Charley knew it was a mistake to try a new cafe. Her local had been quiet and cozy but there was no way she was going back there, too many memories. Still she hated trying out new places. It was awkward even if they turned out to be nice. Unfortunately her fears were proved right. The decor was modern and soulless and the Barista made a weirdly big fuss about her ordering tea from a coffee shop even though they definitely offered it.
After an agonizing few minutes waiting for the barista to finish she took the cup and headed for a booth in the back of the store. It was jammed into a corner forming the quietest looking little nook in the shop that she could find. She sat down and withdrew a notebook from her shoulder bag. Opening it to a fresh page she put pencil to paper paper and willed something to flow out of her brain and onto the page. She'd heard somewhere that writing on paper was supposed to improve creativity (which was definitely the reason she was using the notebook and definitely not the fact that she was too broke to afford a new laptop). But even if that little fun fact was true it definitely wasn't working for her. Giving up on trying to write she resorted to just doodling in the margins.
She wasn't very good at drawing but it was something she enjoyed doing whenever she needed a break from not being very good at writing. She sketched the blocky forms of a castle and soon found herself working on a pretty extensive little kingdom. In fact she ended up being so enchanted by drawing tiny knights and dragons that she didn't notice the figure who sat down in the booth opposite her.
More startled than she'd like to admit she jumped a little at the sudden voice causing the pencil to streak across the page. Flipping the pencil around to erase her mistake, she glanced up at the intruder.
"Do you mind if I sit here?"
She glanced around the room noticing the abundance of free seats. Seeming to take her silence as approval he continued talking.
He said offering his name and a handshake.
She replied accepting only the former.
"So… come here often?"
"Not really. The place I normally go to write is shut."
She said not looking up from her page.
"Oh you're a writer!"
He reached down and picked up her notebook. Fucking neurotypicals did no one ever teach them the concept of boundaries. She reached out her hand, silently demanding the book back. He looked guilty and quickly handed it back.
"I'm sorry, can I buy you another drink or something?"
Suddenly something clicked in Charley's brain.
"Sorry, is this supposed to be you flirting with me?"
Ali's eyes went wide
Even given her history of struggling with social cues she could tell he looked like a panicked person trying to look offended.
“Look you’re cute but I don’t think that my girlfriend would appreciate us flirting with each other.”
“Oh… I… uh, right… sorry.”
Ali said, looking immediately flustered. She had to hide her sniger as he stumbled over his apology. It was a bit of a mean prank to play but his reaction justified it. To be completely fair she wasn’t exactly lying, Ali was relatively good looking, if slightly boyish and Stela probably would have been pretty annoyed at the two of them… had she not broken up with her a week ago. But Ali didn’t need to know that and thankfully he seemed to buy her story. She really didn’t want another relationship so soon and besides irrespective of his good looks Ali was a real douchebag.
The two sat in an appropriately awkward silence for a few moments until Ali, fool heartedly tried to break it.
"So um… is your girlfriend a writer too?"
As he spoke Charley could practically hear the thoughts of why are you asking that? and Just leave already! That were clearly running through his mind. Enjoying his embarrassment a little more than she probably should have, she decided to keep playing along.
"No, she's studying at veterinary school."
"Well still I guess it must be nice to have someone to read your stories to?"
Well that touched an annoyingly raw nerve. She had read some of her work to Stella a few times, and it had been nice. Unfortunately though most of the time she'd been too self conscious to let anyone read her work. Stella had always tried to push her to be more self confident and she'd always gotten defensive, it was probably one of the reasons their relationship had fallen apart.
Remembering that Ali's question was still waiting for an answer she mumbled something about how
"Well, it was good that at least someone was interested in them, given the publishers never seemed to care."
She recognised that resorting to self deprecation like this was only serving to prove her ex right but Stella's opinion hardly mattered right now.
Still trying to pretend that he hadn't been trying to flirt with her Ali asked
"So do you two live together then?"
Well this just officially stopped being fun.
Which admitted wasn't a lie despite how much she wished that she and Stella still did.
Ali seemed to notice that she was getting upset
"Sorry that was creepy wasn't it? I'm just gonna go"
He stood up and turned to leave the cafe but something clicked again in Charley's head and she put up a hand to stop him.
"No it's fine I think I'll go anyway, there's something I need to do."
She got up, walked past the counter, handed the Barista a fiver and walked out the door.
Once she was out on the street she pulled out her phone, opened the contacts and hit the call button. After a few rings she spoke into the receiver.
"Hi Stella, it's me."