Saturday, July 25, 2015

Brenda's Winning Short Story

                       The Window of Opportunity: by Brenda Coshnitzke


   To smell a cup of coffee was to fall in love. I had been in a longstanding relationship with a certain caramel frappe for years until just recently when I discovered that plain, black decaf suited me better. It wasn't just my best friend in the morning, it was my lover. If I were being honest with myself, I would have admitted to being addicted, but I would never say that anywhere other than in my mind where I was safe from all judgement.

    Being left to my own devices with the coffee shop I grew up in was always my dream, and after my mother's passing, two years ago, the keys to Nina's Espresso were handed to me. It wasn't as if I was waiting around for my parents to drop dead - I loved my mom and her death was one of the saddest moments of my life. Having this shop up and running was my way of keeping her memory alive when she wasn't.

    I met lots of interesting characters who passed through, most just looking for a relaxing place to spend an hour or two, and some were customers who had been coming daily for years. I liked seeing new faces almost as much as I enjoyed drinking a freshly brewed cup of tea.

    The café no longer smelled of espresso beans and vanilla creamer; it now had the intoxicating scent of Windex aftermath. I had just finished wiping today's history out of the round mahogany tables, making sure they were ready for tomorrow's long day of battling spilled coffee and cinnamon roll crumbs. The smell of window cleaner on wood was nauseating to an extent. I had the suspicion of being semi allergic to it, as I continually sneezed when it was in the air.

    The brewing machines had all been cleaned, along with the dishes, and anything that needed electricity was shut off for the night. The last costumer had walked out hours ago, leaving a crisp twenty dollar bill on the counter which I had appreciated more then he knew. I was tired, and ready to curl into a cocoon of blankets back at my suburban apartment.

    In the blur of searching for my keys, I hadn't noticed someone stepping up the stairs to the shop until I heard the doorknob jingling. I had already locked the doors and flipped the 'open' sign to say 'closed,' so I wondered who could've been that oblivious. I turned around, watching as a man realized the doors were locked and began walking away. The walls on the side of the entrance were made of Plexiglas windows, allowing me to stare out as he slowly started leaving; his head hung low in slight disappointment.

    He stopped mid step, almost falling forward from the shift in direction as his eyes caught my gaze. I couldn't help but squint with confusion, wondering if my eyes were playing tricks on me in the bitter darkness of night. It peaked my interest as I questioned what he was stopping for, whether it was for me, or because I was an employee and he wanted service.

    His hand went up, slowly but surely, giving me the pleasantry of a small wave. The hand motion was so simple; yet, the act of it seemed so intense, causing my throat to tighten and my mouth to instantly dry up. I was never supposed to become nervous around anyone, my job required me to have healthy communication skills, but seeing this man had caused my heart to attempt jumping out of my chest. A smile tugged at one corner of his lips, pulling me even further into curiosity.

    I had learned from years of observing body language from different types of people, that I was more in tuned to personalities than a psychic. I knew people better than their friends did; I could almost see the lies they told themselves and everyone around them. So, to pass the time, I often read people like a book, just for my own amusement, but my years of being an observer were not doing very much for me in this particular situation, as I couldn't see through him.

    I forced myself out of the hypnotic trace that his eyes had so willingly pulled me into, and waved back, only slightly, trying not to look overenthusiastic. I wasn't sure how to react, because I didn't know what this mystery man wanted.

    He looked excited to get a response from me, probably just happy that I wasn't a figment of his imagination. It was awkward, for me at least. I had no clue how he felt, but I didn't enjoy standing in one place while staring at a stranger. He seemed to be in the same form of trance I had just been in, only for a moment though. As soon as he snapped out of it, I could tell, because he had his eyes roaming my figure freely. It made me feel insecure, but I would never admit it out loud. Anyone would feel self-conscious, having a stranger look them up and down as if he were a judge, although, I didn't think he looked like the type to critique.

    His mouth began moving, creating words that weren't audible through the thick glass. I didn't need to hear him to know that he was babbling to me nervously, not even noticing the slight rain that was drizzling over his head. I giggled to myself, wondering if he knew I couldn't hear him. When he stopped, he stared at me wide-eyed and waited for a response.

    "I can't hear you!" I yelled pointlessly, knowing he wouldn't understand. I pointed to my ears and exaggerated my mouth movements, hoping he would get the general idea of what I said.

    I felt a few butterflies flutter in the pit of my stomach, causing anxiety I didn't think I could get as he held up one finger in a "give me a moment" kind of way. He reached into the rather large satchel he was carrying with him, pulling out something rectangular and thin. I furrowed my eyebrows together, cocking my head to the side and taking a hesitant step towards the window with interest. I wasn't scared by him, because I had a certain intellect that would've told me if he meant any harm. I would get a rotten feeling in my chest when my instincts told me something was sketchy, but I felt fine.

    He took out a pen as well, writing on the rectangle which I had identified as a notepad. The gears of my brain were grinding as I tried to imagine what he could be putting down on the paper, but I assumed I would find out soon enough. I played anxiously with my fingers while I waited, occasionally tugging at the ties to my apron.

    He looked up at me with a smile across his cheeks as if he had just written the cleverest string of words in the history of the human race. He stepped up to the window, laying the notepad flat against it with a smack. I couldn't see it from twenty foot away, so I gracefully walked towards him, my red Chuck Taylors slapping against the marble floor with every step.

    I laughed to myself, reading the single word 'Hi,' written in large bubble letters. Being so close to the window, I was finally able to see what this mystery man looked like, and to my appreciation, he did not disappoint.

    Tuffs of remarkably orange hair stuck to his forehead, damp from the rain which he still continued to ignore. He was taller than me, but only by a few inches, standing at roughly 5" 9' if I were to have made an educated guess. His lips were bright pink, shaped as if they were sculpted by gods, blowing foggy breaths into the cold winter weather. I couldn't help but question if he were really as pale as I thought, or if it was just an illusion of the darkness. He was nowhere near the tall, dark, and handsome, average, good-looking male who would make it on the cover of a Calvin Klein poster, but he was interesting, and I preferred his individuality. There were faint lines under his eyes, created by a smile more than a sleepless night. His irises were a dark color which I couldn't pinpoint, but for now, I would call it green. His sweatshirt was big, but I didn't think he was a particularly large guy, although the fabric didn't seem thick enough to keep him warm. I got a chill just by looking at him wear thin clothes in the early winter breeze. I envied the cup of coffee that got to kiss his sleepy lips awake every cold and bitter morning.

    I wanted to respond to him, the handsome man who stood only a few inches away from me, so I did the only thing I could think to do. I reached into the front pocket of my pine green apron, and pulled out the small pad of paper I used for taking orders, along with a purple Sharpie.

    Although I wanted to say something back, I couldn't think of anything, which was a first for me. I always knew what the right thing was to say, it was part of my job, and the fact that I couldn't agitated me down to the bone.

    I decided to reply in the same way he did, with a simple 'Hi.' I wrote mine with dots on every point to the letters, adding my own version of girly flair. I watched his face light up with a childish smile as he laughed, puffs of smoke leaving his mouth with every breath.

    I felt slightly like an animal at the zoo, being watched and observed from behind glass. He studied my features for a moment, with a smile so light that I was surprised it was still dark outside. It was contagious, that smirk of his, and the same crookedness fell upon my lips. We looked like two people who had never seen another human being before, and were only just learning what it was like to be social. We should have been on Animal Planet.

    He broke eye contact with a giddy expression as he flipped the notebook page and began writing again. I stood on my tiptoes, leaning closer to look at what he was drawing, but he caught me in the act, and held it to his chest. He purposely looked offended, mouthing the words "no peaking." I couldn't help but laugh at his sarcastic and snarky attitude, playing with a strand of my bleach blond hair while I waited patiently.

    At last he put the page up to the window, most of the blue pen ink running from the rain drops. It was barely smeared, but I could still read it fluently.

    'I'm Ed,' it read, a small crooked heart drawn at the end. My cheeks burned a crimson color of pink from looking at the heart as a warm tingly sensation started at the tips of my ears and made its way down to my toes, consuming me. I had never smiled as much as I was then, and I was surprised that one stranger could have that kind of effect on me.

    'I'm Nina,' I wrote, using a different fount for my letters involving swirls. I pointed at the ceiling, indicating for him to look up. He craned his neck, staring up at the café sign that read Nina's Espresso.

    'It's yours?' his next note asked. I could tell with every passing second, his notepad was getting wetter, and that made it harder for him to write.

    I wrote the simple reply of 'yes' and showed it to his smiley face. Before he had the chance to respond, I wrote a quick note with sloppy hand writing, not bothering with a cute fount.

    'Aren't you cold?' I held the slip of paper up to the Plexiglas, tucking a piece of hair behind my ear.

    His eyes looked up as if he were attempting to look at his eyelashes as he shifted his weight between legs. He was obviously so caught up in our short worded conversation that he didn't stop to think about the weather. It was amusing to me, how oblivious some people could be, but on him, it was endearing.

    'Kind of, but I'm okay, it's worth it.' This time when he held it up, I could see a part in the page that had a rip from his pen catching a wet spot.

    I didn't know this man, yet somehow, the roundness of his cheeks and the softness of his eyes felt like home. I didn't come into work that morning thinking I would be having a conversation without actual words, but there I was, physical evidence of the saying "expect the unexpected." I had the strangest urge to get to know him - Ed - and without a doubt, I wanted to see him again. He seemed fairly interested in me as well; if he wasn't, he wouldn't have been there, continuing this pour excuse for communication. He intrigued me in a good way, and I hadn't had that amount of excitement in my life since I broke my arm, falling down a flight of stairs in another one of my accidental, clumsy, demonstrations.

    'How is it out there?' I wrote.

    When he squinted to see the words I made smaller than previous letters, I could finally decipher what his eye color was. A deep blue outlined his pitch black pupils, as if I were looking into the Atlantic Ocean. I took a carful glance at them, accumulating an unfamiliar, warm, lavish sensation in the pit of my belly, like butterflies, but with more passion. It was bittersweet, the feelings in my stomach, making me feel half sick, and half excited. No one had ever given me that strong of a staggering feeling within minutes of first meeting.

    'Wet,' he replied with a smirk, a drop of rain hanging on the tip of his nose, scared to fall onto the cold ground. I laughed at his snarky answer, covering my mouth as my nose and eyelids scrunched up with amusement. It was stupid for me to be laughing, because there was no one around to hear it, but secretly, I was glad Ed wasn't inside the coffee shop, or else he would have heard me snort during my fit of giggles.

    'Maybe you should get somewhere dry,' I suggested with honesty.

    Although I didn't want him to leave, I was sure his clothes had let the rain soak through, and that would surly cause him to catch a cold. I enjoyed talking - writing - to Ed, but if he got sick on my account, I would feel dreadfully guilty.

    'Maybe I don't want to,' he returned, with a second note following right after, reading 'can I tell you something?'

    'No,' I replied sarcastically - at least, I hoped he took it sarcastically. Of course, I wasn't being serious; he could have written his grocery list and I would have read it with true interest.

    He had a cheeky grin as he traced with his pen. His handwriting was horribly sloppy, which I found to be engaging, but I could tell he was trying to make this note easier to read.

    I took a notice to his hands, which gripped the pen and notebook. They weren't very long, but short and chubby with small fingernails. My fingers were the polar opposite, long and thin, and I couldn't stop myself from wondering how they would feel if he were to hold them. I decided it would be nice, but the tingling in the pit of my stomach would most likely hospitalize me from being so unbearably strong.

    He pressed the notepad up to the glass, and although his handwriting was improved, the ink was so drippy that I could hardly read it. I had to take a moment of staring at the page before I could understand what it was.

    'I think you're really cute.'

    My cheeks instantly began burning with honey glow, heating up the freckles that were sprinkled across my face as if I were standing in front of an open fire. It felt, for the smallest second, like I stopped breathing. I couldn't feel my heart beat for a moment, but once I could, I realized it was pounding aggressively. I could hear my pulse, and it was so loud that I thought he may have been able to as well.

    The people in the streets stopped walking, the cars stopped driving, and the world stopped spinning. It was just me, a random blue eyed boy, and a piece of glass to separate us. The butterflies in my stomach caught on fire, burning in a never ending red flame. I felt like I could float away on a cloud of mind-blowing exhilaration that could only go up.

    I didn't want to keep him waiting in an awkward anticipation, so I ignored the giddy feeling I had coursing through my every vein, and I wrote a quick, one word note.

    'Ditto,' I corresponded, this time using cursive.

    I could see it in the way he held his breath that he was undergoing a moment similar to the one I just encountered. His pupils dilated and puffs of smoke stop escaping his lips as a response to the word I composed. I knew what he was thinking, and it was something that would forever be known as the best feeling in history. I could only hope that the heart-pounding nirvana would stay with me forever.

    'I have to go. Are you open tomorrow?' he inscribed on the page.

    I felt a ping of disconnect at the thought of him leaving. Somewhere in my mind, I figured we would be here forever, writing little nothings that couldn't be whispered through the translucent divider. It was an adolescent thought, too immature for my twenty-three year old mind, but I only wished it were true. Of course we would have to leave eventually; I would have to go home to feed my turtle at some point, but I thought we had a little bit more time. I was overflowing with disappointment, my heart no longer beating at the same rate. It felt like he had already left, although he was still standing only inches away.

    Even though I only had the pleasure of spending roughly five minutes with him, and we hadn't spoken a single word, I was grateful for having met him. This small window of time had brightened up my day, my week even, and I had a good feeling that it wouldn't be the last time I heard from him.

    'Yes,' I wrote simply, using the rest of the space on the paper to draw a large frowning face, letting him know that his departure would not render me happy.

    He started scribbling again, more words than he had before, and all I could do was wait with an inquisitive mind. I tapped my foot impatiently, half of me wanting him to hurry, and the other half wanting him to stop so this could last forever. The page ripped, too damp to continue writing, but he was determined to finished, so he started again on a blank slate. I was desperate at that point, being tricked into thinking I would receive the next letter sooner than I did.

    'I'll be back then. Can I give you something before I go?' his last slip spelled.

    I nodded, instead of wasting my energy on another one word answer. A remarkable coldness swept through my body, causing my face to become a rare pale color with the thought of him coming back to see me. It was cold in the way of sticking my hand inside of the snow, where the temperature was so intense that it would feel hot like the sun. My cheeks burned while freezing at the same time. I enjoyed being around him, but actually having to communicate through the spoken word was nerve racking. Writing was easy, in the same way texting was, which is why not many people made phone calls anymore, but I wouldn't let that stop me from doing what I knew would be the best option: seeing him again. I wanted to meet Ed in a better atmosphere, where he didn't have to stand in the rain, and I knew, after that, I would want to meet him many more times.

    I pondered on what he would want to give to me without coming through the door. There weren't very many choices, and my brain couldn't think up a guess. If I could have only known, then my mind would have been at rest.

    He continued to tear pages, and it seemed like he would never get to a piece that were dry enough. My heart rate increased every second that he left me waiting, my need for immediate gratification overpowering my patient virtue. He only got damper, as did the paper, and the longer he took, the more he looked like he had just emerged from a river.

    He gave up after attempting to write on ten pieces of paper. I was more disappointed than I ever remembered being; it was peculiar how a boy I didn't know could affect me like that. My hand almost trembled with the need to know what he was going to give me. I could see the same feeling in his eyes, which made me believe it was something important, only furthering my infatuation with what I would have received.

    His expression lit up as it did the first time I posted a letter to him. His smile made my heart melt into a puddle of both excitement, and hope, making me believe that he had a solution. Without a second thought, my hands were clenched together into one fist against my chest, my smile so wide that I was afraid it might tear my cheeks. He took one step closer; to a regular person, it would have looked small and pointless, but to me, it was as big as the first step on the moon. We were only separated by seven inches or so, and being so close to him made me never want to leave.

    He splayed his hands out flat against our divider, bringing his face closer until the tip of his nose barely grazed the surface. As he took a deep breath, he blew heat across the window, fogging it up. I knew what he was doing then, and I couldn't help but crown him as the cleverest man I had ever met.

    His large finger began tracing, one small bump, and then another which connected at the bottom. He drew a heart - that was what he wanted to give to me. For the second time in five minutes, I could feel my pulse stop beating, but it lasted longer than the first time. It was as if he tore my heart straight out of my chest and put it there in front of my face, on the window. My breath got caught in my throat as he put on the grin of a proud three year old. In an attempt to saver what few moments we had left, I gently placed my long thin hand against the window where his was. I could almost feel his warmth, and it made a piece of me wish I had opened the door just so I could snuggle him, but I was getting ahead of myself.

    I closed my eyes, trying to heighten my sense of touch in the way blind people had overactive senses. If I could have been there until the world crashed and burned, I would have been happy with that. I didn't even have to meet him beyond that glass; that was good enough for me, as long as we never left this position.

    When I opened my eyes, I was expecting to see a mop of hair the color of a Moroccan sunset, but he was gone. The heart he left for me was gone as well, having faded away while I was busy trying to touch him through the window. I stood there stupidly with one hand on glass, while people stared as they walked by.

    I had a pressure in my chest, the same way I would get when someone would text me at three in the morning, saying 'we need to talk.' My stomach dropped like it would when I got on a roller coaster that was too fast for me to handle, but I was stuck, locked in by the safety bars and forced into riding the full two minutes.

    I stared out at the rain puddles, all of them being illuminated by flickering street lights and apartment building windows. I was incapable of moving, and I didn't want to. In all the years that I had worked there, I had never stood this close to the window at night, so I had never taken the time to notice just how pretty it was. I had Ed to thank for bringing that beauty to my attention.

    I was never a strong believer in love at first sight, but that was before I had any experience with it. I always thought Romeo and Juliet was lame and unrealistic, but now I could see where they were coming from. I couldn't stop myself from going to bed that night, thinking that this was the start of something beautiful.

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