They took their seats in the coffee shop, which was largely empty. There were a few locals enjoying their customary morning brew and one or two students with earbuds and laptops going out into the world so they can block it out entirely and work. Other than the light acoustic strumming coming from the speakers up front, there wasn’t anything to disturb their conversation.
“So, what’s new with you? Been a while.” She was always going to be the one to start the conversation. Not that he didn’t talk, but because she was always looking for somebody or something to start a conversation with. She was bursting with enthusiasm for the world around her. Too protective of herself to be naive, she was still too appreciative to be anything but excited.
He had friendly eyes and a slender frame, but he carried himself like a very tired man. He wasn’t ugly, in fact he had a appealing, if different, attractiveness to him. He took a sip of his drink before answering.
“New? Not much, really. Kind of have the same routine as always, I guess.”
He shrugged. “Work. Trying to clean up the house. Hanging with the guys. You know, things sort of stay the same.”
She smiled, “No girls in your life?”
It wasn’t that he was trying to be rude, but he did laugh a little bit at her question. “No. You know me. I mean, my life is a mess. Don’t see the reason to bring somebody into that.”
She chuckled as she drank her coffee. Sure, he was a jerk, but he was at least an entertaining jerk. “That’s not healthy.”
He shrugged. He was at least aware of how much of a jerk he was.
“You know, I don’t get it,” he said, looking more at the table between them than at his companion at all. “I have a degree that’s supposed to mean I understand people. I even won an award in college for….well, for something I don’t remember now. But I don’t have the slightest clue about people.”
“You won an award?” She focused on the wrong things, as far as he was concerned. Really she just focused on what she wanted to focus on, but he didn’t see it that way.
“Yeah. I have it hanging on my bedroom wall, too. Keep it as a reminder.”
“How big a failure I am? I don’t know. Same reason anybody keeps a reminder. It reminds them of something that is important to them but nobody else could ever understand or value it in the same way.”
His intellect was dangerous when he wanted to use it, but more of than not it took too much effort than he thought was worth it. She chose to mask hers behind a genuine interest in whatever the other person was discussing.
“So you won’t tell me what it reminds you of?”
She rolled her eyes. “Fine. So you haven’t met anybody new to hang out with or anything? Same friends you always see?”
His gaze was out of the window next to them. “Yeah. Same group.”
“Doesn’t that get boring?”
He was beginning to think she asked too many questions, but if he was truthful, he enjoyed answering them. “Doesn’t meeting new people tire you?”
“It’s a good tired,” she said. “I love getting to know new people. Hearing new stories. Making new memories. That’s why people meet new people. That’s why people make new friends.”
“Really.” This was about as indignant as she could get. “You don’t think people make new friends so they can just enjoy the fact that they’re making new friends?”
“No, I don’t. I think it’s a way to mask their insecurities.”
“Oh, like pretending to be more social than they actually are.”
There was a pause as he collected his thoughts. “No. Not quite. More like a way to deal with the people they already know.”
“Okay, you’ll have to explain what you’re getting at.”
He took a long drink. He needed to take a long drink, because he was getting ahead of himself and needed the time to catch up.
“It’s like this: we have friends, and the longer we know these friends, the more we are exposed to them. Like, our mistakes and stuff. They see us screw up. But new people? New people are a clean slate. They’re a chance to look like we’ve got it figured out. It’s a cover-up of sorts. Or maybe a learning process. We screw up, lose friends, learn lessons, and start over with new people.”
“This is where I disagree.”
He raised his eyebrows. “Oh? Alright, go for it.”
She leaned forward, shifting her weight to get into a position where she could talk with her hands. He happened to think she had a nice hands, and he would compliment her on them if he thought it wouldn’t be weird. But he respected her too much to make things weird.
“See, I think we meet new people for similar reasons. Yeah, it’s a new beginning. Clean slate sort of thing. They don’t know our mistakes and screw-ups with our past friends.”
“Sounds like you’re agreeing with me.”
“To that part, yes. But I think the motives are different. It’s not a chance to look better. It’s a chance to do better. Maybe there have been mistakes in past relationships, but this new one? Maybe, just maybe, this one won’t have the same issues. And it might have new ones that appear, sure, but the beginning of a new friendship isn’t about appearances.”
At this point, he wasn’t interested in staring at the table between them. He was looking directly into her brown eyes, trying to read her mind through them. “What is is about?”
“Hope,” she said, with a smile.
He leaned back and looked back to the window beside them.
“So you’re saying that new friendships are all about hope.”
She nodded and sipped her coffee. Her drink was starting to cool itself off.
“Either way, it’s about a clean slate,” he said.
“Sure. But it’s that hope that explains why it is we need people around. Because we do need people around. Not even you could argue with that.”
“Nope. You’re right. Fot whatever reason, we need people around.” He leaned forward, putting his elbows on the table between them, looking back into her brown eyes. “And I’m glad I have you around.”
He smiled. And he really meant it.