“Hot chocolate with two shots for Tyler!” the coffee shop employee shouted from behind the counter.
“It’s Kyler,” he muttered. Not that it mattered, he reasoned. They always got it wrong.
Kyler grabbed his drink and began searching for Charlie. The more he read through the project’s guidelines, the more he began to resent the project itself.
“I don’t care how you go about composing this piece,” Dr. Torrence said in class, “so long as you turn it in on time, it meets the word count guidelines, and I can see the person you interviewed in your story. Take all the creative liberties you want beyond that.”
For as much as Kyler liked writing creatively in his spare time, there was usually some method to his madness. For this project, the entirety of the structure could be explained as ‘here’s a word count and a subject…go’! And that was a little unsettling for Kyler, even before he’d managed to oversleep and get one of the challenging stories.
The biography card that Kyler received from Dr. Torrence read like something out of one of those rich people financial magazines you read in the dentist office waiting room when you’ve finished Sports Illustrated. Charlie Madagan was an ex-Wall Street broker, an inventor, and a hedge fund manager. He was, apparently, the former youngest billionaire in the US, though he was much older now and had given a lot of money to the college, as it was his alma mater. That said, he was also eccentric and prone to days or weeks at a time where no one would be able to hear from him.
Kyler looked around the coffee shop, trying to find Charlie using the description he’d been given via email. The challenge to finding someone wearing a black hoodie and blue jeans in a college town is that you’ve managed to describe half of the town. Even when controlling for the fact that Charlie was older, it’s not like he’d stick out.
Just as Kyler finished his second loop around the coffee shop searching, a hand touched his shoulder.
“You’re late,” Kyler heard a raspy male voice say from behind him.
Kyler turned around to see a middle-aged man wearing a black hoodie and blue jeans, his salt-and-pepper hair sticking out from underneath a Wellesley College baseball hat.
“Charlie?” Kyler voice squeaked out.
“You’ll never get a good interview looking and talking like that,” Charlie said. “Come on now. Stand up straight.”
Kyler did his best to straighten his posture. He hadn’t noticed he was slouching. He never did. But for the number of times his grandpa had called him out on it as a child, he figured Charlie was probably right.
“Now, try again,” Charlie said.
“Charlie Madagan?” Kyler asked, his voice a bit louder this time.
Charlie let out a deep sigh.
“You’re going to be more work than I thought,” he replied. “Come on. Bring your coffee and let’s grab a table and get started.”
“It’s hot chocolate,” Kyler corrected him.
“Fucking millennials,” Charlie mumbled to himself.
He pointed at a table in the far corner of the building.
“See that empty three-seater?” Charlie asked. “Go sit there. Leave me the seat by the coat rack. Take whichever other one you want. I’ll be right there.”
Kyler followed Charlie’s instructions, seating himself to Charlie’s right. For a moment, he considered pulling out his laptop and readying himself to take notes. But Kyler considered Charlie’s snide remark about his age and changed his mind. Pen and paper would be the right choice — at least in Charlie’s eyes. It had been a rocky start to the interview. Kyler was grateful to Dr. Torrence that he’d provided the class a list of recommended questions to begin the interview with. Even if Charlie wouldn’t answer them, it gave Kyler something to try.
“Here,” said Charlie, nudging Kyler with a cup and saucer.
Kyler thanked him and looked down at his drink. The coffee cup was half the size of a regular cup. Even then, it looked underfilled, the liquid inside barely passing the halfway point.
“Hot cocoa is for Christmas and cuddling,” continued Charlie. “The former is three months away and I have no intention of partaking in the latter with you. Espresso is a much better choice for an interview. It’ll strong enough to keep you focused, but there’s not so much that you’ll need to take a piss halfway through.”
He sipped at his own cup, barely making a dent in the level of the liquid. Kyler stared at Charlie’s hat, knowing the name sounded familiar, though he couldn’t place why.
“Where’s Wellesley?” he asked, fully expecting a condescending response based on how things had gone so far.
“Massachusetts,” Charlie replied. “One of the most prestigious women’s colleges in the world.”
“Does your daughter go there?”
“No, no. I’m afraid she didn’t have the grades to get in there — and connections can only get you so far — though I do appreciate your educated guess that I had a daughter.”
“Well, it made sense.”
“Because I’m old?” Charlie asked.
“I didn’t mean it that way,” Kyler backpedaled.
“How old do you think I am?”
Charlie leaned forward in his seat, like a cat getting ready to pounce on an injured bird.
“Forty-five?” Kyler said, his statement turning into a question as he spoke.
Charlie let out a boisterous laugh, one much fuller than Kyler had expected to be capable of coming from him.
“You flatter me,” Charlie said. “Maybe there’s some hope for you after all. No, I’m fifty-two. And to your earlier question, my wife is actually the Wellesley alumna.”
After taking another drink, Charlie Madagan pulled a folded slip of paper out of the pocket of his hoodie, sliding it across the table. Kyler stared at it, confused as to what exactly what’s going on.
“Are you making me an offer I can’t refuse?” asked Kyler.
“Go on,” Charlie said. “It’s better than whatever you’ve come up with.”
“You have prepared questions to ask me, right?”
“Mine are better. I promise.”
“How do you know?” Kyler asked.
Kyler couldn’t put his finger on exactly why, but Charlie was starting to get on his nerves. For his part, Charlie seemed to be enjoying how things were going, taking another sip of his espresso, then patiently considering Kyler’s question.
“I’ve known Eugenio Torrence for twenty-nine years,” he began. “For the past thirteen years, I’ve been helping him out as a subject in his creative writing courses. I am the person who always ends up to with the slackers, the stoners, the eventual dropouts, or the kids who are perpetually late to class. Though there was one year I got that really annoying overachiever. I wanted to kick her in the teeth.”
“I was late one day!” Kyler shouted.
“What’s your GPA?” Charlie asked, his voice calm and, to Kyler’s frustration, annoyingly melodic.
“Why does that matter?”
“What’s your GPA, Kyler?”
“And how often do you miss class?”
“Not as much as I used to,” Kyler said. “I mean. It happens sometimes. But not so much anymore.”
“Kyler. Just look at the list.”
Kyler pulled the sheet of paper towards him, slowly sliding it across the table, taking care of avoid the small pool of condensation from whoever had the table before them. He look his time unfolding the paper, trying to sneak a glance at the expression on Charlie’s face. It was unflinching and stoic, as if he were trying to convey that he knew exactly how Kyler would react before he did.
The list was a mess of handwritten bullet points. Charlie’s penmanship would be best described as third grader trying to create calligraphy in a bumper car, but it was clear that his pen strokes were meticulous and careful, even if the end result was not particularly beautiful. The list read as such:
– Why is the feeling of falling in love so addictive?
– Is there a difference between philanthropy and marketing?
– Are humans really the heroes of their own stories?
Kyler looked up from the list and stared at Charlie.
“Let me guess,” Charlie said. “Not what you were expecting?”
“None of these questions are about you,” Kyler replied. “They’re essay topics for a philosophy class.”
“I can assure you they’re not. Trust me. I’ve pitched the topics to a number of members of the philosophy department. None of them take my suggestions seriously.”
“I think I’ll stick to my list,” Kyler said as he opened his steno pad to find his own list of questions.
“Just ask one,” replied Charlie. “I’ll even let you pick. Take any question from the list and let me respond. I promise that every question you could have possibly come up with to learn about me will be answered by those three questions. I’ll only need to answer one for you to know I’m right.”
Kyler looked the list over again. The questions seemed absured. Though he was sure he could tangently get a good bit of information about Charlie Madagan from whatever answers he gave, the ultimate goal was to pass his class. And considering the fact that ENG 3030 was an 8 a.m. class, the goal was more accurately described as passing the class while also getting as much sleep as possible. Yet, it was clear to Kyler that he wasn’t going to be able to make any progress on his own questions without at least humoring Charlie.
“I’ll take the first one,” Kyler said, pointing at the question and turning the paper back to Charlie.
“An interesting, though predictable choice,” Charlie said. He took a longer sip from the cup, having nearly finished his drink while Kyler was distracted with the list of questions.
“Everyone wants to hear a good love story. That’s what falling in love is about. Still. You’ve picked the longest question to answer. I’m afraid we don’t have time to answer it today.”
“That’s fine,” Kyler said. “We can start and continue through em –”
“No,” Charlie interrupted. “I mean this is an explanation longer than the time you told me you had in your schedule, as well as a question that must be answered in one sitting.”
Kyler was dumbfounded. Was this guy serious? Was his story really that important that it necessitated his scheduled be cleared just to hear it?
“What does Friday look like for you?” Charlie asked as he picked up his phone. Kyler couldn’t only assume he was looking at his calendar, but he knew very few people with a Blackberry to know for sure what they did.
“Class 9:05 until 9:55,” Kyler said. “One from 10:35 to 11:25, and one from 1:30 to 2:20.”
“Any plans after?”
Kyler thought for a moment. Sloane would be out of town at her internship. Riza wasn’t coming back any time soon. Even Troy was out of town for the evening. But what college kid didn’t have plans on a Friday night?
“I’ve got a party I’m going to that night,” Kyler answered, lying through his teeth.
“That’s fine,” said Charlie. “Meet me here at 3:30. This place closes at 8, so you’ll be home in plenty of time to pregame — or whatever it’s being called these days.”
“It’s still pregaming.”
Charlie got out of his chair, grabbing his cup and saucer to take back to the counter.
“And Kyler,” he said.
“Bring a laptop next time. You look like a damned fool taking notes on paper.”
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