Josh strolled to the elevator, whistling and twirling his key around a finger. He’d left his worry beads in the car, calculating that the suits couldn’t stomach more than his natural cockyness, but the key did the job, for now.
He spent the morning in a meeting with anxious “suits”. They fiddled with laptops, fidgeted with iPhones, stared at screens or pointedly at him.
The old drill. He leaned back, gave them time until their posturing lulled them into a false sense of security and superiority, then presented their options and dropped the bomb. “The development of your custom app will be two hundred fifty thousand.” He waited for the protests to erupt. And erupt they did.
The ancient game of negotiations, anchored in the Bible and honed to perfection by generations. They distanced themselves from the table, one threw a pen, somebody else sighed, a third began shouting about “start-up” and “bad times” while gesticulating and reciting numbers.
Josh cracked a smile and offered to leave.
He let them blurt out their fears of “competition” and “ruin”, and anger “You can’t just dump us!”, holding them in his gaze despite not commenting.
Finally, the men began looking at each other and somebody mumbled, “Goldstein, say something.”
Mr Goldstein raised his eyes to Josh.
“Two hundred thousand.”
Josh narrowed his eyes a fraction, waited a second before answering with a short nod. “Two hundred thousand.”
The men let out their breaths and papers rustled. The businessmen had their golden pens out before the coffee turned cold.
When he navigated the mid-morning traffic jams and made his way out of the central business district to the wider pedestrian zone in the historic city centre, he found a parking spot between two old buildings and headed for his home turf.
As he wandered down the street, grinning at strangers and known faces alike, his feet decided the direction, like a horse knowing the way home — his favourite cafe. The joys of a good day.
As an early autumn rain accompanied him on his way to the cafe, he stopped at a particular kiosk.
“What’s up?” Josh pulled his wallet out.
“Business as usual.” The owner put the new issue of Outdoor Photography on the counter, grabbed the cash and raised his hand in a gesture of thanks.
He entered Samuel’s Café, called Sam’s by the neighbourhood patrons, the only place in the city serving decent Turkish coffee and Josh’s second home.
Sam was square and bald but he had an easy smile and a big heart. Sam reached for a Finjan coffee pot when Josh entered and put it on the gas stove.
Josh answered, “Baruch HaShem.”
“Did he sign it?” Sam’s face lit up.
“Yeah, wanted to kill me, but he signed.”
Both watched the ritual boil in silence. Sam poured the brew into a glass and Josh picked it up by the rim. He stood with his back to the counter, still holding his coffee.
Josh turned to the place by the window corner. With the chair to the wall, it allowed for a perfect vantage point of the entrance and the street. He had learned to study his surroundings in the army and like all good things, kept the habit and adapted it. Right at the beginning of his regularship he’d claimed this table as his. It was the best place to think or observe people.
There was a girl in a coffee-coloured sweater-shawl combo sitting in his chair.
Hmm Oh… hair colour matching clothes. Ah no, the other way round. Hmm… tousled hair and doe-eyes, nice.
Upon closer inspection of the occupant, Josh looked at Sam, shook his head and grinned.
No need to pull the “sorry-but-this-table-is-reserved-routine” trampistim and tourists received. If she wanted a part of his space, it was hers.
He took his coffee to the other end of the window front and dropped his car keys on the counter with a clunk.
She flinched and glanced at him.
He settled into a chair, observing the little intruder over the rim of Outdoor Photography while waiting for the coffee to sink. Then he took a slow sip.
Probably a tourist or a stray customer, way too trendy for Sam’s place.
Any other guest would have annoyed Josh for taking up his favourite spot, but the young woman was nervous, so he didn’t begrudge her the hiding spot.
A hiss from the espresso machine made her flinch again.
Hmm, a little jumpy.
Josh relaxed into his chair. Despite his best efforts to catch her attention, she ignored him.
So much for getting to know new people. What the…?
She’d lowered herself in her seat until her head was level with the wooden windowsill, and in doing so, gave the table a good push. Making it wobble and the brown-white cream concoction spill over the surface.
Shit, she’s nervous. Okay, Jumpy, that’s it. No more coffee for you.
He pulled out his smartphone and texted Sam. Bambi needs a clean table and a fresh coffee.
A moment later Josh added Change order: tea and the kluntjes from my last vacation.
Sam looked over the counter, cocked an eyebrow, and texted back: You? Tea? No, Bambi. Josh shot back.
Behind the counter, Sam straightened, taking in the new situation. Should I also call a Rabbi?
He shook his head and grinned as he switched the water boiler on. When he reached her table to clean up the mess, the girl whispered, “I’m sorry.”
“No problem. Happens.” Sam returned to the counter and texted Josh. Her tea is ready, you can take it to her.
“Me!” came the answer and Josh raised an eyebrow.
“Yeah. You. You want her to drink tea. You tell her.”
Sam turned towards the kitchen and gestured for Josh to take the tea.
Paralyzed for a moment, Josh had to shake himself back to reality. He got up, shoved his phone into his pocket, stuck the magazine under his arm, and balanced his glass on the same side, leaving one hand free for the tea tray.
Fia looked up when somebody came from the counter towards her table. She had expected the waiter to come over but it was one of the other guests.
“Hi. Here’s … tea.” he said.
“I… Tea? I don’t want tea. You’re…” She blinked.
“Sam is busy and my grandmother always said ‘When you are nervous, strong sweet tea is best.’ ” He placed the cup on the table and then sat his own down on the other side.
“I’m not nervous.”
“Yeah, I see that,” the guy smirked. “There, milk and kluntjes”
Fia gaped before stammering, “What?”
“I didn’t order tea.”
“But you need one.”
She gaped. What an … A… Alpha.
“And take the kluntjes!” he interrupted.
Great. Thank you for giving me orders. Way too early for bossy-mode.
“What?” Her eyes followed to the place his finger was pointing at.
“Rock sugar – Kluntjes.”
Rock. Sugar? Where is the fun in that?
There is nothing like the beauty of a sugar cube as it sits on a teaspoon-boat, slowly soaking up the tea, turning completely brown, and then crumpling. Pebbles in my tea, yay.
She dropped the two pieces of sugary amber into the tea and mumbled, “Thanks.”
Josh watched the whole spectacle and pitied the kluntjes. Instead of stirring them to tinkle, she scanned the street before pulling her endless scarf over her head and snuggling deep into her turtleneck.
Okay, not in flirting mode. Right…
“Ah, what?” It took a moment before she looked up.
And a little absent-minded.
“I asked: May I?”
“Can you just sit down?” she snapped.
“That is exactly what I want. It’s Josh, by the way.” Ensconcing himself in the chair opposite her, he took up as much space as possible and was an inch away from touching her knee.
Okay, that’s crowding, maybe I shouldn’t… No, definitely not, too early.
He retreated to the we-don’t-know-each-other distance and she wiggled deeper into his favourite comfy wooden bistro armchair without appreciating the luxury.
Nervous and hiding.
“Hey.” She let out a tiny whistle. “There is a guy standing in front of the other cafe, right? Is he looking in this direction?”
Josh checked and grinned. “That’s your date?”
“No.” she hissed.
Aha, so, he’s the problem. Gotcha Sweety.
“Hm… he doesn’t look happy.”
Josh leaned over. “He can’t hear you from here,” he breathed back but handed her the magazine. “Here, something to hide.”
She bit on her lower lip and held the mag up. “What’s he doing now?”
“Taking out a phone and heading for his car,” Josh observed the street a little longer before turning to her. “You can breathe again, the coast is clear.”
“Not coming over?”
She pulled her turtleneck down, shook her hair free, and blinked at Josh. “Puh, thanks.”
“So, he wasn’t your date?”
“Yes,… he was.” She handed him the magazine and let out a huff.
“And what made you change your mind?”
“It was my father’s idea.”
“Ah, money, connections?”
“Son of a business partner.”
“Oh shit. Sorry.” Josh chuckled. “And you didn’t like him?” he asked, giving his voice a tinge of mock incredulity.
“Honestly, human to human?” She made faces and waited for Josh’s encouragement to continue. “He doesn’t suffer from hyper-intelligence.”
“Ah, that’s harsh.”
“I walked out of the date and this was the first place to hide.”
Good. My lucky day. I knew it.
He smirked a bit and sipped his coffee. Bah, cold. Chamuda, you don’t know what I’m doing for you.
Fia fumbled with her smartphone, pulled at her shawl, and rummaged in her bag. All of this was a stupid idea. The bag, the place ugh…. Right out of Dating-For-Dummies. Does that even exist? Of course, it exists. If there’s an idiot who needs it, somebody writes it, duh… that doesn’t even rhyme.
She glimpsed at Josh. Great. Now he is watching me. Well, at least he’s smart. If I tell him how the other date went, he will ‘rofl’ all the way home.
“Do you need fresh tea? Maybe one that’s hot?”
His question shook her out of her thoughts.
“No, thanks but, thanks for asking, I’m still…”
“You’re still jumpy.”
“You are.” Josh countered, lowering his voice to a caress.
“Don’t ask what the other guy said.”
Josh chuckled but did not answer.
“He said ‘adorable’,” she volunteered.
Josh leaned over again as his eyes sparkled with mischief. “Admit it, you prefer jumpy.”
“You like it, don’t you, Jumpy?”
“No.” she said, but her giggles turning into laughter. “At least that’s better than Fifi.”
“Yeah, my parents.” Fia shrugged and mock grumbled.
“I think you should put them up for adoption.”
“Agreed.” Finally, she grinned.
“So, what’s the real name?”
“Fia – Sofia, as in Loren.”
Josh tilted his head and watched her, he couldn’t suppress the twitching of his cheeks and lips. “Sofia but not Loren.”
She pulled something out of her bag. A second tote bag. Josh raised an eyebrow. Women and handbags. I bet I can still find her old school notes in there. Or a picture of her first boyfriend.
The tote sported one of those ‘I Love London’ messages with ‘Love’ as a huge red heart. She crumpled it and looked around for a rubbish bin, giving Josh an opening for more conversation. “What has the poor bag done to you? I understand the guy, but the bag?”
“Part of the idiotic plan. That heart, big, red. Better than a single rose, no?”
“Absolutely. Give it to me.”
“You’ll see.” He found a black marker in his jacket and drew something. When he pushed it back over the table to her, a smiley covered most of the red heart.
“Wow, this looks good. Are you a graphic designer?”
“No,” he admitted, flashing a cheeky grin at her. “But close.”
“Oh, got it, photographer.” She beamed at the magazine.
“Okay, I give up, do tell!” Sunshine-bright curiosity spread over her face.
Josh leaned closer while he outlined the drawing and brushed her fingers. They were cold.
“I’m a … doodelist.”
Damn, what did I just tell her? “Doodelist.”
He was close enough to smell her shampoo. If I take her hand, she’ll withdraw.
“That’s not a word.”
Do I grin like an idiot? Doesn’t matter. “Now it is.”
“Haha. Okay, you made me laugh.”
“Nah, that doesn’t count.”
“Then you have to do better.” She made the cutest pull-together face that Josh had ever seen.
I’ll wrap her in my jacket, and my arms. And smell her hair and rub her back and not let her go.
Putting his hand out and waiting for hers, he said, “That’s a challenge.”
Her hands were white with blue fingertips. He rubbed them slowly and watched her. Her cheeks were making dimples when her mouth moved.
Josh went by the description of tall-dark-handsome, and his grin usually did its job. Since he couldn’t delete the memories of the few instances it hadn’t, he ignored them. Today it had to work.
For the next hour, they entertained each other with teasing competitions, the delights of tinkling tea, and the beauty of raindrops. “When you get the lens really close, you can catch the light.”
He introduced Fia to the fine art of coffee making — “Only Sam can make real coffee” — and reading the future at the bottom of a cup.
Rain poured down and cold air seeped through the door. She yawned and drew the flimsy shawl around her shoulders.
They should really give out snuggle blankets like on planes.
Josh not only provided the blessed photo magazine to hide behind, upgraded the hideous bag, and made her smile again, he noticed when she shivered and brought a fresh tea. As he got up, he removed his fleece jacket, spread it out, and said, “Arm.” She obliged him, pushed her hand into the offered opening, and wiggled into the rest of the jacket.
Fia looked up at him, took the tea. “Wow, prewarmed nest. Can I keep it?” She snuggled into her chair and warmed her hands on the cup. “The tea was a good idea.”
“What do you want to keep, the nest or the tea?”
She tsked and snipped with her tongue but the dimply cheeks betrayed her.
If I was a cat, I would curl up now. Maybe I’ll do it. I should say something. Something smart. I am too tired for smart.
“Oh, now I got it, you are a cartoonist.”
Cartoonist. Good idea. Thanks, brain. Wonder what he really is. Not a photographer, not an artist, not one of these office heroes. When does one doodle and make money?
“No, not a cartoonist.”
Ah, that little wink, mischief in the making. These lines around his mouth when he thinks he’s Einstein. He’s funny when he talks. I bet he was the death of his mother.
Perry Como sang in her head… ‘Catch a falling starlight, never let it fade away….’
When it was about lunchtime Sam stared Josh down and lifted a menu. Josh nodded but instead of Sam bringing the menu over, as she expected, he brought a plate with warm finger food.
The conversation turned from serious to floating clouds.
Yes, this is what a date should be. Wait. Is this a date? Maybe. A blind date. Josh… I could say that. ‘I’m seeing Josh tonight.’ or ‘Josh said…’ or ‘Josh thinks…’ oh yes, I could get used to that, and his voice. Roll up in a snuggle blanket and listen to his voice. He could speak ‘Math’ and it would be good.
“It is getting late, I think I should go home.”
“Did your date pick you up from there?”
“My father’s office. But it’s no problem, I’ll take the bus.”
“Do you think I’d let you get on a bus in this weather?”
“It’s only a few drops. It’s not even real rain.”
“Are you scared to show up with the wrong date?”
“Hmm.” That was all the answer he got.
“Come on, let’s get the introductions over with.”
Josh entered the office, to calls of “Where have you been?”, “What have you done?” and “What took you so long?”
“I’ve had a meeting with old Goldstein and his associates.”
“I was at Sam’s.”
“Did Goldstein sign the contract?” somebody asked.
“Yup he did, and I also applied for a lifetime position.”
“Lifetime position? Man, your lucky day.” Someone clapped him on the shoulder. “Only you could pull that off.”
From behind a screen, somebody shouted, “What position is it?”
Josh hid a wide grin with his hand. “Son in law.”
R. Shlesinger holds an MA in Literature. Her mother tongue is German which she teaches as a foreign language. She is writing historical short stories with a Jewish background for the English speaking audience and occasionally tries her hand in modern short stories. For the last twenty years, she has been living with her husband in Israel.