*Features adult language and themes.*
Charlie sat in his favourite coffee shop. It had actually become his favourite now. He made a point of going out each day to sit for 20 minutes or so with a drink and enjoy the company of strangers. He never sat with others but he liked to sit in the corner and people watch. It was interesting to see people interact with one another. He took note of the smiles and frowns. The overheard snippets of conversation always amused him. The things people discussed were just as random and entertaining as anything he’d chatted about on the internet. He found himself looking at strangers and making assumptions about their character and life by how they looked and acted.
He was studying an old man a few tables away. He was sitting alone with a cup of black coffee steaming in front of him. He sat up so straight, you could have used his spine as a ruler. He wore a brown tweed jacket and corduroy trousers. He had hitched his trousers half way up his calves, sitting with his legs crossed. Charlie couldn’t see a hint of leg because his socks were pulled up straight and tight.
I bet he wears sock suspenders.
His shirt was crisply ironed and impeccably clean. He wore it casually open at the neck, the only thing about him that suggested a relaxed demeanour. The man had short, neat, grey hair and a well manicured moustache to match. Wore delicate half-moon glasses perched on the end of his nose as he silently took in a massive broadsheet newspaper. He seemed to be moving his lips as he read.
Right. I think he’s probably a wealthy man. The way he’s dressed is as casual as he gets. He would usually wear a tie at the very least. He probably thinks he’s slumming it. I would guess he’s ex-military, that would explain his impeccable appearance and good posture. Probably a local landowner or runs a farm estate. Maybe a bit out of touch with modern technology. He wouldn’t know what to do with a smart phone.
The man got up, folded his paper and put it under his arm. Charlie noticed that he had a bluetooth headset in the ear that had been hidden from view and he’d been holding a conversation as he was scanning the paper.
I guess I need more practice.
He’d often wondered if his guesses turned out to be correct and was sorely tempted to follow some people to find out. He never did it though. He liked the small lives he created for his strangers and wanted to keep them unreal and incomplete.
Charlie got up to freshen his cup. There wasn’t a line so he went straight to the counter. The barista turned and recognised him. “Hello, Charlie. How are you? I didn’t know you were in,” she said.
“Hi, Becky. I’m good thanks. I haven’t been here long. You just started your shift?” He’d been finding it easier to talk to people lately. He still felt a niggling sense of discomfort in the back of his mind, but he managed to control it. Didn’t let himself think too hard about what he was saying. He’d practised on his neighbours to begin with; stopping in the hallways to make small talk. It got easier the more he did it.
Turns out small-talk is pretty much the same three conversations, shuffled in various ways.
He’d found that talking about nothing in particular was a lot more pleasing than being silent and alone.
“Yup. Got the late one. Actually, it’s a bit late for you isn’t it. You usually come by in the morning.”
“Yeah, well, hopefully a few friends are meeting me here in a while.”
“You don’t sound too sure.” Becky took his cup, and proceeded to make Charlie another drink. She didn’t bother asking him what he wanted. She already knew.
“I’m trying something. The friends I’ve invited out are people I know on the internet. They all live locally but we’ve never met in person. Thought it was about time.”
“That sounds like a good idea.” She gave him a look as she placed his coffee on the counter between them. “Tell you what. If nobody shows up I’ll come and have a drink with you when I’m on break.”
Charlie smiled at her as he collected his drink. “I wouldn’t want to ruin your break like that. I’ve got a few other people I know from the Uni coming along too. It’s really nice of you to offer though” He went back to his table.
That was kind of her. Do I look that lonely? He glanced over at Becky as she busied herself behind the counter, cleaning cups, waiting for the next customer. She was about his age, possibly a year or two older. Only a little shorter than him, with short brown hair that flicked outwards at the ends. She was what his Mother would call a ‘buxom’ girl. Not slim, but not overweight either, everything was gathered in flattering places. She had striking blue eyes, they were so clear and pale that they lit up her face, framed as it was by her hair.
Huh? Maybe she likes me?
Charlie didn’t have time to ponder any further as somebody he recognised came through the door closely followed by three more. They were fellow students from his Uni course.
In the last month Charlie had decided to go in and have a discussion with his head of faculty and tutor. They agreed that he had advanced beyond the level of the course he was supposed to be attending.
“Were you serious about the offer you made me in January.” He’d asked his tutor.
“What offer was that?”
“To come in and advise the rest of the class, sort of a teaching assistant, I guess.”
“Of course I was serious.”
“I’d quite like to do that. See how it goes.”
He’d been going in a few days a week, helping his fellow students with the work he’d completed months before. He’d also carried on and completed all the work for his last semester. Charlie enjoyed the teaching aspects of the job despite a bit of resentment from the older students that didn’t appreciate someone younger trying to help them. He liked seeing new information click into other people’s heads. It was a powerful feeling to give knowledge to someone else. In fact he had started looking into doing a doctorate in computer science as well as discussing a prospective future as a lecturer with the University.
Charlie gave the students a wave as they lined up to get drinks and waited patiently for them to join him. Everyone settled down and started having a lively debate about the work they were doing. Shortly after three more people entered the coffee shop and gave it a scan as though they were looking for someone they knew. Charlie got up and went over to them. “Hi, guys. Glad you could make it.”
“Hi, razor. Nice to meet you I guess,” said Tim. “This is a bit weird isn’t it.”
Charlie chuckled to himself. “It gets easier. Hi Dave, Jack. Why don’t you get a drink and join us over there. Don’t worry about that lot they’re students from my Uni course. They’re a decent bunch.”
DarkTroll248 (Tim), VampireVern (Dave) and SnowSn0w (Jack) had been reluctant to accept his invitation at first but Charlie had badgered them into submission. They joined into the conversation without missing a beat and the atmosphere softened. Any trepidation they felt soon melted away when the topic switched to online gaming. After a while someone had pulled out a laptop and it turned into a group browsing session. People recommended sites to look at and funny video clips to watch. An hour disappeared before Charlie realised his cup was empty. He left everyone to it and stood in line for a refill.
He looked at the table he’d just left and the people that surrounded it. Three of those people he’d known for years, and only just met. They were just as he’d pictured them in his mind. They hadn’t tried to misrepresent themselves over the time they’d got to know one another. They were as real here, as they had been online.
Charlie reached into his pocket for the piece of paper he had carried around with him for the last month. It was his final Kurt Sampson exercise.
* * *
Self-Esteem: It’s OK to be smarter that everyone else but don’t try to prove it all the time.
Family & Friends: My Mother may be batty, but she’s the best friend I’ve got. You NEED to make more friends.
Love: Don’t be afraid, Guide myself by feelings not thought. Anything good is worth going through double the amount of shit.
Purpose & Meaning: Life’s only worth living if you share it with others.
* * *
He got to the counter. Becky met him with a smile. “Looks like they all showed up then.”
“Yeah. It’s going surprisingly well. Who knew computer nerds had such good social skills?” She laughed. He was surprised by how much it pleased him to make her laugh. Charlie looked behind him. There wasn’t anyone else waiting to be served. Becky had collected his cup and began refilling it. “Becky, I hope you didn’t think I was rude earlier turning down your offer.”
She waved away his concern. “Don’t be silly. Just looking out for my favourite customer.”
Charlie felt a stirring in his stomach and a lightness in his head. The words came out of his mouth before he’d had any time to think about what order they might go in. “Would you like to get a coffee with me sometime?”
She stopped what she was doing and turned her head to look at him. She stared at him for what seemed like an hour. “No…”
He felt like he’d been hit in the gut, all of the energy left his limbs and he was afraid that he’d fall over. “That’s OK. Just thought you might fancy it.”
Becky put her hand up. Her face was stern, a look of panic in her flawless eyes. “Let me finish. What I meant to say was… I don’t drink coffee. When you’re surrounded by it all day you don’t really want it when you get home, you know? As for the other part of your question… Yeah. I’d love to go out, as long as we have something other than coffee.” A smile lit up her face as it turned pink and she looked down to inspect the counter.
“I see. You’re more of a tea drinker then?” Becky laughed and nodded. “That’s not a problem. I’m sure we can find somewhere that serves both tea and coffee.”
She scribbled something onto a piece of paper and handed it across to him. “That’s my number. Give me a call later. I finish at 8.”
Charlie took his drink and rejoined his friends.
Many thanks for reading. If you have any feedback or thoughts, feel free to comment below.