Sports & Leisure Fiction
Written by Nathan Mattise
It took him twenty minutes to find The Flying Star, but once on the scene Noah was much quicker about springing into action.
The girl at the counter was cute and the only thing restrained about her was the two edgy bobs topping off her ‘do. She greeted him. Noah said hello in one of those my-voice-is-going-to-crescendo-in-volume-and-pitch type of ways. She smiled back but Noah didn’t notice because he was too busy tilting his head slightly forward and to the left. Eventually he mustered up the courage to order a chai and a chocolate chip cookie, surely a meal that when ordered at 11 p.m. on a Friday doesn’t mean “I’m awkward, desperate and shy.” She turned to take care of it as he dug into his pocket for some cash, all the while debating whether or not he should leave a tip while she was watching and if that meant she’d think it meant “I think you’re cute.” She brought the order and apologized that the cookie crumbled (literally, not in some metaphorical sense). Noah paid, nodded, smiled and turned to enter the warzone of seated patrons. The night was off to a great start.
His intention was to wander to a table near some girls his age. That way Noah could do the trade glances routine and inevitably bump into them on the way out, forcing a exchange of names and numbers. Unfortunately, the crowd at The Flying Star was the same crowd that enjoyed romance novels from Wal-Mart and forced their children to attend church when they came home on weekends from college. He spotted two girls roughly his age sitting in the far corner, one redhead and one librarian chic. All the tables nearby were occupied except for the one directly in front of them. A window seat on the complete opposite side of the room would do just fine.
As he did every Friday that summer, Noah brought a book to accompany him out on the town. He got 70 pages into “Me Talk Pretty One Day,” by David Sedaris and was finally numb to how much of a loser he was being. As midnight struck Noah finished chapter six and slowly put on his jacket. He sat for minute so he could awkwardly stare at the girls from the corner table as they exited the place. He then said goodbye to cute barista, picked up a copy of the weekly publication that listed all the events in town he swore he’d never be bored enough to attend. He pulled out his keys and passed through the door.
Noah was mildly tired at this point but still alert enough to notice that the corner table girls were purposely slowing their walk and giggling. No way did this work out. Noah had a split second to decide what to do. He could slow his gait and just stare at the sky to pass it off as a real-life-enjoying-the-moment montage. He could ball up, confidently walk straight ahead and pull up alongside the duo. Even if they didn’t turn out to be exactly cute, Noah was in need of some friends in town and they did spend their Friday night at the same non-alcoholic divebar.
In the end he chose the third option. Pull out the cell phone, pretend to do something productive with it and focus your vision down toward the sidewalk. Well, he would have done that if the redhead didn’t stare him down and mutter something.
“Hey, nice book.”
What? Was that a good thing? Noah was too busy being shamefully passive to catch the tone of those three words. They couldn’t see what specific book he was holding so they obviously weren’t congratulating him on being a subculture aficionado with his Sedaris studies. Maybe this was the only thing red-haired girl could muster up the courage to say to a stranger while walking on one of the most troubled streets in town at midnight. Maybe she saw his glances, tried to glance back while he was indulging in Sedaris and couldn’t live with herself if she didn’t say something – anything – before she went home that night.
More than likely it was a dig for being the kid who goes out by himself on a weekend to read. Noah could have responded with the self-deprecating, “I know, quite an exciting way to spend a Friday right?” or the lame dad-ish “Yeah, I took her out last night and she actually agreed to a second date.” Either one would have been good enough to move the conversation to either incredible awkwardness or polite introductions. A huge step in the right direction for a kid looking to find entertainment in the most desperate way possible.
But no. A half-smile, chuckle combination and a “gee, thanks,” kept him on a bee line to the car. Noah was left to wonder what “hey, nice book,” could have possibly meant. Left to wonder if this girl had a face he could have looked at over a tall chai sometime in the future. Left to wonder if he’d ever have the aggression and instinct inside to navigate positive interaction with strange women. Not even Columbus successfully conquered that situation, and if he did, all major universities would currently recognize his holiday.
Noah drove home that night wondering what if and will I ever. If the rest of his summer away from home was anything like women, he had his work cut out for him. At least he had his Sedaris book to look forward to next Friday and Noah even thought it might eventually lend him some old-school, literary guidance. Though yes, if you’re wondering, David Sedaris is gay.
The lucky bastard.
(If you haven’t been keeping up with the whole Esquire fiction saga, here’s the quick background. This is the first short story I ever wrote and one I considered submitting – whether it was because it’s solid or because I’m attached to it was never determined. Anyway, I have one written out and ready to send in the morning. Cross your fingers and expect an update sometime in a few weeks.)