Angela jolted upright, gasping for air: “Ahhh!”
Next to her, her boyfriend sat peacefully, propped up with several pillows, his coffee in one hand, his book in the other. “Was it the sandwich guy again?”
Still catching her breath, Angela nodded, putting a hand on her forehead to settle herself. “Yeah.”
“Where were you this time?”
A hand found her chest, felt her racing heart. “The pool. He was there at the edge of the pool when I surfaced.”
“Hmmm, that’s new. Did he bring you a sandwich at least?" Jake, who’d hardly lifted his eyes off his book, sipped his coffee nonchalantly.
Angela nodded. “He told me the avocado was on the house, then winked.”
Her boyfriend’s eyebrows rose. “Well, at least he didn’t charge extra, if you know what I mean.” He nudged her shoulder, winking, and laughed. Most boyfriends probably wouldn’t like the idea of his girlfriend having recurring nightmares about another man, namely the strange guy from the Food Farm grocery store deli, but Angela and Jake’s love for each other could not be threatened by a measly food service worker. They were confident in each other, without doubts – think Lily and Marshall from How I Met Your Mother. Their relationship was strong, bulletproof. Also, Jake was used to Angela’s overly dramatic anxiety blowing up even the smallest interactions into something huge. He wasn’t worried.
“I wish they’d just fire him,” Angela huffed, scooting herself back against the headboard, and leaning her head on Jake’s shoulder, pouting.
Jake chuckled, “For what, dear? Making really good sandwiches, and comping you free avocado?”
“Yeah! Well, no, but yeah! He’s creepy! He always wants to know how I’m doing or what I’m doing. The free avocado every time feels… suggestive. He is definitely asking for a little extra.” She crossed her arms across her chest, exhaling another pout. “Plus, he doesn’t even wear a hairnet. And he has really long hair!”
Jake tilted his head down giving hers a gentle tap. “I think he’s just being nice, honey.”
“Well, that’s weird!” Angela countered.
“You don’t have to go there for your lunch, Angela.”
At that, Angela straightened up, “Yes I do! It’s the only place that’s close enough to walk to on my lunch break! Plus, they’re the only ones with that figgy mustard I like. You can’t actually expect me to give up that figgy mustard. Especially since you’ve never tried it. You have no say in that matter.”
Jake patted her leg, a surrender. “Okay, honey. But if you’re going to keep going there for lunch, you’re going to have to get over your fear of this guy.”
Angela huffed again, annoyed that Jake didn’t care more about the creep who insisted on making her sandwiches every time she went to the deli. His dismissal reminded her of her ex who’d never supported her, even when her boss had the audacity to disrespect her with a degrading thumbs up emoji in response to her well-crafted text messages. She’d proved them both wrong when her Reddit article resulted in a nation-wide movement that’d cancelled the emoji-response and resulted in her boss being fired. Angela rolled her eyes at the thought of it. Boys never understand.
The next day, Angela found herself craving figgy mustard more than usual. She’d really tried to steer her appetite in the way of a teriyaki chicken bowl or a hefty roasted bell pepper and black bean burrito, but her taste buds were aching for the sweet bitterness of her newest favorite condiment.
As she approached the deli, she saw the back of his head. Carl, the creepy deli man, was bobbing his head to music only he could hear as he took his time rhythmically sprinkling cheese on flattened dough soon to be pizza. Shit, he’s here!
She texted Jake her exact thoughts.
His typing bubbles danced, and then: "Sandwich man?"
Eyes rolling, she responded, "Yes!"
"Let it go, babe. Just order your sandwich, and leave."
For that level of sass, Angela felt he deserved no response. She clicked her phone off.
Thankful she chose to wear a hat today, Angela tucked her head down and took the long way to the sandwich counter, slowly meandering through the hot bar stands, pretending to browse each item. She secretly hoped something else would catch her grumbling stomach’s interest, but the more she tried to want something else, the more she salivated for the figgy goodness.
Finally making it to the counter, Angela discreetly snatched a dry-erase marker and a “build your own sandwich” menu, and swiftly turned away from the counter to fill in its details. Sliced sourdough, ham, arugula, tomatoes, pickles, lettuce, mayo, figgy mustard, avocado. She jotted down her initials on the bottom –no more putting her full name on any food order ever again-- and quietly laid it onto the countertop, hoping the non-creepy deli guy she spotted further down the line would hustle over to make it for her.
No such luck. As Angela peeked her eyes up, she immediately locked eyes with Carl, who was now heading over with an enthusiastic smile on his face. Fuck! Angela squeezed her eyes shut, and exhaled deeply in an attempt to calm herself down.
“Angela, hi! I was hoping I’d see you today!”
Geezus, chill the fuck out, guy. “Hi,” she said, smiling reluctantly.
“How’s your day going?” Carl said, oblivious to her reluctance.
“Fine.” Another straight-lined grin.
Carl grabbed her filled out order menu. “Ah, looks like you’re sticking with your usual today! People are really loving that figgy mustard. We’re almost out!”
Please don’t be out, I swear to God, if I had to talk to you for nothing –
“But looks like there’s just enough left for you!”
Thank Christ! “Cool,” Angela offered, her fingers tapping anxiously against her thighs.
Carl smiled widely, and turned around to the sandwich-making counter. He was opening up the sourdough bag when he called over his shoulder. “Yeah, yeah, I’m really glad you stopped by because it’s actually my last day today and –”
She’d been rolling her eyes at the sound of his voice when his words finally registered. She perked up. “It’s your last day?!”
Carl was obviously pleased by her interest. “Yeah! You know, I’ve been doing this part-time while I’m in school, but it’s time for me to move on to bigger and better things, so yeah, today –”
Carl’s voice began to fade into the background. Angela was beaming. It’s finally over. I never have to see this guy again. No more fear of the sandwich guy. She was practically drooling at the thought of limitless figgy mustard sandwiches.
“That’s really great, Carl, good for you! I always knew you were meant for bigger and better things.” Angela said this with the most enthusiasm she’s ever given him.
Carl was grinning ear to ear as he wrapped up her sandwich and handed it over the counter.
He’s probably so happy I remembered his name.
“It’s been a pleasure making your sandwiches, Angela. I really hope we run into each other again.” He winked at her, and Angela smiled innocently, pretending she didn’t notice he'd written his phone number on the sandwich’s label.
“Yeah, thanks!” She snatched the sandwich and spun around so jubilantly that her ponytail whipped around and swatted her cheek. She didn’t care, though, she had a little bounce in her step as she walked away. She was sure Carl was watching her, and she got a little pleasure out of knowing he was probably savoring his last moment seeing her (butt) strut away. To celebrate her arch-nemesis’ pending departure, she grabbed a soda (grape) on her way to the self-checkout.
Angela never did this, but she decided to enjoy her sandwich at the covered picnic benches the grocery store provided outside. She had always avoided it for fear of Carl coming out on a lunch break and joining her, but just knowing this would be her last day seeing him made her feel fearless and unruffled.
Laughing at the jotted down phone number on the sandwich label, she unwrapped her sandwich, took a bite, and texted her boyfriend mid-chew.
"Carl’s last day! And I was totally right. He was being suggestive. He gave me his phone number!"
God, the mustard is goooood, she thought, waiting for his response, which was currently being typed out.
"I’ll kill him."
And then quickly followed by: "Glad you don’t have to worry about him! You can finally get some sleep!"
Angela laughed at her boyfriend’s lighthearted joke. She loved him for being supportive, and for loving her enough to joke about killing someone for her. She was thinking about all the other things she loved about Jake, and how happy she was now that Carl would be out of her life when she felt something strange on her tongue. Something scratchy and rough plastered against the back of her mouth. Assuming it was just a stringy bite of wilted arugula, she rubbed her tongue against the roof of her mouth, ushering the food down her throat. She coughed a little and washed it down with her grape soda.
Her next bite was full of her figgy mustard, and she almost moaned at its deliciousness. Jake has got to try this. She decided to bring home the second half so Jake could try it.
“Mmmm,” Jake said through full cheeks. Once he'd swallowed, he said, “Wow, babe, I totally get it now.”
Angela’s grin was victorious. “I told you!” She eagerly snatched the rest of her sandwich from her boyfriend and chomped a bit bite out of it. As she was chewing she felt the same scratchy arugula-ish thing stuck at the back of her tongue. This time, she was not entirely convinced arugula was capable of this sensation, and ushered the item forward with her tongue. Opening her mouth, she fished it out with her fingers and inspected it.
“Ew, what the fuck!” Angela exclaimed, gagging.
Jake’s face was distorted in a mock look of disgust. He was grossed out, but he was also laughing. “Is that the sandwich guy’s hair?”