Winner of the 2009 SNHU Fiction Contest
by Melissa Hurley
“Ma’am?” Paula, who had been day dreaming in the long Starbucks line, turned her head and focused on the pimple-faced teenage boy standing behind the counter. She hadn’t even noticed that it was her turn to order.
“Oh, sorry. I’ll have a tall chai latte.” God I hate being called Ma’am, she thought to herself as she waited for her drink. It makes me feel so old. When her beverage was ready, she carried it over to a corner of the shop where there were two empty chairs and a table. The chai was too hot to drink at the moment, so she set it down and let her mind wander once again. I wonder what he’s going to be like. He seemed like a nice guy online. Maybe this could be the one. She took a sip of her chai and felt a rush of pain as it burnt her tongue.
Placing the drink back on the table, she looked down at her outfit, making sure that she had not accidentally spilt anything on herself. She smoothed out her khaki knee length skirt and peered down at her chocolate brown flats, which were starting to look worn from wear. This didn’t bother Paula; it just made them more comfortable. When she was younger she had worn heels, but more out of obligation than out of personal choice. Now at the age of forty-eight she felt it wasn’t worth the pain anymore. A tasteful brown cardigan covered her torso and just a bit of a pale yellow t-shirt peeked out around her neck. It was an outfit straight out of a JC Penny catalogue. Her long blonde hair was tied back in a neat low ponytail. Though she usually wore her hair in this manner, there was extra meaning behind it today. Dangling from her ears were tiny gold jingle bells. Her blind date would be looking for them when he came to find her. Of course, he would be carrying a bell as well. It had been their plan to use this prop to identify each other.
Paula glanced at her watch. It was 6:51 pm. She was early. In approximately ten minutes he would be arriving. Just thinking of the idea made her heartbeat quicken. She could feel a swell of warmth attack her face and felt flustered.What am I doing getting myself involved in online dating services? There has to be a more logical way to meet a guy. Yet as this thought hit her, she instantly rejected it. For years she had found herself searching for Mr. Right, and it was getting old. She was getting old. The term Ma’am haunted her mind once again. Okay, so maybe he’s not going to be the one. But what harm is there in meeting him? Maybe I’ll at least make a new friend.
The word friend almost made her cringe. She thought of all the friends she already had. Most of them were either in marriages or at least relationships, leaving Paula to fend for herself. It was no fun being the only single one among friends. Dinners were always awkward when they were all coupled up. Everyone seemed settled with their lives, which made it harder for Paula to deal with the fact that she was alone. It was rare for her friends to go out with her anymore in search for men, and it was no fun for her to go by herself. That would only worsen the loneliness that she constantly felt. It was all of this that had led her to the internet in the first place.
One depressing Friday night of watching a movie alone in her apartment, she had a breakdown. She couldn’t take the lonesomeness any longer. Without even thinking, she had sat at her computer, pulled up a site that she had seen advertised on television, and before she could second-guess herself, she had set up a profile. The next day, when she had realized what she had done, she rushed to the computer and found that she had already received several matches. Intrigued at the fact that she might actually find love through the internet, she contacted a few that seemed interesting. Eventually, one of them stood out. His name was Robert. His profile described him as “a simple man dedicated to his pet turtle and his manager position at Barnes & Noble.” He had won Paula’s heart by quoting lines from some of her favorite children’s books. Something about the line “I’ll teach you to jump on the wind’s back, and away we go,” from Peter Pan had encouraged her to ask him out.
Forcing herself to focus on the coffee shop, Paula attempted to bring her mind back to the present situation. What’s wrong with a new friend? He could at least take away some of the loneliness. Clearly he doesn’t have a girlfriend tying him down. Or maybe we might get involved and even if it is not meant to be, it’s certainly better than what I have now. Feeling a little more at ease, she took a sip of her chai. Ahh, just right.
Peering around the room, Paula was still unable to identify a man with a bell. Surely such a sight would stand out. Her watch now read 7:03 pm. She found herself glancing about the room from man to man, curious if one of them might be her date. They had never exchanged photos, which she was beginning to think was a mistake. A mangy looking guy with torn, dirty clothes entered through the doorway. Oh no. His hair was scruffy and his face was covered in thick uneven stubble. Please don’t let him have a bell, she thought to herself as she watched him retrieve his drink. But before she could worry anymore he had left the building.
What on earth did I get myself into? I know practically nothing about this guy. For all I know he could be some murderer or rapist! For several more minutes she let her mind fight off more dreadful circumstances. Paula managed to handle most of her fears with grace, until one thought hit her like a bullet. What if I am being stood up? What if he took one look at me and turned away? It was now 7:12 pm. She could only wait for him for so long. I really can’t handle more rejection. If he’s not here in a few minutes, I’m done. Those minutes passed and Paula prepared herself to accept the fact that he wasn’t showing up. It was a stupid idea to begin with. I should have gotten rid of that profile as soon as I had created it. She grabbed the cup of chai off of the table and took another sip. It had started to cool, no longer very appetizing.
Her watch read 7:17 pm as she stood up and put on her coat. She started for the door, tossing her cold chai in the trash. Taking long, hurried strides, she nearly knocked over a man who was rushing to get inside. In her dash to get as far away from the Starbucks as possible, Paula didn’t notice the sound of a bell jingling as it hit the ground.