My mom and I are finally meeting today. I say “finally” because she’s been bugging me about it for weeks. Yes, I admit, it’s been a long time, but she needs to respect my schedule. Anyways, we’re meeting today and I’m excited for two reasons. One, I want to update her on my new job. Two, It’s the perfect place for an insta picture. It’s some retro diner downtown, the kind you'd find in the city. The type of place busy millennials go to meet their busy friends and talk about their busy lives. I crave that life, the business, the hustle, the excitement. That's why I like this diner.
It's not just that this town is small, it's the people. "Small town, small minded," is that a saying? It should be. Maybe they're not all small minded, I guess some people are naturally drawn to a simple life. Give them their childhood home, childhood friends, three grocery stores, and they’re as happy as can be. Not me though. It's not that I'm discontent, I prefer the word passionate.
I wait outside the diner for five minutes, watching pickup-trucks wobble down the street. Another five minutes go by and she's still not here. Frustration beings to bubble. I'm on a tight schedule and the only reason I was able to meet my mom is because my boss had to reschedule our meeting. My mom is wasting valuable time.
It's freezing out here, making my toes numb and my necks splotchy. How unflattering. Gosh the people inside the diner probably think I'm crazy, pacing back and forth on the sidewalk. I hope my business casual look proves I'm not a total hobo, besides my discolored face. Just get here already! I feel more and more eyes. I pull out my phone to easy the anxiety. I see a text notification, "Where are you?" It's mom.
Exasperation stings my fingertips as they slam the keyboard. "What are you talking about?! Are you at the wrong place?" Likely. She never comes downtown, let alone steps outside her house.
"Honey, I asked you to pick me up when we planned to meet. Remember my car is in the shop?" Crap. It totally slipped my mind. This week’s been insanely hectic, the last thing I'd remember is Mom’s car appointments. Why'd I agree to that in the first place? I'm completely over this situation. I text back, “I must have forgotten, my boss called and needs me sooner so let's just reschedule." My boss didn't call. I figured I'd crank out some work to make up for this unproductive morning.
It would be social suicide to go in the diner after standing outside for so long, so I walk to my car. As my frozen fingers fiddle with the keys, a light flickers in my car window's reflection. I turn around to find what appears to be a coffee shop. The brick building stands snuggly between two abandon stores, electrically illuminated by a glowing sign. It buzzes "Voyez-Vous,” with a neon pink light. French. How trendy.
Chatter echoes within the foggy windows. Strange, I haven’t seen this place before. Like the diner, it has that “retro New York” feel. This street felt like a ghost town when I first parked. Must’ve been closed. Now, the coffee shop is bustling with life, even though my car stands alone.
I drop my keys in my purse and step towards the door. It better be warm. Sure enough, the place is heated and cozy. Bitter aromas of coffee and chia fill my stuffy nose. I find a table near the back, the last thing I need is another interruption. I dig into my work, trying to get ahead for the upcoming week. I open a word document and begin adjusting the font settings. As I scan the top of my screen, I notice something above my laptop. I shoot my eyes up to see a woman, a few tables down, staring. She looks about my age, but it’s hard to tell. She wears a hood, darkening her features. My heart skips a beat as I dart my eyes back to the computer. Her stare isn’t pleasant, it’s stern, angry almost. The type of stare that’d make you weary of a stranger. I rack my brain for a possible offense. Did I take her table? Is it because I haven’t ordered coffee? Maybe she’s crazy. No, couldn't be crazy. Besides the hood, her outfit looks decently professional. I hold my breath and shoot another glance. Her eyes haven't budged. Definitely crazy. My heart thuds again. My body feels unbearably stiff. I feel the sudden urge to get up and walk somewhere, anywhere. I abruptly stand and stride towards the coffee bar. A tall, heavyset man, with a twisted mustache walks to the counter.
“Hi there, how’s it going?” He greets me with a jolly tone.
His normalness puts me at ease.
I smile and reply, “Good, thanks.”
As I rummage through my purse my eyes struggle to understand the menu. Where’s the chai tea latte on this menu? That’s the only thing I ever get.
“Oh, no need to pay ma’am, today we’re offering free trials of the barista scanner.”
“I’m sorry?” I glance at his boxy glasses.
“Barista Scanner? Never heard of it? They’ve been out for a while now, I guess they just made their way to this area. So, basically this little device right here.” He extends a glowing button, about the size of a penny, “It takes a brief scan of your finger and, based on your individual personality, creates your ideal drink, coffee shop experience, and overall, a look into your unique psyche! Pretty fascinating huh?”
He grins at me like a schoolboy talking about Christmas.
How have I never heard of this? One week in this hick town and just look at me, just another deadbeat. How embarrassing. Lie.
“No, I know what it is. I just didn’t think this town had those yet. I don’t live here so…Anyways I was just coming up to get scanned.”
“No, worries, we already did.” He smiles casually.
“All customers are scanned the moment they touch the door, the knob gets their fingerprint, pretty efficient eh?”
“Oh…oh okay.” And I thought I was tech savvy. This is so embarrassing. I hold on to my dignity and continue to play casual.
And with that he swiftly goes to work brewing water, shaking milk, and whatever else baristas do. As I stand and wait, I feel the urge to look back at the women. Big mistake. She’s gone. Somehow that’s more unsettling than seeing her. I whip my head around and try to pull myself together.
“What can I get started for you?”
I follow the sound to find Mr. Mustache helping another customer.
“A small chai tea latte, thank you.”
That voice, I know that voice. A lump catches in my throat as I spot the hoodie. Suddenly, she twitches their head and fiercely locks eyes with me. That’s it, I’m out. I whip my body around, bumping into a chair, and make a b-line to my table. Forget my drink, I’m outta here. I make it to my table and immediately start packing my things. Then it hits. Where am I safer? Here, surrounded by people, or outside, alone. The only problem is “here” is where she is. It’s crazy how one person can make you feel isolated in a crowd. But where did she go? My eyes began to scoot the room. No sign. I made up my mind to stay and wait it out. I open my laptop and stare at the screen. Clam down, you're an adult.
I need to focus on something else, someone else. I just now realize that I haven't looked at anyone else in the coffee shop. Not that I usually do that. Now that I think about it, I hardly ever do that, look at other people, pay attention to them. I do, however, always feel that people are looking at me. I mean, it’s pretty common. Not to toot my own horn but I just know people look at me, admire me, envy me. I mean, why wouldn’t they? If I saw a glamorous businesswoman strutting around I’d stare. I snap back to reality. The reality that there is a stalker close by, so close she just sat back down. I need to distract myself!
I twist my head and make purposeful eye contact with the two people seated behind my table. My blood stiffens. Two women with black hoods stare fiercely in my direction. I slowly turn around, noticing my hands are griping the sides of the table for dear life. My body goes numb. I think I’m going to pass out.
Mr. Mustache! The barista! Yes, the barista! A flicker of hope dissolves my frozen state. I hold my breath and dart towards the counter. No one is there. NO ONE IS HERE! Where did he go? Sweat drips down my back. I whip my head around, analyzing my surroundings. I can’t see anything from this angle.
“Can I help you?” A familiar voice pricks my ear.
Across the counter stands a woman dressed in business casual, a black hood rest behind her head, revealing her face. My face. It’s my face, standing there looking at me, consuming me. I just stand there and look back, that’s all I know, after all.