I decided. I decided that whatever I had worked on earlier was crap, and that I truly, truly needed to immerse myself in something that was not forced crap, because writers don’t just write one month out of the year, and I cringe to think that I have been allowing myself to slack, yes slack, for so long JUST CAUSE.
There is something undeniably intimidating about a coffee shop, even one as casual and commonplace as Starbucks. I think it’s because there is a language to ordering coffee, and only the barista and caffeine addicts really know it. The rest of us just squint at the menu and mumble the least offensive sounding thing, tongue tripping over the foreign language. Or we go off the suggestions of friends and relatives who know better. I once read in a book that coffee shops were designed to be the exact opposite of the fast paced, take it and run mentality that is apparent in the States — they were meant as a place to socialize, to sit and linger for hours on end either in conversation with another or immersed in one’s own thoughts. Basically, a drive-thru Starbucks was never supposed to be part of the equation.
As I stand in line, I am having a mixture of feelings. I am ready to run run run run, but I am here to meet someone, so I must stay. I don’t know if I will be here for the next twenty minutes or two hours. Because I don’t know who is coming here to meet me. Why that is can be summed up in two words I now despise.
Now, you may be wondering, why would anyone despise Secret Santa? You put your name in a hat, some one else gets it, and they buy you stuff! FREE STUFF. It might be lemon scented lotion or a blackened wick candle, but hey. IT’S FREE. And who complains about free stuff?
Well, my school’s Secret Santa was not about free stuff. It was about match making hidden under the guise of charity. The Student Government wanted to raise money for the local food pantry in time for Christmas. So instead of having a bake sale, or selling candy canes, they decided to charge students $5 to fill out a paper with their name and a list of interests, and then they would match people up based on said interests. They called it Secret Santa, I guess because your true love is Santa (??) and obviously because it was a secret. This happened a couple weeks ago, and I guess the kids in my school (and me) were really itching to help the hungry, because they raised over $500. Today everyone in homeroom got a slip of paper telling them the time and place to meet their match. Mine was 7:00 at the Starbucks on Huntley. I arrived at 6:45 because I wanted to make sure I was there first. I figured if I was terrified by my match, I could always hide out in the bathroom.
As the line inched forward, I wondered about my match. I didn’t really talk to any of the guys at school, and I hadn’t questioned whether they would put me with someone who wasn’t in my class (I was a sophomore, so it wouldn’t be too bad). I had written down that I enjoyed playing basketball, watching movies, and playing the piano. You only had space for three interests, which wouldn’t reveal much about anyone, so I tried to pick the three things that I really enjoyed doing. I figured, if someone else liked those things as well, we could get through the night with some conversation.
The person in front of me ordered, and I generated a new worry. What if I was interested in the guy that came, but he wasn’t interested in me? What if I kept trying to keep him here, and he simply wanted to leave? WHAT IF MY MATCH NEVER EVEN SHOWED UP?
I admit, I was starting to hyperventilate a little at this point. I put my hand on my chest and slowed my breathing into even breaths. I concentrated on the Christmas music that was being piped in, some hip and punky version of ‘Silent Night’. I stared at the tinsel strung in front of the counter and all its twinkliness. I assured myself that the guy would have mega curiosity about his match, and would most assuredly show up. The person in front of me paid, and I stepped up to the counter.
I was surprised to see that Mike from my Spanish class was the barista. Mike and I didn’t know each other super well, just mostly from being paired up in class to read awkwardly in Spanish to each other. He was funny in the voices department, always trying to read exactly as the character he was portraying might, whether it was a little nino or someone’s abuela.
“Hi,” I said, feeling that weirdness that always seems to happen when you see someone outside of normal circumstances. He was wearing the required starch green apron, and a fitted visor.
“Hey,” he greeted me. “What are you doing here?”
I rolled my eyes, pretending I was put out. “Helping out the hungry and homeless. I’m here to meet my Match from that fundraiser thing.”
“Really? What time is your match supposed to be here?” I checked my phone.
“In about five minutes, actually. If they show up. Is it bad to ask for your money back when you give it to charity?”
“I think that’ll definitely get you on the naughty list,” he joked before he jerked his thumb back at the menu. “Get you something to drink while you wait? Or eat? The pound cake is really good here.”
“You know, I really don’t know what to get,” I admitted. “I don’t really come to Starbucks.”
“I’ll pick then. The peppermint white chocolate mocha is a really good combo. You good with whipped cream?”
“Yes!” he grinned. I pulled out some cash, but he waved it away and gestured to the tip jar, which was merrily decorated in green and red.
“On the house, since you’re a Starbucks newbie.”
There was another barista there who was making the drinks while he took orders, but he switched with her so he could make my drink and talk to me. We talked about the awkwardness of the Secret Santa fundraiser and how much we hated taking Spanish, and whether or not we would continue after our second year. It was not an interesting conversation by any means, not something I would want transcribed for future generations, but I enjoyed it. I enjoyed it a lot. I liked the way he let me finish my thoughts, and replied with a funny comment, all while his hands swiftly moved through the dance of making my coffee.
It was funny, but I was a little sad that our time was over as he turned his back on me to fix a lid and coffee wrap on the cup.
“Here you go,” he said, handing it to me with a slow smile. At first I didn’t get it, why his smile was so big, and then when I took the cup and saw the writing scribbled on the side, I got it. And I smiled too.
for MY secret Santa 🙂