I sat in a coffee shop one morning.
I ordered a medium Breve with an extra shot of espresso and a blueberry muffin, which was served with irritation when I asked for the plastic wrap to be removed prior to heating in the microwave.
I sat facing the full front window. The wind made the banners on nearby businesses dance. The sun reflected brightly off the shiny new cars in the dealership lot. I sat inside on fashionable yet extremely uncomfortable furniture. I watched the outside world continue on none the wiser that I was spying on their day.
I noticed the people coming in and out. I listened to their orders and quiet conversations. I concocted stories for everyone that sat and sipped for a while. Were they out shopping, meeting someone for brunch, headed to a job interview, or the ever lewd: tryst?
I sat here in my overly ripped jeans, converses, an old well-worn t-shirt and brightly colored hair. No one gave me a second glance. They judged me as fast as my fingers could type in judging them.
Eventually, she walks in: meticulously dressed, late fifties. I could tell her outfit was carefully planned and scrutinized. Her navy pumps stayed crossed at the ankles and matched the color of her knee length skirt to perfection. Panty hose 2 shades darker than her pale winter skin snugged her legs. She sat alone for at least 30 minutes frequently checking her phone. She never ordered or even looked at the multiple magazines scattered on her table. She touched her hair absent-mindedly as if to check that each strand was still in place and had survived the vicious winds outside.
I couldn’t figure her out.
I checked the time: 9:18. Is she late? Early? Did she just dab her eyes with a tissue? A funeral. If I was a betting woman, I bet visitation doesn’t start until 10:00 am; she is here fighting for composure. The streets here, hell, the whole damn town, are lined with churches and cemeteries.
She reapplies her lipstick. Her compact mirror echoes as she snaps it shut. She readjusts the clasp on her pearl necklace to make sure it is hidden. Does she have a date? Am I about to witness a little “match.com” action or maybe Tinder?
Her phone notifies her of a message. She silently reads the screen and places her phone into her purse. (I imagine her calling it a handbag, however.) She smooths her skirt. I find this simple gesture symbolic. I do it often, myself, to smooth my social anxiety before speaking. I know she could simply be assuring her outfit is wrinkle free. She closes her hands together on the table and smiles broadly at the door as a petite Asian woman is hurried inside by the winds.
Her perfume was strong and over-powered the roasted coffee bean aroma. She had beautifully curled waist-length hair. Her make-up carefully drawn and patted into place. Her clothes were easily the most stylish in the shop with an overly large scarf draped around her neck. She looked like she should be selling me an extremely overpriced purse in a store in an extremely overpriced mall.
My first thought was lovers. Was this why she was so nervous? A small conservative town like this one is often rude first to anything that does not fit into its definition of traditional. I listened to them exchange pleasantries. I heard the excuses she gave for being late. As our newcomer filled her in quickly on the latest adventure and troubles of a child as she showed her a stream of text messages, I quickly decided that they were old friends.
I listened as Lady A poured compliment after compliment onto her friend. She absorbed them graciously. She fluffed and fixed her hair. She straightened her scarf and jacket as she rattled about her latest shopping spree. Her jewelry sparkled and danced as the sunlight hit them. Lady A delicately fingered her pearl necklace as they made their way to the barista. Nothing on Lady A screamed brand-new. After seeing her stand next to her friend, she seemed rather plain. Even hearing her order of regular coffee with cream compared to the rather involved chia latte her friend ordered was almost boring.
Then I got it.
She didn’t feel “good enough.” Regardless of the length of their friendship, Lady A felt inadequate. A fault none her own, but she couldn’t stop comparing herself to her friend. I watched a little more intently and openly as they performed what became clear to me as well rehearsed routine. Lady A desperately wanted her friend’s attention. She did everything right. Listened intently. Nodded at all the right moments. Picked her napkin from the floor when it gave up its fight from hanging onto the coffee cup. Her friend sat self-absorbed, sipping her dirty chia latte, chatting incessantly about herself.
I began to hate her. I was past judging her harshly. I felt like I was watching a bully on the playground in third grade.
Unfortunately, it was time for me to go. My half uneaten muffin was starting to harden. My coffee was down to the last few drops. I gathered my laptop, notepad, and backpack. I tried to hide the venom that was starting to seep from my pores.
I grabbed the little daisy from the vase on my table. I found my most genuine smile. I excused myself for interrupting their conversation as I approached their table. With my back to the “friend”, I hand Lady A the tiny, perfect flower. I told her how absolutely stunning she looked that day and she had inspired me dust off the velvet box of my grandmother’s pearls.
Then, in my most gratifying third grade fashion, I told her friend that her perfume stunk before stomping from the café.