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Amid the din of busy Grinders Coffee Shop, silence like the centre of a hurricane enveloped them both. “Could this honestly get any suckier?” Fergus wondered to himself as he grasped his own sweaty, nervous fingers under the table, yanking then releasing them one after the other.
He was waiting for an answer to come from his date Willow, sitting opposite him. This was their first meeting. She’d said she was 27. She was not only wearing ‘awkward’ like it was her own exclusive fashion label but by this stage of the date had taken to incessant hair-twirling in an effort to get through the lumbering silences that felt by now as long as a freight train.
Willow had already taken so long to answer one of his earlier questions that Fergus had classified her as ‘negligently tardy.’
Fergus commenced tapping his Ray-Bans quietly on the marble coffee table, being careful not to disturb the two polished silver stir-stick containers in the centre; the same ones he’d positioned and repositioned more than a dozen times.
Like a finger-drumming leopard straining on a leash, he’d been holding back for a nerve-jangling ten minutes the urge to employ what he thought of as his secret weapon when it came to dealing with his so-called ‘executive functioning issues’ brought on by social situations like the one he found himself in at this moment. He figured he needed a few smart moves in his psychological trick bag just to get by.
Horizontal-striped-tie-accompanied-by-vertically-striped-dress-shirt-wearing Fergus could wait no longer. The silent countdown in his synapse-misfiring head began: “10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4...”
If the countdown reached the dreaded 'zero' — as had occurred on previous first-date disasters — it was all over. He'd be back in his apartment with his feet up on the couch ironic-watching re-runs of Sex and the City within the half hour while trying to explain to himself how yet again everything had all gone wrong.
Above the noise of one of the baristas firmly tapping out used grounds from the filter machine and other employees calling out orders, hair-twirling Willow let out a huge breath and finally responded: “If you’re asking me to choose between having super strength and super speed, then I’ll take speed.”
Even with his overriding tendency to take words and their meanings literally, Fergus, whose heavy eyelids always hung at half mast, giving him a sleepy, bored look but who otherwise had the sort of face you forget even while looking at it, could sniff, along with the aromatic scent of espresso, a hint of freshly-ground irony in amongst Willow’s overly-considered ‘putting you on hold’ response, given the string of long, uncomfortable pauses that had so far been the hallmark of this meeting.