This got deleted because of my cursing in the summary, and honestly that's probably something I should have noticed myself, so I'm putting it back up instead of proceeding with this one-person pity party.
"The attempt at introspective analysis in these cases is in fact like seizing a spinning top to catch its motion, or trying to turn up the gas quickly enough to see how the darkness looks... "
-pg 224, James,W. (1890) The Principles of Psychology, London; MacMillan
Sometimes he liked coming here. He could sit among the patrons and feel normal, like he belonged with them. He would sit at his little table for hours and just watch the people around him. Thomas would imagine what their stories were; what they did for fun, what kind of background they came from, if they had husbands or wives or kids. That was what normal people did, right? Got married, made homes with people, shared themselves with another person? Thomas wasn't sure he could ever do that, not that anyone had ever let him get close enough to have the chance. If it was a good day, he could eliminate his loneliness for a few hours just by being around other people.
However, if it were a bad day, being in public would only make him feel his own isolation further. He would feel shut off and disconnected from the other people, angry with them for being able to be so functional and just part of everything. He would get more and more frustrated until he was drowning in a sea of ohGodwhycan'tIjustahh and had to get away from everyone, running into the bathroom or leaving entirely, flustered and angry, wandering the streets until his mind cleared (or numbed itself) and he found his way back to his home.
Today was one of those days.
Thomas fidgeted under the little tabletop, crossing and uncrossing his legs. He was too tall for his feet to sit comfortably on the rungs of the chair, the unusually high chair, but not tall enough for his feet to hit the floor. Why did these things have to be such an awkward height? Bar stool style, he thought they might be called. They were nice-looking, he supposed; the tall narrowness, along with the domed, exposed-framework ceiling gave the impression of the room being open and lofty. He didn't like it. He felt too small, insignificant; like a little kid trying to hang out with the grown-ups. He preferred smaller seats, tables he could hunch over. He was attempting it now, of course but he looked ridiculous, he could feel it. He drummed his fingers on the laminate of the tabletop. It was too cold, almost greasy. He winced and pulled his hand away.
He tried to put it in his pocket but it felt uncomfortable since he was sitting. He rested it on his thigh but his fingers wanted to grip something. Finally he wrapped it around his cup of hot chocolate, joining his other hand. Tom always got hot chocolate. Coffee was for night, those long nights in that dark, damp hell when he had to stay awake or else. Sometimes he thought about trying something else; the vanilla stuff always smelled nice and so did the Chai tea but he could never change his pattern. Every once in awhile he'd try to order something different but would chicken out at the last minute. He felt the same way about the pastries, even though they did have interesting names. In fact, the only reason he ever ordered anything was to avoid seeming 'you know, weird.'
Hot chocolate was a fairly neutral drink, always tasted fine even if it was bad, which this wasn't. It was thick and chocolaty, not watery or too-sweet sludge, no dregs or powder-mud at the bottom. It might have actually been made from real melted chocolate. There was also a boost in it that might have been some kind of spice (paprika? That's what they put in this type of stuff, right?). Pretentious. At least it made him warm (and he was cold an awful lot these days).
He ran his fingers over the coffee cup, enjoying the artificial smoothness of the body and the rough ridges of the sleeve. He glances at the top. A certain barista, when she's there, draws him a smiley face in the center of the lid. He knows it's her; he's been here when she wasn't working and none of the other ones do it. He's seen her draw it, too. It's probably not just him, though. She probably does it for everyone so they'll think she's friendlier and give her tips. He looks at the center of the lid; the smiley face was there. She was there. He hadn't even noticed.
He's not sure how long he's been there, minutes or hours, when he abruptly gets up, suddenly needing to not sit any more. The coffee shop's a little busier than usual,
he's busy watching, and when he stands, he stands before he steps down and feels the sharp smack of glass and metal on skin and bone, banging his head on the low-hanging lamp.
As if on cue, everyone stares; that blank unyielding stare that comes when you've disturbed the peace of the unspoken agreement to pretend like you don't exist in a public place. He stumbled, turning to face the chair, holding his head with one hand and trying to climb down. He banged his knee on the leg of the chair; he was able to keep his cursing to himself this time, his only release was a sharp hiss following the initial impact. To his relief, his feet finally touched the nicely tiled, cheaply assembled floor. On closer examination the floor wasn't tile but very realistic looking laminate. Fake, of course. He kept his eyes trained to the ground, ignoring the eyes he could feel on him. Thomas shuffled into the line with vague ideas of replenishing his drink. He wasn't necessarily craving it but he didn't want to go home and he needed something to do.
He raised his eyes a little higher, surveying the backs and hands of the people around him. The woman in front of him was interesting. Dressy clothes; fitted and probably expensive. Hair burned stylishly straight. Her manicured hands held the remote and keys to an SUV, which meant she probably had kids. This was quitting time for normal people which meant that she was on her way home from her high-powered job and had stopped in this lower east side coffee shop either with her kids on the way home or on the way to get them from school. She's impatient, jingling her keys and shifting her weight, needing to get wherever she's going. She checks the time on her silver watch and when her arm falls limply back to her side the watch falls down closer to her thumb and Tom sees the little pink lotus tattoo on the underside of her wrist that it was concealing. He thinks that at some point she must have been a very different type of woman than the SUV-driving, child-raising, suit-wearing variety. She's wearing a wedding ring but it's banged up, dented and tarnished, incongruous with the rest of her appearance. The thought made him sad.
He took notice of the man in front of the woman. Professor-type, bad sweater and all. In his forties but already balding. He's checking stocks on his smart phone, getting more and more annoyed with each scroll. The man's pants were frayed and were rubbing thin in places, though they were easy to see as high quality. The pattern was some ugly checkerboard thing and Tom found himself wondering why people willingly paid for clothes that they knew were garish. The guy was periodically, compulsively flipping the bills in his pocket, probably checking to see if he had enough.
Thomas' eyes wandered over to one of the tables near the counter. There was a girl, maybe high school or college age, long black hair shrouding her shoulders, dark eyes, dark clothes, white face the only contrast. She had a book in front of her, probably for class, but she wasn't reading it. She was scrolling through her phone and alternately glancing outside, glaring at it moodily. A sketchpad sat in front of her, adjacent to the book, long ago abandoned, but it looked like it held the beginnings of the tree visible through the window. She looked like she was getting frustrated. Tom empathized.
He suddenly found himself at the head of the queue, face to face with Smiley Face Cup Girl. She smiles.
"The usual, hon?"
Don't call me hon, he wanted to say, I'm probably older than you are. But he didn't. Couldn't. She flashes him another smile before she starts to prepare the drink. She has big teeth. One of the smaller teeth near her canine sticks out at a weird angle. Most people probably wouldn't notice but Tom isn't most people. Big teeth in a big mouth that takes up most of her small, heart-shaped face. She has a too-sharp, slightly upturned nose, at odds with the softness of her face, and nut-brown almond-shaped eyes that peer out from under too-long bangs of murky brown hair with badly kept-up hi-lights. Her hair was thin and straight and pulled up in a plastic clip in that way women do when they want to look like some medium between formal and casual. Her skin had the unfortunate quality of being tinged with just a bit too much pink. She was probably pretty, Tom thought. He wasn't sure.
Tom wasn't sure about a lot of things anymore. He wasn't sure when he had started feeling this overwhelming loneliness or when he had starting feeling so separated from everyone else. It seemed like he could either observe people or see them, never both at the same time. He's not sure why he's becoming more and more critical of everyone around him, why more often than not people inspire feelings of disgust and hatred rather than the joy or amusement or mutual respect they used to cause. Tom's not sure why he's becoming fascinated by this one woman who works in the building he works in…for… he thinks about her more and more. Sometimes when he's by himself he thinks about her, wonders what she's doing now, what she thinks about. Sometimes he'll find himself doing or thinking something stupid and wonders, what she'd say, how she'd react to it. He wonders what he'd say to her if they ever had a real conversation.
Part of it's the job; he knows that. The job is driving him crazy. Long hours in the dark with no-one else around. Tom's always hated the dark. Sometimes he's half-assedly wished for a break-in or an emergency just so there'd be something to do. Not too long ago that thought might have bothered him. Now he was pretty sure he no longer cared. Even if he knew he could get another job, Tom didn't think he would quit. It's almost not worth the effort. Tom doubts he could interact with co-workers, or anyone, in a reasonable way anymore.
He brought his attention back to Smiley Face Cup Girl again. She probably has some old-fashioned, overtly feminine name like Sue or Cathy. He sneaks a glance at her nametag when she straightens up. Jessica. He's wrong again.
He was pretty hadn't been in the mood to find his wallet since he was only going to a few streets away. He had mostly quarters and dimes, with one single dollar bill. Whatever. It was still money. She smiled again and he felt uncomfortable and smiled back, though it probably looked more like a grimace. He determinedly puts money in her tip jar, churning the rest of the quarters out his pocket, making eye contact the entire time.
"Thanks!" She squeaks. She's one of those unfortunate individuals who'll be cursed with a little girl voice well into old age.
Tom nods, words sticking in his throat. He should say something, he knows that. That would be the normal thing to do. He keeps staring at her, just a bit too long, finally saying,
He moved awkwardly away from the counter, hot chocolate in hand. The combination of the muted earth tones of sage and umber, on the walls and annoying dim lighting was making him feel drowsy and stupid. The next thing he felt was the unusual collision of flesh on flesh and he felt himself become wet with a burning hot substance.
"Goddamn…Jesus…fuck!" Thomas heard a low, angry male voice scream. He saw, standing opposite him, a well-dressed man with strawberry blonde hair, a few inches shorter than himself, wearing an ugly scarf around his neck and a petite girl with hair dyed an obnoxious shade of bloody crimson on his arm. He was also covered in most of Tom's hot chocolate. Thomas looked down at himself and realized that the warm wetness was the sweetly sharp, pungent smelling stuff from Ugly Scarf Guy's cup.
"The hell, man? This was a new shirt!"
The guy was definitely spattered but Tom looked worse, most of his torso covered. The thick and heavy cheap cotton of his shirt has gotten stiffer and more uncomfortable with the moisture. Tom had worn his uniform, since he wasn't sure how long he'd be out and he didn't want to risk needing to catch the train and not having his work clothes. He was, of course, wearing his jacket over his nametag. He didn't want to look like a weirdo.
"I'm sorry." Tom mumbled, embarrassed.
"People these days, I swear," Ugly Scarf Guy ranted without listening as he mopped his shirtfront with a napkin his girlfriend, who looked thoroughly scandalized, had handed him.
"Why would you even do that to someone else?" he continued, irate. He moved in close to Tom, sticking a finger in his chest. He had one of those irritatingly symmetrical faces. The guy was lean but athletic and the poke actually hurt. "Don't you pay attention to anything? You're just one of those people who has no respect for anybody. Thanks for ruining my day and my shirt, asshole."
Tom just stood there, hopelessly silent. He wanted to say something. His mind was running over with things like It's not my fault you dick or you could have watched where you were going or shut the fuck up before I make you but he couldn't say any of them, gaping helplessly, hoping something would come out.
Ugly Scarf Guy literally turned on his heel (it was the first time Thomas had ever seen someone actually do that outside of a novel) and stomped towards the other side of the shop, his scarlet-haired, unmoved girlfriend in tow, nodding along to his angry, low-pitched monologue.
Thomas was frozen to the spot, slowly feeling Ugly Scarf Guy's sickly sweet latte cool and stick to his skin. He couldn't do anything but stare, blindsided by the accident and by his own paralysis. Everyone was staring at him, he knew it.
Smiley Face Cup Girl extended her hand from behind the counter, like she'd be putting it on his shoulder if she could.
"Don't mind him, Hon. It's not your fault."
Tom ignored her and started to shuffle for the door. He moved to throw out the rest of his hot chocolate and noticed a slowly melting iceberg of whipped cream floating in it. The fact that she would put whipped cream in it without asking, even though he's never requested it (doesn't want it), suddenly irked him. He never speaks up, not even for stupid things. The idea suddenly inflamed him. He got more and more agitated as the full injustice of Ugly Scarf Guy hit him fully. The angry words kept replaying, ad nauseum in his mind. Who was this asshole to humiliate, judge him in front of everyone?
He marched back to the side that Ugly Scarf Guy had retreated to and saw him sitting at a table by the far window, his girlfriend applying some kind of portable bleach treatment to his shirt. He was squirming uncomfortably every few seconds, telling her to 'watch it' apparently 'it's cold'.
Tom stood in front of him, hoping that he looked formidable. Ugly Sweater Guy stared up at him.
The fact that this man who, not five minutes ago had completely destroyed him verbally, was so nonchalant drove Thomas over the edge. He exploded.
"WHO THE HELL ARE YOU TO TELL ME WHAT KIND OF PERSON I AM?" The coffee shop went silent. "YOU DON'T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT ME! BESIDES, I'M NOT THE INCONSIDERATE FUCKWAD WHO BLAMES THE OTHER PERSON FOR SOMETHING THAT WAS BOTH OUR FAULTS! MAYBE YOUR YUPPIE ASS AND YOUR PRISSY GIRLFRIEND ARE THE ONES THAT HAVE NO RESPECT FOR OTHER PEOPLE!"
Everyone was definitely staring now, he didn't have to look but he did. All he saw were eyes.
Tom wasn't sure how he got out of the coffee shop or if he said anything else. He might have even let out a wordless scream at some point. He didn't know. He felt his face flush but the rest of him was a bitter icy cold that spread through his body furiously, internally, much stronger than the comparably slight chill of the fall weather. He's almost blind with anger, shoving through the crowds based on instinct and muscle memory alone, finding himself in his apartment before long.
He paced around the living room before retiring to his clean but old (and just a bit too worn in) couch. He glanced at his contented dog sleeping across the room. There didn't seem to be an easy way out of this. This loneliness. The people in the coffee shop were discontented, every one of them but they all had a place and they knew it. Was that what Tom was supposed to do? Accept his place? Could he just stop being so critical and self-aware and just be? Just be a security guard who has a meaningless job and no personal connections besides a dog? If he did that, would he find people, draw to him someone who could enjoy his company? He didn't know. But he couldn't give up, not after leaving everything he knew and coming all this way, convinced he could make a life. He wasn't going to be one of those who drown under the tide of everyday demands. He couldn't. He didn't know how, but he was gonna fix this.
Thomas was, and had always been, nothing if not determined.