Maybe she would be busy in the back of the shop, organizing the mugs that Brentwood’s Coffee offered to frequent customers. One after the other, carefully stacking them in their designated spots. The bell on the door would chime suddenly, breaking her out of her reverie. She would startle, almost dropping the coffee mug (but not quite because that would be cliché), and turn quickly to see who it was. She wouldn’t observe anything too specific about the man; perhaps a glimpse of green eyes or the small imperfections in his sweater.
He would order something with too much sugar to still qualify as coffee, paying with three singles (keep the change). While he waited for her to prepare his not-even-really-coffee, he would stand off to the side of the counter, eyes buried in his phone. She would of course speculate about what he was reading. Her first guess would be news, but then she would realize that he wasn’t the type and instead would definitely be reading some sports article (but she would have been wrong again: he was hurriedly texting his brother about the cutest girl working in an old coffee shop on Sharpe Lane). Upon completing his oh-my-god-a-milkshake-is-less-sweet-than-this, she would call out his name, horribly mispronouncing it, although they were both too polite to acknowledge it. As she passed him the coffee cup (be careful, it’s hot), he would press a folded piece of paper into her hand (don’t read it until I’m out the door). She would follow his instructions, watching him walk slowly out the door, and then she would hurriedly unwrap the paper, her eyes flicking over the scrawled “call me, coffee shop girl” and the number underneath.
Maybe she would be standing on the corner of Alden Wood and Sharpe, absorbed in a book. It would be something classic, but not too abstract or lofty. Maybe Frankenstein. It would be the best part of the book, the climax, that moment when you just can’t put a book down. She would be trying to finish it before work, her eyes darting across the typeset lines. The pages would be weather-beaten; raindrops from last night’s five minute storm, red wine from her “table for one” night at the steakhouse, bright orange stains from cheese puffs eaten at one in the morning when sleep had eluded her yet again. She would turn the page, holding the words in her mind, a split second of wondering what would happen next, how the sentence would end. She wouldn’t notice the man rushing to get to work, blabbering on his phone to Don about how the company would be ruined if Don did that, no Don, I swear I can’t trust you with any—, and then he would crash right into her. Frankenstein would soar through the air in a perfect arc and land in a heap of garbage, adding the smell of a days-old banana peel to the pages. The man would grab the book, brush it off on his Burberry coat (it’s not too expensive, it’s Chicago, I’m sure to get tons of use out of it), and hand it to the stunned woman. In five seconds, he would find the tiny details where love is born (a speck of brown in her otherwise blue eyes, the slight dimple in her left cheek, a small chip on her front tooth). In five and a half seconds, she would notice things about him that even he hadn’t (an eyelash hanging off his eyelid, the patch of unshaven scruff on his cheek, the sharpness of his teeth). “That’s my favorite book,” he would say, and the corners of her mouth would lift into a smile. “Maybe we could talk about it sometime,” she would reply. “I know a good coffee shop down the street.”
Maybe she would be jogging through the train station, glancing frantically at the large station clock above. Her train would leave at 7:07, but she couldn’t be that late, could she? She would pass a news stand (if anyone still reads newspapers, you can get the Chicago Tribune right here), a bakery that smelled like warm muffins and smoke (Ryan, I know it’s only your second day, but you can’t burn the scones every time), and a shoe shine (man, where have these loafers been, they’re covered in dirt). And then she would see it: a digital clock, red numbers blinking 7:05. She could still make it (if she ran), so she would hurtle around a corner, absorbing admonishment (watch where you’re going, Miss!) and curses (slow your roll *****). Finally she would reach the train, only slightly out of breath (thanks high school track team). She would be at the end of the line of people, so she would sit right next to the door (every time it opened, she knew a blast of cold air would hit her squarely in the back), but at least it was a seat. She would just be reaching into her bag for her book (Frankenstein was just so good) when she would spot a man running for his life toward the train. The tired voice of the train lady would sound over the speakers, warning passengers to stay clear of the closing doors. The man was close, close enough that he might make it (maybe not), so she would get up from her seat and hold the door open. The man, catching her act of kindness, would put on a burst of speed, and as the train began to pull away, she would extend her hand and he would grab it, rough against smooth, impossibly enormous against impossibly tiny, a million memories shared through the briefest of touch. He would stand next to her for the rest of the journey, talking to her all the way to the station on the corner of Alden Wood and Sharpe, a few blocks away from a little coffee shop called Brentwood.
But maybe she would run a little slower through the station. She wouldn’t get a seat, wouldn’t see a man hurtling to catch his train, and she would ride alone while he waited for the 7:22. He would be late, and Don was going to mess something up if he didn’t hurry, so instead of taking his usual route to work through the corner of Alden Wood and Sharpe, he would take side streets, which were devoid of young women reading Frankenstein. And because he had missed his train, because he hadn’t walked through Sharpe Lane, he wouldn’t stop in the old coffee shop with the cute girl behind the counter. But maybe she would. And he would. (And they will.)