May 1, 2008
By Masha Grigoreva, Palo Alto, CA

“Careless” was looking a lot like “callus” as the letters bubbled up and melted into the page. Crap, not another spill. Too lazy to find a napkin, I watched another fat purple drop glide down my sweetened Passion Tea and polka-dot the rest of the paragraph. Funny word, careless. I could still figure out what the bottom of page 79 meant to say; it was the scene where Jordan drives Nick home from a house party, and he calls her a rotten driver. “Suppose you met somebody just as careless as yourself,” he said. “I hope I never will,” she answered. “I hate careless people. That’s why I like you.”

She was probably trying to be coy, or witty, or something of the confident stereotype for which we think men go weak in the knees. But careless doesn’t always have to be a stereotype. It is equally fit, for example, for describing an evening in a dim parking lot where two heads glimpse in-between moonlit cars. Back in July careless had been the perfect word to describe it. We were walking to our houses, stealing five minutes as he “took out the trash” and I “visited Sasha”, who was one of my friends from the apartments across the street. We had a sweet conversation about nothing in particular; still, I felt genuinely happy to be walking next to a person who made my heart fall out of my butt every time he smiled.

Adam didn’t kiss me that night. As I left him by the lamppost, I felt excited and anxious, and a bit disappointed. Something we had talked about earlier that day persistently pounded my mind, pushing aside all other sane thoughts. Halfway up the stairs, I ran back down to meet his smiling eyes that almost knew what I was going to say.

“I just wanted to tell you, you were right,” I blurted out in one breath. “I [i]am[/i] pretty careless. About everything. Except, I’m not careless about you. I mean, careless is probably the wrong word here ‘cause it means something else…” Okay, I was mumbling. I mentally smacked myself upside the head. Come on, out with it, and maybe you can still save yourself from sounding completely pathetic. “What I mean to say is, I care about you.”

I trailed off, looking for a somewhat approving response in his stare. Any response would have been fine, actually, as long as he didn’t leave me hanging there like an idiot. And there it was, that toes-tingling smile you rarely see in guys because it comes from that part of the heart that’s usually buried under video games and sex.

“You know,” he said slowly. “When I marry… I want my wife to have some of your qualities.”

No fairy tale crap, no I’m-so-in-love-with-you confessions, no lame attempt to get at what he wants. He buried his gaze into my eyes. That was all that I needed.

I returned to my Gatsby (which has blackened and suffered one or seven coffee spills over the course of two weeks), casually looking around Starbucks and still obnoxiously sipping my Passion Tea. The door suddenly blew open as cute waiter arrived for his shift, and I couldn’t have snapped back to the book faster if my life depended on it. Sadly enough, I’ve never really experienced flirting – as soon as I was seriously interested in boys, Faraz showed up (or, to be more exact, Faraz showed up and I became seriously interested in boys), and since then the next guy has always come along before I had a chance to end it with the previous one.

Now that Adam is gone as of two weeks, I finally get to pull out the guns. To be honest, it’s amazing how many fish have been swimming under my nose this entire time. Sure I miss the relationship part, but why not test the waters while I still don’t have to worry about tying the knot and the crap that comes along with it? And okay, I also miss the feeling of being cared about. But the reason I broke it off with Adam is precisely because the caring-about part wasn’t there anymore. I promised myself I’d stop thinking about his horse laughter and his ginormous fingernails and how his palm always found its way to my chin because it’s all gone, like the last days of summer in a dusty classroom as you wonder how in the world a year flew by so fast.

“I’d like a grande cinnamon dolce latte. Make that skinny,” I told the towering bald man at the counter and offered my American Express. Behind the brewing machines and endless stacks of cups someone was waving at me. I smiled back at Mark, the cute waiter, whom I saw every other day since I practically live in the coffeeshop.

He said something to me that was swallowed by the wail of the machines; it was probably funny and teasingly insulting because he laughed and looked at the bald guy with a bit of uneasiness. Baldy shot me a raised eyebrow.

“You want foam on it?”

I just nodded. Maybe I was still smiling sheepishly because Baldy asked if I “knew that guy” and tossed his head in Mark’s direction. I nodded again.

“Yeah, well, he’s a lotta trouble,” Baldy stretched out each word. The boy laughed and said something that again was muffled by the coffee makers. Something in Baldy’s expression made me think twice about asking Mark to repeat what he said, so I grabbed my card and headed to the pickup counter.

“How’s the ending?” Mark shouted in-between pouring milk into one cup and adding cinnamon to the other. It took me a while to understand what he was talking about.

“You mean Gatsby? It was so sad!” Last time I visited Starbucks, I spent two hours reading the last chapters of the book with a cinnamon dolce in hand; Mark came up to me while he was wiping the tables (okay, “wiping” the tables) and we chatted for a few minutes about the story so far. He had read it before and said it was one of his favorites, and though he was dying to tell me how it all ended I begged him not to.

“Oh yeah?” his eyes flashed. He had pretty gray eyes.

“Especially the part where no one comes to his funeral.” I kept my sentences short to make his multitasking a little easier, which he wasn’t doing a good job of anyway. Hm, he got a haircut recently.

“Oh man, I know! I think the only book more depressing than that is Death of a Salesman.”

“Ugh, I could barely get through that one. School requirement. I mean it was sad, but it was just so badly written-”

We chatted in this manner for a while when people began lining up behind me for their drinks, and then even I felt a bit awkward interrupting his work. I stood there in silence, as he made everyone’s espressos, fidgeting with my elbow sleeves or my sunglasses or my jeans or my hair. Ew, I forgot about my hair. I came home at 11 last night and just literally collapsed on my bed, and this morning it resembled dry brown hay. I tried making it semi-presentable with clips but who was I kidding.

“Hurry up!” I smiled and lightly squinted at Mark as he poured yet another latte that wasn’t for me.

“You know what,” he raised his eyebrows very teasingly, “I think I might accidentally lose your cup.”

I laughed out loud, and so did Mark. Is this what flirting was? ‘Cause it felt freakin’ awesome. The line behind me was thinning out, and then I was alone. He finally handed me my cup, but just as I reached out to grab it he pulled back and said “well maybe not”. I giggled (is this how all inexperienced girls flirt? – despicable), he smiled and put it into my hand.

“It’s gonna be really good now, though,” he assured me.

“Well, it better be.”

He made a face. I was just leaving for my table when something – I really, honestly don’t know what – pulled me back to the counter.

“You know, Salesman was pretty sad. But to tell you the truth, I was glad when he died in the end,” I shouted over the incessant coffee machine.

“Seriously?” Mark looked surprised, but smiling. “You are cruel!”

“Aw come on, he was miserable! He needed that.”

“I dunno. I just saw some pretty depressing movies, and I really didn’t like them. They’re good movies, but the fact that the ending is so gloomy just makes me not want to watch them, you know?”

“Really? I actually went through a stage where I only liked sad movies. Because in life, there aren’t really happy endings.” I didn’t mean for this to come out sounding depressing, but I guess it did a little.

“My God, you are a morbid person,” Mark laughed.

I laughed too, to show that I’m not really a hopeless pessimist. “That was before! I like happy endings now. Hollywood, Disney, I’ll watch ‘em all.”

“Oh yeah? You like comedies?”

“Hmm… Yeah, but not all. I hate slapstick comedy.”

“Oh, that’s the worst.” Mark scrunched his nose. He was getting better at this multitasking thing. I wondered how old he was. He didn’t look older than an undergraduate, but definitely beyond a high school sophomore.

“Mmm, like Beerfest,” I added.

“Ugh. You know a good movie I recently watched? Forgetting Sarah Marshall.”

“Oh, I heard about that one. With Kristen Bell?”

Mark nodded approvingly. “It was hilarious. You should watch it.”

“You know a really good comedy? Juno.”

“Oh, then you’ll definitely like Sarah Marshall. I actually haven’t watched Juno myself.”

I gasped. This was my favorite movie and he hasn’t seen it?! “You’re kidding me. I watched it in the movie theaters [i]twice[/i]. It was worth the $20.”

We chatted some more before Mark glanced back at Baldy and said “you know, I really shouldn’t be talking. My boss isn’t exactly happy with me today...”

“Oh, of course. Sorry.” Just as I began walking back to my seat, he called me to wait a second.

“Hey, I’m having a barbecue…” He threw one of the Starbucks paper cup holders onto the counter and pulled out a pencil. “Why don’t you write down your phone number. I’m inviting people, and I want there to be someone special.” He accentuated the “special” and let out a laugh.

“Oh, I see how it is,” I smiled as I took the pencil in my hand. Crap, almost forgot. “Actually, I don’t have a cell phone,” I looked at him reluctantly. He shot back the same look. “But hey, do you have a facebook?” He nodded. “I’ll write down my name and you can look me up.”

“God you have neat handwriting,” he said as I was spelling out an A. I told him it was actually neater on normal paper (which wasn’t entirely true).

And with that, I waved a see-ya and walked back to my seat. Everything inside me was smiling until I picked up the Gatsby and flipped to where I left off.

And there it was, staring right at my face like the shameless monster it personified. We glared at each other for a few minutes, but I was bound to lose this blinking game and I knew it. You know, it was like passing by a really gory road accident that you really don’t want to look at but for some reason can’t turn your eyes away. The driver was careless, they would say. Just like road accidents and relationships and people.

Two more drops decorated page 79, but this time they didn’t fall from my drink.

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