Today's the day I finally do it, the man thought once again as he took his earbuds out and wound the cord tightly around his iPod, just outside of the same coffee shop that he had gone to daily for the last three months. While he had frequented the store on a semi-regular basis before, the daily visit was a recent development, one that had nothing to do with coffee. It was also the reason why he hesitated to go in this morning, as he tried not to talk himself out of what would ultimately be an irreversible decision.
At least was beautiful out, a nice day to be outside when contemplating one's own bravery. Even if she says no, the man mused silently, at least it'll still be a nice day.
"She," of course, referred to the cashier, a tallish woman named Emmy with long dark hair and big brown eyes that were hidden under her glasses unless she peered at you over their frames. She had been hired a little over three months ago. The man had been smitten with her as soon as he had seen her, and his shyness and desire to ask her out had waged a constant battle since. It didn't help matters that his usual awkward demeanor was amplified to comical degrees when he was in her presence. He could never think of anything to say, and he could hardly keep himself from dropping anything she handed him. But she was patient with him, which he was grateful for. She seemed very nice, although that may have been him giving her the benefit of the doubt.
He glanced at the coffee shop window to see if anyone noticed him, and caught sight of his own reflection. He shouldn't have done that. His earlier acceptance of the situation had immediately been replaced with thoughts of his own physical imperfections: his big, awkward frame, his long greasy hair. And his nose. His nose! It was gigantic and hooked, a massive blemish he couldn't possibly hide. She was beautiful. And he… well, he was not beautiful. All confidence drained from his frame, and his reflection slouched in exasperation.
Who knows. Maybe she's boring, and it all doesn't matter anyway, he thought glumly, as he finally opened the door and entered the shop, a man defeated by his own conscience.
But she knows me, he thought, with a brief uptick in spirit. I mean, it would have been impossible for her to not know who he was based on the daily visits, but he knew for certain she knew him after what had happened last week. A day off of work meant that he visited the coffee shop at a leisurely 10:00, rather than his usual 7:45. As soon as he walked in the shop, Emmy visibly brightened.
"You're late," she said, in a mock scolding tone. "I bet your boss is just furious with you right now."
She noticed me, he thought with hopefully concealed glee, and she's holding me accountable! After forcing a few poorly enunciated words out of his mouth in an attempt at a conversation, it was all he could do to keep his feet on the ground as he walked out of the store.
So with a glimmer of hope, he began to approach the counter where Emmy stood waiting for a customer. The man was thankful that, even though the morning bustle was well underway, the shop seemed slower than usual. It was less people for him to potentially embarrass himself in front of.
Maybe I should get something to eat too, he thought suddenly. A potential conversation starter was something that he desperately needed, since doing this cold would be a brutal undertaking.
As he contemplated what to get, another customer cut past him and ordered a coffee, and the man observed their interaction. Emmy kept up a steady conversation with him, and at one point briefly laughed at something he had said, which silently destroyed the man. He seethed with jealousy as the younger, shorter customer mimicked the kind of ease the man wished he possessed. You should be angry at yourself, he thought as the man walked away, transaction completed. You're an adult. Get over yourself.
"Those pastries are lovely. You made a great choice," she said as he approached the counter.
"Are they? I'm happy I'm getting them then."
The man panicked at the resulting silence, as he realized that a conversation starter is ultimately only as good as its practitioner. This is going great so far, the man thought to himself. Maybe I should just try again tomorrow.
"And you want a coffee as well?"
"Yes. A medium, please."
Emmy turned to the machine, and he took a breath for the first time since he had walked in the store. But his order was simple and easy to make, so he was only up for air for a second before she turned around once again.
"Here you are! Is there anything else I can do for you?"
"Um, I… no, that's all that I can think of."
The man forced a smile as he once again lost to himself in a game of chicken. The thought of embarrassing himself in front of this woman was too much to bear at the given moment. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe never. But definitely not today.
In a development that took the man completely by surprise, the woman smiled coyly in response.
"Are you sure about that?"
The man stared.
"Maybe something you want to ask me?"
Oh my God, she knows. A wave of relief flooded over the man as he smiled and blushed and glanced at the floor briefly, then back at her. "God, I'm so bad at this," he said to her, almost apologetically.
"No shit!" She laughed, and snagged a small napkin and pen and slid it over to him. "Write your name and number on this and I will call you this weekend."
I really hope she texts, the man sheepishly thought, as he imagined the awkwardness of a potential phone call. He jotted down his number carefully. "Sounds great. I'll be around. Maybe we can grab a coffee?"
"Please, I can get a coffee anytime!" She laughed again, a melodious laugh that made the man wish he was funny, and could inspire it at will. "Maybe an actual drink? I know a few places around here."
"I'd love that," he beamed. Tension drained from his body as he slid the napkin back in her direction.
"But you didn't write your name. What am I supposed to call you?"
The man's heart sank. Oh no. Not this again.
"Just… call me, I guess?" He tried laughing at his own joke, but she looked on, confused. "Look, it's kind of stupid sounding. I'm pretty embarrassed by it to be honest."
"Come on, what is it?"
"It's not going to be that bad," she said, with a playfully exasperated tone. "Just tell me!"
The man gulped. Here goes nothing.
"Fine. It's Zlatan."