06 July 2012

"Waking Up Alone"

By Curtis C. Chen

The girl's glow-green eyes glittered as she said, "Baltimore with a shot of espresso to go, right?"

Jake was so surprised, it took him nearly a full second to reply, "You remember that?"

The girl shrugged and smiled. The holographic heart tattooed into her left dimple sparkled. "It's just an odd combination. Most half-caf folks don't add espresso."

"It's for the flavor," Jake said. "Espresso tastes different than drip coffee. To me, anyway."

The girl nodded. "Charge card?"

She indicated the paypoint with one slender finger. The animated flower painted on her fingernail danced from left to right.

Jake swiped his card and pressed his thumb on the reader while racking his brains for small talk. He'd spent hours last night researching cosmetics, finding out what brand of contact lenses she wore and what the diffraction pattern in her cheek tattoo was and the name of every cartoon plant on her fingernails. He had thought he was prepared to make interesting conversation.

Jake didn't know shit about coffee.

He suddenly wished he had an excuse to truncate this awkward silence. Maybe he could pretend his phone was buzzing. That it was something important, police-detective-important, and he had to run.

Then he felt like an idiot. You stare down perps in the box every day, Jake told himself. And you can't manage a simple conversation with this girl? Pull your shit together, Lanosky!

He'd say his name, finally introduce himself, and ask her name. He was dying to know her name, the one on the apron tag that was covered up by her long, brown hair. Simple. Easy. Go.

Jake opened his mouth just as the girl slid his drink across the counter.

"There you go," she said, and started to turn away.

"Wait," Jake said. "Just one more thing."

She turned back, smiling brightly. "Yes, sir?"

And Jake wilted.

"You have a great day," he said.

"Thanks! I'll do my best," the girl said. Her eyes had already moved on to look at something outside the window.

Jake walked out of the cafe. After he turned the corner, he dropped the full coffee cup into a trash bin.

He got into his car, opened the glovebox, and pulled out the hip flask. He tossed back a shot of whiskey. He would have put it in the coffee anyway, he rationalized, and this woke him up just as well.

He wasn't anybody to the girl in the cafe. Just another "sir," another customer she could get a bigger tip from if she flirted a little. He was stupid to think he could have gotten anywhere with her.

And he knew why he'd been so nervous about chatting her up. Because no matter how most-wanted or armed-and-dangerous his suspects were, Jake had nothing personal on the line when dealing with them. He knew exactly what that relationship was: antagonistic. And Jake was good at being the bad cop.

He wasn't so good at being an actual human person.

"Fuck it," he grumbled, and downed another shot. "Time to go catch some bad guys."


Image: Coffee to go by Christian Kitazume, November, 2007