Decaff? It took me 30 minutes to get here and they only have decaff? I thought as I stood on isle 12 examining the little grocery store’s assortment of Chai teas. I had to stand on my tiptoes in order to reach the second shelf from the top, scrounging around in the back, praying they had the normal stuff. Maybe I’m just picky, but downing the caffeine-free knock-off version just isn’t the same as enjoying a freshly brewed cup of real caffeinated Chai.
I laughed at my luck. One box remained, all the way in the back. I stood as far on the tip of my toes as I could, pressing myself against the shelves, just barely clasping the edges of the dark brown box within the tips of my fingers. Feeling a wave of success, I made my way to the checkout line, cradling my addiction in my arms.
“Tea for one?” A voice interrupted my thoughts of the sweet taste of Christmas that was contained in this box. I blinked, pulling myself back into the world around myself and sought for the speaker. It was a man just ahead of me in the checkout lane. He was wearing a nice shirt and tie, his blond hair combed neatly to one side.
I looked down at the little box in my hand, “Tea for twenty, actually, but I’m not sharing,” I said with a wry smile. He laughed in return. For some reason, my heart raced when I heard that magical chorus. I couldn’t help but smile again. “I’m going to make lattes,” I offered, tucking a strand of hair behind my ear.
The man was at least a foot taller than me and his smile made my insides gooey. “Plural?” He asked, “I thought you said you were drinking alone.” His six Bud Lites moved forward on the black rubber strip, clanking merrily they were stopped by the sensor. The woman ahead of him handed her card to the clerk.
“Who said I’m restricted to only one?” I said.
“Just be sure not to go too far. You won’t have anyone there to cut you off, you know. You don’t want to caffeine-dial your ex or anything.”
I tried to contain a laugh, but instead it came out as an unflattering snort. I blushed, but the man smiled and stepped nearer to me. He reached behind me, never breaking eye contact. He stepped back again, holding up the little rectangular divider with a smile.
“Oh,” I said under my breath, my heart racing. I placed my tea on the rubber behind it.
The clerk scanned the beer and the man handed over a card.
“You live around here?” He asked. I nodded, unable to speak. “Maybe I’ll see you around then.” He flashed that brilliant smile, took his bag and walked out the door.
“Did you know that lattes are morning beverages whereas cappuccinos are for the evening?” The clerk asked. I tore my gaze away from the sliding glass doors and looked at him. He was short, about my height. His black hair was gelled into little spikes along his forehead and he wore thick black glasses. His green grocery apron read “My name is Charles.”
“No, I didn’t,” I say quickly, glancing out the glass doors again. Maybe I could still catch him before he made it to his car.
“And,” he said, counting out my change, “don’t expect any anti-oxidant benefit from that, if you’re going to be adding milk.” He smiled at me rather oddly. He seemed kind of familiar.
“Have we met before?” I asked.
His face immediately fell. His shoulders slumped ever so slightly and he looked at me a way I’ve never seen anyone look at me before. “Never,” he said, in a downcast monotone, “I’m new here.” I glanced at the 1-Year-Employee pin on his apron.
“Welcome,” I said, taking my bag and running out of the store.
I stepped into the blinding summer light and gazed around the lot. He had to be here somewhere. There, very near my own car, I saw his neat blond hair bobbing through the rows of cars. I ran after him, skirt flying in the wind, sneakers pounding the asphalt. Skidding to a stop, I saw him open the passenger door to a car.
“Hey, Baby,” He said as he got inside and closed the door. He leaned over and kissed the woman behind the wheel. My heart sank.
I jabbed my key into the ignition and slammed the car into reverse.