Self-contradictory, ever-metamorphosing, music-addicted reader, writer, photographer, long-time wife and parent to six kids. Unapologetically...read more Catholic with reservations. Enjoys people more in theory than in practice. Dances in the kitchen. Likes red wine and Irish whiskey, and can curse like a sailor but bites her tongue frequently. Has never outgrown hanging out with imaginary friends.
Geoffrey Paine came to this coffee shop every weekday morning. He didn't particularly like it. It happened to be convenient, and the coffee was usually satisfactory. He shrugged his gold watch from under his shirt cuff and glanced at it. Yes, plenty of time for a cup of coffee and quick perusal of the paper before heading to the office. He'd been running behind this morning, unscheduled business to deal with, but made up for it. He'd skipped his usual bowl of muesli and half-grapefruit, and took only three minutes to shower.
His phone vibrated in his suit pocket. He pulled it out. Deirdre. He wondered if she was calling from the apartment. He scowled down at his briefcase. No, too early. She couldn't be back from the health club yet. Well, perhaps, but unlikely.
He re-pocketed the phone and scanned for an unoccupied table. There wasn't one, but there was a table for two, his favorite table, by the front window, but not so close to the doors as to be drafty, and there was one seat free. A piece of luck. He went to it. A young woman in a red corduroy jacket and jeans sat there preoccupied with her phone. She had short blond hair that peeked out from below a white crocheted hat.
“Is this seat taken?” Geoffrey asked.
She looked up from her phone, shook her head, smiled slightly. “No.”
Geoffrey put his Italian-made briefcase, a gift from Deirdre, by the base of the table. He inspected the seat for crumbs, gave it a quick sweep with the folded newspaper and sat down. He looked for a waitress, not wanting to go to the counter to order. His raised hand caught the attention of one, and she came over. He recognized her as one of two waitresses who usually worked there on weekday mornings.
She spoke before he could. “Double espresso and a glass of water?”
“Um...yes.” He noted the name tag above her left breast. Annie.
She nodded, scribbled on her receipt pad and started to turn away.
His stomach felt empty, having missed breakfast. “Annie--” She turned back to him, looked a little surprised. “A lemon-poppy seed muffin as well,” he said.
The waitress smiled and made the addition to the receipt. “Well, that's two firsts in one day.”
“You've been coming in here every morning forever. This is the first time you've called me by name and the first time you've ordered anything but the double espresso and water.”
“Ah. Yes.” Geoffrey considered very briefly whether this was a good thing or not. He wasn't sure, but didn't want to think about it right now. He wanted to read the paper, and glanced at his watch again. Then he opened the paper to the front page.
“I come here most mornings, too, but usually a little later. Otherwise I would have noticed you.”
Now the young woman at the table was talking to him. He gave a polite nod, accompanied by a quick smile, then went back to the headlines. The phone in his pocket vibrated. Geoffrey shrugged his shoulders to release the tension building there and ignored the phone.
What was it with these women? Could they not just go about their business and leave him to his? His mother, constantly calling him and whining about this ache and that pain, and the tedious monologues about illnesses and medications, not just hers, but those of her entire circle of widowed cronies. Deirdre and her attempts to arouse guilt over their childless state. For God's sake, he'd made it plain enough to her before their engagement that he had no intention of having children or pets in his life. But he'd buckled under her teary manipulations and let her get that dreadful animal that became pet and child to Deirdre. Naturally the thing was female, too. Another clinging, attention-mad female who had to work its way into Deirdre's lap every moment Deirdre wasn't standing.
His coffee and muffin came. He said “Thank you,” but didn't look up from the paper he wasn't actually reading. Better to not give this waitress any encouragement. Using her name had been a mistake and he would try to forget it if he could.
“So...do you work around here?”
Geoffrey peered over the top of his paper.
“Oh...what is it you do?”
He dropped the paper onto his lap. The phone vibrated against his hip again. He pulled it out from his pocket and looked at the number. Yes, it was Deirdre. She was most definitely at the apartment by now. “What I do,” he said, looking directly at the young blonde woman, “is try to manage my life without the women I come in contact with making it horrendously complicated and unpleasant.”
Her expression changed, as he quite expected, to one of anger. “Are you gay, or just an asshole?” she asked.
He smiled. “An asshole. Shaped and formed by your kind. Now if you'll just permit me to read my paper in peace...”
The young woman rose from the table. “Well, I hope you choke to death on that muffin.” She grabbed her shoulder bag from the back of her chair and left.
Geoffrey stared at her empty seat for a moment. The vibrating of the phone stopped. For a moment, all was right with the world.
He glanced at his watch and then looked at the briefcase beneath the table. Damn. He'd not even managed to get through the headlines, and he had to get going. He had to be in the office in twenty minutes, and still had to dispose of the Yorkshire Terrier in his briefcase.
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