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Frank sits on the bench behind the table. He looks a bit frustrated. He’s dressed somewhat nicely but he’s alone, aggressively checking his phone. What happened? He got into a fight with his girlfriend at home before he left the house. She wanted to stay in and he felt like going out. The argued, he left. Why is she being so stubborn? She’s stressed because she’s been waiting for her period for a week and it has yet to come. Frank doesn’t know that. She suspects she is pregnant but she doesn’t know for sure. Again, he is completely unaware of this. Blissfully unaware.

In a final act of masculine-temper, he left the house in a huff mid-argument. Now, alone and angry, where is there to go? To the non-committal kiosk coffee shop. Sit and sulk if you want, order something if you want, don’t and don’t if you don’t. You can be out and alone simultaneously.

He has cigarettes. He only smokes when he’s drinking but maybe he’ll make an exception tonight. He also doesn’t usually make it a habit to drink anything alone. But, again, tonight is for making exceptions. She will regret not coming out with me. He’ll think about going home and apologizing for losing his cool if she calls in the next five minutes. No, 10 minutes. 30 minutes. Fuck it.

It’s kind of a shitty relationship anyway. They haven’t had sex in a few weeks. Maybe he should just break up with her. His mother can’t stand her and he has not really had contact with his friends since they’ve gotten serious. But, she is beautiful. He has learned time and time again that crazy is the price you pay for dating beautiful women. So, he has decided. Tonight, he will go home and break up with that miserable bitch. There are plenty of fish in the sea. Fuck her.

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Anton sits alone at a high-top near the ordering station. He’s bored. He’s causally checking his phone as he inadvertently slouches further and further down in his chair. He was here with two friends but they have both left him to go home, be with their wives, and go to bed early to wake up at 7AM tomorrow for work. Anton is 35 years old and he is the last single man left among his friends, coworkers, and acquaintances. Sure, he goes out on dates occasionally. God knows he gets laid from time to time. But, there hasn’t been anyone serious in a few years. Maybe it’s time that he stop fucking around – or so everything tells him. His mother is especially annoying about it. He keeps reassuring her that the next girl he brings home to meet his parents will be the one he marries. All this promise has done is made it impossible to bring girls around his house. After all, there’s no reason to leave his parents’ house until he’s married, right?

What’s so exciting about marriage, anyway? From what he can tell, it just makes you seem old and boring. You stop partying. You stop seeing your friends. You stay home, go to bed early and talk about things like the weather regularly. Eating out becomes a “special occasion” activity and you always have to consult someone else on every decision. What is so great about any of that? It is exactly what he wants.

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Chuck sits with a friend, compulsively chewing on his coffee stirrer. He has chosen the wrong week to quit smoking – and it’s only Monday. What was he thinking? He has a huge project at work coming up next week and he is about to buy a house with his new wife. If only she’d make up her mind. Two-story, split-level, cape cod, ranch; what the hell is the difference? Chew. Chew. Chew. Shit. The straw is ready to splinter.

His friend is reassuring him that these stresses too, shall pass, and there will never be a “perfect time” to quit smoking. You can see in Chuck’s eyes as he watches the man over his friend’s shoulder, that he’s not listening. He’s watching this strange man luxuriate in slowly lighting a cigarette, breathing deeply, exhaling in a puff with his eyes closed, taunting him. Chuck is completely tuned out and mentally coveting this man’s cigarette as his friend outlines all the reasons why quitting is the greatest decision Chuck has ever made.

His phone beeps. It’s his wife wanting to know if he’s on his way home yet. He’s not. He lies and says he is “just leaving now.” That should buy him another 20 minutes at least.

What is he avoiding at home? House-talk. His new wife is amazing in every way, but she only ever wants to talk about the new house. The one they haven’t bought yet. And the three others they almost put offers on. Who is he to complain though? He loves her and this will make her happy.

Reluctantly, he takes the chewed-up straw out of his mouth, sighs, and throws money on the table. His quitting smoking has made his new wife very happy as well. Everything for her. Does nothing make him happy anymore?

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Anna, fresh out of the shower, all dressed up, sits alone on the bench smoking. Her hair has that perfectly brushed, still wet from the shower look. She’s alone. She’s dressed as one would for a casual third date. She smokes her cigarette casually and sips her coffee in a take-away cup. Casual is the name of the game. She glances at her phone nonchalantly. Is she waiting for someone? Yes, but he’s already here, and she knows it. She’s timed her “random” chai-soy-cinnamon-whatever craving perfectly and conveniently within a 30 minute window of the managers’ shift change. Coincidentally, he’ll get off work just in time for her to be done with her coffee and aimlessly step out into the world – together, perhaps. Or maybe he’ll be so taken by her he’ll sit and talk for 45 minutes before inviting her to go to another coffee shop so they can continue talking in the privacy of relative anonymity. Sure, she doesn’t know his name yet, but this is definitely a case of love at first sight. It’s real. For her, at least.

He’s cleaning up behind the counter. Look busy. She takes out her phone and instinctively puts it to her ear, striking up a witty and pointed conversation with no one. She glances over again. Is he listening? He’s not ever there anymore – he’s gone into the back. “OK, bye.” She awkwardly ends the conversation on the phone, sighing and puts her phone back in her bag.

She pulls it out again to check the time. 10:53PM. Seven more minutes until the moment of truth. Phone back into the bag.

Sip. Sip. Sip. Tap. Tap. Tap. She bobs her head coolly to the song playing. Phone out of the bag. 10:55PM. Is she stuck in a time warp, or what?

Anna is sure today is the day. He smiled at her and said “what’s up?” with a nod of acknowledgement while she placed her order. That means something, doesn’t it? She examines her nails, then her make-up in the reflection of the window. Just then, she looks up to see the manager walking out of the door, waving goodbye to the cashier over his shoulder. 10:58PM. 2 minutes early. She is crushed and he doesn’t even know she exists.

Disappointed, she gathers her bag. How many more coffees alone should she have to endure when each one chips away at her heart just a bit more?

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~Joan

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