by Mike Smolarek
"Why do they call it hair if it is on a person, but fur if it is on an animal?" She stared across the table at me, waiting for a response.
"I have no idea," I said, shaking my head.
The waitress scooted over to our table, filling the cups with more coffee. It was two in the morning, we were at Denny's and the last thing I needed was another cup of coffee. Angie picked up her cup and took a sip.
"I once read that males are more likely to look into the cup of what they are drinking while females are more likely to look over the cup."
"I agree," I said, staring at my coffee as I brought it to my lips. I slurped some down. "Where the hell do you get these ideas?"
"I guess I just never forget these little facts." She ripped open a packet of sugar, poured it in the coffee cup and dipped the spoon in to stir. Her blue eyes looked directly in the cup, seemingly fascinated by the whirlpool created by the spoon's stirring.
"I don't think I'm going to see John again," she said, still looking down.
"Well, after tonight, I'm not sure he's what I'm looking for. Hell, I don't know what I'm looking for."
"Does anyone know?"
There are some people you meet once and really never expect to see them every again, but somehow they find a way into your life and are always there. When I met Angie, through a friend of a friend of friend, she made a stunning first impression. We were at someone's graduation party, someone whom I barely knew. I was standing in the corner, sipping on a coke hoping I would look so pathetic that someone would feel sorry for me and come talk to me. When Angie walked into the room, everyone noticed. She was wearing a red dress that hung down past her knees and she twirled it every time she turned. Her red hair draped across her bare shoulders. She was one of those people who light up a room with a powerful smile that is contagious. She was also a girl that I had no chance of dating ever. While watching her, my body ceased all motor control and I calmly dropped my can of coke. It spilled all over the floor, splattered my legs and soaked someone else right next to me.
"Damn tricky things to hold, aren't they?" was the first thing she ever said to me.
"Yeah," I could barely manage, trying to hold the redness back from my face. I talked to her for about ten minutes, just normal party chit chat, but I never expected to see her again. When I moved into my room in college and saw her down the hall, I couldn't remember her name, even though I remembered each one of those ten minutes with her.
"You're Drew, aren't you," she said one night during the first week of school. "I meet you about a month ago at Joe's graduation party." She came into my room, her red hair bouncing in the ponytail she flipped about.
"Yeah, I knew I knew you from somewhere," I said, "but I can't for the life of me remember your name."
"Angie," she said, smiling.
"Hello again, Angie. Welcome to room 305."
We ended up talking until four a.m. that night. She talked about her boyfriend, I talked about college, she talked about high school, I talked about high school, she talked about her boyfriend. We talked about why we came to college here, and why we didn't follow our other friends to other school.
"Choosing here was easy," I said. "I had nobody to follow anywhere. Most of my friends are going to community college."
"I wanted to escape my family," Angie said. "They drive me nuts." She looked over on my desk and saw my coffee pot. "You drink coffee?"
"Let's go get some coffee."
We went to one of the cafes by our campus. It's impossible not to find one because there are about thirty within a mile of campus. I really only remember one thing she said to me at the cafe: "All I really want is someone I can talk to over a cup of coffee."
"Denny's, the only place you can stall all night and get as much of the worst coffee in the world that you want for only eighty cents."
"What's wrong with Denny's coffee?" I asked.
"Well," she said. "For starters, they call it a bottomless cup, but they don't fill it for you until you can see the bottom. That's false advertising. Secondly, when they do come and give you more when you still have some left, they totally disrupt the coffee-sugar balance. It takes me a long time to get that certain balance, and right when I do, some twenty year old acne plagued geek dumps more coffee into my cup upsetting the delicate balance that existed."
"That's why you should keep pouring the sugar in until it fills the cup, just like I do."
"That is so gross," she said. "Don't make me hurl."
"You've been grossed out by my coffee habits for four years now. Get over it." I looked out the window, watching people bundled up against the winter cold scurrying down the street. "If Denny's is so bad, why do we keep going here?"
"Open twenty four hours and eighty cents for a bottomless cup. Come on Drew, basic economics. Denny's has the perfect size cup, though," Angie said as I turned back towards her. "Enough in each cup so it gets you warm and moving, but not so much that you can't have four or five cups if you really want that much."
I picked up the menu and looked over it again. I don't know why Angie and I even ask for menus. We order the same thing every time. There would be hell to pay if they ever changed the menus and eliminated our favorites.
"Why didn't you remember my name when I saw you at school the beginning of freshman year?" I dropped my menu down on the table.
"I'm really bad with names," I said. "So, uh, could you. . . what was your name again?"
"Not at all funny," she said, but she was smiling. I picked up the menu again, making sure my favorite dish was still on page four.
"Quick," Angie said, looking at her watch, "make a wish. It's two twenty-two." This was another one of Angie's little quirks, making wishes whenever numbers in the time repeated.
"Just tell me when it is six sixty-six," I said.
"Shut up." I did wish, though, every time. Every time I wished for Angie. It never came true.
Throughout freshman year, Angie and I would go out for coffee to all these little coffee shops dotting the streets all over the city. She would tell me stories about her new boyfriends, and other stories about why her old boyfriend was no longer her new boyfriend. I mostly listened.
"What's the girlfriend situation? she asked.
"Same as always," I said.
"You mean, non-existent," she'd say.
"I have no moves."
"What do you need moves for? Do you have any lines?"
"Just one. Hey baby.'"
"That will not work."
She'd spend a few minutes trying to tell me what women really wanted, but it always seemed to change.
"I don't know what I want, let alone what the women want," I'd say.
"Hey, if you ever need a date for a family thing or something like that, you can always ask me. That way you don't even have to worry about what I want."
The coffee shop was virtually empty. I discovered it when I was looking for a quiet sanctuary to study one hectic midterms week. It was dingy, the windows were so dirty that they were more opaque than transparent, but they did have board games to play. Angie insisted on playing Connect Four every time. She always beat me.
"Can't I be red this time?" I asked.
"When you win a game, you can choose your color."
"Thanks for being such a good winner." I played with the black checkers, rubbing them in between my fingers contemplating my next move. I dropped the checker into a slot on top of two red checkers.
"Did you used to watch Gilligan's island?" Angie asked me as her eyes scanned over the board.
"Hell, who didn't," I answered.
"Did you ever think they would get off the island. I watched it every time, just waiting for the professor to discover something that would help them off the island, but he is really useless. I figured Skipper would know how to fix the minnow, but he couldn't. What kind of sailor doesn't know how to fix his own ship?"
"Popeye fixed his own ship," I managed to get in, "but he really didn't sail much." Angie reached up and dropped a checker in the middle slot.
"Connect Four. I win again."
"Denny's would be the most amazing place in the world if it had games you could play," I said.
"They do," Angie replied, her face lighting up. "Turn the place mat over."
"No. Board games, like at that cafe."
"So you want me to crush you in Connect Four again."
"I'd kick you ass now. I've been drinking milk, and building my bones."
"Shut up." She threw a packet of sugar at me. It bounced off my face and landed directly in my coffee."
"Thanks. It was actually a little bitter, and I'm sure you meant to do that."
"So loverboy, how did your date go last night.?"
"Well, the movie was good." I had gone out with this girl last night and it was so bad that I couldn't remember her name today. "As usual, the rest of the date was hellish. I'm glad it was over quickly."
"So you crashed and burned again?"
"That's okay, she probably only wanted you for your body. Hey, do you know why they call them apartments when they are really all stuck together?"
Angie came crying to my room late one night when I was studying for my second year physics midterm. She flung open the door so hard that it bounced off the stopper and closed again right after she came in. She was hysterical and crying as loud as I have ever heard anyone cry. trying to be the friend I was, I tried to calm her down and ask her what was wrong, but she just hugged me tight and kept sobbing.
"What is it?" I asked.
"Just hold me."
We sat there in total darkness for hours, me holding her and staring into the darkness, her face buried in my shoulders. I finally fell asleep, and woke up to a note with the words Thank you' surrounded by a big heart. We have never talked about that night.
Our food finally came and, as usual, the waitress put Angie's grilled cheese on wheat in front of me and my chicken sandwich and cheese sticks in front of her. We had been coming here for four years and ordering the same meal each time with the same waitress, but she always found a way to mix it up.
"Maybe we should just switch seats," I said after the waitress had gone away.
"No way," she said. "Then I can't see the cute guys coming in the front door."
"Are you always looking?"
"Yes. So are you."
"Well, I'm doing a pretty shitty job then, aren't I?"
Angie was always active about finding new guys. Sometimes she would start looking for a new guy before she got rid of the old guy. For the third straight year, Angie and I lived on the same floor and for the third straight year Angie told me stories about her boyfriends. Sometimes the stories were painful to hear, especially the happy ones, but I listened anyway. We went out a lot together, and sometimes for something else besides coffee, but we never really considered it dating or anything more than friendship. I think we were afraid to talk about our friendship more than anything else. It's easy just to talk, but it's hard to really tell someone how you feel about them. I felt I could count on Angie for anything. We still talked all the time in the dorm too, but this year, however, we talked in my room most of the time, which was difficult because my roommate Don was always around. I didn't know why until right after spring break when Don was showering in the afternoon, an extreme rarity for him.
"Got a big date tonight," I asked as her returned to the room dripping wet with a towel around his waist.
"Actually I do," he said grinning.
"Anyone I know."
"Actually, yes. Angie." The grin stared at me, almost dagger-like.
"Angie?" My mouth stood wide open. "But she's supposed to go to this wedding with me." I didn't think Angie could forget something like this and I wasn't used to her dating people I actually talked to. She always dated people I knew about and had to see occasionally, but never the guy I've lived with for three years, a guy she had never shown interest in before. She always used to tell me how much of a dork he was.
I went over to her room, steaming mad.
"So, when are we leaving," I asked her after nudging my head in the doorway.
"Leaving for what," she asked as she put on her earrings. Her room smelled like a fresh pot of coffee, and the Mr. Coffee was churning away.
"Oh, I don't know. For the wedding you said you were going to go to with me!"
"What are you talking about? You never told me about some wedding."
"The hell I didn't." Right now I wasn't sure if I was more mad that she forgot about the wedding or that she was going out with my roommate. Hell, I couldn't even remember if I had told her about the wedding, but I was so mad it did not matter.
"Why the hell would you want to go out with Don anyway? He's a dork."
"You just can't handle the fact that I'm going out with him and not you." She grabbed her coat and hastily put it on. I stood there in shock.
"You never had a problem with me going out with anyone before, and even if you did, that wouldn't stop me."
"You never dated my roommate before." I watched her as she tied her red hair back. She was just as stunning now as she when I first met her.
"I'm leaving now, so deal with it, Drew." She practically ran me over getting out of the room. She slammed the door behind her leaving me alone in her room with nothing but a bubbling pot of coffee.
"Fuck you!" I kicked her desk and a coffee cup came crashing down from one of the shelves. It hid the top of the desk and cracked into three pieces.
I didn't talk to her for the next two weeks. I skipped the class we had together and hid in the far corners of the library and cafeteria during the day. I didn't come home much at night either; I couldn't face Don.
One day after class I came home and there was a message on the answering machine.
"Drew, this is Angie." Her voice was sad, almost as if she was crying. "I'm sorry. I . . . I didn't know it would hurt you this much. This is the last time I'm going to call. Please call me back. I miss you." There were about thirty more of these messages on the answering machine over the next two weeks, but I stopped listening after the third one. I turn them off and erased them.
"How are the cheese sticks," Angie asked.
"Shitty," I blurted between bites.
"So you won't mind if I have one." Before I could say anything or react, the cheese stick was kidnapped from my plate, stuck in sauce and forever gone to Angie's plate.
"You're welcome," I grumbled.
"Do you think love and hate are opposites?" she asked.
"Not really," I said. "Sometimes they are almost the same. You can love and hate a person without them changing at all."
"I think they are both just four letter words we try to use to describe something we can't."
"I hate when you ask me these questions."
"But I love to ask them. Hey Drew, why do they have locks on twenty four hour convenient stores?"
"Closed on Christmas," I mumbled.
I didn't talk to Angie the summer before senior year even though she lived only twenty miles from my house. I didn't think I could face her after totally blowing her off even though I missed her. Right before school started, I saw that guy who's party I met Angie at and he asked me how she was. I lied and said she was okay, but I really didn't know. I went home and continued my packing. When I was sorting through some old folders, a piece of paper slipped out. It was an old note from Angie. It said, Thank you' and was surrounded by a big heart.
When I got back to school, I knew it was time to finally correct my mistake. I found her room and knocked on her door, again on the same floor as me. It slowly opened and she looked at me, her eyes glaring.
"What the hell do you want?" she said. The door was only open a crack.
"Forgiveness," I said.
"You don't deserve it. I tried talking to you for weeks."
"I know, I know, but do it anyway."
"Because I brought you this." I took the box out from behind my back.
"What the hell is that?"
Angie slowly unwrapped the paper and opened the cardboard box. She reached in and pulled it out.
"A Denny's mug."
"They are a lot harder to steal than you'd think," I said.
"I forgive you for never calling me back," she said. "Now give me a hug."
"Hello again, Angie," I said, holding her. "My name is Drew."
"I don't think I'm going to go out with John again," Angie said again.
"You told me already," said.
"Did I tell you why?"
"Yes. Something about him not being right, but then we got into this discussion about what people want in relationships and nobody really knows what they want."
"I know what I want," she said.
"Let me guess. A guy with great looks who is rich, drives a Porsche and buys you flowers every week."
"Nope. I just want to someone to talk to over a cup of coffee." She looked down into the coffee. "The riches, the porshe, and flowers would be nice, too though."
"Do you know what I want?" I asked.
"Me neither. That's why I was asking." I looked out the window at the cars trying to maneuver on the street. A cabbie pulled up next to the curb and a pair of college students stumbled in. The waitress scurried to our table again holding the hot pot of coffee in her hand. "More coffee?" she asked.
"Yes please," Angie said smiling right at me.
"Keep it coming," I said, smiling back.