The ambition was eggs Benedict, the reality coffee and a bagel. The prospect of looming unemployment, a morning spent lugging heavy furniture, and an intense sense of apathy at the vicious trap laid before him gave him an appetite for cigarettes that he ignored because one pack of cigarettes equaled three dozen packets of instant ramen noodles and even the nastiest nicotine jones would not change such a stark reality. Walking in the summer drizzle, he turned a corner and–horror. His usual breakfast pit stop in these parts, a deli run by a Korean lady with a perm, was closed for the week. VACATION UNTIL 19TH, SORRY, said the paper sign on the door. A deep sigh, then a murmured “goddamnit” to no one in particular. His eyes were getting heavy with fatigue: coffee was the priority. But where?
A wanderer wanders best when a vague sense of familiarity exists between one’s surroundings and sense memory. So it was here: this young man, wet with rain and sweat, peered around a street corner and saw a vaguely intimidating restaurant and cafe up the block. There was coffee here, there were tables, there was a pain au chocolat that he would certainly succumb to: yes. He loitered outside the entrance, perhaps waiting for a definitive sign that this was the place. “Nothing ventured,” he began to say as he walked in and grabbed a seat at the bar.
His spine tingled when he saw the barista. She was a thin young woman in a white blouse with the sleeves cut off. She had a healthy, even tan and a slightly quizzical look on her face as she took someone else’s order. Mmmmmmhmmmm. The panic set in as she turned toward him and they exchanged a smile. “Owl be right with yoo,” she drawled. An Aussie? Holy shit. He needed a distraction, fast. He pulled out his smartphone and tried to read The Guardian‘s headlines about financial doom and social catastrophe with something resembling interest. Australian accents are hot as fuck. Wait, Everton are going into administration? Hahahaha—
“Hi. What can I get you?” He’d forgotten all about the coffee, the order, everything. There were blue eyes staring back at him, and as he folded his hands in front of him and drew breath to speak, the thought that if he ran away to Australia with this girl, he’d never come back passed over before he muttered: “I’d like a large coffee, please.” He got out a complete sentence. This was a victory of sorts. In the past, he would have stuttered and scratched his head like a real-life American parody of mid-1990s Hugh Grant. “Sugar and milk are over there,” she said, gazing behind his right shoulder. He pulled out a pen and paper from his back pocket, and began to jot down a to-do list for the day to keep himself from blushing like an embarrassed child. Skim milk. Ice trays. Bananas. Apples. The coffee came, and he attempted a wan smile in thanks. She smiled back, and all hell broke loose. He was 11, handing out a box of chocolates and a bouquet of flowers to a crush that never responded to his advances out of shock. Australia…have to go to Australia.