Four

-Still a day behind-

So, this grey half-damp weather is what the Pacific Northwest is all about, Culpepper thought, pressing down on an empty coffee pump pot. Gio had said it would feel just like home. Culpepper hadn’t believed that – mostly out of spite. But, it was true and the thin checkered button down paired with a wool scarf weren’t exactly cutting it. Another cup of hot coffee might help.

Culpepper came up the stairs to find someone sitting in the opposite arm chair. Just a second ago, it had been empty. Now, it was full of this bright eyed smiler, just woken up for the day. Wet hair and everything. They appear to have some business to do because a computer is instantly in their lap.

There were a couple of options here. One: ignore the new-comer, sit down, and continue reading as if you noticed nothing. Two: make some kind of comment and hope it doesn’t spring into some kind of conversation so you can get back to your reading. Three: be clever and interesting and strike up a conversation on purpose.

In the five seconds it took to get from the stairwell to the armchair, Culpepper analyzed the situation: judged the attractiveness of said new-comer on a scale of 1-10, gave them a 6: middling but not bad, and settled on:

“I just got this awesome new book. Don’t want to get coffee all over it,” in careful full accent. Then, Culpepper flashes the book cover for half a second, shifts, and moves it completely out of view. It goes onto the chair, where it can be safely tucked behind thigh and cushion.

This of course is a purposeful tactic. Because Culpepper is going to sit in that chair for approximately ten more minutes reading some local tabloid, get up, leave the book in full view on the seat, and wait.

Meanwhile, Culpepper is drifting through the wank goods in the upstairs of the little local grocery store. Something about this place reminds Culpepper of a bargain slash kitchen shop where everything is overpriced and under-impressive. Point in case, this gorilla food chopper. Culpepper spins it around, sets it back down. Maybe there will be something of intrigue down below.

Down the stairs as the coffee back at the chair gets cold. Give it five, six more minutes. The chocolate aisle has some interest. Culpupper peruses it. Nothing really jumps out, so it’s going to be the closest one. A fair-trade chocolate bar with almonds. That’ll do.

The line is unusually long. This might be fumbling the plan back upstairs. Culpepper sighs, shifting weight from one foot to the other. Really should have returned these boots. They are too tight around the bridge of the foot – just not made well, all pointy in the toes. Not to mention, the heel is low enough that it allows the backs of the trousers to drag across the ground. In a rainy area, really?

Finally, the front of the register. Culpepper slides the singular chocolate bar across to the cashier, pays, smiles. Back up to that coffee and the plot. Culpepper slides easily back into the armchair, pointedly ignoring any form of eye contact with the neighboring sitter. This is where the excitement comes. Just say somthing about how you got this chocolate – would you care for a bit, goes great with this coffee we both have…

But no. Just as Culpepper is working up the nerve to end this brilliant little plot in a chance to hit on one of these American college kids – someone is waving something bright yellow, and saying- “‘Scuse me, ‘scuse me.”

Culpepper looks up, bright blue eyes flashing. “Hm?”

“Sorry,” the massive beard in front of the armchair says, hardly a face at all here. “But the cashier told me to give this to you. We’d usually put it on single items,” and offering the sticker that reads: SOLD.

“Oh,” is about all Culpepper can formulate. It’s not necessarily annoyance here – just confusion.

“Yeah, we just, y’know. No need to put it on now, but…” and the beard tapers off here, just sort of stands waiting, sticker out.

Culpepper takes it, the tacky surface sticking to fingers. “Yep, you bet. Better be safe,” in a real positive manner, sticking the sticker in the only place it makes any sense to put it – on the chocolate bar. It makes sense, sure.

And with that, the plot pans out anyway. Smiles across the way in armchair number two looks up, makes eye contact, laughs one of those shared-experience laughs, and is so close to saying something that it hurts.

But then, looks away, sips awkwardly on coffee, and back to work.

Damn. So close.

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