[For the Scriptic prompt exchange this week, Amanda gave me this prompt: I'm finished with being careful. I gave SAM this prompt: "I do the best I can. Everything else is everybody else's problem." -Alison Janney]
When I complained about smelling like coffee, my mother told me that she spent a summer working at a movie theater, and, over time, she grew to loathe the smell of butter. I had to admit that, if you have to smell like something, coffee isn't a bad choice. Better than butter. I enjoy the coffee smell, actually, the bitterness of it, the slight tang it gives to anything you come in contact with. Even when the scent fills my room after a feverish, sweaty dream, I don't mind it.
I had a boyfriend who smoked, once, and it was kind of like that, only more pleasant. It got into everything- hair, clothes, blankets, car, bodily fluids, it was an echo everywhere that lingered for months after he was gone. I wondered if I was like that: could you taste the coffee in my sweat, on my skin, at the roots of my hair? Nobody was ever close enough to notice. Was it a smell someone could get used to?
We do get close to each other at work, but who could tell there? No one had complained in class, yet, or in the library, but I was also customarily carrying a cup at those times. It wasn't something that kept me up at night, but it made me wonder. Was I the girl who smelled like coffee? Would some future man be disgusted by that? Or would he get misty eyed every time he walked by a Starbucks, thinking of me?
Not likely. I wasn't the type anyone pined after.
When I walked by the smokers' congregation, leaving the library after a night of research, even now, Darryl's face would still come to mind. Darryl's soft, stupid face, with those eyes that I could never say no to. Sweet, handsome Darryl, with all the promises he made, all the beautiful words that I'm sure he meant every syllable of right up until the day my sister had the day off and so did he. Some things you can't erase.
I had retreated from life after that happened, burying myself in school work and working extra shifts at the coffee shop, trying to make up for in volume of human contact what I lacked in intimacy. It was a quiet, soulless existence, enjoying little, my days desiccated and dry, always too busy to be social, packing days and evenings with events that left me exhausted, dropping into bed only to restart the mad rush the next morning. I was in the middle of one of those days, coming off of morning classes, planning to help with the afternoon rush, then taking off for an evening meeting about a book of poetry I was going to co edit. I had taken enough psych classes to know what I was doing, but not so many that I could make myself stop.
I squeezed into the work routine, finishing an iced with a swirl of Rorschachian chocolate, running up to the register to help a Mom juggling a baby, a three year old, and a purse, then dashing back to refill the sweeteners and napkins. I baked, I served, I spun, I loaded grinders and roasters and refilled cups. I remade an iced tea for a skinny teen that had spilled hers after taking it from my trembling hand. I noticed him as I buzzed about, hunger starting to gnaw at my insides, making me feel lightheaded and a little removed from myself.
He had his hipster badges on, MacBook top with clever sticker in view, thick glasses and erratic facial hair, well highlighted paperback on the table next to his coffee. We were supposed to engage with anyone who had been there a while, ostensibly to see if they wanted something else, but subtly to hint that someone else might want the seat. I looked over at tall, willowy Marina, who gestured with her head towards him. He's yours, the gesture was supposed to mean, and I knew, coming from her, it meant more than one thing. Marina was uncomfortable around single women, and fixing me up had become her latest project.
I walked up to him, a little unsteadily, and waited for him to look up. He did, and he was cute, in a lost puppy sort of way. He looked innocent and kind, and it took him a moment to focus on my face. I tried to stand up a little straighter. He certainly liked coffee, too- his large was almost gone.
"Can I-can we-can I get you something?," I stammered.
"You can get me a list of Trajan's five greatest accomplishments as a Roman emperor," he said drily. He had an amused look on his face, like he thought he was funnier than he really was.
"I was thinking more along the lines of a refill," I said.
"Ah. No, I'm actually fine, thank you," he said. He smiled again, and I felt something.
I had made such a practice of walling these feelings off, denying them and boxing them away like old Christmas decorations, that I had to exert effort not to do it again. I'm finished with being careful, I decided at that moment. I have done enough treading gently around men who might be single, trying hard not to reveal anything, never letting on that I'm not taken, that I have insecurities, that I cry at midnight sometimes for no reason. I argued with myself briefly, pinning my insecurity to the floor like a wrestler. I was sick of talking myself out of things, fed up with protecting myself against potential heartbreak.
"Would you like to go out sometime? Like, maybe, for coffee?," I said, immediately reddening as I realized how dumb that sounded. It wasn't the dumbest thing I had ever said, but it was in the top 5.
"I would think you'd have had your fill of coffee," he said with a low chuckle. His eyes were lovely, broad and blue. Yep, it was definitely a something that I was feeling. I felt a tiny cramp of hunger and prayed silently that my abdomen not make any noises.
"That's true," I said quickly. "I'm sorry- I'm stupid- I mean- what I meant-"
He laughed again, a musical sound, warm and friendly. "I understand. Dinner tonight?"
"I have a-a thing...um...a meeting."
"OK," he said. "Tomorrow?"
"Sure," I heard myself say, and I felt a weight drop away. It was time. I wasn't willing to spend the rest of my life mourning that idiot.
"You're done with that?," I said, gesturing towards his cup. He drained the last swallow, then handed it to me.
"Sure am," he said. As I leaned in to take it, I noticed he smelled faintly like the woods. I liked that. That was a good thing to smell like.