"The usual please," he said, head down, eyes peeking up.
"A large Americano?" asked Diane.
"Yes," he said flatly.
"Can I have a name for that?" she asked. He thought a moment.
"Zelig," he said. He came in everyday and gave a different name. He was Ward and Xander and Javier, not to mention York and Zygmunt. He was once even Helen. Tomorrow he would probably be Abraham or Alaster since he always picked names in alphabetical order and was careful not to reuse anything.
"Yes, Zelig," he said. He shuffled his weight from foot to foot and pushed up on the bridge of his glasses. "Zelig."
"Zelig," she said again, writing on the cup. He shoved a five dollar bill in her direction.
"Keep the change," he said.
"Thanks," she said.
"I'll be up..." he pointed up to the loft area of the coffeeshop. Apparently it had the best wifi access.
"I'll bring it right up," said Diane, smiling. She rung up the order as she watched him depart for the spiral staircase. He was extraordinarily eccentric, but there was something about him that was attractive. She thought he probably had Asperger's disease, which she thought was less a disease than an endearing trait. He dressed well, and obviously showered frequently despite his social avoidance behaviors. He came in and sat all day tapping away on his laptop, and mouthing words under his breathe. He was on the cusp of creepy, but he didn't seem the least bit dangerous or unstable to Diane (and the coffeeshop had had plenty of off-kilter regulars that had to be banned at one point or another--he wasn't like them).
"Those fifteen cent tips adds up," said Sonya, the barista, as she foamed milk for another customer's order. Diane glanced over and rolled her eyes. "We really should price beverages at five cents over a full dollar amount, that way people would give us almost a full dollar when they dump their pesky change in the tip jar."
"Sure," said Diane. She glanced back up at the man, then wrote 'Zelig' on a cup and handed it off to Sonya.
"He's never going to notice you," said Sonya. "Unless maybe you laid across his laptop keyboard like a cat."
"I don't care if he doesn't notice me," said Diane. "He's just a customer."
"You're fascinated with him, I can tell," said Sonya smiling impishly as she tamped down some coffee.
"I'm not," scoffed Diane.
"I bet you'd love to lay across his keyboard..." said Sonya, arching her eyebrows.
"Shut up!" said Diane, flushing red and trying to keep her voice down. "Are you almost done?"
"Not quite," she said as she simultaneously pulled two shots. "I dare you to ask him what his real name is--no wait, I dare you sit up there next to him for five full minutes and try to have a conversation."
"I'll cover the register for you."
"What do I get if I do it?"
"The full fifteen cents he tipped, instead of the seven point five cents you would normally get."
"Oh come on," said Diane. "Something real."
"All right, five bucks."
"Dollars," said Diane.
"Um, yeah," said Sonya.
"Well it's just that knowing you, you'd probably just draw five stick-figure deer with antlers on a piece of paper."
"That's good!" exclaimed Sonya. "I'll have to remember that one. We have a deal?"
"Okay, well get to it, while it's slow in here. Here's his drink." Sonya handed the hot cup to Diana. She walked out from behind the counter and smoothed the front of her apron with her free hand. She looked down and cursed the espresso and milk stains. She nervously headed for the spiral staircase, ascending it slowly.
When she reached the top she crossed over to the mystery man, and placed the cup down on his little circular table. He lowered his laptop screen and glanced furtively up at her.
"There you go," she said, not knowing what to say.
"Thanks," he said quietly. She continued to stand there, even though her feet itched to leave. He shifted in his seat, sidling a half-inch away from her.
"Do you need anything else?" she said.
"No," he said. She folder her arms, and he sidled another half-inch.
"So, uh, we were wondering, what is your real name exactly?"
"Uh, Zelig," he said. He pushed the bridge of his glasses again. He turned slightly towards her, crossed his legs, and reached for the cup of coffee. When she spoke again he quickly retracted his hand and stuffed it under the opposing arm.
"I don't think so," she said smiling. "Come'on, you call tell me. I won't tell anyone."
"I uh, I don't like my name," he said.
"It's not as weird as Zelig or Xander is it?"
"No, I like those names," he said, somewhat quickly.
"So that's why you use fake names?" asked Diane,
"That and it's fun and challenging," he said, turning his head up slightly. Diane turned around and pulled a chair towards his table. She sat down and he scooted his chair a few inches from her.
"Do I make you, uncomfortable?" asked Diane, "because I don't mean to."
"Sort of," he said.
"I'm sorry. Do you want me to move back?"
"Uh, okay," said Diane, confused.
"So you're just hiding your name, not your identity or anything?"
"Something like that," he said.
"So what's you're real name?" she asked. He moaned under his breath.
"It's uh, Baxter," he said.
"Really? That's not so bad. I bit stuffy maybe, but not bad."
"I think it makes me sound like a butler," he said. Diane laughed then clapped her hand over her mouth. Baxter smiled back.
"So is that your first or last name?"
"My full name is Baxter Smith Worthington the fifth," he said, looking down at his hands.
"That's quite a mouthful," said Diane. "I think I see the problem."
"Yeah," he said, sighing.
"So what do you do up here all day?" asked Diane.
"Uh, stuff," said Baxter, folding his arms.
"Are you are writer?" asked Diane. "Oh that's stupid question. Ninety percent of the people who work all day in coffeeshops, freeloading the wifi are writers."
"I'm not freeloading," said Baxter, looking concerned.
"Oh, no, I wasn't accusing you or anything..." she trailed off, and looked down to Sonya. She had her elbows on the counter and her head in her hands, staring up with some glee. "I was just curious about what you do." She looked back at Baxter.
"Yeah, I write stuff," he said vaguely.
"Well, let's see!" She quickly flipped up the screen...to see a photo of herself.
"No!" he slammed down the screen, and grew red.
"What the--" she knitted her brow and reached over to open the laptop, but he put his hand on hers. It was with a warm and gentle touch and something indescribable zipped up her arm and into her chest. She sucked in a breath with haste.
"Please don't--" he pleaded.
"Was that me?"
"Are you stalking me or something?"
"Not really," he said quietly.
"Can I see please?"
"Don't get angry..." he slipped his hand off hers, and let her flip up the screen. It took a moment to come on, but then she saw a photo of her that she posted to Facebook a few months ago, used as his desktop background.
"I need to redo my privacy settings," she said.
"I'm so, so, so sorry," he said.
"You might think this is strange," he said.
"At this point, I think I'm prepared for strange," she said.
"You're my muse," he said.
"Huh? I'm your what?"
"My muse. You inspire me."
"Inspire? What exactly do I inspire you to do?"
"I write poetry," he said.
"Oh, thank goodness," she said sighing. Then she laughed. "I thought maybe you were like a serial killer or something, and you killed other women and put wigs on them to make them look like me or something. That would not have been acceptable."
"I'm not that strange," he said, after a long awkward pause.
"No. Poetry. That's cute actually," she said. He blushed. "Can I see something?"
"Sure," he said. And for the next two hours he read her his poems. And the next day when he came in, he gave his name as 'Baxter'.