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I don't like it when people sit down right next to me.
Most days, nobody does, warded off by my cup of coffee and my newspaper, covering my face. I make sure of it. I don't like talking to people, especially not ones who actually want to talk.
Who talk to people just because.
I don't like a lot of things.
These days, I've been coming here a lot. Just for the coffee, sometimes. I can't find it this strong anywhere else. When I walk in, the man behind the counter always looks up and slides over a cup of coffee to the stool at the far right, where I sit.
I like routine, you see. What happened before was too out of the ordinary, it feels wrong to do anything that crazy now.
She was always cheerful in a way that seemed crazy to me.
We met on a Monday, right after I had been fired. I was in a worse mood than usual, and nobody so much as looked at me for too long. Then she came and sat down right next to me, nonchalantly. As if it was nothing.
Ordered a croissant, and then turned to me, as if just noticing me.
“Hello.” She had said.
I had muttered something, forcing myself not to look at her.
“Nice day outside, isn't it?”
“It’s raining.” I had grumbled.
It was, in fact. Rain was horrid, if you ask me. Got everyone and everything wet. Especially when it was raining a lot, like it was that day.
“Exactly. Rain’s beautiful, don't you think?” She sighed. “Have you ever looked up into it and closed your eyes? Forgotten everything? I love to do that.”
The man behind the counter, same as always, handed her the croissant. God knows how long he’s worked there. As long as I can remember, for sure.
“Thank you!” Cheerful and bright.
“No,” I said, in relation to her question before.
“A pity.” She still managed to make that sound cheerful. How she did it, I had no idea.
“Anyway, do you want to try it now? I did it on my way over, but I wouldn't mind doing it again.”
I finally stared at her, appalled.
“I'm- a complete stranger.” I had stuttered.
“That's the beauty of it. Making someone’s day better, without knowing them. Why not?”
It was hard to argue with. Still, I wasn't going out into the rain.
“No thanks. I’ll stay here.”
She had shrugged, and eaten her croissant, leaving a generous tip on the linoleum counter.
“Have a nice day!”
The diner was darker when she left, somehow.
It didn't rain for a few weeks after that, a miracle since it was spring. April. What was that saying? The one for children?
April showers bring May flowers.
I’ll be damned if there were any flowers in this city.
After a while, I was back at the diner, on a Wednesday. A weekday. And for good reason. Or bad, depending on how you look at it. The newspaper was turned to the help wanted section, but most of them were worthless. Not worth my time.
There was nothing that day.
I stayed for the whole day, until closing time when the man nudged me. I groaned, raising my head and rubbing the sleep from my eyes.
“It’s closing time. Also, you’re only supposed to stay here for thirty minutes. Says so on the wall.” He pointed to a sign behind me with a smile.
Even though I knew he was joking, I didn't smile, folding up the newspaper and throwing it in the trash can.
I cursed myself for falling asleep, because that meant that I would have to lie awake for an hour or more, staring at my bedroom ceiling with its chipping white paint that revealed patches of bright blue underneath.
Who would want to paint a room that color, anyway?
If she was here, she would say it looked like a sky or something.
I almost smiled, clenching my jaw to try to push the joy back. It worked, and I headed home, inspecting the concrete the whole way.
The flashing lights greeted me that morning. Someone had forgotten to turn them off, so they flashed on and off, one stuck turned off, in the early morning. Almost pitifully.
It wasn't open yet, so I waited outside, leaning against the wall. Then it started to rain.
I let out a stream of colorful curses, getting me an angry look from an old woman passing by with an umbrella. Why the world was prepared for anything they got thrown at them, I didn't know.
It was so full of joy, it could only be coming from one person.
She didn't have an umbrella, not surprisingly. She was just carrying a large bag, and smiling.
“It’s raining again.” I commented.
“Yes, it is. I remember, you hated the rain.” She grinned. “Don't worry, it’s probably going to open in a while.”
And meanwhile? I almost asked, but clamped my mouth shut in time.
I scowled at the rain, avoiding her gaze.
“You know, you can use this if you want.” She handed me an umbrella from her bag. “You’re soaking wet.”
She was too, but I had assumed she liked the rain. Even though soaking wet was a bit of an exaggeration for both of us.
I took the umbrella tentatively, opening it. I didn't care right then that it was yellow, which I didn't like.
The rain pattered against the umbrella as a car came up to the curb and the man got out. He looked strangely out of place on the sidewalk.
Apologizing profusely, he said that he had overslept. Then he unlocked the door. I closed the umbrella, handing it back to her.
She put it back in her bag and ordered a cheese danish.
“I always like to try new things.” She explained.
I was going to order coffee, but she put a hand up with a sly smile on her face.
“A cup of tea.”
I didn't know what to say to that.
The man shrugged and got her a cheese danish. And my cup of tea.
I couldn't remember at the time if I had drunk tea before at all. Maybe once or twice, but never by choice, really.
It wasn't my choice now either, to think of it.
I took a slow sip as she gauged my reaction. It didn't help to wake me up at all, but it was fine. There was something about it that was so- right, in a way.
So I drank it all.
The rain stopped, finally. I looked over and found she was gone. A pity.
I might just drink tea the next time I came here. Voluntarily.
For the first time in what felt like ages, I took a good look around. With the red leather stools and the linoleum counter, it looked like someone’s dream for a diner gone wrong. I had asked the man at the counter once, and he’d said he didn't own the place. Someone else did.
I never really figured out who.
The booths lined the opposite wall, and matched the stools and counter. At least that was done right. Then the walls were green.
I’d really like to give whoever designed this a piece of mind sometimes.
It was only a few days later when I came back. It didn't rain that day, and it wasn't going to. At least I hoped so.
Looking back, it didn't.
It was a Saturday, and I thought I’d go back, just for the coffee. Or tea. I hadn't decided yet.
She was already sitting there when I came in, and after a bit of thinking I sat down next to her.
She looked up at me in recognition. “We keep running into each other, don't we?”
“So, coffee or tea this time?”
I thought about it. “One cup of coffee.” It was directed to the man, who nodded.
“Well, I had to try.”
This time, she ordered a oatmeal cookie. She’d never struck me as the type to eat something like that, but why not. For the sake of trying something new, after all.
We didn't really talk a lot that time, just small talk. About the weather, which wasn't rainy. About my new job, which she congratulated me on. I only hoped it would last. It didn't. Not a big deal, it was just office work. Not interesting.
I had never found work interesting. Just something you did to get by.
Taking a sip of coffee, I examined the newspaper for a bit. Nothing of importance that day. The usual political rants and crime.
When she got up after a short while, I looked up.
“You won't be seeing me around here anymore.”
“I like to try new things. New places.”
Then she shut the door behind her, the bell tinkling.
I never saw her again. Haven't to this day. I still wonder, though.
About people on the bus who seem too cheerful. About anyone who calls out a hello to someone who’s not me.
Life went on.
It was a Thursday evening when it began to sprinkle.
Not caring what anyone thought of me right then, I tilted my face upwards to catch the raindrops. It didn't feel all that bad.
Then I hurried inside, wiping the rain out of my hair, smiling.