The Hardest Answer: Over Coffeebycawastedyouth©
It was nearly six before Lauren got herself together to go to the grocery store on a hectic Thursday. Her monthly check was firmly deposited into her bank and she was going to enjoy getting a few groceries, laundry tackled, and maybe a little left over for some fun.
Working full time definitely has its perks. Though much of her check was stripped for important things such as retirement and health insurance, Lauren had a considerable sum that would allow for such little frivolities she had missed these many struggling years.
Maybe a beer more often than once a month. Maybe possibly even some cookware that wasn't just for the microwave. The fantasies of small life pleasures were amusing to Lauren. It had been so long since she could even fathom having little perks in her day. She had some lingering guilt that perhaps she should save the money she wanted to have fun with, but there could not be a better way to spend at least a small amount of the extra money she received every month. Working those extended hours was supposed to give her some fun.
But Lauren's head was still buzzing with Julia's random advice to everyone in the lunchroom today to get out and enjoy life. Lauren looked out the window to the grey skies and wonder why would anyone suggest enjoying life on a day like this. But as she was beginning to understand Julia, the adult Julia had become since Lauren was just a passing ship in her life, Lauren found that Julia decided to find every silver lining no matter what. The best she could figure was that this might have been some fall out from having been divorced, 'but what do I know about silver linings?' She wondered. She still felt her scars from Julia and her new mysterious cell phone lover, but Lauren had resigned herself to fate. Lauren could live with Julia being happy. Lauren would have to wait her turn to try and find someone to be that happy with.
Though it was drizzling outside, Lauren grabbed a jacket and headed across the street. She hit up a few key spots in the store: sandwich bread, deli counter for lunch meat, the cereal isle for a box of oatmeal, venturing even to grab a bag of salad to possibly eat over the next few days for lunch at work. She got in line and dumped her items onto the conveyor belt. The belt rolled forward and she grabbed a separator bar just as a young man walked up behind her.
As the belt moved along, Lauren looked around rather bored.
"Hey did you go to high school here in town?" the man behind her asked.
Startled, Lauren looked over and realized that the man in a sweater and jeans, a little damp from the weather behind her did indeed go to high school with her.
"I'm sorry, I forget your name."
"Lauren Hatfield, how are you doing Carson?"
He was a little surprised that she recalled his name. "I'm great actually."
"Twenty-eight, ninety-four." The checker smiled. Lauren swept her check card through and fiddled with the buttons.
"What have you been up to?"
"Um, I'm teaching at the new junior high. Yourself?" Lauren politely hated referring to herself as a teacher, but with Paul at the other campus nearly all day, she and Jo made all the decisions for their students without ever thinking about Paul's reaction to things. Paul, so far didn't bat an eye, fully supporting everything they decided.
"Paper or plastic?" asked the checker.
"I'm finishing my last quarter of undergraduate work, History major."
Lauren forced a smile. "Well, good luck." Carson had been in both her English and history classes. He had not particularly stood out as a competent student in her mind, but her vision of the world had been colored by drive and ambition. In fact, it was her ambition that was a source of Carson's repeated cruel remarks.
With her groceries now in one bag, she picked them up. "Well, nice seeing you." And with that, she walked out. She crossed the wet parking lot only to suddenly be blocked by a beaten up white car. She paused to let the car pass.
Carson had been a charmer. Girls wouldn't necessarily commit to him, not like some of the other boys, but they had eagerly said 'yes' if he asked them out. Lauren hadn't been like the other girls, in any sense. She wanted to go to college, which in itself wasn't so unusual. But boys, unless they had been her partners in class didn't really seem to garner her attention. She was generally thought of as nice, but odd.
The car window rolled down and Carson was inside. "Lauren, let me take you home." He said.
How did he get out of the store that quickly?
"No thank you, it's all right. I just live across the street." She smiled, hoping her shock didn't register. She stared into the open window of the car.
"Can we go out for coffee?" he asked.
"Um... another day, but sure." She gave in just wanting to get out of the rain.
He opened up his car door and took her groceries.
"It won't be long." He insisted.
The coffee house was next to the grocery store and he brought over two cups of coffee to a table.
'If my groceries were not held hostage right now...'
"Do you take sugar or cream?"
Lauren paused. She had actually never had a cup of coffee before. "Both." she said a brightly as possible hoping that the drink would not be as horrifying as she had been told. Lauren just never got into coffee drinking while in college. She imagined it as some 'adult' thing and she never considered herself an adult. It was partially why the children at school loved learning from her as much as playing board games with her. It also allowed Jo and Paul to commiserate over the progress of certain students while the group was totally distracted.
Carson handed her a million little brown sugar packages and Lauren ripped open two and poured it in and then stirred her cup. The cream was on the shelf.
"So what's it like teaching?" he asked.
"Um, different. I really like working with the students, they provide endless interesting moments. How about you, going to grad school?"
"I don't know."
The awkward pause in their conversation prompted Lauren's mind. You told your autistic students to work on their conversation skills. You should too.
"What is your favorite era in history?" she asked him relying on a trick one of her students had recently deployed. Unfortunately for him, after learning of someone's 'favorite' fill-in-the-blank, he'd spout off as much information that he knew about the particular subject or related materials.
"I've found myself concentrating on the Ottoman Empire. It's the longest lasting modern era."
'And the bloodiest.' She recalled.
"Lasted right to the beginning of the twentieth century?" she asked sipping on her cup.
'Oh good grief, this stuff is foul.' Lauren did her best to hide her distaste.
"You know, I never thought you'd become a teacher. I always thought you disliked working with us in school. You were always so on task."
Lauren felt a rush to her face. "It came naturally, if I had to explain why I was doing something in group work, I usually had to even show my thought philosophy."
"Yeah." he said dreamily for a moment. "You were hell bent on this thing in chemistry one year. I was dating your partner, Kerry. She was astounded on all your research and then the report; it was nearly fifteen pages typed with notes and a four-page bibliography. But she remembered all the details you put in, the pictures and your ability to simplify the technology out."
Lauren shrugged. "Like you said, I was 'on task'."
"We were cruel to you, I'm sorry. Even that time we started that rumor you were gay so no one would ask you out to the prom."
Lauren was a little taken aback. She hadn't heard the rumor, and even if she had, she wouldn't have gone to prom. She couldn't be in a room for so long with these people back then, a fact that had helped ease the tiny hurt she had from not being included especially since she couldn't have asked her parents for the money to attend. Even still, sometimes in college, it had hurt not to have memories or pictures like the others. They always looked like they were having fun. Yes, she knew that there was always some sort of teen created drama, but to have had a friend or two from then would have made some parts of her life today less lonely.
'Julia said I should address my sexuality. I should enjoy today she said.' Lauren shook her head clear, she was here with Carson. She should try and enjoy herself. Besides, when was the last time a guy ever took her out for anything?
"But you sure turned out really pretty Lauren." he smiled at her as she was uneasily trying to take another sip of cold coffee. 'Memo: Cold coffee worse than hot coffee.'
Weakly, Lauren murmured 'Thank you.'
Carson leaned over and stole a kiss. Lauren had never been kissed before. His lips felt like two pieces of fish flopping about her face trying to suck her nose off. She sat shocked. She felt herself try and to escape to her panicked place, but she held herself firmly rooted, sapping every ounce of strength.
"I-I need to get home Carson." she stammered looking away. "Thank you for the coffee."
Carson looked puzzled but took her to his car and she grabbed her one bag of groceries and ran home without looking back. With the door firmly shut behind her, Lauren sunk to the floor and cried.
She wasn't quite sure what really triggered it. If it had been Carson's admission or just the kiss... but that wasn't the important issue at hand. She hugged herself tightly and then carefully got up, leaving her wet things by the door, forcing herself to put her groceries away. Ignoring all the plans she had for the evening, she curled into bed and closed her eyes, hoping that today was only a dream.
Friday morning was as dreary as the previous morning made even more dreary now that the confusion that swirled in Lauren's mind. She couldn't understand why she was kissed. Or even why she had so much thought on the kiss.
From student to student, from class to class, Lauren walked through her haze unsure of what to do or say.
'This is probably something I should talk with someone about.' She admitted reluctantly over her quiet lunch in the staff room where she sat alone while everyone else scurried about copying and chatting amongst themselves.
And as if she had heard Lauren's thoughts, Julia came over and sat down next to Lauren.
"How are things going?" she asked. "I didn't get to see you today; Ginny was absent." The copy machines helped privatize their conversation.
Lauren shrugged and looked around reluctant to speak. Inside, Julia's heart held for a moment, sad to see that Lauren was falling back on an old habit.
"There's this event next weekend. I'd like you to come with me. I'll drive." Offered Julia. "I think you'll like learning about what's going to be there." She said emphatically.
"Okay, next Saturday?" Lauren asked as she folded her worn paper bag. Julia nodded.