“Okay, first of all, two drink minimum.”
Two young men sat at the next table over. There was an assortment of wrappers and cellophane bags spread around them as Lizzie took them in from her prime seat in front of the fireplace. They had not necessarily come to the Memorial Union for coffee so much as to eat. A meal in-between classes had been put together from the pastries and pre-wrapped items which were available at the university coffee shop. They were younger than Lizzie and had that squeakiness about them that proclaimed freshmen despite talking about drinking.
But they were leaning into each other as though sharing something that was a secret (for all that she could hear them quite clearly)—certainly it was absorbing. They were young men, but mature enough to be having, or thinking about having sex, and not boys. This was college after all. But Lizzie wondered just how experienced they were, and how much of a mantra (someone else’s mantra), they were repeating.
The one giving the advice had short clipped hair; his face still sported pimples. He looked like a sports player of some sort. His friend was the type who was still playing catch-up on growth: looking lean of frame with long, dark, curly hair.
“Don’t ever get desperate man,” said sports guy. “Being desperate puts girls off.”
“Okay,” said lanky, though Lizzie thought his face screamed desperate.
“No cuddling afterward. When you’re done, you’re done, and you just go your separate ways,” continued sports.
“Really?” said lanky.
“Cuddling after sex implies you’re building on something and you just don’t do it,” sports shook his head.
“I can’t stay awake man!” wailed lanky. Lizzie wondered how lanky knew he might like to cuddle, but she knew exactly how he knew he couldn’t stay awake.
Sports guy looked at his friend and then shook his head. “You don’t even really need to talk during. There are no assumptions. Just because you’ve done it once or six times doesn’t mean you—or her—have any rights. It’s not a relationship.”
Lanky nodded. Lizzie frowned.
“And don’t text for two days. Again, don’t be desperate. Never compromise.”
“Two days. What if it was great?” asked lanky.
“Two days,” sports stared at his friend. “Don’t catch feelings. It’s just about the sex.”
Lizzie stood and moved over to the men’s table. She put a hand on the tabletop. “So, I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation,” she began with a smile. It was a warm and inviting smile, her barista smile: the one she plastered on her face every morning that she worked at the coffee shop not many yards away. The men leaned in, she continued.
“That two days rule. We get to use it too.” She raised an eyebrow. “And you need to be willing to at least talk about your sex history. Are you free of STDs?” Lanky’s eyes went wide. “What? Don’t want to talk about sex, but you want to have it? That’s part of growing up little man. And can we discuss condom use? Because you will wear one!”
A figure looked up from the stack of books in front of him, his eyes darting from the young men over to the back of the woman’s head. He had not really noticed her when he had sat down with his books and his coffee. He was reviewing Interior Construction and Detailing, but the conversation had caught his attention, particularly the woman’s interruption. He thought back to being a freshman and not knowing The Rules. He narrowed his eyes as he listened. What a bitch, he thought as she concluded her sharp little lecture.
The woman went back to her table. They both settled down to study.
Lizzie knew she did well at her early-morning coffee shift. So many of her fellow students were not morning people, and yet were tagged for the shift or volunteered for it—as if to get work out of the way. Often, they wanted to fit it in around their class schedule or their social life. But for Lizzie, it was a matter of compartmentalizing things. She could finish work then go to class, then study, study, and study some more before she went to bed, slept, and then did it all over again.
The employees at the Memorial Union coffee shop rotated through who took orders, and who processed drinks. Right then, she was working with busy hands at the espresso machine as she created made-to-order drinks.
“Diet Coke break,” called out her co-worker Annie. Lizzie glanced over the top of the machine. ‘Diet Coke break’ was Annie’s code for ‘cute guy in line.’ It was a reference to a long-ago commercial which neither of them had seen, but Annie’s mother had prattled on about loving when it appeared. In it, a group of office women took a break every day to watch a striking, muscled construction worker drink a Diet Coke which is why Annie’s mother (single, like Lizzie’s) had been so fond of it.
The phrase was innocuous enough that a guy in line would not understand that they were speaking about him. Lizzie looked at the assortment of college students in line; she understood which one Annie was referencing. He was tall with dark hair; it was expertly clipped and he used product. The man styled it so it swept up from his forehead, and he also had a nicely clipped beard which made her frown. So many college-aged men had beards these days, like they couldn’t be bothered to shave. His, at least, was neat and trim, even if longish.
Lizzie’s hands kept working as her eyes roved and took in his appearance. He seemed a business or econ-major type. Not like any of the science majors she was used to working with or her scruffy study-buddy Aaron. There was something about this guy, the way he stood. He was a little too put together for a college student (given that it was not quite eight in the morning), and given that beautifully displayed hair.
Arrogant, she thought as she looked at him. Annie came over to line empty cups up next to the espresso machine to wait for their contents. “So? What do you think?”
“Nothing to tempt me there,” remarked Lizzie. “I wonder what his tattoo looks like.”
“What tattoo?” asked Annie, who stood on tiptoes to look at him as though she missed something.
“They always have tattoos. I’ve never known any guy with a beard who didn’t have a tattoo to go with it.”
“Oh,” said Annie, who frowned as she considered that. “They do sort of pair up. You know…I think you’re right.”
“Every guy I’ve known with a beard had one,” asserted Lizzie.
“It’s the best-looking face I’ve seen in a long time,” asserted Annie, who used her hand to fan herself.
“I’ll admit he’s good-looking,” she granted. “There’s just. No.” She shook her head. “There’s something else besides his looks which makes him not a temptation.”
Lizzie couldn’t help but notice that he became a regular early-morning customer. She was surprised she hadn’t noticed him before but figured he must be a transfer student. He appeared about the same age as her, a junior or a senior. Perhaps he had done community college and was transferring credits over to save money. She rarely spoke to him; Lizzie always seemed to be on coffee-making duty whenever he appeared. It was Annie who had the good fortune to speak to him and take his order. Her co-worker would always make a point of coming over to enlighten Lizzie about him.
“He’s just so gorgeous to look at! I don’t care if he’s always curt. So many of them are when they’re waiting for their coffee.” Annie excused his behavior when it gave her morning-tired eyes something pleasant to look at.
“Well, what’s his name?” asked Lizzie. “He must give his name when he orders coffee?”
“Will. His name is Will,” Annie answered.
“A common-enough name,” she threw out. But Handsome Will became one of their regulars.
It seemed, wherever she went that Lizzie ran into Annie’s Will. He was a yard or two in front of her going into the main library one day, but the bastard didn’t bother to hold the door for her. It rained hard one day (a rarity), and she was hurrying to get to the bus stop to go home; she could see the bus sitting across the street. Lizzie got one foot in the crosswalk and was going to run across when a car zipped past. First of all, it didn’t yield to her despite that foot in the crosswalk, and secondly it splashed water from a pothole up against her jeans and soaked her. By the time it had passed, and Lizzie had checked for traffic again, the bus had pulled away. She thought she recognized the bearded figure behind the wheel of the car.
She didn’t know cars, so couldn’t tell what type Handsome Will drove. Her family owned the one, and she was a Townie, mostly using the bus system to get around. And though she could drive, she rarely did since her mother needed the car for work. And Ms. Gardiner frequently fought with Lauren over its use. Her next-youngest sister insisted on second rights to the family car.
“He always leaves tips,” Annie cooed in her ear one morning. “No one leaves tips.”
“Okay,” Lizzie grumbled. She had been up late and was facing a long day. “He leaves tips, hurray.” The sarcasm in her voice dripped off of every letter in the last word. “But has he asked you out yet?”
“No. But nobody dates anymore,” Annie claimed. “I’d just be happy to, you know!”
“Okay then. Good luck with that,” said Lizzie, who couldn’t show any concern that morning for Annie lusting after the tall and rather good-looking Will (even if he did have a beard).
There was the occasional day when Lizzie took Handsome Will’s order. Usually, it was because Annie wasn’t paying attention to jump over to the check stand, or wasn’t working. He was always curt.
“Latte,” he would demand, “nonfat.” He never got anything to eat. He never ordered anything else. He never said thank you, but he did leave a tip, every time, in their communal tip jar. But that got divided up at the end of the shift. Sometimes Mr. Handsome Will’s tip was the only one in it.
Some people had elaborate orders; some people changed them up, trying different drinks each time. Will was a man who knew his mind and stuck with his nonfat latte every day before going off to class.
Copyright © 2019 Anne Morris