By Melinda Thielbar
Read by: Mur Lafferty
Originally published in Bull Spec Magazine
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Rated PG-13: This story contains one F-bomb.
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You’re Almost Here
by Melinda Thielbar
“Can I share your table?”
You look up to see your dream girl. Red hair, cream-colored skin, face just a little round, breasts just a little small. Not movie-star beautiful, not perfect just–nice. She smiles, and her cheeks dimple, and you’re in love. You gesture to the empty chair across from you with a grin of your own.
“Be my guest,” you say.
“Thanks.” She takes the chair and sets her coffee cup down. You close the notebook in front of you and open your mouth to say something—anything—to impress this girl.
Without looking at you, she turns in her chair, pulls a phone out of her pocket and bends over it. You watch her face in profile as she slips a pair of earbuds into her ears. Your mouth is still open, so you close it and look away. That’s when you see that every table is occupied. Men in suits, women in suits, a few people your age in khakis or jeans. They’re all looking down at their phones, laptops, or handheld game consoles. Sunlight streams in through the floor-to-ceiling windows, and you watch people passing by on the street for a minute. They’re all looking straight ahead, faces set the way they have to be in a city this size. When it’s this crowded, the only privacy you can give a stranger is not to notice them. That idea interests you, and so you open your notebook to jot it down at the bottom of the second-to-last page. As you’re writing, a chair scrapes behind you, and a guy in a navy three-piece moves past. He flips his phone open and then closed again, checking the time, and hurries out.
The girl across from you moves almost as fast as he does. “Thanks,” she says and flashes that amazing smile again before she grabs her drink and hops to the newly-open table. You write FUCK across the top of the second-to-last page of your notebook, tuck it into your pocket, and go get another coffee.
The barristomatic (you call it this; no one else does), takes your thumbprint and opens a menu with your recent drink selections. They’re supposed to be sorted so the one you drink most is at the top. For you, it might as well be random. You do something different every time. This one’s a half-pump vanilla, half-pump strawberry, soy milk latte with a lousy espresso bean that still costs more than all the other ingredients put together because it’s fair-trade and organic. You once enumerated every combination, ranked them from most to least expensive and calculated how long it would take to try all of them. Assuming they add nothing to the line-up (unlikely), you’ll have to live to be eighty (likely) and drink four cups a day (near-certain). The machine hisses out your espresso and steamed milk. The menu pops up a new screen “People who enjoyed this drink also liked…” You hit Done and taste your drink. It’s perfect and artless.
You turn around and see someone sitting in the chair you just vacated. It’s a guy in jeans, probably another unwilling table-sharer. He’s sitting inches away from the red-haired girl. They’re practically back-to-back, both bopping to whatever’s playing through their identical earbuds, and neither one’s aware of the other. The guy’s t-shirt reads: “Steal This Shirt”. You put a lid on your coffee and head out the door.