He sat, unflinchingly, in his hard wooden chair with a lukewarm cup of coffee in front of him, the paper edges turning sewage brown. In his hands, he held a book. He was trying to read the book, but could not concentrate. He was trying to drink the coffee, but did not like coffee. It was the cheapest thing on the menu. And there were free refills. And this happenstance allowed him to sit for hours, trying to read, pretending not to steal glances at the girl making the coffee.
He was young. That was part of it. He did not see value in himself. He felt small and weak, like a freshly hatched chick. He looked the part, too. He was thin and birdlike, with soft, thin down upon his head. She was about his age. Maybe older. There was something fierce about her. If he was a chick, she was a Peregrine Falcon. She wore vintage clothes that seemed mismatched but weren't. She had tattoos on her arms. He did not know what the tattoos were because he could not see them with his averted eyes.
He felt foolish. All the hours spent in the cafe, pretending to read, drink, live. He occasionally worked himself into a feverish state...convinced himself that he would just talk to her for god's sake. It wasn't like she was better than he was. Or was she? Was her towering confidence superior to his life inside his mind? He knew he was not a bad person. If he was a person.
He sometimes doubted his own existence. It was like a house of cards. He got lost in philosophical labyrinths that led to more self-doubt. More self-loathing. Then, he would decide that it was all futile anyway. He was perfectly content to drink tea and read in his apartment. But if this was true, why the facade? Why the lukewarm coffee? He lied to himself and, this too, made him question his existence.
After months and months, he decided it had to end. He walked to the cafe, his sneakers slapping the sidewalk. He was going to talk to her. If it didn't work, so be it. The stasis was killing him. He felt strong in his resolve. He felt the sun on his shoulders. He felt a kind of pride welling up in him like a storm wave.
He turned the corner and his resolve grew stronger. He knew exactly what he would say. And how he would say it. One part Jimmy Stewart, two parts Bogart. He might have to start smoking. When he opened the door, the cafe was the same as always. With one small difference. She was gone. Without asking the man with the goatee behind the counter, he knew that she was gone for good. He actually laughed out loud. It was comical. All that money spent on coffee. All the emotional turmoil. At least the refills had been free.
He stepped out of the cafe and into the liquor store next door. He did not know what brand of cigarettes to buy, so he looked at the man behind the counter, put on his best Stewart/Bogart and said, "Surprise me."