[Mahlena wrote this short story. Tell a Friend. 🙆🏾]
“Up your Ziggy with a wawa brush?”
Thatcher turned around to see who was behind her in line, reading the quote of the colorful chalkboard hanging on the wall in front of them.
She took in the stranger's dark hair and his dark glasses. Cute.
“Who said that?” he asked out loud
Thatcher replied to him, “You did,” and turned back around. Only two people stood between her and the register.
“Is it from a movie?”
Thatcher looked over her shoulder. He looked familiar.
“Do you know the answer?”
“Did you look it up on your phone?”
“That would be cheating,” Thatcher said. “I happen to have a head filled with trivia, including obscure pop culture knowledge from 90s teen cinema.”
“Then congratulations on your free crumpet.”
The coffee grinder pulverized the beans behind the counter.
One more person, then it would be Thatcher’s turn to order.
“It’s not my free crumpet. I got the quote last Wednesday and the Wednesday before that. Today it’ll be someone else’s crumpet.”
“How generous,” he said. “The patron saint of pastries.”
“Would you like to know the answer?”
“Wouldn’t that be cheating?”
“It would be charity.”
The barista waved the line forward. “Next guest, please. Good afternoon, how are you?”
“I’m doing well, how are you?” Thatcher asked her.
“Pretty good, thanks for asking! What can I get started for you?
“A hot vanilla with an extra scoop of vanilla and whipped cream.”
A crisp Tubman landed on the counter.
“A caramel macchiato.” The man previously standing behind Thatcher leaned against the refrigerated display and pointed at the board. “All I Wanna Do aka The Hairy Bird aka Strike!.”
The barista handed him his change. “Impressive. Name?”
He looked directly at Thatcher. “John.”
“John,” the barista said, “your drinks and complimentary crumpet will be ready at the end.”
Thatcher walked in the direction of her expected beverage.
John followed her.
“You knew?” Thatcher asked him.
“Not at first. Then I recalled my own knowledge of 90s teen cinema. Specifically, Kirsten Dunst.”
“So you have a type.”
Thatcher glanced at his ring finger. “Does your spouse fit that mold?”
“After five years and two, no, three children, yes, she does.”
“Fourteen,” John said. “And eight. And three.”
“Mine are five and four.”
“Training pants, but almost done.”
The barista called out, “John? Hot vanilla, macchiato?”
Thatcher picked up her cup. “Thanks for the drink.”
“Are you walking out?” John inquired.
“I’m sitting down. I’m working on a project, and I wanted to see if I could get more done here than at home. Next week I might try the library. No cover charge. But I guess that was moot today.”
“You’re welcome, lady with no name.”
“Would you like to know what it is?”
“Will you be here tomorrow?”
Thatcher shook her head. “Next Wednesday. Same time.”
John walked backwards toward the door. “I’ll let the intrigue sustain me until then.”
“We can love our pets; we just can’t LOVE our pets.”
Thatcher sipped from her recyclable cup in the seat across from John in the middle of the café. “Good advice.”
“I’ve been waiting here, stumped, wondering when you would walk in.”
“So I’m your Googles?”
John counted on his fingers. “You’ve known the last one, two, three, four...”
“What I’m hearing is I’ve spent entirely too many Wednesday afternoon drinking desserts with a stranger.”
“Stranger? We’re on a first-name basis, Thatcher.”
Thatcher pointed at the chalkboard. “I own the movie. I am the movie.”
“The Truth About Cats and Dogs.”
“You’re an animal lover?”
“I’m a homely dork who’s more appealing on the radio than in person.”
“I find that hard to believe. I think your husband would share my doubt.”
Thatcher opened her laptop. “And John has no unreasonable insecurities?”
John opened his laptop. He avoided Thatcher’s eyes.
Thatcher typed on her keyboard and focuses on her screen.
“My nose.” John admitted.
“Your nose is super cute.”
John gave it a honk. “It’s big and weird and not Korean. I have no idea where it came from.”
“There’s a 0.5% chance it came from Genghis Khan.”
“I can’t tell if that’s racist.”
“There’s a 0.5% chance my nose came from the same place. The Conqueror spread his seed around, usually unrequested.”
“You think I’m cute?
“Your nose. Objectively speaking. No reputable ad agency would let just any schnoz represent their value brand cell phone client in a regional commercial campaign.”
“Well, I was a junior partner in the agency at the time. Though it’s not my fault the company subsequently went out of business.” John tapped Thatcher’s computer. “What have you got so far?”
“All of the pictures for my PowerPoint presentation and none of the words. You?”
“An animated video of Maid Marian dancing around a campfire. It’s giving me confusing feelings.”
“She is a fox.”
“Takes one to know one.”
Thatcher closed her laptop. “Clearly you’re distracted.”
“That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Unless my animal magnetism is wrecking your concentration.”
“Cocky and unproductive? What a catch!”
John reached over to reopen Thatcher’s computer. “I’m putting ten minutes on the clock. When my phone alarm goes off, whoever finishes the most pages wins.”
“Any item on the menu, courtesy of the loser.”
“Let’s do it.”
Ten minutes later: DING DING DING DING DING!
Thatcher typed the closing bullet points on her penultimate slide. “So close. I was almost there.”
John showed Thatcher his screen. “I Photoshopped a t-shirt onto a picture of Hello Kitty that says, ‘This is what a feminist looks like.’”
“I’ll take a cookie butter bar with box of milk, please.”
“‘Yo, I'm just pausin’ while those two hoes over there scratch it out over who gets to knock the boots with me!’”
“I’m sure that calling those imaginary women prostitutes got them incredibly excited for ‘boots knocking’.”
Sitting across from Thatcher in a back corner booth of the café, John cued a scene from the movie on his laptop. “You can’t tell me that line wasn’t improvised.”
Thatcher walked around the table to sit next to John. “Maybe the line was in the script, maybe it wasn’t. I’m saying the take they used for the final cut was planned.”
The two shared a set of earbuds and watched Seth Green’s Can’t Hardly Wait antics unfold in the convenience store.
“I forgot to ask you, how was your presentation?”
Thatcher pressed the pause button. “I delivered it well. It was received with confusion. The room liked it, but didn’t get it.”
“I forgot to emphasize Urgency. I showed the value of my proposal, the timing, the need, the pain and gain, and the trust. I included earnings projections and backed it up with research. But I didn’t make it urgent,” Thatcher wrote in her notebook. “I have to do better, or I’ll get nowhere. How did yours go?”
John clicked the play button. “Fine.”
John mumbled into his cup.
Thatcher removed her earbud. “They what?”
“The investors funded the project.”
“Based on what?”
“My wit and charm?”
Thatcher slid away from him. “Mazel.”
John closed the computer. “I talked about my idea. They liked it. 80 percent of sales is the 20 percent you can’t plan.”
“Or in this case, the 20 percent I’m lacking is male genitalia.”
“You think they’re investing in my company because I’m a guy?”
“You’re in an oversaturated market with no proof of concept, no existing sales, and no commitment from future customers. What do you think?”
“I’m in a craptastic mood for some reason.”
“Now, so am I.”
Thatcher and John stared straight ahead.
“Have you seen The Associate?” Thatcher asked.
“Is it a John Grisham novel?”
“It’s a Whoopi Goldberg movie. I thought it would be my life. I can’t even get past Act One.”
“What’s Act Two?”
“Trying to start a new business as a black woman with little support. Before having my drag queen friends transform me into an old white man so I can succeed.”
“That sounds terrible. You should do it. The ‘start a business’ part, not the other stuff.”
Thatcher considered his suggestion. “Yes.”
“You are right. I should do it. Not today. I’m emotionally exhausted. Check with me in seven days.”
“Are you mad at me?”
“I’m mad at the patriarchy.”
“Would you like to watch The Associate?”
“I’d like for you to watch it. But I wouldn’t avert my eyes if it appeared on your screen.”
“Downloading now,” John said. “Meep morp, I am a chastened robot.”
“Ladies and gentlemen, here they are... Eddie and Gwen together again! America’s Sweethearts!”
Thatcher pointed to the café’s chalkboard. “It’s in the quote.”
“And yet, no one has offered an answer,” the barista informed her. “Hot vanilla, extra vanilla, whipped cream?
“Yes, please.” Thatcher opened her wallet to take out her card.
The barista stopped her. “It’s been taken care of.”
Thatcher looked around the cafe but saw no familiar faces.
“Your drink will be ready at the end counter. Here’s your crumpet and your napkin.” The barista turned to the back shelves to refill the coffee canister, careful not to spill the beans.
As Thatcher waited for her beverage, she unfolded the brown, recycled napkin. A melange of words was scrawled inside in blue ink:
“Streets is watching. Leave the napkin, take the crumpet. This message will self destruct in five seconds.”
An address was written at the bottom of the brown paper. Thatcher typed the address into her phone.
“Hot vanilla?” The other barista behind the counter called out.
“Thank you,” Thatcher said to him.
She tore the napkin into pieces, tossed them in the trash, and marched toward the exit.
Inside the library at the South Valley Community College, Thatcher opened the door to a study room. “I got your message.”
John was seated at the table. “Fewer eyes and ears around here.”
“Is there something you don’t want people to know about?”
“That was nerve-wracking at the Football Rumble the other day.”
“Because you’re the St. Francis Academy Rumble coach, and my family’s at Hennessey Park Charter School? It’s only my first year, but the rivalry at the game appeared less contentious than I had expected,” she replied with an innocent smile.
“During our unexpected encounter at halftime, engineered by our young sons, it didn’t seem like you had informed Sawyer about our weekly meetings.”
Thatcher remained standing. “What have you told Anya?”
“She said it was nice to have an actual conversation with other parents from our preschool, instead of rushing past them for five seconds every morning. I don’t know what to tell her.”
“The truth: we meet at a coffee shop once a week and talk about business.”
“The truth is complicated. I like you. I like like you. I should pass you a note that says, ‘Do you like me too? Yes, No, Maybe?’”
“Are we She’s All That-ing? Yes, I am smart, but what would that matter to you in a situation like this? Are you after my money?”
“No. What money?”
Thatcher looked him over. “Am I a bet? Did you make a wager with one of your friends that you could seduce a lonely woman who enjoys American media too much?”
“What are you talking about?”
“You have an amazing wife who is kind and gracious and teaches other people how to pole dance. For a living. At multiple locations. What could you possibly want with me?”
“Self-esteem red flags all over the place.”
“I am being realistic.”
“Please sit down. You have been standing this entire time since you entered the room, and I need to reluctantly mansplain the situation to you.”
“Fine.” Thatcher complied.
“You are smart. And hilarious. And you’re incredibly sexy. How you don’t see that is beyond me.”
Thatcher took out a piece of paper, wrote down a message, and handed it to John.
“‘Do you like me, too? Yes. There are no other boxes.’ Why?” he asked.
“Can I ditto your reasons?”
“Your husband is built like a tractor trailer that could knock me into next week. Plus, if he wanted to, he could turn me gay, no questions asked.”
“‘Bye?’ Where are you going?”
“Nowhere. Continue,” Thatcher said.
“I need an explanation.”
Thatcher rose from her chair and walked around the table to John’s seat. She bent down, placed her cheek against his, and whispered a single sentence in his ear.
John’s eyes shot open. “Seriously?!”
Thatcher returned to her seat. “That’s for me to know. End of sentence.”
John started to stand up from his wood chair, then changed his mind. “I’m going to stay seated with this table in front of me, maybe for the next 45 minutes.”
“Then what happens?”
“Someone else has reserved this study room.”
“And what’s next for us? Yeesh, ‘us’.”
“Where do we go from here? I have been giving that a lot of thought, Thatcher. I have no idea.”
“Let’s map it out,” Thatcher said. “Should I stay over here or come over there?”
“Don’t make me beg.”
“Okay! Stop looking at me like that.”
“Is it happening?”
“Get over here.”
Thatcher sat in the chair next to John. “Hands where I can see them.”
John raised his palms in the air.
Thatcher wrote several names and stick figures on the back of the message paper. “Here’s me, and here’s you. Here’s Sawyer, here’s Anya. Here’s my son Chava and your son, Sander, who go to South Valley Preschool together. Here’s your ex-wife Addison and her new wife Priya, whose twins Willa and Kay Kay go to first grade at HP Charter, which is where my daughter Isabel attends kindergarten. Priya and Addison are our HP Charter Welcome family, which is how I recognized your and Addison’s daughter Caiomhe... at the Rumble.”
She continued drawing each person along with their respective connections. “And Priya and I are both in the Lily Rose Society—”
“Which is trying to recruit Anya.”
“The only one not directly entangled in this mess is your stepson... Pollux.”
“Yeesh is right. ‘Us’ is right. I don’t want anyone to get hurt.” John dropped his left hand down by his side.
Thatcher lowered her right hand. Her fingers found his.
John didn’t dare move.
Thatcher had an idea. “Do you like to dance?”
[What your favorite 90s movie?
Did you read the whole story? Congratulations!
Did you read the whole story? Congratulations!
Tell a Friend.🙆🏾]