to her work station, he took in her lovely silhouette and contemplated the fact that, if he were truly transparent to her, she would see that he loved her with all his heart.
His coffee finally finished, he felt he had no choice but go home. She gave him a broad smile full of straight white teeth and a friendly wave when he walked out. He waved back trying not to have too goofy a grin on his face. His car was a couple blocks up Market and across the street, but it was a pleasant late spring evening, so the walk was comfortable. As he hit the keyless entry to unlock the driver’s door, his phone dinged, telling him he had a text. After climbing in his car, he slid his finger across the touch screen. It was a number he didn’t recognize, though it was local.
“Hey Newberry, it’s Mel. I looked up your number from when you joined our drink club. Hope that’s ok.” His heart sped up as another text came through. “We’re having a poetry open mic night tomorrow. Know you like poetry. Was wondering if you’d like to come.”
He stared at the screen, reading the two texts over and over until a car horn reminded him that he was sitting at the side of the road with his door open in traffic. He closed the door and started the engine before he read the words one last time. What did they mean? Was she being a good salesperson or was this a personal invitation? And if it was personal, was there any chance it was romantic? No, he laughed to himself. That was a one-way street for sure. Wasn’t it? Regardless, if it gave him an opportunity to be around her again, he wasn’t passing it up.
“Sure. What time?”
“Yay! 7pm. :-D”
He couldn’t sleep no matter what he tried. He knew it was going to be a long day at work, but knowing that didn’t change anything. Finally, after reading a magazine cover to cover, paying some bills, and flipping through a million infomercials on TV, he gave up and pulled out his writing journal. It was always the thing that calmed him. He didn’t know why he hadn’t done it sooner. Maybe what he wanted to write needed to simmer a while. Whatever the reason, the words flowed out without interruption. Usually when he wrote poems, the page was a mess of scratches and lines and arrows where he wrote and rewrote and rearranged. But not this time. It was perfect the first time. With a contented smile, he closed the book and finally fell into a deep sleep.
Work had indeed been torture, but not nearly as much as the three hours between when he left there and when he could go to the Coffee Bar and see her. He showered and shaved, even though he’d showered and shaved that morning and he worked at a desk in an air-conditioned office. He got dressed, decided he didn’t like what he was wearing, changed, felt like a moron and put the original clothes back on. He made himself a sandwich, but his stomach felt funny and he could only eat half of it, so he wrapped the rest up for later. Finally, he brushed his teeth and flossed.
“What am I doing?” He spoke the question out loud. “This isn’t a date. Calm down.”
Finally, it was time to go. Halfway to his car, though, he turned and ran back inside to pick up his writing journal. Maybe he’d work up the courage to read one of his poems. He’d been told they were good, but that was by his friends. At the least, he may get some inspiration from hearing others and take some notes.
Assuming the crowd would be bigger than the night before, he parked a block further up from the restaurant, but passed mostly empty spaces as he approached the front door. And inside, the place was all but empty. He looked at his watch. It was 7:00 pm precisely. And he could see the chairs set up for the event, but other than a young hipster-looking couple in the back and Mel, no one was there.
He leaned against the open door. “Did no one come?”
“Hi sweetie,” she said with her heart-stopping smile. “What do you mean?”
“The poetry night. Was it not tonight?”
“Oh yeah, it’s at eight. Is that not when I told you?”
“You said seven.”
“Oh no!” She pulled her phone from an apron pocket and looked at it. “I’m so sorry! I must have typed it wrong.”
“No worries. Is there anything I can do to help?”
She came around the counter and walked up to him, getting within sniffing distance of her hypnotic perfume. “No, it’s all set up. To make up for wasting an hour of your time, I’ll get you a cup of your favorite decaf and a muffin. On me.”
“No, that’s okay,” he said. Well, that was what he tried to say. It came out more as, “Noasakayherrrr.”
“No, I insist.” She took his hand and led him to a table and pushed his chest gently, indicating he should sit. So, he did. “I’ll have it ready in just a minute. And I’m so sorry.”
“It really is okay.” He actually managed to say all of those words separately and not make a loopy nonsensical sound at the end. “I’ll be right back.”
He got up and walked unsteadily to the restroom in the back. When he was nervous or excited, it seemed like he had to go to the bathroom constantly. He finished and washed his hands. When he opened the door and came around the corner, the sight that greeted him made all the moisture leave his mouth. The muffin and decaf were on the table, but they weren’t alone. She sat looking in his journal. Maybe she didn’t see it, he thought. There are lots of poems in there. She didn’t have to go to that one.
She looked up from the book when she heard him coming toward her. Her eyes glistened. One hand held the book toward her and the other was over her heart. “Did—did you write this—about me?”
He kicked at a non-existent piece of dust on the floor. He couldn’t make eye contact. Finally, he nodded almost imperceptibly.
“When?” Her voice was barely above a whisper.
“Last night. Do you think I’m a creep?”
A tear slid from the corner of her eye and down her perfect cheek. “A creep?” She stood, walked to him, and wrapped her arms around his waist, laying her head against his chest. He hugged her back, inhaling her fully, trying not to cry himself. She leaned back so that she was looking up into his eyes, their faces only inches apart. “Will you read it for me?”
He let go of her and stepped back. “Out loud?”
“Please? Newberry, please.”
He took the book in his trembling hands, unsure he could hold it steadily enough to actually read the words. Taking a deep breath, he closed his eyes and found he could recite the poem from memory.
Ne’er ‘gain will I doubt you’re there, God.
Or that you love me truly.
Else, how to explain her?
That she lives is cause for praise.
That she smiles for me makes my heart beat.
She’ll never know how much I love her.
For she could never love someone like me.
But to simply be near her, to be her friend,
to hear her melodious laugh,
that makes birds go silent in shame,
When he opened his eyes, she stood in front of him, tears streaming down both cheeks. She took his hand. “Could never love you? How could you think that?”
“You’re so beautiful. So perfect. And I’m, well, I’m not.”
She shook her head and laughed before stepping toward him, putting her hand gently on his cheek. She tenderly kissed him on the lips. “I didn’t tell you the wrong time by accident. I wanted to see you. Be with you. Newberry, I can love you. I do.”
Joe Stephens is a local author, whose published works can be purchased here.