by: T.E. Cowell1
When a lie leads to love, the truth wields the power of resolve…
I went for a walk because it was my day off and I could think of nothing better to do. After a while I felt like having a coffee, and since there wasn’t a Starbucks around I ended up in this artsy little café I’d never set foot in before. I paid for a coffee and then sat on a wooden stool by the window. I hadn’t been planning on sticking around the place, but there was this girl, a young woman to be anatomically correct, sitting by herself at a table. I have this problem: whenever I see a good-looking girl, I typically want to see more of her.
This particular girl had straight brown hair, a smooth, pretty face, and an athletic body. I figured she was probably in college, since she looked too pure and innocent and perfect to be out of college trying to make ends meet in the real world.
She glanced up from her laptop and caught me looking at her. I looked away quickly, then took a cautious sip of my too hot coffee. My eyes roamed around the café, trying to take an interest in the place, or to appear to take an interest in the place to validate my reasons for sticking around. My eyes stopped when I saw a picture on the wall of what looked like Charles Bukowski. I’m not much of a reader, exactly, but maybe a year ago I got into reading Bukowski after a buddy loaned me a few of his books. Damn near every sentence in those books made me laugh out loud.
“You a fan of Bukowski?” I heard.
I turned my head and saw the barista looking at me from behind the counter, sort of smiling. He had his skinny arms crossed, and his brown hair combed to the side. He looked like a schoolboy.
“Sure,” I said.
“Me too,” he said.
I nodded. “Cool.”
“You like his prose or his poetry?”
“His prose,” I said, and that’s when I noticed out of the corner of my eye the good-looking girl look up at me again.
The barista nodded. He still had his arms crossed. “Have a favorite novel of his?” he asked.
“Oh,” I said, “I don’t know. I don’t think so. I like them all. I thought they were all pretty good.”
The barista widened his eyes and raised his eyebrows. “You’ve read all of Bukowski’s novels?” He sounded both skeptical and impressed.
“Yeah,” I said. “What about you?”
He shook his head. “Not yet. I’d like to.” He shrugged. “Someday, hopefully. There’s just too much to read out there and not enough time.”
“You’ve got that right,” I said. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the good-looking girl still eyeing me.
“Are you a writer?” the barista asked.
I nodded. “I am,” I said, and imagined my nose growing as the lie left my lips.
The barista seemed to study me then, whereas before he’d only seemed to be looking at me.
“What do you write?” he asked.
“Oh, mostly fiction.”
“Short stories or novels?” he asked. He was quite the conversationalist.
Again the barista widened his eyes. “You’ve written a novel?”
I nodded, happy to see that the good-looking girl was still looking at me. The barista uncrossed his skinny arms then and laid his hands on the counter. He was wearing a t-shirt that looked a few sizes too small. His skinny triceps bulged.
“How long have you been writing?”
“Oh, quite awhile,” I said. “Over a decade. What about you? Do you also…write?”
The barista nodded. “I’ve been writing for about four years now,” he said, modestly.
“Cool. Well…keep it up.”
I grabbed my coffee and stood up off the stool I’d been sitting on. I told the barista I had to get going. He seemed disappointed to hear this. I think he would’ve liked to talk all day with me about writing, but he nodded his head and told me to have a good one.
I smiled at the good-looking girl as I passed by her table on my way out the door, and to my joy she smiled back.
I waited around the corner for her to walk out of the café with my fingers crossed, and sure enough she did just that about a minute later. She had a coat on now – a trendy brown thing with plenty of buttons and zipper pockets – and the strap of a laptop bag draped around her shoulder. She saw me standing on the sidewalk and started to approach me with what I can only describe as timid grace. She stopped before me with this irresistible half-smile on her face. I wanted to consume her right then and there.
“Hi,” I said. It seemed like the proper way to start things off.
Because I didn’t know what else to say I asked her if she was hungry. She bit her bottom lip some at the question. “A little,” she said.
“Good,” I said. “There’s this great little deli not far from my apartment. Do you like soup and turkey sandwiches?”
“Doesn’t everyone?” she said, and I knew right then that it was going to be a good day. The two of us started walking towards my apartment. While we waited to cross the street she looked at me and said, “I’m a writer, too.”
“Really?” I said, feigning surprise, like I hadn’t already guessed that. “Good for you. That’s great.”
Her name was Julie. She called me Jonathan, as if she thought she knew me. I went along with it, played it cool.
She didn’t seem at all disappointed by the small size and overall shabbiness of my apartment. On the contrary she seemed to dig it.
“Cozy!” she said after I’d given her the tour. Then, “Where’re all your books?”
“On my laptop,” I said. “I’m a minimalist,”
“Interesting,” she replied earnestly.
We shared a bottle of cheap red wine at my kitchen table. I had hardly said a word since the walk over, had instead listened to Julie ramble on about all things writing: the magazines she admired, agents, editors, publishing houses, and her writing, which she didn’t seem completely confident with. Now she was talking about college, and whether or not it was important for writers to attend. “A lot of successful writers never went to college,” she said. “But I’m sure you already know this.”
I nodded. “College isn’t for everyone. College can only teach you what you don’t know. In other words, you either have it or you don’t. End of story.”
She smiled. Under the table, I felt her hand squeeze my leg just above the knee.
I told one of my coworkers the next day over lunch what had happened. I couldn’t help myself. I’d never been with such a good-looking girl before.
“So I met this good-looking girl yesterday,” I said.
“Oh yeah?” my coworker replied, a curious note in his voice. “You get her number?”
We were having sandwiches out by the market’s loading dock. As we chewed we took in the view, which was pretty awful. There was the market’s back parking lot, and past that the side of a neighboring house, a run-of-the-mill, two-story wood-paneled building some old couple lived in. A chain-link fence ran around the house’s perimeter. The few trees in the house’s front yard tended to be what I stared at most during my lunch breaks, don’t ask me why.
“Sure did,” I said. “What’s more, she came over to my apartment.”
“No,” my coworker said. He nudged me in the shoulder with his elbow. “You score?”
My coworker’s name was Mitch, but we all called him Fatso. He was twenty-eight, and the nickname was certainly appropriate. Rumor was that he was a virgin, though he claimed he wasn’t. He told stories of days when he was enrolled at the community college, before he’d gotten so fat, where he had more luck with the opposite sex. Fat jokes, virgin jokes, none of it seemed to bother Mitch, which was why everyone at work liked him.
“I did,” I said, “believe it or not.”
“You lucky son of a bitch, do tell.”
“A gentleman never tells.
“Please?” Mitch said. “I’ve got an elephant’s memory. I’ll remember it for when I need it the most.”
“Which is what, five minutes from now?”
This was normal chit chat between us, unable to even garner laughter.
We each took another bite of our sandwiches, stared at the neighbor’s house some more.
“So, you gonna start dating this girl?” Mitch asked.
I shook my head. “No, there’s a bit of a problem.”
“Well, she thinks I’m someone else, some kinda writer. She’s a writer and she apparently thinks I’m some big-shot writer named Jonathan something-or-other.”
Mitch shook his head, and then his body shook with laughter. He slapped his thigh. When he’d settled down he said, “Damn. That’s the funniest thing I’ve ever heard. That’s movie material right there.”
We finished our sandwiches and then went back to work. For the rest of the day I debated whether I should call Julie and try to see her again. I knew I was lucky to have gotten what I’d gotten. But still, I wanted more.
I wondered how long I could get away with being this Jonathan guy before she realized my name was Brad and that I worked in the deli of a grocery store chain. I figured I could maybe go out with her one more time and that that would be it, that after that I’d have to quit while I was still ahead.
I was wrong.
- Header image by Charles Bukowski. [↩]