Spencer stared at the computer screen and groaned. All he wanted to do was finish this draft of his thesis, but for some reason he couldn’t get his keyboard to stop overwriting instead of adding content. Why were computers so difficult? His eyes traced over to his phone. He kind of felt like an idiot for calling about something he was certain he should just be able to figure out, but it was 2 A.M. and he just wanted to finish typing and collapse into bed. He also, maybe, was hoping the tech with the smile in her voice that made him feel like he had bubbles under his skin might answer.
He picked up his phone and dialed before he could talk himself out of it.
“Tech support, how may I help you this evening?” He smiled. It was her.
“I’m having a problem typing?” he said, mentally wincing at his poor phrasing.
“Is it a mechanical problem? A philosophical one? Writer’s block maybe?” she asked. Her tone was light and not judgmental.
“What would make for a philosophical typing problem?”
“Debating if the act of typing was distancing you from the words themselves and thus making your argument less valid,” she immediately responded. “I’m guessing that’s not your problem, though, since you weren’t sure what it was. How can I help?”
“I know I should know this…,” he hedged.
“Dude, it’s two in the morning and you’ve probably been at it for hours. I know you.” His heart beat a bit faster. “You’re never dumb. You’re usually in an academic hangover. It’s totally fine, and actually what I get paid for.” She paused for a moment, and he held his breath because he could feel her thinking about saying more. “Also, you’re one of the nicest people that calls, so I would help you make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich over the phone over pretty much every single other one of my late night callers. So hit me up. What can I do for you tonight?”
“Oh, well, it’s just that when I type, the letters are overwriting instead of inserting?”
“Not a problem. Can you find the ‘insert’ key on your keyboard?”
He took a moment to look at they keys. “Yes,” he said.
“Press that for me and then try typing a bit.”
He did as she asked, and was both pleased and sad when it solved his problem. He wanted to keep listening to her. Of course, if he did that, he’d probably never finish his paper. “That did it. Thank you.”
“Whatcha working on this late anyway?” she asked, and he half hoped it was because she was as loathe to end the call as he was.
“Master’s thesis. Draft three.”
She gave a low whistle. “Impressive,” she said.
“It’s my second masters, so I have the process down,” he said, hoping it would further impress her.
“ Dude ,” she breathed. “I can’t get over how awesome you are. Go you! Hopefully my little keyboard click will help you on your quest for mental domination.”
“It will, thank you.”
“Anytime. Seriously. Call me anytime you have late night technology needs. It’s just me and Jim most nights, and sometimes it’s boring. I enjoy helping you.”
He was grateful she couldn’t see him as he was definitely blushing a bit. “Thank you. I’ll remember to thank you in my notes.”
She snorted. “I will be diligently scanning theses for ‘and special thanks to the late night tech’ from now until forever.”
“I could just use your name?” he said just as she said, “I gotta go. The other line is ringing. Good luck with your paper!”
She hung up without telling him her name. He wasn’t sure if that was intentional or not.
Spencer slowly moved forward in the coffeeshop line. He loved coming here, but they were forever running out of baked goods (which were the main reason why he came). His eyes scanned the case. There were still two green tea scones left, but he was fourth in line. It was going to be a tough call to see if he ended up with one today.
He idly looked to see who was working today. There was Loretta, the owner, on the register, and Darcy, his favorite barista, working the coffee machines. Well, even if he didn’t get his scone, at least his coffee would be amazing.
The line inched forward, and he watched one scone disappear. He looked closer at the two people in front of him. Based on the clothing of the person directly in front of him, he was probably not going to get a scone today. He sighed. He could try and come earlier, but there didn’t seem to be a rhyme or reason to when they sold out. And he should know; he had tried to figure it out. He watched and was surprised that both he and the person in front of him were to be denied their scones today.
When it was finally his turn, he asked for his usual: the store candybar black coffee. It was made with three different simple syrups and tasted delicious. Darcy, of course, had seen him coming and already started on it. He paid and slid over to watch her work while he waited.
“Sorry there’s no scones today, Spence,” she said. “I honestly thought you were going to get one.”
“My hopes were dashed just two people before me.”
“Rough shakes,” she said with a nod. Her hair shook with her head a bit, and he enjoyed the way the late morning light lit it up. Today she had a small scarf in her hair, tied in a knot at the crown of her head, somewhat like an old pin-up doing housework might have. It was light blue with tiny blue speckles. She turned back to him to hand over his coffee, and he noticed that the speckles were actually tiny stars.
“I like you hair kerchief,” he said as he took the cup from her. Their fingers brushed and her cheeks flushed a bit.
“Thanks,” she said, pulling her hand away and patting her hair. “It was a gift.”
“It suits you,” he said.”It looks lovely in your dark hair.”
She smiled and was about to say something more when Loretta called out the next order. She gave a small smile and he turned and headed out. He really enjoyed the few minutes he spent in the coffee shop whenever he had a chance to stop in.
His computer had conspired against him. He was certain of it. The word processing program had just shut down and he hadn’t saved recently. All that work, lost. He sighed. This is what he got for writing at -he looked at the clock- 3:27 A.M. Why did these disasters always happen in the middle of the night?
It could be worse. It could happen in the middle of the night with no one to call. He picked up his phone and dialed the number that had practically become as important as his advisor’s.
“Tech support, how may I help you this evening...or morning. Depends on when you last slept, I guess.”
“I haven’t slept recently, but I think I’d still call it morning at this point,” he said.
“Oh hey,” she said softly. “How are you? I was worried that you had somehow become tech savvy and no longer needed me.”
“That is, sadly, unlikely to ever happen,” he said. “Technology and I are a disaster together.”
“Well, luckily you have me,” she said brightly. “So what’s the problem this time?”
“My document closed without saving.”
She hummed. “Okay, we’re going to see what we can do and also set up autosave for you, okay?”
“Yes, thank you,” he said. “Somehow you make these things not seem like the tragedy they were minutes earlier.”
“That is one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me at this job.”
“That’s a shame,” he said with a small frown. “That wasn’t especially nice.”
“Yeah, well people tend to not be at their best when they have middle-of-the-night tech breakdowns,” she said with a sigh. “Shall we see what all we can salvage of your document?”
He dutifully followed her directions and was pleasantly surprised to see that he had actually lost very little after following her magic directions.
“You’ve done it again,” he said, looking at the saved document. “I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
“Probably talk to one of the other techs,” she said.
“Probably,” he agreed, “but you never make me feel stupid for having simple technology questions. Whenever I get someone else, they talk down to me like I’m the most ignorant person they’ve ever spoken to.”
“I maybe try to always be the one to answer when I see your number pop up,” she said. “You’re never mean to me.”
“Why would I be mean to someone that is trying to help me fix a problem I can’t solve on my own?” he asked, baffled.
“You’d be surprised,”she said with a sigh. “The number of people that are cranky in the middle of the night and take it out on me is basically everyone but you.”
“That’s so wrong,” he said, outraged on her behalf. “Have they never been taught manners? I just cannot fathom being unpleasant to someone you’ve gone to for help!”
“And that’s why I like taking your calls whenever I can. You’re like a breath of fresh air in an otherwise stale, stagnant night.”
“You know, I could call whenever I’m up late working just to help make your nights a little bit better,” he said hesitantly. “I mean, I don’t want to waste your time of course, but I also really hate the idea that people are so terrible to you.”
“I….I think I’d like that, actually. Nights are actually fairly slow, so it’s not like you’ll be interrupting me helping someone else.”
“Good,” he said, satisfied. “Then you can count on me.”
“Can’t wait,” she said, and he could hear a lightness in her voice that he thought must be related to her being happy.
He sat in his favorite chair at the coffee shop. He didn’t always stay, but today he wanted to just enjoy his coffee and read his book for an hour before getting back to the academic world. He placed his mug on the small table next to his chair and opened his book.
He was so immersed in his book that he almost missed the slinking of ceramic on the table. He looked up to see Darcy winking at him.
“I saved this one for you,” she said, gesturing to the plate she had set next to his mug. It held a green tea scone.
“Thank you,” he said, smiling at her. “You didn’t have to do that,”
“I know,” she said with a small shrug, “but we just made this batch, and you seemed lost enough in your book that you probably would have missed them again. Couldn’t let that happen to my favorite customer.”
“Favorite?” he asked, the word slipping out before he had a chance to think about it.
She blushed. “Uhm, yeah.”
He looked quickly at the space around him. “Any chance you’ve got a break coming up? Maybe we could chat for a bit?”
She looked over at the wall behind the counter. “I have a break in about ten minutes,” she said, “and I’d love to come and chat. All I really know about you is you like your coffee sweet and your scones green.”
“I’ll see you in ten then, Darcy,” he said. She shot him a sweet smile and he felt his stomach flip.
While she was back behind the counter, he tried to focus on his book, but found that he couldn’t. He liked Darcy. She always had something fun to share with him in the few minutes she made his coffee, was unfailingly kind to everyone in the shop, and seemed like an all around good person. He tended to have a very good gut for this sort of thing. He knew it wasn’t as scientific as some might expect him to be, but he was rarely wrong about people.
It also didn’t hurt that she was beautiful. The shop had a uniform of sorts. Everyone wore black pants and blue tops, though the shirts seemed to be whatever was in your closet in the right color. Over that they wore bright pink aprons that somehow never seemed to have stains or dirt on them. Darcy’s hair was almost always up and off her neck, and on occasion he found himself looking at the exposed skin there while she made his coffee and wondering what it might be like to run his hands up into her hair and mess up the buns she favored.
It was a fantasy he had indulged in a little too much, he knew, but it was still a favorite. Until now, he never thought that she would have any sort of interest in him and had considered it to be harmless, meaningless escapism. But now, looking at the still warm scone and thinking back to her slight blush, well, now there might actually be something possible.
This terrified and excited him all at once.
Just as he was realizing what a huge step this scone and conversation could actually represent, she materialized in front of him and sat in the chair across from him.
“Hello again,” she said with a small, embarrassed smile.
“Hello, Darcy,” he said. “How long do you have?”
“Fifteen minutes,” she said. “You haven’t touched your scone yet.”
He picked up the plate and placed it on the long, slow table in the center of the grouping of chairs. “I waited because I thought you might like to share,” he said.
“Oh! I, well, yes,” she said. “It’s actually my favorite too.”
“There’s something we have in common then,” he said, breaking off a piece and popping it into his mouth. When he looked back up at her, he noticed her eyes were on his hands.
“The, uh, book too,” she said, nodding at his book which was sitting on the arm of the chair. “I finished it last week, but I don’t know anyone else that has read it, and I’ve been dying to discuss it.” She reached for the scone and broke off a piece for herself, placing the morsel into her mouth.
He realized he would stare at her lips, given half the chance, so he cleared his throat and refocused. “I’m enjoying it so far,” he said. “There are a lot of points I think I’m going to disagree with the conclusion on, but I’m excited to see where it goes.”
“Oh, yeah, there are definitely some points I think are terrible conclusions, but still the logic behind them is fascinating, and I think some of his other conclusions are spot on.”
“We’ll have to find a time to talk about it when I’m done,” he said, reaching for the scone again in an attempt to not seem overly invested in whether or not she was interested in joining him again, even though he very much so wanted to know her answer.
Her fingers brushed his, and he stilled for a moment, her simple touch exciting and unexpected. “I’d really like that,” she said.
“I’ll probably finish it in the next day or two,” he said, trying not to seem too eager.
“I guess we’ll have to make plans when you come in again, then,” she said.
“We absolutely will,” he agreed, just as Loretta called her over.
“See you, Spencer,” she said, standing up.
“Can’t wait,” he said, watching her leave.
“You did not correct your professor like that,” she said laughing. “That is amazing .”
“Well, to be fair, he was wrong and it was a really important point. If it had been something smaller or less critical, I wouldn’t have said anything until later, but it was so hugely wrong that I couldn’t say nothing.”
“I would have paid to watch that,” she said with a bit of a dreamy tone. “I’ve had a few professors I wish I could have done something similar to, but that’s mostly because I found them to be distasteful as people.”
“Are you a student too?” he asked. He had assumed she was out of school, but he realized that was a silly assumption to make.
“Just part time,” she said. “I’m only taking two classes at the moment. I’m trying to work at a pace where I don’t have to take out loans.”
“Smart,” he said.
“Slow,” she countered. “I alternate semesters with one class and then two classes because I don’t make quite enough to do two every semester.”
“Your dedication to not only working toward your degree, but doing so without loans is admirable,” he said.
“Not all of us can be geniuses with full rides,” she teased. There was no heat to her words, just friendly banter.
“Fat lot of good being a genius is when it comes to computers,” he contended.
“Ahh, all geniuses have their flaws. me, I’ve worked with my fair share of them,”
“Well, I’m glad mine lead me to you,” he said.
“Me too,” she replied softly. They were both quiet for a moment before she said, “Do you think it’s strange that neither of us have traded names?” she asked. “It’s been many calls, and my friend Jane thinks it’s strange.”
He thought about it for a second. “No,” he finally decided. “It’s kind of like a special sort of magic just for us,” he said, trying to find the right way to explain it, why he hadn't asked again after that one night. “This almost anonymity makes me feel like you could be anyone, and we could run into each other and never know that we’ve just met each other.”
She hummed in response. “Is that because you’d rather not meet me?” she finally asked.
“Of course not,” he said immediately. “But I do worry that maybe who I am in person is not the same as who I am on the phone. There’s something about talking to you on the phone that makes me feel more confident. Perhaps because I don’t have to look at you and see you be disappointed by my topic choices.”
“I am never!” she protested. “I could always just say I have another call coming in and hang up if I didn’t want to be talking to you. But I want to talk to you.” She paused again. “But I do understand what you meant about not having the pressure when you’re face to face. Sometimes I feel like I’m a whole lot of no one worthwhile when I’m standing in front of someone. The distance a phone between us creates is kind of like a security blanket.”
“Exactly,” he agreed. “I think some people find that to be a bad thing, though.”
“Like Jane,” she said. “She said I have a problem with confronting things that scare me, like rejection.”
“You think I’d reject you?” he asked. “How could I do that?”
“What’s your fear of meeting in person; of sharing names?” she countered.
It was his turn to pause. “Okay, I get what you’re saying. I definitely worry that somehow I’m both too much and not enough, and you’ll decide that means that you’re done wasting time on me.”
“So no names for now.”
“Agreed,” he said. “For now.”
“I finished the book,” he said to Darcy’s back as she made his coffee. “You’re right that I both was intrigued and disgusted by the conclusions of several points.”
“You’re already done?” she asked over her shoulder. “I expected it to take much longer.”
“I had excellent motivation to finish,” he said. The back of her neck flushed pink. “I’m very excited to talk to you about your thoughts.”
She finished adding the syrups and turned to face him. “We should make plans to do so, then,” she said, handing him the to-go cup.
“I agree,” he said, wrapping his fingers around the cup, her hand still on it as she looked at him.
“I’m free tomorrow afternoon. Say 3?” she said tentatively.
“That works for me,” he said. “Shall we meet here?”
“Yeah,” she said, finally releasing his cup. “That sounds perfect.”
“I’ll see you tomorrow, then,” he said, still studying her face.
“Tomorrow,” she agreed, finally turning away to get started on the next order.
He walked out of the shop, taking a sip of his coffee once he was on the sidewalk. He had a causal book discussion date sort of activity planned for tomorrow, and he was looking forward to it. Why, then, did he feel guilty about it at the same time?
He knew why. It felt like somehow he was cheating on his late night tech calls by making plans with Darcy. He wasn't sure why these irrational feelings were bubbling up. He and the tech were just friends. Sure, he called her most nights and they talked for nearly an hour every night when they had the chance, but they were just friends. Right?
Well, yes, technically that was true, but he’d be lying if he didn’t admit that he had feelings for her too. She was smart, clever, and had a great sense of humor. She always had a fun story to share, and her hard work and dedication to her education was something he admired. But she had shown no interest in anything with him except for someone to pass the time with at night.
Unless you counted the fact that she willingly spoke with him every night and seemed to have this same fear of rejection that he did should they break any of their unspoken rules. Rules like not knowing each other’s name.
He maybe should reevaluate whether or not he thought that she was also invested in something more happening with them. He suddenly wasn’t so sure anymore. While he wanted to tell her about his plans for tomorrow, he was also worried it might hurt her feelings. Maybe he would wait until the book discussion was over to mention anything to her. Besides, it wasn’t like he actually knew if it was a date. In fact, he didn’t know if Darcy was interested in him at all.
Well, besides that flush that had run up her neck, or the way her fingers always seemed to linger when handing over his coffee, or how she had saved him a scone the other day.
So maybe she was interested too? He needed more evidence to be sure. But now he was in the uncomfortable situation of having feelings for two different people, and potentially having to hurt one of them. He didn’t like it.
“So what did you do today?” she asked. “Anything fun or exciting outside of studying?” He might be imagining it, but he thought he sensed a bit of tenseness in her words.
“Err, actually, yes,” he said. “I met up with a friend and we talked about a book.”
“Oh?” she asked.
“Yeah,” he said, now feeling a bit tense himself. “She had seen me reading it, and wanted to discuss it. We finally had a chance to do so today.”
“She?” she asked.
“Yes?” he said, not liking how she had become monosyllabic. “She’s a friend I met around campus.” He wasn’t sure why he wasn’t speaking more plainly, why he was holding back.
“You guys have a good time?”
The conversation was getting strained, but he wasn’t sure what to do; how to respond to take things back to their normally very light air.
“I know I did,” he said, “but I can only assume she did based on the fact that she smiled and said we should do it again sometime.”
“That does sound promising,” she agreed. “But she could also have just been being nice.”
“I know,” he said. “I wish I knew, though, which it was. Ifshe truly was just being nice, I’d rather not bother her again by asking if she wanted to meet up again.”
“Well, tell me more about your date, and I’ll do my best to think like a girl and get you an answer.”
“I’m not sure it was actually a date,” he started. “We just talked about the book.”
“But you made plans to get together to do so, right?”
“Then date,” she said matter-of-factly. “Now tell me about it.”
“Well we met at the coffee shop where she works,” he said.
“Wait. She works at a coffee shop?” she cut in.
“Yes? Is that important?”
“Maybe,” she said quickly. “Go on.”
“We met at the coffee shop and decided to get some coffee to go and sit in the park to talk.”
“Who’s idea was that?”
“Mine,” he said. “I thought that maybe she wouldn’t want to stay where she works; that it might feel too much like still being at work.”
“Who paid for the coffee?”
“We each paid for our own.”
“So we went to the park and sat on a bench to talk about the book.”
“Next to each other?”
“Close enough to touch?”
He thought about it. “Well, perhaps? We weren’t touching, at least, not at first, but I don’t think initially we were all that close together.”
“So you sat and talked?” she prompted.
“We did,’ he agreed. “And we got lost in our discussion, and before I realized it, we had been there for an hour.”
“Good conversations will do that,” she agreed.
“Like ours,” he said.
“So was that the end of it?”
“Not yet,” he said, wondering how to discuss what had happened when they realized how long they had been sitting there. “I mentioned that the time had flown, and she said that she thought it had gone quickly as well, but neither of us moved to leave.”
“So what happened?”
“She, uh, got up to toss her coffee, and when she sat back down, she was closer? When you asked before about touching? We definitely could have when she sat back down.”
“But did you?”
“Not at first. I’m honestly not sure how it happened, but a little later I realized her hand was resting on top of mine. I thought about it a bit more than I should have, honestly.”
“What do you mean ‘more than you should have’?”
“Well,” he stalled, shifting in his seat nervously, “I...liked? How it felt? And I debated turning over my hand so we would be palm to palm.”
“Why did you debate it?” she asked. He could tell she was invested in his answer by the tone of her voice.
“Because I knew I wanted to hold her hand, but I wasn’t sure if she wanted it. I was having such a nice time, and I didn’t want it to stop because I misinterpreted.”
“You didn’t, Spencer.”
He paused. “How do you know my name? We didn’t exchange names.”
She sucked in a breath and then slowly let it out. “Because I bought you a green tea scone a few days ago in hopes that I could have a conversation with you, and I ended up with a date where I very much wanted to hold your hand.”
“Darcy?” he asked, surprised.
“Yeah,” she said.
“How long have you known?”
“Honestly not until you said your date worked in a coffee shop, and even then I wasn’t one hundred percent certain until you talked about my hand on yours.”
“You wanted to hold my hand?” he asked, practically holding his breath waiting for her answer.
“I did,” she said softly, “still do.”
“We should fix this immediately,” he said. “Where are you?”
“At work, Spencer,” she said. “And I don’t mind waiting. Just don’t make me wait too long.”
“Can I see you tomorrow?” he asked. Then he looked at the clock and amended, “I mean later today?”
“I’d like nothing more,” she said, and her words were full of happiness.
“Me neither, Darcy,” he said, enjoying the way her name felt in his mouth. “I was worried about what to do about having feelings for two people, and somehow I lucked out that they were the same one.”
“Me too,” she agreed. “I was jealous when you said you had a date today, and then felt guilty, knowing I had had one too.”
“I guess we don’t need to feel jealous or guilty anymore.”
“I guess not,” she agreed, and his heart soared.