The Muse and I have been toying with this one for some time now; trying to get it just right without being pedantic. More are planned. I’m not the first to write from this point of view, probably not the last, but this is my voice in the cacophony.
To quote the Wicked Witch of the West, “these things must be handled delicately…”.
“Why do you drink coffee like that?”
“Like that. Iced.”
“You know, this reminds me of a stand-up comic’s routine where he talks about how people will always question whether you drink alcohol or not, but nobody ever really questions whether you want a certain condiment or not…”
“Who was it?”
“It doesn’t really matter, the question just reminded me of that joke, probably because your tone and facial expression didn’t reveal an actual curiosity, but betrayed something else under the surface.”
“You see. Right there.” He said, leaning in slightly. “Your tone, facial expression, body language. All of it. It betrays this underlying, almost passive aggressive, dismissive disgust for me.”
“Well, we don’t like each other.”
“Oh, you definitely don’t like me, that goes without saying! But yet, here you are… sitting down to talk. Me, I’m actually impartial to you. I simply don’t care and I don’t give you free rent in my head. If I didn’t like you, I wouldn’t have even given you the time. But, since I’m impartial. Here I am. So, why did you call this little meeting, anyways?”
“You don’t know?”
“Mm, I have a hunch. With the out-of-the-way location, the early morning time, it could’ve been so you could finally give me a piece of your mind verbally or physically. But, overall, I’d say it was something else. If I had to guess, I’d say that in some way, shape or form, it’s advice that you are after.”
“You are a cocky sonofabitch, she’s right about that.”
“Mm, indeed, she is.” Sitting back and taking a long pull on the straw in his coffee, looking at the man across the table from him. “Oh that’s good…” Swirling the cup around, then setting it down and leaning back in. “So… Am I right?”
“You like to hear yourself talk, don’t you?”
“Eh, it’s taken me awhile to get use to the sound, but yeah, I do.”
“Whatever. I want to know how you did it.”
“How did you seduce my wife?”
“Ah, see, there it is. Advice.”
“I’m not asking for your advice.”
“Sure you are! You aren’t over her, so maybe you think learning the “how” from me can win her back, or find someone else to make her jealous. Either way, the advice you want is about her.”
He kept his eyes fixed on the other man as he took another pull. The other had barely touched his black coffee since he sat down, his cheeks flushed with the struggle to contain his emotions. Anger. Embarrasment. The man looked down.
“Really though, this should be about you, not her. But depending on how this goes, we might get there…you might just see it.”
“How did you do it?” He asked again, looking down, his voice quieter.
“First, I didn’t seduce your wife. I know your self-authored fiction has me painted as some predatory man in the shadows, the villain who plucked up your oh-so-innocent and pure-as-the-driven-snow bride and twisted her against you. The truth is far more complex.”
“Well, you took her from me, that’s all I need to know…” His eyes slightly watering.
“I won’t shirk my responsibility. I did definitely have a part to play and I’ve embraced and dealt with the villainous side of my nature. But, really now, how long has it been, hmm? Six years? And you haven’t gotten over it; you haven’t grown or moved on. You’ve barely dated and every failed date had an excuse. Oh yeah, don’t be surprised, I know… You’ve wallowed in self pity this whole time, playing the victim card, self-sabotaging every date and interaction with every girl. ‘They did this to me’, you say to yourself over and over again. Never once looking in the mirror.”
The other stood, visibly disturbed, looking at the door and grabbing his coffee like he was going to leave, but he paused, unsure. Silence between both, the injured one trying to control his breathing, it was harder than he expected this to be.
“You know what the funny thing is?” The man sitting down said calmly after taking another pull from his straw. “Two things actually. I was just like you, about four years before I even met her.”
The other looked down from where he stood, coffee cup in hand, tempted to throw it in the other man’s face.
“Yeah, so I heard. If that’s true, you should’ve known better… and the second?”
“That I had pity for you early on and actually talked to her about helping you become like me.”
“It was complicated. Part of me wanted to help you because I’d been in your shoes. Part of me didn’t for the exact same reason. But it was awhile before I understood that last part, really. She was curious if you could actually do it. Doubtful, but curious. What girl doesn’t like two men in a contest for her hand? But seriously, Neil, if I had come to you and said, ‘I’m sorry for the grief I’ve caused you, but if you really want to win her back, I can help. It’s going to be hard and painful and will take a long time and even after all that, you still may lose her altogether.’ Would you really have been able to see past your own anger and listened to me?”
He began in protest, but the wheels were finally spinning. “I suppose you are right. Sed, I’d have told you to go to hell.”
“That’s probably the first honest thing you’ve said about yourself regarding your prior marriage.”
Neil finally took a sip of his black coffee and sat back down. “Yeah, I suppose so…”
“By the way… why do you drink your coffee like that?” A wink and playful smile on Jack’s lips.
“I actually have a point, here. You treated your relationship with your ex-wife like a lot of men do. I did the same thing. We had a formula, drinking our coffee only one way, and it got us the same results that so many couples get.”
Adding an overly sarcastic, bored tone and dramatic eye-roll, Jack continued. “‘Hooray. Black coffee, hot, two sugars, one cream. Yaaaaaaaaaay.'”
Jack then looked around the shop, catching the eye of the pretty, young barista behind the counter. She smiled, raised up a pitcher of cold brew and signaled if he was wanting more. He feigned a playful disgust and shook his head.
“No, I’m good, thank you.” Jack smiled, winked at her and looked back to Neil. She smiled, shook her head and rolled her eyes as she put the pitcher back.
“Did you seriously just flirt with her?” Neil said.
“That qualifies as flirting to you? Wow, interesting. Okay, let’s say that I was. You see my “flirting” through a limited lens: “I can’t believe him, he’ll fuck anyone with a skirt!” When really, all I was doing is building on a verbal and non-verbal, playful rapport that I started with her before you got here when I ordered my drink.”
Jack took another sip of this drink. Neil chimed in. “Sure, you were…”
“Think, Neil. How many people during her shift treat her like a human being? How many throughout her day are offering her the dignity and respect of genuine friendliness? You surely have some idea of the onslaught of impersonal small talk baristas and service people like her receive while the customers toss their debit card or cash across the counter. Not to mention all the assholes.”
“I hadn’t thought of it that way.”
“Of course you didn’t. Now, do you think she attractive?”
“I guess so. She’s out of my league though…”
Jack furrowed his brow and looked back towards the barista, busy with the espresso machine. “Mmm…not necessarily my type, but definitely attractive.” Jack turned back towards Neil. “Would I approach her? Possibly.”
“Possibly? Dude, she’s smokin’, no way you could get her.”
“Mmm… In another time or place, but she’s not even on my radar.”
“She’s not on my radar. Anyways, you bringing up this whole flirting thing? That’s actually something that worked against you while married. Your insecurities placed a ton of pressure on your pedestal maiden and anytime she smiled at a waiter, bartender or busboy, you thought she was flirting. You got this image in your mind of her fucking that person. You were so insecure! You couldn’t enjoy most of your dates and see that she had chosen you, she was with you, and just being nice to everyone else.”
Jack took another pull from his cup.
“And now, I’ve already given you two things as partial answers to your question. Boredom, Spontaneity, Transactions and Connection.”
“So, you’re saying that if I was more spontaneous and connected with her more, she wouldn’t have left me?”
“It’s not that simple. It’s not, ‘If I do A + B + C then it will equal D.’ Your answers aren’t going to come in this one conversation or so simply, Neil. I’ve been there, so I get it. This will take some time. Rid yourself of binary thinking and formulaic thinking. Not everything is black or white, yes or no.”
Jack stood, putting his suit jacket on, watching Neil process what he had said.
“Many things are black and white, yes and no – both. Together and separate, Neil. And they aren’t solved with “5 Simple Steps”. Think about it. We’ll talk next week. Same time and day?”
“Uh, sure. Yeah.” Neil sipped his coffee.
“Good. Until then.” Jack turned quickly and walked towards the door. The Barista was now busing a table between he and the door.
“Have a great day, thanks for coming in!” She said.
Neil watched intently as Jack paused, turning around to greet her with the same warm smile as before. He was nearly twice her age, but it didn’t seem to matter to Jack.
“I’m glad you took my teasing in stride. I’m sure you hear it a lot, but the coffee here is truly exceptional. Maybe it was the way you made it.”
“Oh sure, I don’t make it like that for everyone!” She fired back, a feigned sarcasm, more playful in tone than anything.
Jack laughed and Neil noticed that as he did so, Jack very gently touched the barista’s elbow that was closest to him, leaned in and said something else. She didn’t back up, repulsed, rather she leaned in, listening like he was a close friend. Then she burst out laughing.
“You have a good day, now, Clara.”
“Thanks, you too.”