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The Girl
by Tom Mahony

The café buzzed with activity. Patrons ordered coffee, rustled newspapers, chatted in corners. But Jack focused only on the girl. She sat at the counter reading a magazine. One of those sensationalized news weeklies. Jack never followed the news, but respected those who did.

She looked over. Jack smiled, a bit toothy. She smiled back and returned to her magazine. She had creamy skin, angular features, a lazy cascade of raven hair. The type of girl he pictured on a plaza bench in some hard-to-pronounce eastern European country. Striking.

Jack squirmed in his seat from too much coffee. He wanted to talk with her, but needed to take a leak. Desperately. The bathroom was tucked down a corridor on the far side of the café. By the time he returned, she might be gone. San Francisco was a big city. He’d never see her again.

He fidgeted at the table, uncertain. She glanced over and fixed her brown eyes upon him. He loved brown eyes. She smiled and turned away. Was that an invite to approach? He became increasingly enamored of her quiet intensity, how she licked her finger before turning a page, the pooch of her lips as she read. Enamored of the fate that brought them together.

This girl was meant for him. Jack felt it deep, true. Where could this go? Courtship, marriage, children, grandchildren? From this beginning, a profound altering of the future. What if their daughter became president? Grandson cured cancer or walked on Mars? Big things emerged from small beginnings.

He gnawed on a bagel. It had the consistency of pine heartwood. Some guy at the adjacent table yelled into a cell phone, shouting the kind of intimacies Jack would not dare reveal in his own closet, let alone a room full of strangers.

Jack was torn. Approach her now or relieve himself first? This decision had implications—for the future of politics, medical science, space exploration. He had to speak with her. But his bladder ...  

Unable to wait any longer, he stood, hurried to the bathroom, and took care of business. He washed his hands and slicked his hair in a way that made him look groomed but vaguely stupid. He made adjustments. Better, but still a little stupid. It would have to do.

He returned to his table, feeling pleasantly drained. He eyed the counter. The girl was gone. He scanned the café. No sign of her. Dammit. His heart sank. His life, and that of the planet, was irreparably altered. He forced down more coffee, glum, trying to ignore the ravings of the cell phone idiot. Time to go.

As he stood to leave, a tall blonde entered the café. She strolled by and smiled at him. Well, well, what’s this? Her lips were full, her green eyes vulnerable. He loved green eyes.

Jack sat down. The café buzzed with activity. Patrons ordered coffee, rustled newspapers, chatted in corners. But he focused only on the girl.