Flash fiction by Tina Konstant
Gabby St. Clair clenched her purse between two sweaty hands. She hated coffee. Never drank it. Just ordered a large skinny caramel cappuccino every morning, seven days a week at 7.30 a.m. She actually set her clock at the weekend to make sure she never missed a day. She liked to be there early so the queue would be short, the shop would be a little emptier than usual and the chance of a conversation with Henry Able would be a little more likely.
Oh God, look at those eyes. I want to hug them. So perfect. Sod the cappuccino. Just give me Henry.
Gabby blushed. She knew she did. She felt the heat rise in her face and creep to her neck where she knew it would turn red and blotchy.
Get a grip.
Hey Henry, she practiced in her head. Got plans for later?
No, he’d say. Not much of anything.
Gabby would shrug and smile. I’ve got tickets for a jazz band tonight if you’re in the mood.
I love Jazz, Henry would say. What time?
Oh, Gabby would shrug again. Casual. Round eight?
Henry would smile with those beautiful white teeth. Why don’t we meet at seven and we can get dinner first?
Sure. That’s what Gabby would say. Meet you at Boardwalk Café.
Perfect. Then Henry would give her a caramel cappuccino on the house.
Gabby dropped her head and smiled.
Let’s start with the phone number. Take it from there.
Just four people to go. Saturday morning. She hadn’t expected the place to be so full. The woman at the head of the queue dug around her bag for coins and paid for a bran and raisin muffin and a latte. “Oh, God!” She shook her head. “I can’t believe I’m going into the office on a Saturday.”
Henry smiled at her. Gabby could see he was just being polite. “Well, we’re glad to see you,” he said. “One latte. Extra shot.”
“You’re an angel. Thank you. I really don’t believe it! How urgent can it be?”
The woman left. Henry turned to the next person in line. A man. He ordered a large black Americano. “No sugar. No milk. I’m in a hurry.”
Henry handed him his coffee, took the money and wished him a good day. The man answered his phone and walked away like Henry hadn’t said anything.
It didn’t seem to bother Henry. Gabby noticed he had a way of accepting people just as they were.
Gabby breathed in, then out.
One large caramel cappuccino, she practiced. Once, twice, then a third time for luck. One large caramel cappuccino, thank you. No. Thanks. Thank you? Maybe thank you is too formal.
The next two people were together. They ordered a fruit smoothie and a frappuccino and a breakfast bagel. “Oh no, make that salmon and cream cheese.”
“I don’t like salmon.”
“OK, one of each.”
As Henry went to prepare their order, the two girls chatted and giggled, fixed each other’s makeup and talked about tampons.
Oh, Lord. Gabby wanted to pour hot wax in her ears, but Henry just smiled and handed their breakfast over.
Just his phone number. Nothing else. Just his number.
“Hey.” Henry smiled.
Gabby stared at him. Say something. A date. A phone number. Offer him yours. What if he’s married? What if he’s gay? She hadn’t thought of that.
“The usual?” Henry asked.
I don’t believe it. The usual?
Henry handed her a steaming caramel cappuccino. “An extra shot of caramel.”
Gabby blushed. Again. Heat scorched her face and her neck and her chest. Burning sweat coated her skin making her shirt stick to her.
No! No! NO! Don’t see me!
She dropped £5 on the counter, took the coffee and turned around without waiting for the change.
“What’s with her?” the guy who worked with Henry said.
Abby wished again for that hot wax to pour into her ears. What’s with her? What’s with her?!
“Nothing,” Henry said. “Just not a big talker. Saving up to say something important. You could learn a lesson from her.”
Gabby paused, half turned and looked at him. At Henry. He looked back. At her. Right at her.
“See you tomorrow?” he said, then he smiled. He ignored the next customer and smiled at her.
Gripping coffee with both hands, Gabby left the shop. Winter wind coated her face. Winter sun warmed her soul.
Tomorrow. She’ll get his phone number tomorrow.