The rest of the week flew by, and I spent much of it contemplating how busy I would be when the weekend arrived. Between Susan, Mary, and Diane, I wouldn’t have much time to myself. Part of me, the part that enjoys my freedom and my being single, begrudged these women for taking up so much of my time. The rest of me was just hoping to get through it without mixing any of their names up.
Friday evening I picked out some clothes that were one step above my usual tee-shirt-and-jeans apparel and shaved before driving downtown for my date with Susan. I was looking forward to meeting, for the second time, the woman with the voice of a Saturday morning cartoon. As I headed out the door, I grabbed a couple of pennies out of my change jar.
I arrived fifteen minutes early and, after checking to make sure there was no one waving me down to sit with them, picked a corner table. I sat with my side facing the door, so if she walked up to my table I could act like I didn’t see her come in. This would be pretty important, since I couldn’t remember what she looked like. As an added precaution, I pulled a penny out and began to twirl it on the table.
Cool Beans was everything I expected a coffee house to be. When you walk in, you’re met with a staircase that leads you up to hushed conversations, a strong coffee smell, and light jazz. The rooms are all painted in dark primary colors, giving the place a 70s feel.
There were five other patrons in Cool Beans, and all of them were mousey introverts who avoided eye contact and tried their best not to be noticed. Two of them were reading different books by Kafka (The Trial and The Metamorphosis) while sitting at the same table. The third was sitting in the corner opposite me, hunched over his laptop.
The other two customers were girls that I assumed were lesbians. That might make me a horrible person, but both had chopped their hair into boy-cuts and then spiked it. They were leaning on the table in a comfortable, and typically male, manner, and they were sitting very close together. I found myself watching these two more than the others. I think I wanted to see them kiss.
“No fair! You got here before me!” A cute whiney voice pulled my attention to the stairs, where the owner of that voice could only be Susan. She was most definitely a Stuckey-chick.
Susan was the exact opposite of the other patrons. Where they dressed in dark and earthy tones, she wore the brightest yellow blouse I’d ever seen. Her pants were lime-green, which matched her nail polish. Her blonde ponytail bounced behind her head, as if it were dancing to unheard happy song. I gave her my best smile and stood up to greet her.
“What else was I going to do? Sit at home and keep looking forward to tonight?” I motioned to the chair across from me and she took it. As she sat, I noticed how short she was and wondered if she even made it to five feet. I also noticed the scowls she received from the two lesbians.
“How long have you been here?” She leaned on the table, smiling at me. She had perfect teeth and the brightest green eyes I’d ever seen. “Ooh! You brought a penny!”
“Yes I did.” I smiled back at her. “You never know when a penny might come in handy. I’ve only been here a few minutes. Not long enough to order anything yet.”
“Well, let’s get some coffee. Yum!” She rubbed her stomach as she said this. It was impossible not to like her. She gave off the impression of an innocent child. The lesbians were still scowling at her. Maybe they didn’t like how loud she was talking.
“Sounds good. What kind of coffee do you drink?” I slipped the penny back into my pocket before she insisted that I do something magical with it. Her eyes followed my hand, and she even frowned for a second when the penny vanished. I forced myself not to laugh.
“Hmmm.” She put on her thoughtful face, and the tip of her tongue snuck out as she concentrated. It was adorable. “I want a caramel macchiato!”
“That sounds good. I’ll be right back with them.” I stood up and walked over to the counter. The girl behind the register could have just as easily been a patron who snuck into the employee’s section. She was wearing a black tee shirt with long sleeves and dark brown pants. Her hair was pulled into an unattractive bun behind her head and she wore some of the ugliest glasses I’ve ever seen.
“I heard her. Caramel macchiato. You want two?” Her tone showed mild annoyance with my date.
“Yes, please. Both large,” I answered. I put a ten on the counter. She made change, and I waved it off. I’m a firm believer in tipping.
“Thanks. I’ll bring them out.” The cashier almost smiled. She could’ve been attractive if wanted to be. I wondered what trauma had pushed her into hiding that side of her, and then decided I’d rather not know. I went back to my seat, where Susan was bouncing her head in time with the music.
“Welcome back!” Susan gave me that perfect smile as I sat across from her. “So what do you do for a living? Let me guess. You’re a magician!”
I always get annoyed when a girl asks me what I do for a living. Call me jaded, but it always seems like they’re trying to find out how much money I make. I’m sure that’s not always the case and that some people are just trying to find out more about me and advance the conversation. It’s not like she’s asking me how big my house is or what kind of car I drive. I’ve come up with a way to deflect these questions, though. I just make up some ridiculous job.
“You’re very close, but not quite,” I said. “I’m a Popsicle-stick salesman.”
“Really?” If her eyes grew any larger, they would’ve fallen from her skull. I kept going with the joke.
“Yes, and it’s more complicated than you would think,” I said. “There are several different types. You have the craft family, which has about six different types of stick. Then you have the food family, which it what your Popsicle is frozen around. There are several types of those, too. Some have jokes on them. Some have cartoon characters.”
“I like the ones with jokes,” Susan said. Her smile had returned to replace the look of astonishment. “Some of them are pretty funny!”
“You think so?” I grinned. “I’ll let the guys down in the joke-tank know next time I’m at the plant. I don’t get a lot of interaction with them, because the sales building is on a different campus.”
“Do you also sell the big ones? Like in the doctor’s office?” Susan was leaning forward, enraptured by the conversation. It made me realize that she believed my joke, and I didn’t know how to proceed with that knowledge. Should I come clean and risk making her feel stupid, or continue with it and hope she caught on without me telling her?
“Well, I don’t sell those myself,” I said. I made sure to exaggerate my tone to help her find the sarcasm. “We do make them, though. Those are far more expensive, and reserved for our top sellers. I’m not quite there yet.”
“Is there a lot of competition?”
“Well, I work for StickSystems, and we lead the market, but there are a few smaller companies who keep trying to horn in on our business.” I began to feel like I had taken the joke too far. This poor, naïve girl was going to go tell her friends that she went on a date with a guy who sold Popsicle sticks, and they would laugh at her.
A new patron walked into the shop. He was wearing khakis and a Les Miserables tee shirt, which I hadn’t seen in about ten years. I used it as an escape from the current conversation.
“Wow,” I said, pointing and new arrival. “There’s a blast from the past. I haven’t seen a Les Mis shirt since high school.”
“Oh, I love that play!” Susan’s voice went up an octave. “I saw it in Atlanta the last time it came through.”
“Me too. I think I was the only guy there wearing a suit.” Some of my female friends had informed me that everyone else there would be wearing a suit, and I would be out of place if I didn’t. Fool that I am, I listened to them and was one of the handful of men who wore one. “But it was great to watch the play. I loved the book.”
“Oh, you read that story?” Susan asked. “What was it called? Something about the bishop’s candles.”
“The Bishop’s Candlesticks?”
“Yes!” She put her finger on her nose and pointed at me, almost knocking the coffees out of the cashier’s hands and she set them on the table. I thanked her and took a long sip from mine, burning the hell out of my tongue.
“That’s what it was called. It was short, though.” Susan picked up her cup and smelled it, making a face of complete happiness. “I think it’s great that Vincent Hugo wrote Les Miserables based on that.”
“I thought it was the other way around?” I didn’t want to appear snobbish, so I didn’t come right out and tell her she was wrong.
“Nope,” Susan smiled. “The short story was written in the ‘30s and then Hugo wrote the play based on it in like 1980 or something.”
The lesbians weren’t the only people scowling at her now. Apparently everyone in the shop, including me, knew their Les Miserables trivia. Not even Nice Ass could come up with proper response to her, so I just kept drinking my coffee and endured the burns.
Susan kept talking about the play, but I wasn’t paying attention. Instead, I started glancing at the other customers. The guy behind the laptop gave me a knowing look, as if he were a veteran of enduring conversations with attractive women who didn’t measure up to his standards of intelligence. I came to the realization that Susan probably wouldn’t get a second date.