At the risk of sounding like that neighborly friend you have who talks about nothing but dates and the weather, wow–I can’t believe it’s the second Wednesday in November already. I’m not going to do the math about how many words I’m supposed to have for NaNoWriMo at this point, but I assure you it’s nothing close to what I actually have. How about other NaNoWriMo’ers out there? You guys holding up? Did you hit a big boost of inspiration this week or are you ready to quit?
Like I’ve said before, I’m almost never motivated to write. Throughout middle school and high school, I produced my best work when I was forced to do something. If I knew it would count for something–a teacher’s approval, a grade boost, the class would hear it–I got to work, and I worked hard. NaNoWriMo is like that in a sense. Yes I’m behind now, but I don’t want to tell hundreds of readers (that’s you, beautiful people) on December 1st that I failed because Netflix was calling my name. Daily. Like seriously, all the time.
With that said, I present you with a bit of what I do have.
Sirens blare as I step into the cafe, and their high-pitch shrieking echoes my own internal wailing.
I haven’t been on a date in six years. I haven’t wanted to be on a date in six years. As lame as it sounds, Annelise really did a number on my heart. One Wednesday night in February she called me up from California (where she was living with some friends while her music got started) and told me she doesn’t want to be my fiancé, and definitely never wants to be my husband. I wasn’t bitter about it. Didn’t hold a grudge about it. I just didn’t want to be in the same helpless position again. Plus I can’t afford another ring like that.
I look around covertly and slide into a dinged up booth. It’s the kind of place that if you imagine hard enough, it’s fit both for taking the family out to Sunday brunch, and for a drug deal between the town’s two no-good troublemakers. This was neither, but I’ve never had much of an imagination anyway.
“Hey sugar, what can I get ya?” A heavy lidded waitress in a pink apron chomps her gum at me.
“Just coffee, thanks.”
“Decaf or the reg?”
“The…the regular, please. Thanks.” Why does a non-caffeinated version of a caffeine drink exist?
She slumps off to another table, this one with several pre-teen girls talking much too loudly for—whatever time of day this is.
The bells above the cafe door chime and in walks a man who looks to be in his thirties. He’s well-dressed, but not anywhere near the “dangerously hipster” side of the scale. He scopes the place out as if looking for someone. Oddly enough, he walks straight up to my booth.
“Hey, how ya doing,” he grunts politely but informally as he slides into the seat across from me.
“Oh, no, actually I’ve…I’ve got someone coming. There’s someone coming. A date. I’ve got a date.” When I get flustered, I ramble.
The man looks me in the eye. “No you don’t,” he says not pityingly, not happily, only matter of factly. I stare back in confusion.
“Hey baby, what can I get ya?” The waitress is back, smacking her gum a little harder this time and giving the stranger an approving once over.
“Oh no, he’s not sitting here. He—”
“Morning, Dottie. I’ll take the special sunny-side-up, bacon not sausage, and can you make those hash browns toast?”
She scribbles carelessly on a faded notepad. “Sure thing, baby.”
By this point he has my full attention. Is this a prank? He looks too old to have a group of friends hiding around a corner somewhere, laughing and high fiving each other. He doesn’t make eye contact with me, so I passive-aggressively glare at a sharp nose, defined chin, and hair that was probably jet black once but is graying early.
“Look, I’m serious. You can’t sit here. I have a—there’s a girl coming. A woman. To sit with me. Here.”
The man pours a bit of sugar on his finger and tastes it.
“She’s not coming.” He points out the window, and my stomach does a weak flop.
The sirens had been closer than I thought. The intersection at the end of the block is crowded with personnel. Policemen and EMS work to clean up the scene of an accident and direct traffic around it. A man in a neon vest stands dutifully in the middle of the road while a stretcher is being hauled into the back of a waiting ambulance. My mouth goes a bit dry.
“How do you know that’s her?” I ask him. It comes out a bit more forcefully than I intend it.
“I know things.”
“Who are you?”
“I’m someone you’ll know eventually. Whether you want to or not,” he adds as an afterthought. He doesn’t exactly sound happy about it. I wait expectantly, but he doesn’t add anything more.
“Well? What is this? Do you just show up at coffee shops and tell people random facts so they know you know about their lives? This is just to creep me out, right? Did Rich put you up to this?”
He looks almost bored now. “Nope. Rich isn’t smart enough to plan something like that.”
“How do you know people in my life?”
Finally, he actually looks engaged in the conversation. He pushes the sugar aside and leans forward on his elbows. Right then, the bubblegum waitress shows up with our plates of lukewarm sodium.
“Eat up, boys,” she says with a wink to the stranger.
But he slides the plate away too and prepares to answer my question.
“I know everyone, Nate. You, your ex, your dog, your high school principal, that guy over there with the bacon, and the waitress, too. Her name’s Dorothy, Dottie for short.”
“Name tag,” I mumble, but I hate to admit I’m a little curious.
“She doesn’t have a name tag on today. She lost it last week after she went straight home from work and drank herself to sleep. It wasn’t an unhappy type of drinking though,” he said, looking thoughtful. “It was more of the, ‘I’m so glad it’s Friday and I have no responsibilities for the next 60 hours’ type of drinking.”
“Good to know.”
He glances at my plate.
“Go ahead, you can eat.”
I think about the scene just outside the cafe and the woman who was—maybe?—supposed to be my date as she was loaded into the ambulance. I feel sick. I’m hungry too, but definitely more sick.
“Okay, look, I don’t know who you are. And I don’t know who told you this would be funny, but it’s not.”
I stand up and flop a ten on the table.
“Nice meeting you,” I say, not meaning it at all.