You could help me find your number

Paul pushed the door open but as he approached he could see Freed and Devin working. There were girls on one side of the room. They sat at separate tables. One wearing jeans, the others sweatpants, one in pajama pants. All shutting him out with their noise reduction headsets, probably listening to pop music or podcasts. None nodding along or drumming their fingers. Instead they were buried in laptops, school books, paging through a spiral notebook or brochure.

On the other side of the room were the old men coupled or tripled up. They sat with legs crossed, drink in hand to make it obvious they paid to be there. They laughed, sometimes speaking too loudly about things they wished someone else would care about. Their children, politics, work. Graying men whose faces had only begun to show signs of the sagging, the wrinkling, the freckles turning to liver spots, the moles growing suspicious, dark marks that would someday soon be hiding in their dim homes, too old to go outside. But until then, they had this moment to shine in the corner of the coffee shop.

Devin asked, how are you doing?

Where did it go?

What

Nothing

He rode his bicycle to the library, strapped on backpack, went slow so his hat wouldn't come off in gusts of wind. He went inside and there were not a lot of people. He eventually found a couple of girls studying together.

Both had honey hair and beach tans. One she wore spring clothes with pastel accessories, jeans and a baseball shirt with a rabbit on the front. Her study buddy wore a modest looking navy dress with large frilly-looking shoulders. They did not look up when he entered the room.

He pulled open a book he brought with him, got it out of his backpack. He sat with it open to the same page for a long time, watching the girls and listening to them talk. Their conversation was about schoolwork. They did not look happy.

Paul pushed open the door to the apartment and Jeff and Logan were seated on the couch, controllers in hand. They were at a moment in the game where they were waiting and Jeff was in the middle of a rant, Logan nodding along.

It was probably the best relationship of my life

Paul quietly put his book bag down on the kitchen table and began organizing things so he could put them away.

We were fucking, she was into me

This is the artist?

Yeah

Nice

But she was also into music and we saw all the same television shows

Logan looked at him and nodded, they were both ignoring the game now, Jeff lost in his story

She was even talking about her family, man. She wanted me to meet them.

Paul winced and unzipped a pocket, removing writing instruments and knickknacks.

One day she was like, I'm busy can we meet tomorrow, and I'm like, sure

Paul rolled his eyes, he had heard this one before. Logan seemed to recognize the story too.

Oh shit, this is the bag lady

Yeah, I told you?

Yeah didn't she hand you a sack of your shit and told you she met someone else?

Yeah, I still don't know what that guy had on me

Right. Then they said simultaneously, that would be cruel.

Paul mouthed the words, you have to go, pushing a stack of books back into the backpack.

We hadn't known eachother for very long but I really fell for her, man.

Want another beer?

Paul hauled his things into his room, moving quickly before Logan had a chance to get off the couch.

The faint sound of piano trickled into the shopping center. He was at the tortilla end cap, put a bag of flour tortillas in his cart. He saw her organizing light bulbs in the center of the long aisle and pushed his full cart of groceries, watching her to see if she would make eye contact.

She looked at him, she was about a foot shorter than him and wore black jeans with her work uniform, hair pulled back.

Hello, how are you

Hi, I'm great

He blushed.

That's good, can I help you find anything

He was staring in her eyes and then looked away, closed his eyes and swallowed.

When he opened his eyes something on her face was different, she looked like she was trying to maintain her expression but something had changed, realizing a mistake.

I'm Paul, he reached out his hand

She held light bulbs in either hand, the cart on the other side of her full of product she had to re-stock. She moved them slightly up and down to emphasize she was not going to shake his hands.

Nova

He smiled and looked down the aisle either direction to make sure they were alone, then looked back at her.

Her expression had dropped further, she was dreading what was coming, shifted her head back so her chin was out, looking down her face at him.

You could help me find your number

No.

It was immediate and he stood for a moment wondering if there would be more but there was not. She turned away from him and continued putting bulbs onto the shelf.

Paul looked Nova up and down and then turned back to his own cart and pushed it down the aisle, sad frog frown spreading across his face.