Arnie had never been much of a charmer. He hadn’t been with many women. He didn’t know of all the different places where one could meet them easily. He had married fairly late in life, and he had never been good at grand gestures of affection.
But even after all of that, he still understood what love was. Maybe Arnie had married later than most fellows, but he had married well. He loved his wife with all of his heart, and she loved him equally.
Arnie owned a small diner on the corner of a small street, in the middle of a small neighbourhood. It may have been out-of-the-way, but it was a second home to the aging man, and it did provide enough of an income for him and his wife.
Not many people came to his diner (named “Julia’s, in honour of his beloved), but there were two customers he could always count on to come by. They arrived at his restaurant like clockwork, to the point where he could literally set his watch by their movements.
One was a young, pale, raven-haired man named Ted, a banker who worked the Hong Kong shift, which had rendered him nearly nocturnal in his habits. Each morning, right after Arnie opened for the day, Ted would walk in, usually wearing a crisp, black suit and tie, order a cup of decaf, and lament his lonely existence.
For, while other young fellows might be out on the town, flirting with every girl they met, Ted usually stayed cooped up inside his home, reading novels about people who always managed to find love so easily, it was as if there something inherently wrong with anyone who had the slightest bit of trouble.
And every morning, the young banker would sit, and talk about his life, and tell bad jokes, which Arnie never understood but always smiled at, in order not to hurt Ted’s feelings. And then he would leave, to read, and sleep, and lament his lucklessness in love.
For the rest of the day, things would be fairly peaceful. People would come and go, ordering coffee and pie, and occasionally telling a life story or two to the nearest sympathetic ear.
Then, late in the evening, when most businesses would be ready to close up shop, his second regular customer would show herself. A sweet, gentle, quick-witted girl, whose black eyes and ever-changing, but always vibrant, hair colours could both inspire and mystify those around her.
Her name was Stephanie, and she was a graphic designer who would always arrive at “Julia’s” for a decaf, and a slice of apple pie. Eating and drinking, with a nigh-constant smile on her face, she would regale Arnie with (apparently) humorous tales about her day, all the while pining for some young fellow to come and sweep her off of her feet.
And so, for many months, Arnie listened blankly to each of his two regulars as they lamented their unfortunate love-lives, but who never did anything to rectify their situations. And while the proprietor suggested numerous solutions (“Go out, meet a girl, see what happens!” “Waiting around’s no good! If you want to find someone, you’ve got to take the initiative!”), they would always respond with some excuse (“It’s too risky!” “What if something goes wrong?”).
And then, on February 14th, at nine in the evening, something new happened. Stephanie was there as usual, drinking her standard cup of decaf, as the snow built up on the streets outside. But then, Ted walked in, already dusting the ice crystals off of his jacket, not even noticing that someone else was sitting next to his spot at the counter.
Suddenly, as if choreographed by some unknown deity, the two regulars turned to face each other, in a moment of shared surprise. Ted stared at Stephanie, Stephanie stared at Ted. Then, slowly, they both turned to look at Arnie, was standing behind the counter, a dawning smile on his wrinkled face, as if to ask, “Who is this other person?”
Arnie, although just as mystified about the situation as the youngsters, was happy that the two had finally met. After enough time listening to each of their stories, the old proprietor had realized how alike these strangers were.
Slowly, Ted walked over to claim his usual spot, meekly ordering a coffee (black, two sugars), and doing his best not to stare at the beautiful girl seated next to him. Stephanie too, was careful to keep her focus on her meal, and definitely not on the handsome fellow beside her.
With hidden hope and satisfaction, Arnie handed Ted his coffee, casually asking about his unusual hour of arrival.
Ted explained how he had been forced to attend a wedding during the day, and since he was too tired to face heading back to the office, he choose to take a sick day, and hang out in one of the few places he could call home; “Julia’s”.
Stephanie, still very interested in this new stranger, replied with her own story: escaping a seriously depressing Valentine’s Day party to come have a cup of coffee in a place without starry-eyed couples to remind her of how lonely she was.
Arnie watched, hopeful, as the two engaged in the age-old game of flirting: knocking jokes and stories back and forth, discussing news, and generally finding each other genuinely interesting.
And then, the clincher: Stephanie hesitantly asking Ted if he would like to accompany her back to the party. She used that word too; “accompany”, as if they were in a penny novelette.
Of course, being a man of literature himself, Ted was instantly enamoured with the woman who used such a term in ordinary conversation, and was quick to accept her invitation with a shy smile.
And Arnie smiled, watching the two loneliest people to grace his diner, walk out together.
~ ~ ~
So, yeah, I've finally entered one of these things (I'm so proud!) This is a pretty loose example of "pathfinding", I know, but hey, it's worth a shot, isn't it?
I hope you guys enjoy reading it as I much as I enjoyed writing it! Have fun!