Ellis had been watching the door of the High St Starbucks for exactly 52 minutes. He was sitting at the window counter of Beans, the fair trade locally owned coffee shop across the street. He had set himself up to wait with a giant latte in a tall clear glass. He had debated buying a chocolate ginger cookie, but was afraid that the cute barista with the lip ring and the gauges and the black mohawk would judge him. Instead, she had barely noticed him, as usual. He had waited by the counter, hoping that she would be the one to hand him his drink, but instead the tall bearded guy with the keffiyeh around his neck had served him, mispronouncing his name as Alice.
He adjusted the gray knit hat that he had bought the day before, after he had seen his neighbor Jake Downs, who had the hottest girlfriend possible, wearing one. Jake and the girl had walked past him while he finished his cigarette on the front stoop of the three-story condo complex where they lived. Jake had given him a curt nod and then said something to the girl, who laughed and yanked the hat off his head, jamming it down on her own.
It was itchier than he had imagined; his forehead felt like it was on fire. He was sweating, which probably didn’t help. He pulled a napkin out of the dispenser on the counter and swiped at his damp head surreptitiously; trying to make sure no one was looking at him. He tried to focus on his work again; the first freelance project he’d been sent in two months. Ken Reed, his old boss at Tower Path, had thrown the job his way. It paid more money than Ellis had seen in awhile. It would mean that his sister wouldn’t have to cover his whole rent again.
It had been Monica’s idea to set up his Okay Cupid profile.
“You’re alone too much,” she had said from Chicago.
“You don’t know that,” he had replied from Boston. He had his phone cradled on his shoulder while he played Dragon Age.
“You’re talking to your sister on a Friday night. Again. And you’re playing a video game in the background. Alone. Again.”
Ellis had shrugged, even though she couldn’t see him. “I’m fine,” he said, as he made his warrior run listlessly up and down a mountain.
“You need to find a job,” she needled.
“I get six months of unemployment,” Ellis responded. No need to mention he was at the four and a half month mark. Three darkspawn had surrounded him and he jerked the controller, hacking at them and dropped the phone. He let it lay there for a few seconds before picking it up. She had hung up.
The next day she had sent him a link to the dating profile that she had set up for him. She’d called him Slothman. At first he couldn’t place the photo she’d used. It was a close up of his face; it had to be from the last three years because he had the scar on his chin from the accident. Then he realized it was from her graduation from Elmhurst College. She’d cropped herself out. His father had taken the picture and then gone back to the car and sat for hours while Ellis helped Monica move her things out of the dorm. He had stared at the picture for a little while, remembering the 90 degree summer day watching his sister get her diploma while his father hid behind the camera. The heat of the suit that he’d only worn twice before: at his first job interview and then at their mother’s funeral. Monica’s hot sticky tears on his neck when she realized that their father couldn’t bring himself to get out of the car and try to celebrate with her.
He’d sent emails to every girl who showed up as a potential match for him for the first three days after Monica had signed him up for the site, and then waited to see who would respond.
And so Ellis found himself in Beans, waiting for ElDelaradoGrl to walk into the Starbucks across the street. She had looked cute in her pictures; a tiny girl with olive skin, hair in her eyes and an elfin face. She was wearing a different striped hoody in each of her pictures, most of which were of her pointing to various nerdy movie posters with her mouth wide open. He wanted to make sure she got to the Starbucks first so that he could make an entrance after she sat down, to impress her with his new gray hat and his converse sneakers and the stormtrooper decal on his laptop. But she was already fifteen minutes late.
He shifted in his seat, glancing back at the cute barista, who was now leaning against the cash register and flirting with a tall lanky guy in a flannel shirt. She was holding some kind of pendant that was hanging on a leather thong around the guy’s neck and looking up into his eyes. Ellis turned back to his computer, a pit settling in his stomach. He pulled up ElDelaradoGrl’s profile and opened a picture of her with Spiderman at Universal Studios. He was staring at it when a message from her popped up in his mailbox. He clicked it open.
That’s not the best picture of me.
The words swam in front of him. He slammed his computer shut and looked around, finally locking eyes with a girl sitting three tables behind him, with a giant green knit scarf looped multiple times around her neck and two blue feathers knotted into her messy hair. She smiled at him and stood up, navigating the small round tables to get to him. He jammed his computer into his satchel and stood as well. She was tiny compared to him. He could see the top of her head, a thin line white peering out endearingly from the part in her hair.
“Edina,” she said, sticking her hand out at him. He took it in his own. He could feel her pulse racing in the palm of her hand, which was slightly sticky. He wondered what she had been eating.
“Ellis,” he said. Her eyes were brown, not a poetic color, but there was mischief in them. “I thought you were going to stand me up.”
“You weren’t over there either,” she said, cocking her head to one side and smiling slightly. “What were you waiting for?”
Ellis stared at the girl, a girl he could see himself with, a girl who could make him better, and wished with all his heart that he had an answer.