He looked down at his wobbling reflection in the dark pool of coffee, wondering who he was, why he was there, with this girl with no name that was not his girlfriend, on the Fourth of July.
“So…” she said. He realized that she had gotten him to this point. Meeting out front. Standing in line. Insisting on paying, since he had fixed her chain. Choosing a table. Conversation? That was up to him.
There was a distinct dirty taste to the coffee. He couldn’t remember if he got the Sumatra, or the Columbian. Maybe the House Blend. His nerves twitched. It had been too long since he had pushed his body, pushed his heart rate. Sometimes, he thought that perhaps he sought out situations that would replicate, since he had no time to ride, the exhilaration and danger his body was so used to. Perhaps that was why he was sitting there, with her, this girl that had shoved her hand into his pocket with a phone number and no name. He dug it out and tried to give it back, as awkward as that sounds.
“No,” she had said, “just try it sometime.”
That was many days ago. Weeks? He couldn’t tell. He was already swamped. Then Glen left. Then day after day, ten, twelve hours at a time? Nobody was ever happy. They demanded one day turn around, but complained when he replaced a cassette without calling. They demanded a complete overhaul with suspension rebuild and brake bleed by the weekend, he would stay after hours to get it done…only to call them and get some nonchalant dismissal about them deciding to go to Costa Rica for the month, they will pick it up when they get back. His back ached. He would call his girlfriend, promise that at least they could pay off some bills with the overtime, only to get a curt goodbye. He paid the rent, while she would wake and bake, and complain that he was emotionally unavailable. To top it off, the dog insisted on pooping on peoples’ driveways.
“So,” he said, drawing a blank. “…my girlfriend and I are having a problem with my dog…”
“Oh.” Her mouth went from a playful smirk to a blank flat line. “You have a girlfriend. Can I just ask, why the hell would you go on a date then?”
“You just assumed that meeting for coffee meant we were on a date?” He said this with his own little smirk. He sipped his coffee, thinking he would rather be out on his bike, and he would be, if his wrists weren’t killing him and if summer burnout made him not want to touch another handlebar, even if it were his own.
“Why else would I ask you out for coffee?” she replied. She ran both hands through her black hair and cradled the back of her head as if she were about to do a sit-up. Exhaled. She had a thin but strong frame. A dancer’s body.
“Sorry. You said you wanted to buy me a coffee…for fixing your bike.” They both sipped, looking into each other’s eyes in some kind of terrible stalemate. “You were wanting to get intimate with me, then? Maybe get naked?”
“Why would you assume something like that?” she shot back.
“Why else would you ask me on a date?” he answered.
“Touche’. Very clever, I must say.”
The date that was not a date, despite the rough start, continued for another forty minutes. They discussed their histories, places lived and places visited. Both of them, it turns out, had lived in Chicago at the same time. It was a pleasant conversation with a beautiful girl, without the usual tensions caused by cohabitation and habitual monogamy. Perhaps the lack of promise that it would lead to anything made the conversation easier, he surmised.
When they parted, out on the sidewalk in front of the coffee shop, in front of the entire world, it seemed, she kissed him goodbye. Her lips tasted like cinnamon and espresso.
When he got home, his girlfriend was gone, and she had taken the dog that wouldn’t stop pooping on sidewalks and driveways rather than grass. Instead of being upset, he felt cool and calm. He decided to go into the shop, pedaling to the sound of backyard firecrackers and the smell of grilling burgers. “‘Merica!” he yelled to a yard full of revelers.
When he started wrenching, he found he was relieved that he was getting more time alone in the shop. It would be nice to get ahead of schedule, and he realized that fixing bikes made others happy, and that made him, in turn, happy. Then, in a stroke of brilliance, he called a friend that worked at a shop on the other side of the city. Told him he wanted to moonlight there.
With the extra income, he invested in some foreclosed properties and a ring. The properties sold for amazing profit, and he married the coffee shop girl on a rooftop in Brooklyn, with their favorite indie band playing all night.
They got matching sleeve tattoos and had two beautiful, smart kids named Bronson and Katydid. They moved to a small town in the Northeast, where they started a Vespa shop/nano-brewery/art gallery. Young professionals moved there just to experience the culture they created. The town grew around what was known in hip circles as the VCC, the Vespa Colony Collective. Handlebar mustaches thrived.
Bronson grew up to be the world’s best artisanal lobster trap maker, and Katydid a famous pre-post-post feminist poet. The Formerly Reluctant Wrench and the coffee shop girl grew gracefully old, tearing up single-track on their hand-built 675b-wheeled mountain bikes.
*Author’s note: In response to criticism from readers and friends, including a 3am drunk dial, about the first two episodes being depressing, I thought I would throw out this bone to gnaw on. To find out what really happened when the Reluctant Wrench left the coffee shop, check out the next episode.