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Love is Not My Cup of Tea
I glance down at my book cover, a fingerprint colored blue on one side and purple on the other. “Fingerprints,” the title says, “By Rachel Lewis.” I sigh, breathing in the rich smell of coffee. Starbucks is my favorite place to write as well as my favorite place to get coffee. I look at my drink, which is chai tea. I try to get something different everyday, and I’ve never gotten this drink before. I have to say though, I’m liking it.
My book may as well be hopeless; it’s a book for teens combining both magic and science in a different dimension. However, teen books are required to have romance in it and romance is just not my cup of tea. I give up on writing for today and I gather my stuff so I can walk home.
“Come on Big Nate,” my smart but at the same time, dumb friend Sean says. “You’re 26, you should be out having fun, and you should have a girlfriend. Instead, you’re teaching math at the UNM campus in Los Alamos. That’s sad.” I contemplate what he says but I just brush it off with my weight, like usual.
“It’s hard to find a girlfriend when you look like Winnie the Pooh,” I reply. I look over at Sean, who has obviously given up on me. He looks at his watch.
“Rats, I have a meeting at the lab soon. Looks like you’ll be having coffee by yourself.”
“Alright. See you tomorrow Sean.”
“Remember what I said Nate!” Sean shouts. I wave him off and go inside the Starbucks. When I go in, I see a woman walking towards me with a bunch of papers in her hands, her eyes trained on the ground. Is she a woman? She looks like a teenager with her converse sneakers, jeans, and short, brown, spiky hair. When I look closer though, I see that she’s about my age. I have no idea how long I have been gawking at her (am I gawking?) but she runs into me and she drops her papers.
“Aw crap,” I say, looking at my papers strewn on the floor. “Sorry I ran into you.” The big man in front of me is frozen so I bend down to pick up my papers.
“No, I’m sorry, I tend to get in the way sometimes,” the man tells me, gesturing at his belly. He bends down to help pick up my papers.
“No, I wasn’t looking, but if you want to, we can blame the floor, it seems tilted,” I joke. The man puts his head to the floor, making him look pretty funny.
“It doesn’t look tilted,” the man tells me.
“Look harder and maybe you’ll see,” he furrows his eyebrows.
“No, I still don’t see it.”
“All of the papers are picked up so if you give me what you picked up, you can look some more,” I continue, holding out my hand. That’s when I see his eyes, a dark blue that reminds me of the sea after a storm. His gaze is intense but warm at the same time, which scares me; no stranger has ever made me feel like that. We kneel there, silent for a few seconds. His voice breaks the silence though.
“Here’s your papers,” he offers my papers and another hand to help me up. I take both.
“Thank you,” I say while standing up. “And to let you know, the floor isn’t really tilted.”
“I knew that!” I shout after her as she heads out the door. I feel my cheeks turn red from embarrassment. I don’t know why I do that, I thought only girls blush, but I guess not. I rub my eyes and go sit down. I see a paper there so I pick it up.
“Fingerprints. By Rachel Lewis,” I read aloud. Is this the girl’s paper? I have no idea so I tuck it into my pants pocket so I can ask her tomorrow. I don’t know why I want to give it to her; she could easily print another one. Am I making an excuse to see her? I almost scoff at myself, since I know I’m crazy. Why would a girl like that want to see someone like me again? I’m not just crazy, I’m insane.
I find myself staring at the screen of my laptop. Raina, the main character in my book, has just met Niko, the guy who’s supposed to be her boyfriend. How do people fall in love? I drum my fingers on the counter and then reach for my mocha, one of my favorite drinks to get at Starbucks. I close my laptop and I sip my coffee when I feel someone next to me.
“Is this yours?” the man with the storm-swept eyes asks. I turn around and sure enough, it’s him and he’s holding my book cover.
“Uh yes, thank you!” I answer, sounding like an idiot. “I was wondering where it went.” I take the paper from him.
“So Rachel, what is that for?” I feel a surge of electricity flow through me when he says me name. Strangely, my name feels like it’s supposed to be on his tongue, like it belongs.
“It’s my book cover,” I tell him. “What’s your name? I never got it.”
She wants to know my name. “Nathan Harrison but I liked to be called Nate. My friends call me Big Nate,” I answer.
“Nate,” she tests my name. It sounds natural coming from her and I like that she doesn’t call me Big Nate. For once, I want someone to see past the big part and just see me.
“You never told me what your book is about, Are you a writer?” I ask, looking into her brown eyes.
“No, I’m not a writer, I’m a physicist at the lab,” she half-answers. “What do you do?”
“Me? I teach math at the UNM campus here in Los Alamos. Very boring.” I smile at that but I make sure it fades quickly; I try not to let people see my feelings. My friends call my smile a ghost, they’re not sure it was ever there but it haunts them afterwards. I look at my phone, checking the time. I like to be home in time for Supernatural, my favorite TV show.
“I have to go but it was nice meeting you Nate,” I bid the stranger farewell, who, in some ways, does not feel like a stranger. I get up quickly but I feel fingers drag along the tender part of my wrist and catch my own fingers. I turn around, my arm tingling.
“It was nice to meet you too Rachel Lewis, physicist slash shy writer. I hope to see you soon,” Nate says. I give him my ghost smile and turn around fast. When I walk out the door, the feel of his touch still lingers, refusing to go away.
“You need to see her again!” Sean exclaims, his green eyes almost popping out of his sockets. I silently laugh at that image.
“No, she’ll think I’m a stalker,” I say. It seems that his normally impeccable hair is wild and crazy now. I shake my head and rub my eyes. He must be really excited.
“I’ll come with you,” Sean suggests. The voice in my head screams no but when I think about it, it might be a good idea.
“Alright,” I say, a grin forcing its way on my face.
“Big Nate has a plan doesn’t he?” Sean asks, his tone of voice telling me that his thoughts have strayed into dangerous territory. Like I said before, he’s smart, but dumb at the same time. He’s a chemist at the National Lab so he doesn’t get out much.
“Sean, I know what you’re thinking. No.”
“How do you know?”
“I just do,” I tell him. “Let’s go to Starbucks.”
I hear the door open behind me so I whip my head around to look, hoping it’s Nate. Why am I hoping it’s Nate? I barely know him. He comes in with this dorky looking guy I think I recognize from the lab. I think he’s either a chemist or a computer scientist. Don’t know, don’t care. They sit down at a table across the room after ordering their drinks. My heart sinks; I hoped he would come sit next to me. Oh well, I shouldn’t care (why do I care?).
“Rachel!” a voice calls. I don’t know why but I have memorized the sound of his voice. Creepy huh? I turn around and wave at Nate. “Come sit with us!” My heart starts to flutter like hummingbird wings. I walk over and as soon as Nate pulls the seat out, the dorky guy gets up and leaves.
“Bye,” I wave at the guy as soon as the door closes behind him.
I hate Sean. I make a mental note to berate him the next time I see him. “Sorry, I guess he had a meeting or something,” I lie through my teeth. It’s a little white lie though, can’t hurt. At least I’m alone with Rachel.
“Ah, I have a friend like that. She’s very elusive,” she shares.
“So you have a Sean too? They’re hard work aren’t they?” I joke. She laughs, each chuckle an echo of the last one. It’s beautiful really.
“No, Anna’s not that hard to manage, it’s just hard to get her to stay in one place for long,” Rachel tells me. I watch her take her phone out of the pocket of her skinny jeans. She looks at the time and looks up at me. “I have to go. It was nice seeing you again.”
“Let me walk you home,” I say almost automatically since I know I will never have the courage to ask if I thought about it. She looks at me warily, as if deciding whether to trust me or not. I get up and offer my hand. “Don’t worry Rachel; I’m not a stalker, just a man who wants to be your friend.” I smile, hoping I did not just ruin my chance at a friendship with her.
“I don’t think you are either,” she says and takes my hand.
I guide him out of the Starbucks and I let go of his hand. I do not know why I took his hand; it was just this crazy impulse. The first few minutes are silent so I try to find a good question to ask.
“So Nate, do you believe in love at first sight?” I ask, immediately regretting it.
“I think it can happen, anything’s possible, you?” he throws the question back at me.
“I don’t know. I think you have to get to know a person first. I think the love at first sight is a judge a book by its cover kind of thing. I’m not the best person to ask though, love is not my cup of tea,” I answer.
“Have you ever been in love?” I freeze. “Are you okay Rachel?”
“Yeah,” I assure him. “I just realized I forgot to do something at the lab. Oh well, I can do it tomorrow.” The truth is that his question shocked me. I haven’t been in love before. I don’t even know what love for a man feels like. “To answer your question, no, I have never been in love before. Have you?’
“I thought I was once but it didn’t work out,” he says. “Is this your house?”
“Um yeah. Thanks for walking me home. Will I see you tomorrow?” I ask Nate.
“I’m there. You should bring Anna, I brought Sean today.”
“I’ll ask her,” I open my door and step in, swinging it shut behind me. My knees are shaking and my heart is fluttering. “What is the matter with you Rachel? Get a grip.” I whisper to myself. I lied to Nate; I have been in love before. I will not put myself in that position ever again. I don’t know if I can take it.
I sit in the Starbucks waiting for Rachel and her friend Anna while sipping a small caramel macchiato (I’m trying to lose weight, but I know I’m kidding myself). After a few minutes, I know to turn around, almost like it’s this instinct. I see Rachel in her usual skinny jeans and this skinny, blonde girl trailing behind her who must be her friend Anna. The way she dresses reminds me of spring, she has soft, pastel colors and brown mixed in her outfit. I see Rachel whisper to Anna and point in my direction. A sly kind of smile sneaks across her face. I hope it’s a good thing. Once Rachel is done whispering, Anna skips over to me and sticks out her hand.
“Hi! I’m Rachel’s idiot friend Anna!” she bombards me.
“Uh hi, I’m Rachel’s big friend Nate,” I introduce myself.
“I know! I’ve heard about you!” I look at Rachel, who is shaking her head and smiling at Anna. “I’m going to get Rachel and me drinks,” and off she goes.
“Bubbly, isn’t she?” Rachel says. She pulls her leather jacket tighter around her and she crosses her legs.
“Yes, she certainly is! She must be hard to keep up with,” I guess.
“Sometimes she is, but she’s a lot of fun.”
“And why does she introduce herself as an idiot?” I ask.
“She lost her cell phone today,” Rachel answers.
“Ah, I see.”
I’m letting my guard down. I feel too comfortable around Nate; I’m actually smiling around him now, not the ghost smiles I usually give out. I sit in the chair next to him and soon, Anna is in the chair on Nate’s other side. She slides my Mocha towards me and I catch it, the warmth instantly sinking into my skin.
“So Nate,” Anna starts. “Rachel tells me you’re a math professor at the UNM campus here in Los Alamos. Is that correct?” I throw my head back. I can’t believe Anna just told Nate that I was talking about him! He’ll take it the wrong way! Surprisingly though, he doesn’t turn around and smirk at me like a lot of guys do. He just answers her question.
“Yep, that’s correct. What do you do at the lab?” he asks Anna.
“I’m a mathematician there, one of three actually so I’m quite busy,” Anna replies.
“And you call yourself an idiot. Fascinating.”
“I know! I’m a very fascinating person,” Anna says as she scoots closer to Nate. I have no idea why, but that bothers me so I interrupt their conversation.
“Anna, you asked me to remind you of that meeting you have today. Is it time for you to go?” I ask. She looks at her watch and her eyes widen.
“You’re right Rachel, I completely forgot! Thanks, I would be so lost without you!” Anna takes her drink and is out the door. Hmm, she actually had a meeting. I just made that up too!
“Good, she’s gone,” Nate says to me. “I mean, not that I don’t like her, she’s nice, but I’d rather talk to you.” As of the moment, I’m trying so hard not to let my guard down. So I just stay quiet, hoping Nate will fill the empty silence between us.
Rachel stays quiet so I come up with a question.
“What do you want to talk about?” I inquire.
“Superheroes,” Rachel blurts out. “Uh, what’s your favorite superhero?” I like that question, she comes up with good topics.
“Spiderman. My lunchbox has his face on it,” I tell her. “Yours?”
“Nice,” I want to show Rachel something. “Hey Rachel, do you want to go for a walk? I know a really cool place.” She takes a few seconds to decide before she says yes. Once she nods, I take her hand, which is warm and dry, like a hand should feel. The path isn’t far from the Starbucks so I try to keep holding her hand for as long as possible until I find the small forest path. I’m about to show Rachel Lewis, a stranger, my heart.
Should I or should I not? That is the question. Nate starts up the path before I have time to decide so I go with what I want and that is to follow him up the path. We walk between tall pines for a half hour or so before we arrive at a small clearing with a stream running through it. By the time we arrive, sunset is almost giving way to night. To the left, there’s a cave and to the right, there’s a small wall made out of mud.
“What is this?” I ask.
“This,” Nate spreads his arms out at the clearing. “Is my heart.”
“Your heart?” Okay, now I’m scared. If he shows me his heart, am I expected to show him mine? Nate heads over to the cave and takes out a rusted lunchbox.
“Yes, my heart. Everything I care about is here. Now, Batman’s face used to be on this lunchbox. Why is batman your favorite superhero?” Nate asks me.
“Because Batman proved that just an ordinary man can be an extraordinary hero. He proved that a superhero doesn’t need superpowers. A superhero just needs a heart and a whole lot of willpower,” I answer.
“Can I become a superhero?” I ask Rachel. She smiles.
“Batman trained his whole life to become a superhero, you didn’t. You may not be able to save Gotham City Nate, but you may be able to save just one person and in my book, that’s a superhero,” Rachel tells me. I look into her brown eyes that seem so full of pain. Wow, maybe I can be a superhero. I put away the lunch box and I take Rachel over to the wall of dried mud, which protects a fairy village.
“When I was a kid, I liked to think that at night, fairies would come out and live in this village for a while. I would stay up all night, just waiting for those fairies to come but they never did. Someday they’ll come. I like to hold on to that belief and I think that’s why people call me innocent sometimes, because I still believe in my fairy village,” I tell her.
“It’s like me and my stories,” Rachel compares. “I put my what if’s, predictions, and possibilities in my writing and I think it’ll come true as long as I keep it to myself. I never grew up; I’m still lost in this purgatory between adolescence and adulthood,” I think I hear her voice crack. What we have just shared with each other, it was intimate. We both showed raw parts of our hearts that could have been exposed to salt. We chose to relate. I realize two things in that moment. One, Rachel and I are very different but we share some important things in common. Two, that I love her, so love at first sight must exist because I saw it in us.
“Rachel,” I whisper, drawing nearer to her.
“Yes?” I can’t see her in the darkness but I can tell that we’re close, so close that I can feel her breath on my lips.
“Let me be your superhero.”
I turn towards the trail and I start to run. I think I hear Nate call my name but he does not follow me. Good. How could he do that? We just met a few days ago. My lungs sear with pain, trying to get every gasp of air it can, but I ignore the pain and keep running. The truth is that I want to love Nate, I do, but I swore that I’d never fall in love again. I get to the street in about ten minutes so I must have been running pretty fast. I walk for a few minutes before I start to jog towards my house. I get to my plain, white house that will never be pretty, even when I turn old and my interests shift to gardening. I swing the door open and I head to the shower. I get in the tub and I turn the shower on to a lukewarm temperature. I’m huddled in a ball, clothes and all, when it starts to rain.
“A bucket full of starfish, warm rain, the long sleep,” I start to recite my favorite poem. “Sleep now and sleep forever good,” so I close my eyes and pretend that warm rain is washing all my worries away. However, it will never rain enough to wash away that terrible memory. After a while, I turn off the water and I just lie there shivering. I fall asleep like that and my last thought before drifting away is the realization that I’ll fall asleep like this for the rest of my life, cold and alone.
Sean whacks me in the back of my head.
“Big Nate!” he starts to scold me. “What the hell were you thinking? You just ruined every chance with this girl!”
“I am aware of that Sean and I am depressed about it so all you are doing is just rubbing salt on my wound,” I whine.
“Your hair is a mess.”
“Shut up,” I guess I insulted Sean because he harrumphs and goes to his lab meeting early. Good. He’s a lot of fun, but he gets annoying after a while.
“You look like a dork,” Anna says behind me.
“I have my reasons for being like this,” I tell her. Anna looks more like a river bed now with a brown skirt and a blue sweater.
“Rachel is the same way today. She looks terrible, like hypothermia terrible and she got stupid. Literally, she forgot how an imaginary number is imaginary, which is the easiest thing in the world!” I smile, but there’s something about Anna that I don’t like. Before I can say anything, she drags me into Starbucks.
“Would you like anything?” I ask, trying to be polite.
“Sure Nate thanks! I’ll have a vanilla bean frap,” I order it for her. As she sucks her frappachino, she stares into my eyes, it’s uncomfortable actually. “You know, Rachel has this problem with love. I call her a loveless freak sometimes,” Anna shares. Again with the names. What is with all those insults?
“I don’t know if she’s that,” I reply. “I think she’s just afraid or she thinks it all happened too fast.”
“She’s a freak. She doesn’t know love like I do. If it’s love you’re looking for, you can find it in me.”
“Look, it’s not that I don’t like you-“ I’m interrupted.
“You hate me don’t you? You think I’m too blunt and ugly right?” she asks.
“Blunt yes, but ugly, no.”
“Yeah right. Prove it. Take me on a date tomorrow, pick me up here.”
“But-“ and she’s out of the building. Damn it, I have a date with the devil apparently.
Okay, I am going to get my act together today. I am going to tell Nate the reason I ran away and then I’m going to ask if we can be friends. Yes, friends is such a nice word. I go out my door and go to work. I have lunch with Anna and she seems so much more sympathetic today. Yesterday she was calling me stupid because I had a brain fart!
“Rachel, you should treat yourself to dinner today,” Anna advises me.
“That’s not a bad idea,” I say before I dig into my sandwich. “Are you coming with me?”
“No, I have to do something here,” Anna answers.
“Hmm, I think I’ll go to the Blue Window.”
When I pull up my station wagon into the Starbuck’s parking lot, Anna is there smiling and dressed like a rainbow.
“Nice car,” she says when she opens the door. Another insult.
“It’s humble but comfy,” I say in my car’s defense. “And his name is Horatio,” Anna doesn’t smile.
“That’s a terrible name and I hate that cop show,” Anna responds.
“Actually, it’s CSI. Where do you want to go eat?” I ask.
“Surprise me,” Anna tells me. So I drive her to the Blue Window, my second favorite restaurant. I’ll take Rachel to my favorite restaurant when she finally makes up her mind.
Before dinner, I want to try to make up with Nate and hopefully, if he forgives me, we can go together to the Blue Window. I’m wearing my nice black pants with a dress shirt for dinner. I am across the street from Starbucks, but right before I cross, I see what looks like Anna. Huh? I thought she was at the lab. I cross the street and hide behind a tree in front of Starbucks. I see Nate in a station wagon and I almost go up to see him but Anna comes up and starts talking to him. She gets in the car. Okay, what? I’ll have to ask Anna about it tomorrow, I’m not worrying today; I’m going to get a good dinner.
I walk to the Blue Window and I get seated. When I’m finished ordering, I turn my head and I see Nate and Anna at a table. What is going on? I get up and walk over to Anna to try to get an answer out of her. I approach the table but they don’t notice me. Anna is talking to Nate and Nate looks bored.
“Anna? I thought you had a meeting at the lab,” I let her know I’m here.
“Rachel!” she seems surprised. “My meeting was cancelled so I went to Starbucks. Nate was there and he suggested that we go here for dinner and talk or something.”
“Ahh, I see. Well, have fun,” I tell them.
“Rachel, sit with us,” Nate asks me, his stormy eyes pleading at me.
“I already ordered my food.”
“Why did you lie?” I ask Anna.
“Would you like to tell Rachel that we’re on a date? In her state, that’s not a good idea,” Anna answers. I consider leaving Anna and going over to Rachel to beg for her forgiveness, but I stop myself and stay with Anna. The whole time Anna talked, but I didn’t hear any of it since I was staring at Rachel. We leave after a while and I take Anna home. She opens the door and she stands there for a while. “Well, are you going to walk me to my door?” she asks. I sigh and escort her.
“Good night,” I say. Before I can turn my head towards my car, I feel Anna’s lips on me. I consider pulling away, but I haven’t had this for so long so I fall into Anna, who I hate so I know it’s wrong, but I do it anyway. “Bye,” I breathe out and go towards my car. However, I see someone’s face looking at me, her eyes telling me that I’m the worst person in the world. Then I feel the worst pain in the world.
I lost Rachel. I lost her probably forever. The only woman I will probably ever love-my Rachel-is gone.
I hate Nate. He tells me he wants to be my superhero and then he goes off and kisses my best friend. I hate Anna too; she was all over him, even though she knew what was going on. Ugh, I hate people. I think I hear Nate call my name, but I keep walking, he’s not worth turning around for. I wanted so bad not to get my heart broken again. I was right to run away from him yesterday night. I hear footsteps behind me. That better not be Nate or I am going to beat his butt.
“Shhh,” I hear someone whisper. Is that Nate? Why would he be telling me to hush up? I don’t care, all I want is to go back home. I’m almost to the Blue Window parking lot when I hear shuffling and whispering.
“Who’s there?” I call out.
“You don’t remember me?” a familiar voice asks. “I’m your boyfriend,” I freeze. Noah is out of jail? My old boyfriend, who tried to rape me, but before he could do anything, I socked in the nose and ran to the police, is back? This is bad, very bad.
“Noah,” I turn around to try to face him, but I can’t see his face. “Just go away before you do something you’ll regret.”
“Who said I’m going to do something I’ll regret?” Noah says sleazily. “I’m here to finish a job that I never finished, and that job is you,” I turn around and try to run, but he just grabs my jacket and shoves me to the ground. My head slams into the asphalt, but I fight unconsciousness. Someone’s boot kicks my ribs and I look to see what the source is. This other man kicked me so Noah must have an accomplice.
“Noah,” I strain to talk. “Stop,” I get a kick to the head and this time, I can’t fight it so I slip into unconsciousness. Just before everything fades into black, I hear the screech of tires and I see a large form come out of a car. Then, nothing.
“I wish I had gotten there sooner Rachel,” I tell her. She looks so frail and weak now with bruises on her head. She used to look so strong and tough. When I got to where those guys and Rachel were, one guy just fled, but the other I had to punch to make him leave. Neither of them laid a finger on me, but I wish I could say the same for Rachel. Why would they want to do that to her? Why? “Rachel, I’m sorry Batman couldn’t arrive in time to save you, he’s just an ordinary man. Squeeze my hand if you can hear me Rachel,” I feel nothing. “I’ll go ahead anyway. I’m sorry about what happened with Anna, I was lonely and she was there. It’s not her fault it’s mine so don’t hold it against her. Although, I can’t see why you like her, she’s mean, but I want you to forgive her nonetheless. Also Rachel, I love you. I know you got your heart broken by that creep, but he’s gone and I will never let anybody hurt you again. I’ll be your superhero. If you can find it within your heart to forgive me, I promise to never let you down again.”
I feel a squeeze.
Nate and I started dating after the incident. Having that close a call with losing my life taught me that life is not really worth living without some sort of love in your life. We decided to go to Mexico for a summer getaway and today is the last day of our vacation and I’m sort of sad that it has to end. Today, Nate is making me hike all the way up this cliff so it better be worth climbing. We’re almost to the top and Nate gets behind me to cover my eyes.
“What are you doing?” I ask. A breeze comes along and blows my saran in the wind.
“You’ll see,” Nate answers. “By the way, I love the combination of a bikini, saran, and tennis shoe,” he jokes.
“Whatever. Flip flops aren’t that great for climbing up mountains,” I retort. He laughs. We reach level ground and Nate stops us. He uncovers my eyes and shows me the beautiful sight before me. White sand beaches line the edges of the clear, blue sea. The sun is setting, casting pinks, oranges, yellows, and red onto the blue ocean surface. All that’s missing is Nate’s arms around me. I turn around while talking.
“Hey, get over here-“ I gasp. Nate has a red, velvet box in his hands and he bends down to kneel. He opens the box, revealing a diamond ring with black stones studded in the band. The diamond is a simple round one but with the black stones, the ring seems so unique. “Nate. What is this?” I whisper.
“Rachel, I love you and when I met you, I knew that there was such a thing as true love at first sight,” Nate starts. “Please Rachel; let me be your superhero. Please, marry me,” he holds out the box, waiting for my answer.
“My god,” I whisper. “Nate, love is not my cup of tea,” his smile starts to fade. “But- even though I’m sure you’ll experience hours of frustration, yes!” Nate jumps up to embrace and kiss me. And we stay like that for a long time, until one of us lets go and that’s long after dark.