Oh no. It's that cute cashier.
Calm down. You don't even come here that often. He doesn't recognize you.
That was a smile. He smiled. He recognizes me!
oh no oh no oh no
Connie clutched her almond butter tighter. The line at the grocery was inconveniently long--inconvenient because it gave her plenty of time to reflect on her situation. On her too-big and too-ratty-to-really-be-kept-any-longer cardigan. On her slept-on and half-down bun. On the way her right eye was now twitching under the stress.
It is not actually twitching. Probably.
The line moved up a notch.
Did you even need almond butter at 6 o'clock in the morning anyway? But yes. Yes she did. It had been one of those mornings--nights--evenings--whatever it was anymore. The ones where you faceplanted on your keyboard at 7pm and slept until your computer also slept, and the warm laptop fan stopped blowing over your face. And then tottered around until you hit your knees on your bed and slept there. And then woke up at 5am, ravenous because you fell asleep before your dinner finished cooking last night, to find that your tofu rice pudding had simmered for ten hours and formed an igneous-rock-like structure at the base of your best pot. So, toast. Get some carbs. Deal with your pot, but not without carbs. And then there was no almond butter.
The line moved again. She was now close enough to see the gum and the magazines, full of eager advice about how your life was off track and how you could fix it with these ten easy steps.
Step one: almond butter, Connie speculated. Step two: matching socks. Step three: smile.
She smiled at the cashier. He flipped his pretty brown hair out of his dark eyes and smiled back, making a little dimple pocket in his stubble.
He slid her almond butter across the scanner. "$5.99. Having a nice morning?"
"perrearghfuh," said Connie.
Of course. Because. You haven't. Spoken. To anyone. In. Three. Days.
Connie coughed. Fished out a ten to build time. Coughed again. "Preaatgy fienne."
Better. Good job. A+. Now go home and never come out again.
"One, two, three, four, and one penny is your change!" He counted bills into her outstretched hand, and Connie risked a glance up at the cashier. If he had any reactions to her hermit-style vocal ineptitudes, they weren't visible on his face. "Take care."
Later, at home with toast and almond butter and the pot rehydrating in the sink, Connie mused on that. She had a theory about "take care." Mostly a theory based around grandfatherly old men adopting that phrase as their principal form of communication, but. A theory nonetheless.
It was a theory titled He Worries The Wider World Is Too Much For Your Be-Cardiganed Self To Handle. Subtitle: He Is Probably Not Interested In Dating You.
At least he meant well.
What you mean is: at least it's a Saturday. At least you have plenty of time to recover from accidental kitchen chemistry experiments and motherly cashiers.
"Enough of this," Connie said aloud to the room. It came out closer to "eeuyoghhfhs," but no one was listening. "Tea. Honey." ("tee. hnnee.") "'N thn youare gung to connqur ths deay."
Head up, wind blowing through her hair, Connie felt ready to conquer anything. The day would be small potatoes. Hot jogger approaching on her left? Observed, did not obsess over, and passed by. Brusque barista at the Starbucks? Smiled at, paid, left. Friendly taco maker at the food truck? Small-talked, did not reveal entire life story in a burst of cynical over-sharing, walked on.
Central Park. That's where she was headed. To get her head away from the bustle and frenzy and closer to something calm, like trees. Of course, it being New York, the bustling people were omnipresent and even the trees were frenetic--but what could you do. A trip to a secluded, rural woodland would have to wait for proper planning. She found a bench, sat, let her mind filter out the jostle of people, chatter, bike bells. Let herself be happy for the view and the foot. Bite of taco. Sip of London Fog. Bite of taco. Her bench overlooked one of the open lawns. Well-tended, of course, even in this season with leaves falling at every breeze. There was a school group or something gathered in the middle for a photo, all in dark orange shirts, chaperones coralling loose students into the circle. Like raking up leaves.
Congratulations. Very original comparison.
Shh. No negativity. I'm conquering.
Sip of London Fog. Bite of taco.
Overused comparisons aside, it was a gorgeous day. A gorgeous morning, even, because thanks to the previous morning/night/evening's adventures she was up and about earlier than normal--it wasn't even 11 yet. Everything was crisp and morning-damp, the sun doing colorful things to the trees that made her fingers itch to pick up a pencil. But right now it was enough to just sit. To sip a London Fog. To exist.
Her phone rang.
Connie shoved the last bite of taco into her mouth as she checked the number, then didn't bother to finish chewing before she answered. "Hi Mom."
"I'm not interrupting, am I?" Her voice just audible over the wind and the passerbys' chatter.
Connie swallowed. "No?"
"Oh." Her mother's tone was slightly disappointed but not surprised. "I thought you must have a date, to be out this early and eating."
"No, Mom. No dates." She crumpled the taco paper in her left hand and chucked it into the nearby bin, pumping her fist when it actually went in. "Just a lovely Saturday morning with a very New York brunch."
"I don't know what that means."
"It means a taco and a tea latte." A sip of the same. She leaned back, stretched out her legs. The school group had finished their photo and dispersed, fracturing into groups of tag and tree climbing and cartwheels. It was a beautiful morning. She was conquering.
The question broke through her reverie: "But wouldn't your brunch be better with a date?"
"I've decided not to worry about men." A very big sip of London Fog to cap that sentence. "Just going to live for me right now."
She could almost hear the eyebrow raise. "Is that a very healthy-minded way of saying you've given up?"
"Nooo." That sounded too defensive. Try again. "No. I'm just--"
Then several things happened at once.
One: the phone flew out of Connie's right hand; and
Two: the London Fog flew out of Connie's left hand; because
Three: a biker veered around a renegade orange-shirted schoolkid and crashed right into Connie's outstretched ankles; and
Four: shrieked a little, stomped out her foot to keep from flipping, crushed the ill-fated latte cup; but
Five: caught Connie's phone; and
Six: held it out to her with a triumphant little dimpling smile, eyes vibrant behind strands of escaped helmet hair; at which point
Seven: Connie swallowed several times and gave a hesitating half smile and hoped her eyelid wasn't twitching and took the phone and said "Mom, I'm going to have to call you back."
"I'm so sorry about your coffee!" the biker was saying. "And your feet!! Are you okay? I think I like. Almost dismembered them."
Conquering today. Remember. You are conquering today. Connie smiled and rubbed her ankles. "They're fine, I think. Don't worry about it. It'll be nice to have an actual excuse to stay in all day." Too much cynical oversharing hold it in hold it--
But she just laughed. "I should have! I've been doing lazy weekends for weeks, but today I woke up early and thought, 'Maeve, this could be the last clear morning for months, you should get out there'--you probably wish I'd just stayed in bed, though."
"No," Connie found herself saying. "No, this um. Is probably the most exciting thing to happen this month."
"Oh, definitely same." Maeve straightened her bike and looked out over the clearing, where the school chaperones were herding kids to leave. The sun sparked off her helmet and highlighted the curve of her chin in a way that really had Connie's fingers itching for a pencil.
"Can I buy you a coffee?"
The question was out before Connie could hold it back. She clamped her mouth shut to keep anything else from slipping out.
Oh. Well. That's--
But Maeve was laughing. "No! I spilled yours--I'll take you out! To coffee. If you'd like."
Connie smiled up at her. "I'd like that very much."