Carl hated coffee.
He’d hated the liquid dirt before he’d met Liesel, even more during the time they dated when she somehow managed to get him addicted to it, at their honeymoon when they drank coffee at every meal, and even the day she’d told him she was leaving at their weekly trip to the coffee shop.
How she’d managed to get that little white mug in his hand at every opportunity completely evaded him, maybe he was just a doormat.
That was what Liesel had told him, he was a doormat and she needed a ‘real’ man. He though he’d been a real man when he supported her through her insane endeavors, when she’d decided she could be a professional author and quit her job, when she’d announced that she never wanted children, even when she had huffed in agitation when he told her that he wanted to be a professor.
“A professor?” She’d mocked, “What, are you trying to be as poor as possible? Don’t you want to support a family?”
He’d chosen not to bring up that she didn’t want a family.
Carl loved teaching, much more than he hated coffee, but at her scorn he’d chosen to get a business degree from college. So there he was, in his cubicle, drowning in coffee and unfulfillment, on the day he met Eve, the company’s freshest hire.
He didn’t look at her when she dropped down another looming pile of paperwork, just took a long sip from his coffee.
“How can you drink that stuff?” Eve questioned casually, dark hair dripping over her shoulder as her head tilted quizzically, “You’d think the way people drink that stuff it was keeping them alive.”
Carl looked at her, genuinely disinterested in having any sort of conversation, and gave a simple shrug in response.
Eve frowned, fidgeted with the paper on top of his new stack as though she wanted to speak, before attempting a smile and leaving him alone.
The half empty cup of coffee swirled in his hand as he watched her leave, taunting him with steam sticking to his glasses.
It was Wednesday, he realized later that afternoon, that meant coffee day with Liesel.
They’d agreed, when she told him that she wanted a divorce, that Wednesday would be their day to discuss dividing their property. At one point, Wednesday had been their date day, but now Carl hated Wednesdays.
He watched Liesel as she sat across from him, sipping her latte and tossing blond hair around on her shoulders. He noticed the men who glanced at her as they walked by, noticed how she’d only grown more beautiful since her new found independence. He almost felt angry, but in the end, he just tasted his black coffee.
“This is why we couldn’t work it out!” Liesel sighed, frowning at him, “You just refuse to have any sort of opinion. Can’t you just say what you want?”
Carl shrugged, again, setting down the hot mug. He’d had enough, Liesel had their house, their furniture, about half of his clothes, and his dignity, he didn’t know why he’d agreed to even meet her. All she really wanted was to make sure he knew how much he’d lost.
At some point their meeting finished and Liesel left him, and their check, alone at the table.
He hardly noticed when a dark haired girl slunk into the seat across from him with a smile and a gentle, “What’s up Carl?”
He looked at Eve, surprised and slightly uncomfortable, “Ah. Hello.”
She folded her hands on the table, leaning forward as though they were sharing a secret, “Their cinnabuns are killer, have you tried one?”
He shook his head, not getting any less ruffled as he watched her wave over a server and ask for a cinnabun.
“We’ll split one.” She winked.
He watched her eat almost half of it before he even tasted it, and it startled him how sickly sweet the doughy bun was. It was surprisingly enjoyable.
“So you like it then?” Eve asked, leaning forward again with wide expectant eyes.
He shrugged, shifted a little and took another delicate bite, before nodding and rewarding her with a small smile, “It’s pretty good.”
“I think this is the first time I’ve ever seen you smile, Carl.”
Carl’s little smile faded a bit, and the uncomfortable feeling returned.
“I didn’t mean to put you on the spot, I just mean…you don’t talk much and….” Eve trailed off clumsily, eying the cup of coffee that Carl had hardly touched.
“I don’t have much to say.” He answered, quickly losing interest in their conversation after the rest of the cinnabun had disappeared.
As the silence dragged on, Eve’s smile became awkwardly strained, and at last, she stood, grabbing the check off the table, “I’ll get this one, Carl. See you at work. You know, you can smile if you want to, and you don’t have to drink that coffee if you don’t like it.”
Carl gave a startled nod, his thanks, and a little wave as she walked away. He stood, dusting dough crumbs off his shirt and staring down at the coffee and the empty plate.
He grabbed a cup of coffee to go like he always did, climbing into the front seat of his car. He moved to put the cup gently into his cupholder when he stopped, Eve’s words ringing in his ears.
He really didn’t have to drink the coffee if he didn’t like it no one was making him. He smiled, surprised at the realization, and set the cup down on the asphalt beside him, abandoning it for good.