To be honest, I noticed him for the first time three weeks ago, when he walked in with his Lord Swoledemort workout tank. I had just looked up from my phone after ending an awkward text conversation I didn’t want to be having. I remember as watched him I had smiled, something I hadn’t done in weeks—a crooked, genuine smile. I had made a mental note right then to dig my Harry Potter books out once I got home and get lost in them again. With everything that had been going on in my life lately, I needed any getaway from reality I could afford. I had watched him lean onto the counter & launch into conversation with Ernest, the chatty bartender who had developed a habit of striking up meandering conversations with waiting customers and fixing their orders only when he was good and ready. He could be a pain, but everyone at the Barn loved him. My attention was still trained on Swoledemort while he picked up his order, sliding Ernest what I assumed was a tip across the counter and walked out.
I came here often, The Barn. I knew the owner Auntie Joyce and her staff like we were family. It was only 10 minutes away from my school and the cosy diner fitted comfortably between the barber shop all the boys from school payed weekly homage to and a Tabac. I had project hangouts here and studied for my tests here. The diner’s ambience became especially welcoming when I needed to clear my head, and it seemed these days I was doing brain-decluttering and not much else.
Today had been one of those days. I was in my usual spot; a booth by the window with a great view of the counter so I could see everyone that walked in as well as monitor pedestrians. I loved observing the interesting characters. They piqued my easily-awoken curiosity and, quite frankly, were the only things that gave me inspiration to write lately.
I was absent-mindedly picking at my breakfast bun when a tray slid unto the table, startling me out of my reverie. I lifted my head just in time to see him slide into the seat across from me.
“Excuse me, would you mind if I sat here? Every where else is taken.”
I was stunned for all of 5 seconds. Looking around me, I was surprised to find that the Barn actually was full.
Typical Monday afternoon.
I must have been too deep in my own thoughts to not have noticed the low buzz of the conversation that had now filled the space, drowning the soft American music that had been playing.
How long have I been staring outside?
Realising he was staring at me, waiting as he drank his smoothie, I nodded my consent, took a bite of my muffin and pretended to be grossly interested in my phone. Maybe he’d be done eating soon and leave me to myself.
“You’ve stopped eating.”
He just sat there now, gazing intently at me.
“Well, so have you,” I retorted, nodding towards his dark red smoothie mix and whatever still sat in the brown paper bag. Maybe muffins. Wheat, I decided, considering what great shape he was in. Those were my muffins of choice after my morning run. He was dressed like he had just finished his, and he was wearing the Swoldemort tank again.
“Like it?” He was smiling.
“Sorry? Do I like what?”
“You tell me. You’ve been staring at my chest for a minute.”
I was too surprised to be affronted.
“What? No! I…I was not staring at your chest. I was reading the inscription on your shirt”
I shifted my glasses higher on my nose to better regard him. It was weird how he fit so comfortably into the setting of the diner. His skin matched he mahogany of the tables in each booth and when he leaned back into the green leather upholstery, his smile was bold and content, showing a beautiful set of teeth. He had crows feet in the corners of his eyes and brows so thick (and possibly groomed) that they hooded his eyes. He was stunning.
But right now, he was annoying.
Realising he had been teasing me and desperate to save face, I scoffed, “And ‘Swoldemort’? Could you be more vain?”
This made him laugh hard, making me inexplicably nervous. Shit. I hated getting nervous. My body usually betrayed my nervousness by breaking out into a cold sweat. This was not the time.
Putting out a hand he said,
“My name’s Kwaku. When I’m not rounding up Death Eaters I teach the third grade at the private school just around the corner. You must be new here. What’s your name?”
It was my turn to laugh as I took his hand. “Gerry. And I’m not new. I’ve lived here for a couple of years now. I study at the university at the end of the street.”
“That’s one you don’t hear often. Gerry…” He repeated slowly. It gave the impression of someone tasting wine for the first time and allowing their buds to savour that first sip. “I think your name is beautiful, Gerry. Do you come here often?”
“As often as I can. This is my spot, actually”,
“Is that right? It’s mine too. I love this little place. Although I must say it’s curious we haven’t seen each other here before today.”
“Yes,” I replied, my smile slight and coy, “How curious is that?”