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The words were diarrhea. He couldn’t stop. They cut through the soft jazz and whirring espresso machine. They bounced across the will-you-look-after-this-for-me computers and I’m-not-listening-to-you glances. Four other patrons filled the small corner where he’d chosen his gamble, tucked behind a wall away from where people were gathered to collect their coffee. They all wore earbuds, stared at their computers so that he’d thought they were working or surfing the web and wouldn’t eavesdrop on them when he decided to tell her.

He rambles when he’s nervous. He can’t settle on one word so says them all.

He felt this way since they were younger, brighter, lighter. But now being near her again…

He couldn’t find the words.

“I don’t just want to be your friend,” he thought. “I want something… more…”

The words. What were they?

He practiced in front of a mirror. His face stared into itself, steadfast and strong, like the man she would want to be with, like the man she deserved. He told himself his confidence was steadfast. Undeniable. An unshakable mountain ready for a storm or an earthquake or whatever.

But he forgot how he got when he was nervous, forgot how he was with people.

Alone, towel around his waist, hair still wet from the shower, staring at his reflection, he was so much more confident then.

Could words only work in an empty room? The thought seemed like an ancient recipe given to a boy by a witch. “Make sure to say the words softly, to yourself, in a dark and empty room. Then everything will come true.” If only it were so easy.

No, there was no other way.


Her silence struck the world empty. Her mouth tasted dry and stale.

He’s spilling forth words, a disaster of words, but charming, yes, maybe, words she’d wished for long ago, words she’d given up on, thought she’d never hear, she’d moved on, settled herself for a different future, a better future. Or so she thought. Then she moved here, and he was here and she couldn’t avoid him any longer. Two straight days of getting together until he fell asleep on her couch and she just left him there to sleep for the night.

“I’ve got to stop him,” she thought. “I’ve got to say something.”

The person behind him, sitting in the glare from the window, glances up over their computer to see how she’s reacting.

No, she will not look at them. She’ll stare into his eyes, think about all the words that might fit this moment, think beyond the passers-by, the audience that has collected around the corner, the piercing pupils pulling her way.

Her mind rides through a field, lasso in hand, ready to round up vocabulary, beautiful phrases, things she’d like to say, maybe a memory or two. But it’s empty now, and she has little recourse but to gallop through the green grass, the warm sun beating down, the cows calling from across the road, mocking her, her heart sinking, searching for something to say.


“…I know that this will make you wonder about our friendship and worry that it won’t be the same but who really cares anymore? We’ve lived half our lives together and there’s nobody I could imagine spending the rest my life with and I know that sounds stupid, like a proposal, and that’s not what I mean, I mean, I don’t want to just run off and get married, I want to try to be with you because it could be better than our friendship, it would mean we would always be together even if we were apart and no that doesn’t make sense but our hearts would be there—”

“Just stop.”

The words end the avalanche. What remains are coughs and held breaths and the breeze of a saxophone. The espresso machine isn’t running. Neither is the grinder. All the typing has stopped, too. Everyone just waiting for what happens next, how this drama ends, the exciting conclusion to what they didn’t expect at their local coffee shop when they sat down for work or to take a break or to study. They’re waiting for her response. For her decision. For her.

Thomas Viehe

Thomas Viehe prefers pop over soda, loo over toilet, fall over autumn. He lives with his wife and dog in a remote part of the country, Washington, D.C.

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