The Future is a Dark Cup of Coffee
by Melissa R. Mendelson
“Are you ticking?”
Anna looked up to see Jimmy holding a vanilla ice cream cone out to her. She took the ice cream from him and smiled. She felt guilty checking her watch. She stared at him as he sat down on the bench beside her. He looked at his watch.
“Are you ticking,” Anna asked.
Jimmy smiled. He took a bite of his vanilla ice cream. He watched Anna laugh and point to the side of his mouth. He took a napkin to wipe the spot but missed it. Anna leaned forward and wiped the ice cream away from his mouth.
“I asked you first,” Jimmy said. “You keep checking your watch.”
Anna looked away. She licked her ice cream. She never intended on meeting him. The thought of those online dating websites gave her knots in her stomach. She had met a lot of questionable men in the past, some that left their mark, and she was done with dating. She couldn’t be bothered with it, and then she bumped into him at a bagel place of all places. That was one month ago.
“I’m just worried about time,” Anna said. Did she have time to date? Would Jimmy be the one? Would she marry him and have kids? What if they got a divorce? How much time would she lose, if she stayed with him?
“I don’t worry about it.” Jimmy sat back against the bench. He ate his ice cream. “One could go crazy trying to plan their time. I’ve seen my parents do it, and I promised myself not to be that way. Just let things happen. Like meeting you.” He smiled at Anna. “I never planned on meeting you.”
“Same. I just worry about wasting time, my time.”
“You worry too much.” He watched her eat ice cream, biting into the cone. “Do you regret meeting me?”
“What? No. Why would you ask me that?”
“I don’t know. You seemed happy in the beginning. Things were great, and now… I don’t know. I feel like you’re pushing me away.”
“Jimmy, I don’t regret meeting you.” Anna touched his hand. Their touch was sticky from the ice cream. She pulled her hand away. “I need to wash my hands.”
“There’s a water fountain over there.” Jimmy pointed towards it. He finished his ice cream. “Are you done?”
“Yeah.” Anna wrapped her cone up in her napkin. She handed it to Jimmy. “Thank you. I’ll go wash my hands.”
Anna walked over to the water fountain. She pushed the pedal with one foot, and water gushed out from the top. She would never drink from these things, but they couldn’t kill you. It would just make you sick, if it was contaminated. She turned around, half expecting Jimmy to be gone, but he stood a short distance away, watching her. She never planned on meeting him, and he was right. She should be happy, but she had a knot in her stomach.
“What’s wrong?” He took her by the hand and led her down the path.
“It’s getting dark, Jimmy. We shouldn’t walk in the park after dark.”
“Stop worrying. Okay? We’re fine.” He kissed her on the cheek.
“What if we get mugged? What if someone tries to kill us?”
“They know the rules, Anna. If someone deliberately takes a life, they forfeit their own or a loved one.”
“What if they are Undecided?”
“It’s the same rule, Anna. It’s the way it works, regardless if they are with the program or not. Is that why you are so worried?”
“Look, Jimmy.” Anna stopped walking. Jimmy stood beside her. “What is this?”
“Us? What are we? Are we serious, or is this just fun to you?”
Jimmy stepped back. He let go of her hand. He looked hurt. “Fun? Okay. Let’s talk about that. You were a lot of fun in the beginning. I mean…. Things were great. The sex was great.” Anna blushed at that. “This past week, I feel like you’ve changed.” He watched her check her watch. “Are you out of time? Is that what is going on?”
“No. I’m just…. Worried. Jimmy, I’ve wasted so much time already. I’ve wasted my life on men that I thought I would end up with and have a family, and it never turned out that way. You’re not like those men. You’re different, but I’m scared that…”
“What?” Jimmy stepped closer. “What are you afraid of, Anna?”
“Are we serious, Jimmy? I need to know. I don’t want to waste any more time.”
“Do I want to marry you? No.” Jimmy watched Anna look at her feet. “Why does marriage have to be a big deal or having a family? It’s like punching a clock.”
“My clock is ticking,” Anna said.
“So, you are ticking.”
“Not that kind of ticking, Jimmy.”
“Oh.” Jimmy stepped back. He rubbed the back of his head. “Look, I’m not against having kids. We could try right now.”
“I’m serious, Jimmy, and in my family, you get married first before having kids.”
“The world’s not like that anymore, Anna.”
“I know, but it would make my parents happy. You don’t get it.” Anna walked past him.
“Oh, I get it.” Jimmy hurried over to her, taking her by the hand. “You live your life, Anna according to your parents. You do whatever they ask of you. You never once asked what you wanted. What do you want, Anna?”
“I want you, Jimmy, and I want you to want me.” Tears raced down her face. “I don’t want you to leave me.”
Jimmy let go of her hand. “I never planned on meeting you. This year wasn’t supposed to go this way.” He started walking, and Anna walked beside him. “You’ve made me so happy, Anna. I wanted tonight to be the perfect night with us. Just you and me in the park walking under the stars. Maybe, taking a stroll under lover’s bridge.”
“Jimmy.” Anna blushed again.
“Just a thought.” Jimmy laughed but grew quiet. He continued walking. “I don’t know how things would go with us. Marriage? Kids? I figured if it happened, it happened. I don’t plan, Anna.”
“I know.” Anna touched his hand, but he moved away. “Do you want to break up with me?”
“Do you? Is this what you’ve been working yourself up to all day?”
“No. I don’t know.” Anna placed her hands together. “I don’t know, Jimmy. Maybe, you’re right. Maybe, I let my parents control my life. Maybe, I’m afraid to do my own thing. I know I worry a lot, and I feel like if I try to do something, go out on my own, I won’t be there for my parents, and they need me.”
“They need you to live your life, Anna. Use the time that you have.”
“My birthday’s next week.”
Jimmy froze at her words. He closed his eyes. He could hear the ticking from his watch. He opened his eyes and stared up at the sky. The stars were coming into view. They were beautiful, and so was she.
“Did you hear what I said?”
“I did,” Jimmy said.
“You never told me when your birthday is. Only that we’re the same age.”
“I’m happy that I met you, Anna. I don’t regret it.”
“I don’t either, and I’m sorry about today.” She stepped closer to him.
Jimmy wrapped his arms around her, pulling her against his body. She shook a little, and he smiled. He reached down and placed his lips against hers. They pressed together for a long time. He finally pulled away.
“Today’s my birthday,” he whispered.
“I didn’t know.” Anna touched his arm. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I love you.”
Anna watched Jimmy disappear in front of her. She could still feel his touch, his lips pressed against hers. She reached out and touched the empty space. “You were the one that was ticking.” She cried. “I love you too,” she whispered.
Anna felt the knot in her stomach. It was like a butterfly. She placed a hand over her stomach and smiled. Jimmy was gone, but he left something behind, a piece of him. And she would not worry about it, nor would she make plans for the rest of her time. She would let things happen like that chance encounter at the bagel place, where she met the love of her life.