John sat in one corner of the coffee shop, plucking at the top of his corn muffin, half-listening to the old couple at the opposite end quarrel about something that was no doubt trivial. He looked up at the fluorescent clock over the counter. 9:45 AM. Which meant he still had fifteen minutes before she was supposed to arrive. John sighed, hating himself for having to be here so early, but it was an ingrained habit by now. “Always show up early to your appointments, Johnnie,” his grandfather’s words rang in his head. “This way, you always have time to prepare for any eventuality.”
He took another sip of his French Vanilla coffee, trying to calm his nerves. It was the first blind date he had agreed to since he was a sophomore in college at Trenton State, nearly fifteen years ago, now. And that one hadn’t gone so well. John still had distasteful memories of meeting the girl that his roommate had raved about, saying “She’s a perfect match for you, you’ll see...You’ll like her”. The reality had turned out much, much different.
John repressed the memories, not wanting them to jinx this upcoming chance at a relationship. He’d been down on his luck in the dating world, in a rut since his last girlfriend had decided to cheat on him while he worked tireless hours at the factory. Finding out about it had broken his heart, and shattered his resolve for finding anyone else. But, eventually, the loneliness ate away at him, little by little, until he confessed his anxiety to Steve, a good friend who worked alongside him at the assembly line.
“I know this girl...” Steve had started out, and bing, bang, boom, John was here, anxiously awaiting yet another blind date after so many years. Another look at the clock. Two minutes had passed. Does it just seem like time crawls when you just want it to move faster, and vice versa?
To amuse himself, John counted off the good points on his fingers. One, he wasn’t bad looking. Two, he had his own car.
Yeah, a piece of shit Honda that was nearly fifteen years old, with balding tires and a failing transmission.
Three...he had a job.
A piece of shit job, a dull factory existence, where you break your back and bust your sweaty balls for the grand, regal amount of $250 a week. And how much of that gets eaten up by your bills, Johnnie?
John began to sweat, brushing the corn muffin absently with the tips of his fingers, grabbing the coffee with his other hand in a tightening grasp. He could feel a panic attack coming on, the first one he had had in almost three months. Considering the circumstances...
Ok...he would tell her, I’m not in the best of situations right now, and I’m not (awkward) too bad around people. Who knows? If things had (gone right) been different, maybe I would have had a better career, making more money (or being completely destitute, if it was a failed venture). I mean...just because I work in a factory (a hell hole) doesn’t mean that I’m (unhappy) happy...
John’s breath came in fluttering gasps, drawing a stare from the old couple, who had stopped bickering long enough to appraise the young man who was now shaking in his chair. He had to get a grip...a grip...think of something positive, damn it.
I met...met...Edgar Allan Poe.
I mean, James Poe. The reverend who helped Martin Luther King write up his equality speech.
Oh yeah? When was that?
When was what?
When did you meet him?
I...I don’t remember.
John closed his eyes, feeling the sweat trickle down from his forehead, lathering his cheeks with a moist sheen of perspiration. He could do this...he could get himself under control...
By the time Tanya walked into the coffee shop (five minutes later than the scheduled time, as her grandmother often told her, “If you show up right on time, dear, you’ll seem too eager”), the place was empty save for the girl at the cash register and an old couple talking quietly in one corner. Tanya shrugged her shoulders, thinking her date was probably running a little late.
Half an hour later, when she was positive beyond a doubt that he had ditched her, Tonya wrapped up the remains of her corn muffin, throwing it in the trash while taking a sip of her French Vanilla coffee. She headed for the door, entertaining the thought that maybe...just maybe (but probably not)...he could have been the one for her.