Continuing on with steady speed!
So this section is not-tentatively titled "In which I just project my frustrations over owning an Alexa that doesn't actually help me, but she's still there"
Still going strong with 3,333 words a day. I'm surely going to burn out eventually, but for the meantime, we are DOING IT.
CHAPTER TWO BUT NOT REALLY CHAPTER TWO, JUST DAY TWO
He took another look, unsure of himself. James the barista had left their sight, presumably to take the trash out, but maybe he had left for the day entirely. Was 3:00 pm a usually shift change time? Alfred’s only food service experience was in a shopping mall, and they had weird hours because of mall time. Maybe Ronda would know, Alfred thought. She worked at a Starbucks for a while.
“Does too,” Ellen said, pointing to the barista who had returned to the front.
Alfred took another look as James took to the French press. On a venn diagram, Alfred would concede that the two had a similar height; they were both male presenting (though can you really get a good vibe on someone’s style or behavior if they’re at work?); and generic white boy face.
“Alan was so much skinnier and ragged looking,” Alfred said, his eyes unmoved from James’s hands as they did their work.
“I think you’re modifying your memory of Alan so as to think of him less favorably. He was a hottie. Woulda snapped me off a piece of that if you’d’ve let me,” Ellen said.
Alfred did not respond. Instead he lowered his head down to take a sip from his coffee that wasn’t there. His lips met the empty air.
“He’s also got both ears pierced,” Ellen said. “And you know what that means.”
“That at some point he got both ears pierced?” Alfred said.
“No, he plays for your team,” Ellen jeered.
She attempted to elbow Alfred in the stomach but failed due to his distance across the table. At best she knocked over the ghost coffee cup that Alfred had tried to drink out of.
“Not everyone guy with pierced ears is gay, Ellen,” Alfred said.
“True, but you can’t deny that people make active decisions on how they present themselves to project a message to others,” Ellen said. “For example, my glasses tell the world that I’m blind, but their shape and color scream either ‘hipster’ or ‘lesbian’. Just like how your sweater screams ‘I don’t care about my physical appearance.”
“I did not pick this sw-”
“Not the point,” Ellen said. “I think you’d just rather pretend that there’s no chance he’d be into you to avoid admitting that he’s attractive; you’re attractive, and something could come of that.”
“You literally just said I was frumpy,”
“Frumpy can be attractive!” Ellen said. “I never suggested otherwise.”
Ellen pushed her chair away from the table, ready to get up.
“What are you doing,” Alfred asked.
“I’m going over there to say hi to him.”
“You will do nothing of the sort.”
Alfred grabbed the legs of Ellen’s chair with his feet and pulled both the chair and Ellen back into the table. Ellen hit her gut against the edge and coughed.
“You’re delaying fate, Alfred,” Ellen said, scootching sideways to get off the chair.
“It’s rude to harass someone at a place of business,” Alfred said, standing up.
He put his body in between Ellen and the rest of the Starbucks.
“You know if you put this much energy into actually achieving your goals, you might be a little bit happier,” Ellen said.
She pushed Alfred and looked up and down the bar. James the barista had moved to the register. A small group of teenagers were worriedly looking through their bags while James looked on patiently.
“He’s helping someone. Please don’t bother him,” Alfred pleaded.
“I’m not bothering him, I’m getting coffee,” she replied.
The gaggle of teens deposited a collection of coins onto the register counter, leaving James to count through the pile of mainly quarters and dimes.
“You’re going to destroy your body,” Alfred said.
“Which is my right,” Ellen replied, stepping up to the counter.
“Hello, can I please get a grande iced coffee, plain,” she said, holding out her card.
Alfred busied himself with putting Ellen’s sweater back on. For a faint moment with the cloth over his face he pretended that he wasn’t at that Starbucks with Ellen doing what she was doing. The sweater, a bit too tight to begin with, also rubbed across his ears, creating a white noise that blocked out Ellen’s over-projected voice that was surely pointed towards him.
Ellen was still at the counter after Alfred finished putting on his sweater. Actually, James was still counting dimes. The familiar tone of the Grindr app played from Alfred’s phone and he pulled it out of his pocked. He stared at James. James wasn’t using his phone. It wasn’t him. I’m just being deluded and hopeful, Alfred thought. He opened the app, checked the messages. A bot.
“I’m sorry ma’am, our card reader isn’t working today,” James said.
Alfred jumped a little. James’s voice felt very close to him in that way that sometimes happens when you find yourself in one of the two auditory focal points of a room with a parabolic ceiling. Except this was a Starbucks. The ceiling was flat. But his voice still felt near.
“Oh, well in that case could I just have your number?” Ellen asked confidently.
James gave Ellen an odd look.
“I’m sorry. I’m not- I’m gay,” he replied.
“Perfect,” Ellen said, beaming. “Not for me, for my roommate over there. The one trying to disappear right now.”
Ellen pointed to Alfred who was doing exactly as she said. Alfred smiled awkwardly and returned his attention to his phone. Back to profiles, and- oh no.
Alfred’s heart jumped. Well, it was more of a flush of energy that whited out his vision a little bit on the edges in that what that happens when you’re already out of your element and then you see someone the profile of someone in eye shot on Grindr. In the little square next to Alfred’s profile was the beaming face of “J. 24,” torso clad unmistakenly with a green apron, in front of the register. His profile picture looked uncannily as if it was a live feed from Alfred’s eyes at that moment.
“It fixed itself earlier today, James,” a voice shouted from the back.
Another barista appeared, pointing to the card reader. The two looked at the reader and determined that it was fully functional.
“Actually, scrap the coffee. I’ll take a scone to go,” Ellen said.
The two left the Starbucks back into the street. The wind had settled down, and provided they were in direct sunlight, it was now something adjacent to sweater weather. They did not have to sprint their way home, much to the delight of both as neither were track athletes or cross-country athletes or individuals familiar with aerobic activity. The elevators in their apartment underwent maintenance for about a week once (“totally not ADA complaint,” Ellen had said. “Please do not appropriate the struggle of people with actual physical disabilities,” Alfred had replied) and both Alfred and Ellen came to the point of nearly vomiting with every climb.
An added bonus of not having to run was that Ellen could eat her scone while they walked, an activity slightly undercut by the dryness of the scone.
“Usually they’re better…” Ellen noted sadly.
Scone complete (aside from that still in her mouth) Ellen crumpled up the paper it had come in and walked over to a trash can at the corner of a red light. She tossed it into the trash, froze for a moment, and then reached into her pocket.
“Right, here you go,” Ellen said through a mouth of scone, producing a receipt from her pocket.
Alfred looked at it. It was the receipt for the scone, not the coffee she had gotten him. And he had already Venmo’d her the PRICE OF THAT COFFEE. He looked up at Ellen confused.
“Turn it over,” Ellen commanded.
She swallowed and coughed a bit on the dryness of the scone. She wished she had something to chase it with. Like coffee…
Alfred turned over the receipt and on it was a note written in purple pen: “to Ellen’s cute friend, my shift ends at (WHEN DO MID DAY SHIFTS END. LOOK THIS UP.) Text me ###.###.####.” He flushed and began compulsively folding the receipt in half again and again.
“Well, you’re not ripping it up, so that’s something,” said Ellen.
“The walk sign is on to cross – Memorial Avenue – the walk sign is on to cross – Memorial Avenue,” said the robot inside the stoplight.
Ellen and Alfred strode on, ignoring the brazen attempts of a few cars trying to right-turn their way through the crosswalk.
“Just please text him when you’re sober so he can know the real you,” Ellen continued. “The last way you want to start a relationship is by introducing him to needy horny attention-seeking drunk Alfred at 2AM tonight.”
“I have absolutely no plans to actually text him,” Alfred said.
Ellen eyed Alfred and open mouth laughed.
“Why’d you keep the number, then?” she asked.
Alfred couldn’t think of a witty way to reply. He had every opportunity to throw it away, but hadn’t. He wanted to perform a scowl back at Ellen to shut up her stupid matchmaker face of glee, but instead he couldn’t stop a smile from creeping out his face. The sun was warm, and it was nice to be outside with a friend.
“I-” Alfred started, though one could have transcribed it in multiple ways, for example “ah-“ “uh-“ “[unrecognizeable glottal start and stop]” “[inaudible]”.
“Your answer’s irrelevant because I took down the number, and I’ve AirDropped the contact to your phone,” Ellen interjected.
Alfred turned on his phone. Sure enough (DO SOME RESEARCH INTO WHAT IT ACTUALLY LOOKS LIKE WHEN YOU GET A CONTACT AIR DROPPED TO YOU).
“You took a fucking picture of him?” Alfred laughed.
The contact had a picture of James taken from a very low angle.
“They don’t call me queen of creepshots for nothing,” Ellen said. “Though I can’t say I did the best. I don’t think I captured his essence.”
Alfred looked at the picture again. Taken from register-counter height, the all you could really see was his jaw and nose jutting out, but it still looked cute. Except for the nostrils. There was too much nostril in the photo for comfort.
They continued walking to their apartment and almost arrived when Ellen remembered that she had run out of liquor. This was no problem because Main Street Liquor was quite literally across the street from their apartment, a locale of which in small part led to Ellen and Alfred’s signing of that lease, so the two made their way into the store.
Alfred walked in first, and the bell above the door rang as he did. It was one of those actual physical bells triggered by the movement of the door, not the electronic ‘ding dong’ you come across at some Walgreens. They shimmied their way through the aisles towards the refrigerated section, passing closely by the gin section. Both Alfred and Ellen shivered. Alfred was allergic to gin, and Ellen, who was not allergic to gin, recognized that gin is a terrible, dry, disgusting drink that should be eliminated at all costs; nevertheless, they persisted on to the chilled goods.
There were many an option before them. Main Street Liquor was something between a local liquor store and a corner store, so there was a decent selection. Ellen scanned the cooler, scoffing angrily at a set of doors that were completely fogged up, presumably after someone had opened them for too long (or some staff had restocked the cooler just doing their job, who knows). Ellen wasn’t much of a beer person, neither was Alfred, but sometimes she got in a hoppy mood, ya feel? Ellen grabbed the handle and stopped short of opening the cooler door.
“Is the ice tray full at home?” she asked.
Alfred racked his brain. The contents of the ice tray wasn’t the highest priority in his list of things he remembered. The list generally went ‘work anxieties’, ‘life anxieties’, ‘Instagram thots I should probably stop following because they give me an unhealthy idea of what the male physique should look like but at the same time I want to fuck them and for them to fuck me so hard’, and ‘lower priority work anxieties’.
“I’m really not sure,” Alfred said. “I want to say yes? I mean, they’ve got bags of ice for $1.50.”
“If I ever spend my hard-earned money on frozen water that I could have made at home, slit my throat because a body snatcher got me,” Ellen said, moving away from ice, bagged conveniently for customer use. “I’m guessing we do, which means I don’t have to deal with the cold stuff.”
Ellen walked away from the coolers and down to the aisle of vodkas, colorful and otherwise. She glanced at the many options and ultimately picked up a 1.75L bottle of Red Berry New Amsterdam vodka.
“The only real vodka,” Ellen said, swiping it off the shelf.
“You know you can just flavor a plain vodka with fruit or juices,” Alfred said, eyeing the options.
“I’m sorry, Alfred” Ellen said, turning sharply. “Are you suggesting that I – six drinks in and knee deep in the spins – pull out a mortar and pestle and just muddle some berries for a drink?”
“Plus, produce goes bad way too quickly for my liking,” Ellen said.
It was true. It was not uncommon for the two to buy a bunch of bananas, eat one or two, and then watch the rest of the bunch slowly rot like some repeated iteration of an ephemeral performance art piece. And that was not exclusive to bananas. The two had much higher aspirations for fruit-eating than they actually practiced. Had they a compost bin – which they didn’t – it would have been able to provide enough composted fruit for a several community gardens.
Alfred picked up a bottle of lemon Bacardi, and the two made their way to the check out counter where the attendant asked for their IDs. Ellen shot the man a glare.
“How old do you think I am?” she asked, withholding her wallet.
The attendant pointed to the sign above the register reading “WAHTEVER THAT SIGN IS THAT SAYS EVERYONE UNDER 30 WILL BE CARDED OR WHATEVER”
“Store policy, ma’am,” he said.
“So let me get this straight, you’re supposed to check IDs because it would be unreasonable to expect a staff member be able to identify if someone is 21 or older just by looking because human beings are infallible and all that,” Ellen said. “But for some reason they think it’s reasonable to expect a staff member be able to identify if someone is 30 or older?”
The liquor store worker stared at Ellen vacantly for a moment, unphased. Ellen reluctantly produced her ID.
“Thank you,” he said.
He turned to Aflred who was standing behind Ellen.
Alfred provided his ID in turn. Once checked, Ellen handed over her debit card. The cashier stared at it blankly.
“Our card reader isn’t working right now,” he said.
Alfred sighed, a little frustrated. Ellen’s eyes widened, affronted in that ‘this is a personal attack on me as an individual, and I will not stand for it’ way.
“What’s wrong with it? I’ve never had to pay with cash in all the times I’ve been here, which is many a time,” she said, looking at Alfred for validation. “We live across the street, and we buy a lot of liquor.”
“Network is down,” the cashier said. “We can only take cash. And I guess check if you have checks.”
“Do I look like someone who carries checks with me,” Ellen jabbed.
The cashier continued his blank stare at Ellen.
“Ma’am, I’m not sure what kind of answer you’re looking for right now.”
Alfred pulled out his wallet and sifted through. He had a couple of ones, a five, and several coupons for a free scoop of ice cream from the nearby ice cream shop. He plucked out the cash and handed it to Ellen.
“I’ll put my stuff back,” Alfred said, motioning to the Bacardi. “Do you have enough cash to cover the rest?”
Ellen looked in her pocket. She too had a mix of ones and a five. This was going to take math skills. Alfred walked back to aisle he had picked up his bottle and returned it, listening to Ellen haphazardly attempting to count cash as he went. When he returned, she had successfully paid for her bottle.
“Do we need any mixers?” she asked.
“Do we have any cash?” Alfred replied.
“Good point,” Ellen said, and with that the two walked out of the store.
A brief game of frogger and an elevator ride later, they arrived back in their apartment. Alfred felt an urge to go grab his own keys to feel that sense of freedom in his hands, but realized how stupid the impulse was as he thought it aloud, aloud here meaning ‘spoken distinctly by the little voice in his head and not actually aloud to Ellen’. Ellen tossed the vodka into the freezer, happily noting the full tray of ice, and walked back into the living room to plop herself down on the couch. Alfred followed but continued past the couch to the balcony. He opened the blinds and stared out at the sky. It was four past noon and the sky was darkening.
“Is it going to rain?” Ellen asked, watching Alfred watch stare out the door.
Alfred looked at the sky. Clouds weren’t covering the sky, it was just oddly dark.
“I don’t think so,” Alfred replied. “Pull up a radar.”
“Alexa, is it going to rain?” Ellen shouted.
“I’m sorry, (WHATEVER AN ALEXA SAYS WHEN ITS NOT CONNECTED TO THE INTERNET),” said Alexa.
“Remind me why we bought this?” Ellen asked Alfred.
“I mean, I’ve used it as a timer here and there,” Alfred said, continuing his scan of the cloudless sky. “Alexa, play ‘Despacito’”
“I’m sorry, ‘Despacito’ by Justin Bieber is only available on Amazon Unlimited. Would you like to hear a sample of ‘Despacito’ by Justin Bieber? (OR WHATEVER IT SAYS),” said Alexa.
Ellen and Alfred groaned in unison. Ellen got up and unplugged the frustrating, sentient, hockey puck.
“You’re going to go where you can’t hear us for a while,” Ellen said, making the executive decision to stow her away in the coat closet.
Alfred did not protest. Instead, he closed the shades to the balcony and returned to the kitchen. He took the coffee mug he had been holding and placed it in the kitchen sink next to Ellen’s.
“Where do you want this sweater?” Alfred asked, pulling it off.
Ellen took a look at Alfred and contemplated.
“I’m honestly not sure if that’s actually my sweater or not,” she said. “You can keep it if you’d like.”
Unwishing, Alfred assured Ellen that she could keep the sweater and tossed it loosely into her bedroom. He returned to the living room and opted for a seat on the floor next to the router that Ellen had long abandoned trying to fix. None of the lights that were normally lit shined through. It looked like a really cheap, poorly placed, plastic table ornament.
“Take a look at this,” Ellen said, staring at her phone.
She had pulled up an article on her phone. The headline read “Internet Outages Across The Globe; Is Russian Interference To Blame?”
“Shit,” Alfred said, scooting closer. “What does it say?”
Ellen tried to click on the article but was met with another ‘lol, nope I don’t have an internet connection right now, good luck you fool’ message from her phone. She sighed and threw her phone to her side on the couch.
“What am I supposed to do without internet?” Ellen moaned. “We don’t even own a deck of cards.”