It was cold outside. Sunny, but cold. It’d probably been about three days since the sun had been out; nothing too uncommon for Ohio winters. Anyway, I had just walked outside, taking a long, drawn-out breath. I crossed the yard and stopped, looking both ways down the sidewalk, happy to see no signs of life coming my way. I wasn’t exactly eager to run into anyone at the moment. You see, I had just walked in on my girlfriend with another guy, which doesn’t usually leave the discoverer of such a situation in the mood to talk to people.
I wasn’t confrontational, because if there’s one thing I am not, that is confrontational. I didn’t yell or get angry, because that wouldn’t solve anything. I simply walked into the bedroom, from which obvious sounds of a certain type of recreational activity were coming, saw for a brief moment the current situation (see, it’s funny that I said brief because they weren’t wearing any), wished them a good day and turned around to leave. I had seen this coming for a long time. It wasn’t surprising. Yet that didn’t make me any less bitter.
Now came the issue of where to go. I had at least remembered to grab my wallet, so the option of getting something to eat was open. Not that it really sounded appealing; just the thought of eating made my stomach turn even more than it already was.
After walking down Stevens Drive for about ten minutes, I decided to turn onto Seaside Road, which was an obvious joke for those who lived on Seaside Road, as the nearest seaside was thousands of miles east. I turned again onto Main, and ended up ducking into the local coffee shop. Espresso Yourself proudly advertised its free Wi-Fi, which would be impressive if it weren’t available at the McDonald’s across the street as well.
Not sure whether to order anything but very happy to be somewhere that was indoors and not the home that cheating cheater of cheatery (yes, I was still a bit bitter), I sat myself down at the nearest table, and scooted in my wooden chair as I hunched over the dusty old tabletop. As I settled in I recognized the odor of coffee and floor cleaner. I looked at the dusty, ugly old painting of a flower garden hanging on the wall across from me. Then it clicked: this was the exact spot where I’d asked her to go out with me, almost four years ago. The chance of that happening by pure coincidence was near impossible, so I settled on the fact that my brain was sick and demented and I secretly, in my heart-of-hearts or whatever, wanted to be here. As if I thought being here would let me go back in time and fix something that wasn’t my thing to fix. There was nothing I could do to make her not want to be with that guy. Or maybe there was, and I was just too blind to see it. Either way, at that point I was very sure she wasn’t “the One.”
Mostly to have an excuse to get away from that table without looking like a table-hopping weirdo, I stepped up into the line to get coffee. I had been here dozens of times, but I’d never gotten Just Coffee. Deciding I probably wasn’t going to drink what I got anyway, and being conscious of the dwindling cash in my wallet, I’d decided to finally order a Just Coffee. I got it black and didn’t even bother to add in sugar or anything. Just Black Coffee. So hardcore. So after waiting in line for about five minutes to put in my order and waiting another ten minutes for the barista’s arms to stop moving at lightning speed to pour a simple cup of Just Coffee, I took it from his hand, feeling the heat through the cardboard cup. I found a different seat at the opposite end of the Café, being conscious to find a seat facing away from the previous one.
I glanced out the window and, to my utter astonishment, met eyes with a drop-dead gorgeous girl, who, instead of looking a little creeped out, as per usual, smiled at me. Almost positive I’d just imagined the smile, I looked down at my coffee, not letting my gaze leave the steam snaking out of the spout until I was positive she had gone. I leaned back and exhaled a long, deep breath. What I would do for a girl to actually look at me like that. Or anyone, for that matter. I can’t lie; at that point, a gremlin could’ve hit on me and it would’ve felt good. After witnessing what I witnessed, I felt kind of low, and in the most selfish of ways, I wanted a compliment. I wanted someone to tell me what a great and wonderful person I was.
Just as I was about to venture into taking a sip of my Just Black Coffee, a hand tapped me lightly on the shoulder.
“Hi!” said an unusually cheery voice behind me. I turned around; it was the girl. Phantom smile girl. In the café. Approaching me. To say hi.
“Hello,” I responded in a flat voice, trying to reveal neither my emotion of trauma induced by the cheating cheater of cheatery, nor the emotion of sheer joy that she was so compelled as to actually talk to me.
Let me make one thing clear: I’m usually not the type to get all stutter-y when it comes talking to girls; in fact, most of my friends through high school were girls. But talking to them was more akin to talking to sisters, while talking to her was like to talking to a Playboy model. Well, maybe not quite, but you get the point: she was attractive and I was caught off-guard.
She smiled at me again, walked around the table and sat across from me. “So, there’s this one author—“
“No, no. His name’s R. S. Lancaster.”
“No. My name’s Corbin.”
“Oh. Oh, yeah, right. My name’s Annabelle. Anyway, Lancaster, he wrote this book. And it’s abo—“
“Wait, R. S.? What’s R. S. stand for?”
“I dunno. Anyway—“
“I’d imagine it stands for Rudolph Solomon. Okay, okay, I’m sorry. I’ll stop. So, Rudolph Solomon Lancaster, he wrote a book…”
“You’re weird. So yeah—“
“Says the girl who sat down at a stranger’s table. Alright, that was it, I promise.”
“SO. Lancaster wrote this book, and it’s about a guy. And the way he describes him… It’s like, well, you.”
“Yeah! You’re like, exactly like he describes him: shaggy dark hair, kinda scruffy, sullen expression. It’s you! You’re Jack Merigold!”
“Wait, Jack Merigold? Sullen? I mean, maybe a little irritated, but sullen? And shaggy and scruffy? Man, Annabelle, you have a way of flattery, I’m telling you.”
“Hush. I love Jack Merigold. He’s so… so mysterious. And suave, and just, perfect.”
There was something in the way Annabelle said “perfect” that made me think she was seriously in love with this Jack Merigold character. I wasn’t sure exactly what to make of this situation. I mean, as previously mentioned, she was hot. And despite her unusual way of greeting, she did seem sweet. And Annabelle… I remember thinking that was even a beautiful name. Like, there were names I hated, like my own (Latin for dark and brooding. Woo.), but I’d never heard a name that struck me as beautiful. I liked it. And she was remarkably easier to talk to than I’d imagined she would be at first glance. Either way, she had me intrigued at the very least.
“Okay, so because I look like a character in a book, you felt compelled to come in here and talk to me?”
“Well, when you say it like that it just sounds weird. I… I felt compelled to come in here and talk to you with the hope that you were the real-life incarnation of Jack Merigold. Maybe even a little better.”
“Awfully hopeful. I mean, you did say yourself he was perfect. Those are some high standards. Plus, it doesn’t really matter, because—“
I stopped. I had almost told Annabelle I was taken. Then it came back to me. My ex was currently in bed, our bed, with some other guy. The ship had sailed. It was over.
“Oh, no. Don’t tell me your dating someone. She isn’t, like, here, is she? I should really—“
“No! Don’t go. No, I was dating someone. We recently… decided to part ways. I’m actually moving in to a friend’s house this weekend.” It was technically a lie, but I already had a friend whom I knew would take me in for a few days until I found an apartment.
“Oh, wow. So… man, I’m sorry. I should probably just leave you to your coffee—“
“No, Annabelle, don’t go. Seriously. I hate this coffee. I don’t know why I even brought that up. You seem really sweet, and if I need anything right now, I think it’s someone with a bright smile and a sweet demeanor to drag me out of my sullen-ness.” Had those words, those poetic words of suave and sophisticated flattery just passed through my lips? Maybe I was this Jack Merigold guy after all.
“Aww!” That smile again. Oh man. “Okay.”
She sat back down, and for the first time that day, I smiled. It felt good to have someone to talk to, despite the fact that she was only there because I happened to be the living embodiment of her favorite book character, and despite my four-year relationship coming to end on that cold, yet sunny, day.
“So, you say I look like this guy, this Jack Merigold. What book is that from?”
“It’s called ‘Umbrellas in the Sunlight’. It’s like heaven in a book. Lancaster’s a genius.”
“I see. Quite a title. So, what role does Jack Merigold, our shaggy-haired, scruffy-faced, sullen looking man of perfection, play in this tale?”
“Actually, funny story. He’s not exactly a main character, per say. He’s like, the main protagonist’s brother, and he’s mentioned maybe three times in the book.”
“Yet this Lancaster guy puts all this effort into describing him?”
“Well kinda. It’s more of the description I have for him. He does mention the whole sullen expression thing, but aside from that, it’s mostly me.”
“Wait, so let me get this straight. You’ve been telling me all about this guy like he’s some romantic super hero or something, but he’s barely even in the book?”
“Well, I mean, they mention him a couple of times, but—“
“But maybe you kinda-sorta made that up so you could come in here to talk? I mean, seriously, I’m flattered that one glance at me caused you to come in here. You really didn’t have to make all that up.” I don’t think it was physically possible for my smile to be bigger. This girl had come in here with this story and her beautiful smile and beautiful name, not for some book character, but for me.
“I’m sorry. I’m just not that great at making, well, ‘normal’ conversation.”
“Well, why don’t we just have a normal conversation, then? How about we start off by introducing ourselves?” Her expression of embarrassment started fading from her face. I felt bad about calling her out on her little lie, but I was kind of surprised at the whole situation, and when I realized what she was doing I couldn’t stop myself. But now I liked where this conversation was going: just getting to know her, talk to each other like normal people.
“Okay. My name’s Annabelle Puri. I live on Birch, grew up in Akron but moved here to Cortland after high school. I’m twenty-three and I like reading, watching sad movies by myself, and petting my cat. Oh, and I work at that little shop down the street, ‘Candleville.’ I love it there, and the owner’s so sweet but she won’t listen to me when I tell her she should change the name.”
“You left out ‘talking’ on your list of things you like,” she blushed a little, but I smiled at her so she didn’t think I was annoyed (which I wasn’t) and she smiled back.
“My name’s Corbin Watford. I technically live over on Stevens, but I will be relocating to my friend’s apartment downtown very soon. Let’s see, I grew up in Cuyahoga Heights, and moved here with my (now ex) girlfriend after college. I’m twenty-five, and I enjoy reading, long walks by myself, and sleeping in. I graduated from CSU last year with a degree in Online Media, and I just got an entry-level job at this advertising company downtown.”
After I finished my minute-long biography, I looked up at her, and I realized she had big, beautiful green eyes. I had never met a girl like this. I’d never been mesmerized by a girl’s eyes before, or felt myself blush when a girl smiled at me, or thought anyone’s name was beautiful. But Annabelle was just… different. In the ten minutes we sat there talking I felt like there wasn’t anybody else like her. I was confused and amazed and hopeful and awe-struck by her. I don’t know what came over me, but almost without realizing it, I had slid my hands across the table and put mine around hers.
I went to pull away once I realized what I was doing, but she smiled at me and gripped my hands a little tighter. I knew I had to be beet red with embarrassment, and I was sure she thought I was insane due to the ridiculous grin on my face. But I didn’t care, because I looked across the table at someone who wasn’t judging me, like I had been judged for the past four years, but someone who was flattered by my forwardness and was just as eager to get to know me as I was eager to know her. We ended up spending the next hour-and-a-half sitting in that café, telling each other everything we could think of about ourselves. I don’t think I’d laughed that much in years. We traded numbers before we left, and we had our first date a week later. In an hour and a half, I had gone from possibly my lowest point to my highest. It’s amazing how things can work out. We all have these plans and dreams that we think have to happen, and we can’t imagine life going anywhere off course. But when things happen, both good and bad, there’s always a reason. So I see it like this: regardless of what is happening at the moment, stick around; you never know what’s coming next.
Created: Mar 02, 2014Drewof96 Document Media