I’ve been working on a super-deep, introspective post about self-discovery & self worth & loving yourself & growing balls (this will make sense later), but that’s a post that references some of my friendships & relationships, & I’m not in the mood to write around personal grenades today. I’m in a happy place. I’m people watching at Amélie’s, one of my favorite coffee shops, & rolling on lattes (yes, lattes), & I want to tell you about my worst Valentine’s Day that took place in this very café. Thankfully, it wasn’t so terrible as to permanently mar this place for me because Amélie’s is a lovely little piece of Wonderland with some A+ quiche; But every time I’m here I think of that day & I want to share it with you.
It was Valentine’s Day 2014. I’d been in Charlotte a little over a month & didn’t know many people yet. Single & afraid that if left alone that night, I’d wake up the next morning with one hand in a bowl of mac & cheese, the other in my pants, & a “this is why you’re single” hangover, I decided to take myself on a date to Amélie’s. I also had this fantasy in my head that I would go out to a coffee shop alone on Valentine’s Day & find a hot, smart, single, sensitive, funny guy with a 5 o’clock shadow & a jawline that could cut glass reading Tina Fey’s “Bossypants”.
I’d peek over my laptop screen to catch him looking at me. He smiles. I smile back, but quickly bite my lip to keep from smiling like the Cheshire cat & pretend to type something important as my face turns red. He chuckles to himself because I’m bad at playing it cool but he thinks it’s adorable. We spend the next half hour exchanging flirty glances until he finally stands up & walks…away. My hopes crushed. I pull my mirror out of my purse to see what might have scared him a way. Something in my teeth? A booger? Nothing. I look behind me to see if he was aiming his baby blues at some other girl, or boy, you never know. A deep but sweet voice interrupts, “Excuse me.” I whip my head around to find Jawline standing in front of me, holding a plate with an éclair & two forks. He asks if he can join me & I nod. We laugh awkwardly as we discover that éclairs are really hard to eat with forks. He tears it in half & gives me the bigger piece because he’s a gentleman. We talk about Tina Fey & musicals & we plan a European adventure together. We giggle because we know it’s crazy since we just met, but it feels so right. The laughter dies down & we stare at each other, smiling like idiots because we know we’ve found our missing puzzle piece. We’re complete.
That didn’t happen. Instead, I found myself eating cake, alone, in a corner of Amélie’s surrounded by families, happy couples, & a broken cupid lamp. I was settling into my spot for the night when I saw a girl from my high school class arrive with her new husband. I’d be lying if I said I was stoked when I first saw her. I tried to avoid eye contact because it felt like I was sent another reminder of what I don’t have; But she came up to my table & we talked for a bit. She surprisingly left me feeling refreshed. It felt great to see a familiar face. Knowing that someone I grew up with had found their happy renewed my hope in finding mine.
The good feeling my friend had left me with was quickly soured when a man in his mid-thirties approached the sitting area in front of my table. His eyes were red, his clothes dark & wrinkled, & I could smell his cologne from six feet away. Nothing about him was particularly threatening, but something made me uneasy. He smiled & nodded hello to me as he dropped his backpack, pulled out his laptop, and made his nest in the floral armchair. I politely smiled back then glued my eyes to my laptop screen. I could see the family occupying the couches in the area shift out of annoyance as if he had invaded their living room. A few minutes later, I could sense him looking at me. I didn’t want to give him any sort of opening so I kept my eyes on my screen. After half an hour of my Spidey senses tingling & my gut telling me it was time to leave, I boarded the guilt train.
“Maybe he isn’t even looking at me. Maybe I’m a self-centered brat. Maybe that’s why I’m single. Maybe he’s an outstanding human being. Maybe he’s just here to get some work done. Quit being a weenie & look at another human being.”
I felt him look in my direction again. Not ready to make eye contact, I looked at the top corner of my screen in his direction to ease my gaze over. I could see a video playing on his screen. I couldn’t tell what it was. It was all one orange-tan color and there was a lot of movement. “Maybe he’s into glitch?” Still sensing his gaze, I continued to “work” on something in the top corner of my screen. One of the children from the couch family screamed. I winced & looked up, as did Red Eyes. This was my chance. I looked over at him. He had moved some Word documents in front of the video. “Maybe he’s a writer?” I could see a small sliver of the video on the edge of his screen. I found it odd that he wasn’t wearing headphones. I found it even more odd that his computer screen was angled slightly toward me. His head started to turn. My eyes darted back to their corner. This time I furrowed my brow to let him know homie don’t play games. He moved the video back to the forefront of his screen. There were more colors now & more shapes but the same repetitive movement as before. My mind took off, “No. There’s no way. He’s not…no. What? Maybe it’s a movie & this is one scene?”
I had to know. I had to look, but I had to time it right. If what I thought was happening, was really happening, eye contact had to be avoided at all cost. He looked my way & shifted in his seat beckoning for attention. I turned my head to look at the couples & families in the opposite direction & wondered if anybody else was aware of what was going on in this corner. Helplessly hoping I’d see Jawline & he’d rescue me from Red Eyes the Creepy Guy. Nothing. No one had a clue. Everyone else was too busy sharing desserts, feeding each other, & being deliriously happy. I looked back at my computer & could see he wasn’t looking. Knowing I had a small window of opportunity, my eyes jumped to his screen. Yup. There it was. Porn. Hardcore porn. On a screen. Directed at me. On Valentine’s Day. How romantic.
“Is this really happening? Is this my life? There are children three feet away! Does this work for him? That looks like it hurts. Her face says ‘this hurts’. Why is the camera so close? WHY AM I STILL HERE? GET UP, YOU MORON.”
His head started to turn. I jerked mine back to my screen & furrowed my brow so hard it gave me a headache. I waited until he wasn’t looking anymore & packed up my stuff. I stood up to find myself in a trap. A party had rearranged some tables to sit together & blocked me into the corner. “Assholes.” The only way out was to walk through the sitting area by Red Eyes. I took a deep breath & passed the broken cupid. “**** you…”
I turned my back to him & slithered by as quickly as possible while flashing my best “love & people are awesome” smile at the family on the couch.
“Happy Valentine’s,” I hear from behind me.
I’m stupid polite sometimes. I looked back with a wilted smile & waved. My brain screamed at me, “IDIOT! YOU DON’T OWE HIM ANYTHING! GTFO!” I walked as quickly as possible to my car, backed out, & drove through the parking lot. Red Eyes had made his way outside. He waved as I drove off.
I woke up the next morning covered in Dove chocolate wrappers, my hand in my pants, & a “well, you tried” hangover.
Sidenote: I’ve been in Amélie’s for five hours. No Jawline…I’m buying an éclair.