If Only – A Short Story

Every day Sarah goes into her favorite coffee shop for a hot chocolate. She lives in California where it never truly is cold enough to warrant the scalding hot drink, but she loves the feeling of the warm chocolate burn as it makes its way into her belly. She sits in the corner of the quaint little coffee shop facing the room of people every morning and none of them ever notice her. She watches the worn down students buy coffee after coffee and then return quietly to their pushed together tables. She admires the concentration and focus they keep both in the line waiting and on the way back to the study group.  What it must be like to be working towards something, she wonders what it must feel like to wake up every day with a purpose; a dream to fulfill. She lifts her thin wrist up and shakes her arm until her sweater arm falls far down enough just to show her watch. It’s 10:03-he’s late, he’s going to be in trouble. Just then, the bell of the front door chimed and in walked Charlie. Charlie strode into the shop with that crooked grin on his face and beelined it to the back counter where Gin, the shop owner stood not so patiently waiting for him to show. Sarah couldn’t hear the conversation but saw him slap his right hand on his chest and apologetically bow toward her. “Come on, cut him some slack” Sarah mumbled silently under her breath. In that moment Michelle smiled at Charlie and patted him on the shoulder. Good, people make mistakes Sarah thought to herself. With that, Gin walked out of the shop for her regular brunch break and left Charlie to run things.

It was around 11:00 and the busyness of the shop died down. This was what Sarah had been waiting for, Charlie looked over at Sarah and smiled. He was the only person who ever saw her. She felt the warm feeling in her chest again as if she had just taken a sip of hot chocolate and she could feel the heat flutter onto her cheeks as she smiled back at him. He said a few words to the cashier behind the counter and walked over to Sarah, sitting down he grabbed the newspaper that had been left behind on another table by its previous occupant and slapped it gently down on the table before her. “Here, why don’t you do a crossword or somethin’. You’re always in here but you never bring anything to do. What’s up with that, huh?” He sat across from her at the little table, smiling still and offering her the pencil from behind his ear. She took it, holding it with him for a moment before pulling it toward her and bringing it down to her lap. “I don’t need to do a crossword puzzle, Charlie. I come in here to people watch, and to get away from the house a little, ya know?” she replied shyly, twirling the pencil in her fingers under the table. “Oh yeah, I forget sometimes that you work from home. What is it you do again? Finger paint, right?” He leaned back in the chair and she breathed his aroma in for a second before responding with a small laugh “I’m an artist. I paint mostly with oils on canvas.” “Right! You’re a modern day van Gogh aren’t you?” Sarah laughed and her leg began bouncing under the table without her even realizing it. “I am certainly not creative enough to be anything like van Gogh” “Ah, I don’t believe that. You should show me some of your stuff sometime, maybe bring it into the shop and I can talk to Gin about hanging some up around here if you’d like.” She looked down at the pencil in her fingers and dug her broken, barely there fingernails into it lightly as she twirled before responding “Sure, I would love that. I’m working on something now but it will be a while until it’s done.” She gave him a small smile but knew that day would likely never come for them. Looking at her watch again she saw it was 11:35, almost time to go. ‘Give me a reason to stay, Charlie. Take a chance on me.’ Sarah thought to herself.  Picking up the newspaper and handing it back to him she said: “Oh, it’s about that time for me to head home.” Charlie looked down at his own watch and nodded his head, “Yeah it looks like it is, huh? Time really flies when.. uh. nevermind. I won’t say it.” They laughed together and Sarah gazed into his eyes, practically begging him to give her a reason to keep going. Charlie caught her gaze and cleared his throat “Okay Sarah, you have a good day. I’ll finish this crossword for you” he laughed to himself as he stood up and walked back to the counter. “Bye Charlie.” Sarah watched him for a moment waiting for him to be in the back before she stood up to go, eyes tearing up she fought to keep it together until she was out of sight. Looking down at the pencil Charlie had given her there were marks from her nails and specks of blood from the torn skin at her fingertips. She shoved the pencil into her pocket and quickly headed home.

Charlie watched from the backroom window as Sarah stood and hurried out of the door. “I think I love her, Joe. I love her and I messed it all up, I think I just missed an opportunity there” Charlie said to his coworker, who was hiding out and scrolling through his Facebook timeline. “Chickened out on asking her out again, huh?” Charlie threw the hand towel to his right at his friend behind him. “Shut up man, she’s so pretty it just makes me a little nervous. But I’m going to do it tomorrow, I swear!” “What if she doesn’t show, man?” Charlie stepped out into the now dead coffee shop and looked out for Sarah walking up the street. “She’s here every day, she’s going to show up. I can feel something between us, why wouldn’t she come back?”

She made it to the apartment 9 minutes later and hurriedly shoved the key into the doorknob, turning it until the door opened. Quickly walking to the refrigerator and looking at what her options were for lunch-not much. There was a small amount of milk and some jelly, so she pulled together what she needed to make two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and placed them, with a glass of milk at the island counter. She heard footsteps banging up the stairway toward her and hurried to the couch, where she sat looking out the window. Eric pushed the apartment door open hard enough for it to bounce off the wall and close itself as he walked in. He glanced over to Sarah and then looked over at the counter where his food sat. He stomped over to it and lifted the bread, “Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches? Are you kidding me, Sarah?” He punched the counter and stomped over to where Sarah sat, already wincing into the couch. “Am I a child?! Do you think that I want to come home from work on my lunch break for two peanut butter and fuckin’ jelly sandwiches?!” his pointed nose was pushed into the side of her face and the spit from his words splattered on her neck. He grabbed her arm and squeezed it with all of his strength “Look at me when I’m talking to you! Do you think this is going to fill me up for the rest of my shift? Don’t I work hard enough to have a hot meal for lunch?” He punched the wall beside her head, leaving a dent in the sheetrock. He growled like a monster as he made his way to the counter where he sat down an inhaled the sandwiches and milk. Sarah stayed as quiet as one could be while he ate until he left and she could breathe again. She collected herself on the couch and made a decision. What’s the point? Thinking of all of her brunch meetings with Charlie, the only good part of her day, Sarah walked to the bathroom stripping her clothes off on the way. She felt desperate for affection, starving for warmth and peace. Sarah filled the bathtub with the hottest water she could get, looking over the bruises and scars on her body she felt cold and empty. Steam floated off of the top of the water and reminded her of her hot chocolate and the warmth of the coffee shop, the heat that flushed her when Charlie spoke to her. She thought of his smile as she slipped into the tub, the heat burning her skin and she felt nothing.

The next day Charlie walked into the coffee shop prompt and on time at 10:00, he glanced out of the corner of his eye in the direction of Sarah’s table and thought he saw it empty. ‘Keep your cool, you don’t want to walk in and immediately stare her down. That’s creepy.’ He walked up to Gin and said his good morning and goodbyes as she walked out. Hurrying into the bathroom in the back he made sure his hair wasn’t sticking up in any funny places. He wanted to be taken seriously, no distractions. Once he was sure he looked his best, he strode out onto the floor and started toward her table. She wasn’t there. Her table was empty and she wasn’t there. Charlie sat at their table and waited. ‘Why wouldn’t she show?’ 11:35 came and went and there was still no sign of her. ‘Hopefully tomorrow then‘ Charlie thought to himself. Tomorrow came and passed with no sign of Sarah and Charlie felt himself break a little inside. He often sat at their table with two hot chocolates, just waiting for her to show up and give him another chance.

This short story is inspired by If Only by Gin Wigmore. I am challenging myself to take song lyrics that move me and turn them into their own short story inspired by my own interpretation of the song. Please feel free to leave critiques on my writing as I am trying to learn. Thank you for your time!

 

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