I remember thinking, for half a second after I left the coffee shop, that I could always turn around and go back.
Do it differently.
He had been sitting alone at the mahogany counter for so long, sipping an iced coffee in this unseasonably warm November weather, watching chatty passersby drift from Union Square Market to the Strand across the street.
I was sitting cross-legged on a window seat, head crooked toward my Medieval Romances book (it’s high time this class made it to Tristan and Isolt!), iced latte in hand.
I only noticed him sneaking glances at me when I looked up to flip the page of my book.
And from that moment onward the words in front of me swam. Far too aware of his occasional gaze on me, I sped through several paragraphs without digesting them. There is a certain pressure in knowing you are being watched to perform as if you are worth the watching.
Which, very often, I do not believe I am.
I remember my roommate in the summer telling me that if I only I met the gaze of the men around me, an entire world would be revealed to me. This was after she had come home from a night spent with a man who had locked eyes with her in Washington Square Park, and had been so taken he had invited her to dinner on the spot. That’s how you get the honeys, Maria. You dare them to look at YOU.
But I didn’t dare him. I didn’t even look up. And as I left the shop I was immediately shot through with the impulse to turn back, to cast a knowing smile at him through the glass window. But I am not nearly so brave in the small moments when bravery counts for so much, and I turned toward the subway instead.
And this is a thing I need to teach myself, really. That crucial moments in New York City happen in the span of an intake of breath; if you do not snatch them, they move on. They find someone else willing to seize them, willing to look up, to acknowledge the possibilities of eyes that meet in a coffee shop over the tip of a book.
I’m still learning.