| “Chris? Chris.”
Jonny stared and held down his napkin as a gust of air swept through the Manhattan coffee shop.
“Yeah?” Chris said vaguely. His whole body had turned to the door, where a slight girl was pulling off her gloves. The cluster of sleigh-bells on the door chinked as she shoved it closed against the biting wind and ducked under some Christmas garland hanging slack above the registers.
“You’re not listening to me.”
“I’m listening.” He turned himself back to face Jonny, but his eyes pulled up to the counter. The girl was toying with one of her gloves as she peered up at the menu. “Could you say that again?”
Jonny supped his tea. “I was just saying about this guitar pick-up. Was reading about it on the plane, it’s brilliant.”
“Oh?” His eyes shot back towards Jonny as the girl’s gaze swept over the inside of the shop. He reached for his coffee.
“Mm. Would be ace for our guitars.”
“That’s really great.” Chris rubbed the side of his face and unsteadily set his cup back down next to Jonny’s without looking. The girl had stepped out of line to help an older man fit a lid to his cup.
“It is. Has the power to multiply sound one thousand times its original volume.”
“Yeah.” Jonny’s small eyes sparkled. “Really great pick-up. I’ll see if they make amps too. We could do shows from the moon.”
“The moon. Yeah,” nodded Chris.
The man behind the counter said something to make the girl laugh, and Chris eyed him intently as he felt around the table for his coffee. His hand instead found a small ceramic pitcher of milk that rattled on the glass table top. He drew back his hand absently. Cappuccino. She’d ordered a cappuccino.
Jonny sighed and mopped up the thick puddle of milk with his napkin. “Why don’t you go talk to her?”
Chris turned slowly. “What?”
“Talk to her.”
He thought of playing dumb, changing the subject to something completely different, but it was difficult to think of anything. The word ‘moon’ floated curiously through his head. “I can’t.”
“Sure you can,” Jonny said pleasantly. He watched the girl hover near the counter and push up the green corduroy sleeve of her coat to check the time.
“..No.” Chris shook his head.
“Tall cappuccino?” The man winked and handed her a red paper cup.
“See, she’s leaving anyway.” As Chris said this, his whole body seemed to be trying to move towards the door without him.
“No. No look, she’s just getting a stirrer. Go..” Jonny paused and looked at the two cups in front of him. “Go get some sugar or something. Anything. Just so you can say hello.”
Chris looked intensely from the counter, to Jonny, to the two cups. “You think I should?” He bit his lip but the corners of his mouth were turned up slightly. The legs of his wooden chair scraped against the floor as he jumped up, grabbed one of the paper cups, and walked as casually as he could to the counter.
Her profile was exotic, angular, but he found her beautiful. She swept a strand of golden hair out of her eyes and fumbled to put the lid back on her Cappuccino as Chris sidled up.
He stood beside her, stealing quick glances as he studied the cubby full of flavored creamers. It felt as if all the blood in his veins had drained, and without warning, she looked up at him with a warm smile that caused him to grin uncontrollably. His lips curved around a landscape of large teeth, and he slid his tongue in the small gap between the two in front. A scan over the compartments, desperately searching for something to say, and his eyes fell on two slender glass shakers of cinnamon. He licked his lips solicitously and picked one up with his free hand, cleared his throat, and prepared himself for whatever might happen next.
“What do you think of putting cinnamon in your coffee?” His voice broke the thick silence between them, and he was suddenly very aware of his English accent.
“Um..” She tilted her head and looked away, but was still smiling. “I think it’s alright if there’s also whipped cream involved. Otherwise I think it’s frowned upon.”
He nodded exuberantly and set the shaker back on its shelf in the cubby. The Christmas bells on the door clamored as more people shuffled in.
“Right. I guess that leaves me out. Coffee.” He signaled his cup. She leaned over it slightly and smiled. The fresh scent of perfume mixed with coffee-grinds and raspberry streusel. His skin tingled.
“But,” she said coyly, “that looks a little like tea.”
He looked closer and began to feel hot. He was holding Jonny’s cup.
“Which means, you’re alright.” Her cheeks rounded as she smiled down at it. “Tea and cinnamon get along just fine on their own. In fact,” she leaned in further. “Between you and me, I don’t think the tea and whipped cream are all that friendly.”
He beamed. “You know an awful lot about this.”
She tossed her wooden stirrer into the trash bin and smiled back at him. “I like my caffeine.”
“I’m Chris.” He said it so suddenly that he began drumming his fingers on the counter in an attempt to make himself seem less keen.
“Oh. Oh I know. Your band’s amazing.” She took long to make eye-contact again. “Sorry, I’m Natalie.” She took Chris’ hand and shook it timidly.
“Natalie,” He shifted his weight. “That’s a beautiful name.” She smiled, flushed.
“Em..” He couldn’t keep still, and fussed over the zipper on his jacket for a moment. When he turned back for support, Jonny seemed suspiciously interested in cleaning off his spoon. Chris breathed sharply.
“Listen,” he started, staring down into Jonny’s cup again. “I.. I don’t know if you’ve got plans or anything.” He shook his head, his brow creased. “But my band, we’re playing on this show in a little bit.” He finally looked up. “Maybe you could come? I mean, if you like. I’m sure there’ll be lots of coffee. Or tea.” He grinned.
She nodded, her cheeks pink, and pushed up the sleeve of her coat again to glance at a silver-banded watch. Her lips parted to speak, but Chris, worried she’d decline, cut in.
“If you’ve got places to be..”
-Natalie’s mouth rounded again to speak-
-she attempted to interject-
“I just thought I’d ask..” he trailed off, and began to twist his body back towards Jonny.
She sighed and watched him scratch and fidget with the top of his cup.
“You can always catch us on the telly tonight.” He added. “Anyway. It was...it was nice talking to you.” He bowed his head awkwardly, making a point to avoid her eyes, and shot back to the table and collapsed in his chair.
Jonny reached gingerly for his cup of tea and sipped it in silence, watching Chris as he hunched over the table and began to tear empty sugar packets into small piles of white confetti. Natalie contemplated his bent figure across the room, and after a moment more, dug her nails deeply into her paper cup and began moving through the maze of wooden tables and chairs toward him.
"Thank you,” she nodded appreciatively, and swivelled around one last chair before walking the rest of the way to their table.
Jonny calmly drew his eyes up to meet hers, but Chris continued to tear the sugar packets into smaller and smaller pieces, determined not to look up.
"I know you were in a hurry to give someone back his tea." She glanced slyly at Jonny. "But you didn't give me a chance to answer your question."
They watched Chris tear up a last bit of sugar packet and finally look up. The back of his neck had gone pink and patchy. He opened his mouth in hopes that something suitable would come out, but was disappointed when he heard himself make nothing more than a gruff, nervous sound. It must've meant something to Natalie, because she didn't wait for him to go through the trouble of forming actual words.
"If I were to come see you," she said this rather coyly, "when would I want to show up?"
"Four-thirty." He scratched his ear and stared fixedly at a cardboard Santa placed near the table. Bing Crosby crooned out of the speakers above.
"And, which show is it exactly?"
Chris’ stomach melted. How he could've gotten this far into the conversation without mentioning that, he didn't know, and while he busied himself with working it out, he heard Jonny's voice.
"The Late Show."
Natalie broke into a smile.
"No, sorry, The Late, Late Show."
Her smile broke into a grin.
Chris looked up and was delighted to see she was still standing there, even looking a bit pleased, and suddenly felt a warmth rush through him. It was good Jonny was doing the talking.
"Reallly, The Late Late Show?" She seemed impressed. "I love that show. Rhys Michaels is the best! So funny."
"Really? Well, you could meet him today if you came." Chris wasn't entirely sure if that was true, but he'd do anything to see her again, and if that meant bargaining with security guards, then bargaining he'd do.
"Meet Rhys Michaels? You're kidding."
"Yeah!" Chris grinned gleefully. "I mean, no. I'm not kidding. We've got in's you know." A tiny part of the back of his mind was getting anxious, but for the way Natalie was smiling at him now, he couldn't care less what a tiny part of the back of his mind was feeling.
“Well then.” She nodded brightly at Jonny and began to walk slowly toward the door.
Chris followed, spilling coffee on himself as he stumbled out of his chair. “Well?”
They were back at the counter. She played with a wooden stirrer.
“Well. Four-thirty it is.”
Chris breathed heavily, relieved. “Okay, right.”
She rubbed her arm and smiled at him, but her watch beeped loudly over the clink of spoons and holiday music. “Oh, oh I should go.”
“Right. Sure, okay, well I’ll see you a little later then.” And he promptly turned round to catch his head in a shimmering green garland hanging loosely over the bar. She stifled a giggle as he brushed the garland away, and turned back to watch her open the wooden doors and step onto the snowy sidewalk. She glanced back through the glass, her hair whipping violently around her face, and he stood and watched her move past each window of the coffee shop before walking numbly back to Jonny.
“I can’t believe I did that.”
They were wriggling through the endless rows of holiday tourists spilling out from midtown department stores, their sneakers slipping on the icy pavement. With hours of free time left before they were expected back at the television studio, and breakfast out the way, the boys went to partake in the buzz and bustle of Christmastime in the city.
“But she is something, isn’t she?” Chris said, and swivelled awkwardly around a little boy bundled up in a swishy blue snowsuit who was tunneling through the legs of holiday shoppers. His father walked with his elbows out, one of which jabbed into Chris’ side as he passed. “Bugger!” He winced in shock and turned back to watch the man cut a clear path down the street. Jonny didn’t seem bothered with the mass of people. He was tall and sturdy, and a good amount of people simply sidestepped until he went by.
“It’s good she’s such a fan of the show.” It was a simple, innocent comment from a simple innocent man but Chris, who had a distinct lack of simplicity in his life, stopped dead on the sidewalk as new worries filled his head. He always imagined worries like this as little spiders, that spun terrible webs of doom in his mind, and he was sure that the amount of webs taking space up there must be interfering with his mental health by now. He sometimes worried about this late at night in bed.
“Do you think that’s why she’s coming?” He said this very slowly and stopped with Jonny as the throng of shoppers continued to move past them, much like a current might flow over two rocks in a riverbed. One of the rocks started rubbing his forehead nervously.
“She could think I’m an idiot.” Chris’ fair eyes rounded. “She must think I’m an idiot.”
Chris’ hand shot to the back of his neck. “I’m an idiot!” he concluded, and moved limply in any direction someone’s shopping bags were going as they collided with him.
“She’s coming because..” Jonny tried to choose his words wisely. “She’s coming for the right reasons. I can tell.”
But a new spider had just dropped into Chris’ mind. “What if she doesn’t even come? What if she was just being polite? I can’t believe it!” He raked the top of his ashy blonde hair and stared out over the sea of wooly hats and shopping bags around him. “I didn’t even get her digits,” he said, dumbstruck. “I might not even see her again.”
Jonny felt a twinge of guilt as he reminded himself that it was he who had chided Chris into talking to Natalie in the first place. If things didn’t work out, it was going to be on him. “She’ll come.” he said confidently. “She’ll come because..” He paused. He wanted nothing more than to get out of the conversation quickly. “She’ll come, because she’s interested.”
Chris focused now. “Interested? Interested in what?”
“In you.” said Jonny, and began walking again with a great deal of hope that it was all he’d have to say.