(A special Valentine’s Day entry from Preston William Carr. If you’re new, start here. Otherwise, enjoy. – Timothy)
The man in front of me was very fidgety. He kept stepping back and forth, side to side, raising himself onto the front of his feet, and then coming down again. He was the kind of person you imagined smelled like beef and/or cheese.
I kept my distance for fear that he would run over me.
I’m not sure he had any idea there was someone behind him. He was much more concerned with the girl on the other side of the counter. If the tag on her shirt was to be believed, her name was Valerie.
“So what was the last movie you saw?” he asked, his voice quick and jumpy. Not so different from his posture.
Valerie was closing the register and pushing buttons on the screen before her. “Oh, that one with J-Lo and the student.”
“Oh yeah, I wanted to see that!” the fidgeting man said, continuing to move around in his New Balance shoes and jeans that were about two inches too short. “Was it good?”
Valerie kept her eyes on her hands as she continued to work, but she wore a genuine smile on her face. I thought they might know each other. “Yeah, it was great. I loved it.”
I rolled my eyes. Though I hadn’t seen it, I very much doubted it was “great”. To each his own. Or her own.
‘Fidgets’, as I was now calling him in my head, stopped all movement, waiting to see if she’d continue talking. Instead, she started making a drink on the counter behind her. “Yeah,” he said as he began to move again, “I love going to movies. Do you love going to movies? Where do you go to movies?”
The conversation was taking a turn for the awkward, and I was beginning to wonder if I was ever going to get to order something.
“The Carmike up the road usually,” she said. Her tone remained friendly. “I don’t see a lot of things. But that’s usually where I go.”
“No way!” he said. “I go there sometimes. Did you see the last Sex and the City movie there?”
I’m not a big Sex and the City fan, but I was fairly certain that movie was a good 4-5 years old.
Valerie was measuring milk in a metal cup. “Uh, I can’t remember. I might have.”
He listed off a few more movies, asking if she had seem them at the Carmike before making what I assumed was his big play. “Yeah, I’m going to see 50 Shades tonight. Probably there.”
Nothing says Valentine’s Day like being a guy who’s seeing a steamy bondage movie in the theatre by yourself. Of course, I think the hope was that he wouldn’t be alone.
“Oh fun,” she responded as stepped away for a moment, and then came back.
Fidgets looked down at the register, realizing his plan wasn’t going to succeed. “Did I pay?” he asked.
“Yep,” Valerie said, “The drink will be ready down at the end there in a bit.”
He seemed slightly disappointed. “Okay, thanks.”
As he shuffled away, I stepped up to the register, thinking in my head that I was saving this girl from the socially awkward man.
Thank you for being here, she would say. I thought I was going to have to call the cops.
Never fear, Valerie, I would reply, You’re safe. Now we can have a deep and meaningful conversation about important things.
Just so you know, I was lying about liking that J-Lo movie, she would say. It was terrible. I bet you could write a much better movie.
Funny you say that, I’d blush slightly, I’m actually a writer, and I’m currently working on a screenplay.
I could tell. You just have this aura to you, like a deep, sexy, witty aura.
I pulled myself out of the fantasy in time to see Valerie coming to the register. Just as words were forming in my mouth, she walked right past, not even looking. After making another drink and bringing it to the drive-through window, she finally came to register, looked up, and said plainly “Sorry about the wait. What can we get you?”
“It’s cool,” I said, trying too hard to sound cool, “I’ll take an Americano. Iced. Which is also…cool…”
She looked down to the register, clearly trying to not make a face as I considered punching myself in the mouth for what I had just said. She gave me my total, I gave her my card.
“Thanks,” she said, turning around, and before I could attempt more words, she was off preparing my drink. I looked down the bar and there was Fidgets, midway in a conversation with the other barista. Once again, he was clearly desperate for the attention, but to a degree, he was getting it. The other barista was laughing and smiling and talking to him.
Meanwhile, I was standing there, waiting alone for my ‘cool’ iced Americano on Valentine’s Day.
A few minutes later, I had my drink and returned where I had previously set up my computer, an empty chair sitting across from me. I looked over to see the second barista had been called back to the front lines, and Fidgets was alone, fidgeting as always, scratching the back of his home-school buzzcut.
He turned his head my way, and we briefly made eye-contact. His eyes were blue behind the circular glasses. Quickly I turned away in fear he might see this as an invitation to talk to me now. Based on movie tastes alone, I assumed he and I didn’t have much in common.
As I slipped my headphones into my ears though, I considered turning back around and saying hi to him. He was a mere 5 feet away. We could talk about how we were both at this coffee shop, alone on Valentine’s Day, clearly wishing we had a special someone to be with.
I could discourage him from viewing 50 Shades of Grey. Or is it Gray? I always swap those spellings around.
Maybe we’d even talk to the baristas again. Together this time. It’s always easier to talk to someone in pairs. Strength in numbers, and what not. And the sad thing is, I think what stopped me was the idea of what would follow.
Would this guy ask to hangout someone? Would he inquire as to what my phone number was so we could visit the local Carmike Cinema together? Would I be obligated to carry some friendship with him?
The unknowns overwhelmed me.
So I didn’t say anything. I turned on my music, and I started writing this story. He talked to the baristas a couple more times before finally heading out the door, and as I watched him shuffle off into the distance, I felt alone.
As awkward as he appeared to be, he was the one who made some sort of the connection with those two people. If they ran into each of us a few weeks from now, he’d be the one they’d remember. He’d be the one they’d say hi to.
I think it’s because despite his over-eager attitude, he was the genuine one. He was just ‘Fidgets’. I was ‘the guy acting like he was better than Fidgets’.
And it appears that on Valentine’s Day, authenticity wins.