Thunder clapped, and Joel jumped as two aimless bolts of lightning lanced across the sky, illuminating the small apartment through the broken window. A gust blew through the hole in the glass, water dripping from two dagger-like shards hanging from the top of the frame. How long had it been like that? 3 days? A week? Joel quickly grabbed the piece of tarp he had been using as a temporary barrier and hung it in place, then walked over to the fridge. On the sea of judgmental, unchecked items on his to-do list, he found it.
Get glass replaced. Two weeks ago. Could you be any less on top of things? His hand reached up to his head and he rubbed a finger into his temple.
His phone lit up and buzzed, a text message from Dave reading, “Hey man, I’m popping over in about 45 to look at your window.”
Joel’s eyes went wide.
He grabbed the phone and frantically typed back, “Oh, don’t worry about it. It’s raining, there’s no need to trouble over it.”
For a second there was no reply, then the phone buzzed. “Exactly, it’s raining. Anyway, I haven’t seen you in like two weeks and I’ve got the morning off tomorrow so I can be up late tonight. See you soon.”
Great. Now other people have to fix your mistakes.
Joel just stood, frozen, thinking of everything Dave would rather be doing than helping him with a broken window.
He flicked the light on and examined the scene, chewing on his lip in the process. Two plates – his entire collection – sat in the sink, dirty with toast crumbs. The mugs and moka pot were both clean, sitting in the cupboard where they hadn’t been used in days. The laundry hamper was mostly empty – clothes seemed to last 4 or 5 days at the moment.
He forced himself to take a deep breath. Dave loves coffee. You can make him a coffee. He opened the cupboard and grabbed the two mugs and the moka pot, then the bag of coffee.
With nothing inside, the weightless bag swirled in the air and settled gently on the floor.
Damn it! He had only bought coffee yesterday…hadn’t he? The to-do list answered the question. Buy coffee. 5 days ago. It was unchecked.
Joel looked at the time. It was nearly midnight. Dave would leave work at the hospital any second. His heart raced.
An inconvenience to your friends, and nothing to offer them.
He jerked upright. There was a tiny late-night café a couple of blocks away. He could get there and back before Dave arrived. There was no time to waste. He grabbed the wallet and ran down the stairs, pausing only to gauge how hard the rain was falling and put his hood up before stepping out. At this hour the streets were deserted, but he kept his head down, his eyes on the lookout for the deep puddles. He was moderately successful, avoiding two or three.
His luck ran out as he crossed the first street and his foot disappeared up to the ankle in blackness. Evidently a storm drain was blocked, causing a small river across this side of the road. With an awkward skip he was back up on the pavement, groaning as each step of his left foot squelched with cold water.
It’s not even good coffee. It’s roasted too dark, and they use boiling water. He paused under a bus stop, looking back towards his apartment. Dave was something of a coffee fanatic, always evaluating the texture, strength and aroma of a brew. Is this the best you can do for people?
He stood there for a few moments, weighing up which option was worse – bad coffee, or no coffee. A gust of wind blew past, answering the question for him as he shivered under his wet hoody and stepped back into the rain, towards the café.
A small bell rang as he opened the door. A customer briefly looked up from a table, then turned back to their laptop. The empty counter was quickly filled as a lady hurried out from the back, smiling at him with pity, or perhaps contempt.
Joel hurried up to the counter. “Two coffees please.”
“Milk?” she asked, offhandedly.
“In one; the other black.” Nothing should dilute the taste of the coffee, as Dave would say.
The lady punched in the order on the cashier, shouting back to the kitchen where it was repeated by a man who seemed more interested in his phone. Joel took a seat, his foot tapping hurriedly on the ground. He steadied the judder with a hand on his knee, focusing on the whirring of the coffee grinder, the hissing of the steamer and the ring of the bell as another customer entered. The coffee was ready almost immediately, and he paid and thanked the lady.
As he turned, he walked straight into the other customer. In shock he dropped the coffee cups, both him and the customer jumping back as the cups hit the floor and opened, spilling coffee everywhere.
“Watch where you’re going, idiot!” the man shouted, loud enough to draw the eyes of both the kitchen hand and the person sitting at their laptop.
“I’m so sorry,” Joel mumbled. “It was an accident.”
The man huffed and pushed passed, mumbling obscenities under his breath.
Joel grabbed the nearest napkin and dropped to his knees fighting a losing battle against the spread of the brown liquid on the tiled floor.
The man soon passed by again, mumbling. “Pay attention next time, moron.”
Joel didn’t reply. A lump had formed in his throat and he tried to focus on the napkin. He nearly jumped as the lady came over with a mop.
“Don’t worry about it. We’re fixing you up another two now. Free.”
Joel looked up in alarm. “Oh, it’s ok. I’ll pay again.” It was my fault. I screwed it up. Just like I screw up everything.
She refused to let him pay, so he left a big tip in the jar as recompense for creating extra work for them. They insisted this happened all the time, and he smiled weakly, humouring their lies before heading off.
The rain had stepped up its relentless attack, and he hurried back to the apartment. Ascending the stairs, he left a trail of shimmering steps where splashes of water had been squeezed out of his soaked shoe.
The tarp had torn off the window hinge, and Joel put the coffee on the counter, knocking them over in his haste to fix the window. He recovered them with only the tiniest spill from each cup before he finished replacing the tarp, fighting as the ends flapped in the breeze.
Deep breath. Take it easy. One thing at a time.
He stepped back to the counter, hunting for a clean cloth to wipe away the spill and suddenly froze. The small trickles of coffee running down the cups were both light brown. Both of them. Joel’s eyes went wide, and he delicately peeled off the lids, peeking inside to see two cups of milky coffee. He stared in disbelief, wondering how.
It’s obvious what happened. Everything got messed up because you dropped the cups. Because you drop everything.
God, his friend was coming straight from a late shift to see him, to help him fix something that he should have got round to himself nearly two weeks ago and he couldn’t even manage to provide something in return.
Joel collapsed against the cabinet, head in the palm of his hands, fingertips pressing into his eye sockets. How many things could you screw-up in a day? How simple did something have to be for him to get it right? Something that should have been easy - simply open the cupboard and make a pot – had become this.
You don’t deserve his help.
He let his head fall back against the cabinet, and idly reached for his phone. Was it too late to cancel?
A sudden knock at the door answered the question, and he jumped, tipping to his side onto the cold kitchen floor. He lay still for a moment looking about the messy apartment. The lights were on, but maybe he could pretend he was asleep-
Another knock, “Joel, you alright?” Dave called.
Joel scrambled to his feet. Deep breath. Deep breath. He stepped forward and opened the door.
Dave grinned at him. “Crazy rain tonight, eh? Your window isn’t letting water in?”
“No. Actually I have it fairly well patched up until it can be fixed.” Dave raised his eyebrows, as if to ask ‘when.’ Joel stammered on, “not that I’m unhappy to see you of course. I just, well, I didn’t want you to waste time on me.”
Dave cocked his head for a moment, then stepped into the room. Immediately his eyes found the coffee cups on the counter and he looked over at Joel with a smile.
Joel fumbled, grabbed a cup and handed it over. “I got you a coffee.”
And I screwed it up.
“But it’s milky,” he added.
Because I didn’t go shopping when I should have.
“I ran out of coffee for the moka pot you got me.”
Also it’s terrible coffee.
Joel stammered, “It’s not very good coffee. I just thought, well, you came all the way here-“
To help with something I should have already done.
Dave frowned, staring at Joel for a long moment before taking a gentle sip to gauge the temperature. He followed it with a much larger sip. “Are you ok?” he asked eventually.
Joel looked away. His eyes caught the broken window, the tarp again torn away, and he turned his head to the fridge, where the line of unchecked tasks taunted him. Eventually he looked at the floor. “I’m just behind on things,” he said quietly.
Because I’m a failure.
“It happens.” Dave said. Joel kept staring at the floor, and Dave walked over, leaning against the cupboard next to him. “But that’s why I came over. I know a guy who makes glass, I’ll take the measurements and go get a new pane tomorrow morning and bring it over before my shift. One less thing for you to worry about.”
“It’s ok, really.” Joel pleaded. “I don’t want you to go out of your way.”
“It’s not out of my way to help a friend,” Dave said.
I’m not worth it.
“I’ve done nothing to deserve help.” There. It was out.
Dave was silent for a moment. “You are always doing things. You did this,” he rattled the now-empty coffee cup, “After the day I had, this was exactly what I needed.” Joel looked up, and Dave grinned.
Joel shrugged, “I still screwed it up.”
Dave picked up the other cup and put it in Joel’s hand. “So what? You still went out in the middle of the night, in the rain, to get me a coffee. You think just because it has milk in it that you don’t deserve help?”
Joel didn’t say anything.
“I’m not saying it’s easy. But you are worth more than you give yourself credit for.”
Joel thought for a moment, and eventually, slowly nodded.
“So,” Dave said, “would you like help with that broken window?”
Joel took a deep breath, then a swig of coffee, and nodded again.
“Yes please. I think I need it.”