“You’re late,” Charlie said.
“I know, I know,” replied Kyler.
He quickly set his backpack down against his chair, unpacking the laptop that Charlie insisted he bring for this interview. While Kyler felt pretty confident about his typing skills, he didn’t feel great about anything in front of Charlie. Would he be expecting word-for-word dictation? Would Kyler need to give him back a transcript at the end of the afternoon? For a guy as slight of frame as Charlie Madagan was, Kyler found him terrifying.
“What will you be drinking today?” Charlie asked.
“I’m not thirsty,” Kyler said. “I’ve got a bottle of water in my bag if I’m desperate.”
“Nonsense. If you’re going to do this professionally, we’re at least going to have some coffee and chat like men.”
Charlie waved his arm at a passing barista, who was on her way back from putting a new trash bag in the container by the door.
“Hey sugar,” Charlie said. “C’mere.”
“Can I help you?” the barista asked. Kyler read the nametag on her shirt — Meagan.
“Take this and bring him back something strong and not too sweet. Ideally something hot.”
Charlie handed a ten-dollar bill to Meagan.
“Of course,” she replied. “I’ll be back with your drink and your change soon.”
“Keep it, darling,” Charlie answered. “Think of it as a tip.”
The barista smiled and walked quickly away.
“Do you know Meagan too?” Kyler asked. “I had a math class with her freshman year.”
“It’s not about if you know someone,” Charlie replied. “It’s about how you can make them feel. She’s going to bring you back a three dollar drink — probably something better and more creative than you’d ever think to order — and have seven bucks for herself. She might even throw in something for free ‘out of the kindness of her heart’. Attention is easy to buy, Kyler. It’s about knowing how to spend your money to get good attention.”
Kyler shuffled in his seat. The wallet jamming into his right buttcheek had $16 in it. It’s all the money he’d have until his parents put money in the bank on Friday. While he wasn’t about to look a gift allowance in the mouth, especially not three years into college, the fact that it wasn’t more was a regular source of anxiety. Troy offered to help him get a job with him at the rec center on campus, but Kyler always turned him down.
“You should be taking notes,” Charlie said. “Not for your paper. For yourself.”
“Sorry,” Kyler said, quickly opening a Word doc and typing.
“Did you see how she smiled when she walked away?”
“Too busy checking out her ass?”
“It’s fine if you were,” Charlie replied. “Even average eye candy is still sweet.”
“I’ve gotten smacked in the back of the head a few too many times to try that,” replied Kyler.
“So you’ve got a girlfriend then?”
“Clearly the jealous type,” said Charlie. “That can be a good or a bad thing.”
“How is jealousy good?” asked Kyler.
Charlie started to answer, only to be interrupted by Meagan walking over with a cup of coffee on a saucer and a pair of muffins on plates.
“A café au lait for you,” she said, placing the coffee in front of Kyler, “and then I brought two muffins. On the house. The one in the blue wrapper is cinnamon and butterscotch chip and the one in the red wrapper is orange cranberry.”
“Appreciated as always, love,” Charlie said.
“Let me know if you need anything else.”
Kyler watched this time as Meagan turned and headed back to the front of the shop. He swore he noticed a small skip in her step as she walked, though perhaps he was seeing things.
“Told you,” Charlie said. He grabbed the plate with the orange cranberry muffin and pulled it toward him, leaving the other one behind for Kyler.
“Why didn’t you call her by her name?” Kyler asked. “It was love or sugar or whatever.”
“Kyler,” Charlie replied as he methodically removed the wrapper from the muffin. “You ask some terribly boring questions, you know that?”
“She had a nametag.”
“And I got a splinter in my hand this morning, but it’s not relevant. Tell me about your girlfriend. Start with her name, since you seem to be hung up on what you should call people.”
“Her name is Sloane,” Kyler replied.
There was an aggressiveness in Kyler’s voice that startled him as soon as it left his mouth. The sentence itself wasn’t the issue. It was short. Factual. But something about Charlie Madagan was getting under his skin. He couldn’t quite put his finger on what, but Kyler sensed that there was something off about him.
“Who gives their kid a last name for a first name?” asked Charlie. “Well, I’m sure that’s not your problem. What does she do for you?”
“What do you mean?” Kyler asked.
“What draws you to her? What keeps you wanting to be with her?”
“She’s a nice person.”
“So’s my mailman, but I don’t want to fuck him,” Charlie replied. “There’s got to be more to it than that. How long have you been together?”
“A little over two years,” Kyler replied.
“Do you plan to marry her?”
“What kind of question is that?”
“I think it’s a perfectly reasonable question to ask,” Charlie said. “I’m not saying you have to right away. But you’ve commit yourself to the same woman for two years. That’s not exactly nothing. Especially when you’re in a prime situation.”
“How so?” Kyler asked.
“You can’t be that dense, boy. Single women all around you. Sloane can’t be the only girl you find hot around here.”
Kyler visibly cringed.
“Does the thought of an old man finding someone sexually attractive repulse you?” Charlie asked.
“It’s kind of weird,” Kyler admitted.
“I’ve been told I’m a silver fox. I hate the term. But if it’s what it takes to justify still having a sex life post-age 50, I’ll deal with it. You’re ignoring my point though.”
“What is your point?”
“Do you have my list of questions from our first meeting?”
Kyler dug the sloppily-written bullet point list out of his pocket. He laid it on the table between himself and Charlie, only for Charlie to turn the list toward himself and immediately point at one of the questions.
“This one right here,” he said. “Why is the feeling of falling in love so addictive? Have you thought about that?”
“I don’t think I follow the question,” said Kyler.
“Go on a trip with me then. What was it like dating Sloane in the beginning? Romantic? Passionate? Energetic?”
“Honestly?” Kyler replied. “It was kind of a blur.”
“How so?” Charlie said.
“We spent a ton of time together. One of us was at the other’s dorm almost every night. My roommate wanted to start charging her rent.”
“So you talked every day.”
“Yeah. We talked all the time.”
“And I bet you two were excited to see each other,” continued Charlie. “Counting down the hours until you could see each other again. Or something along those lines at least.”
“Is Sloane your first girlfriend, Kyler?”
In answering how he had, Kyler wasn’t lying to Charlie. He had dated various girls in high school. That said, Sloane was the first girlfriend he had an actual relationship with. Or, at the very least, one that lasted more than a couple of months.
“So you’re either a real ladies man or you’re serially monogamous,” said Charlie.
“I wouldn’t say serially,” replied Kyler. “There’s been breaks.”
“Right. But I bet there has always been someone who’s your object of desire, even when you’re not dating.”
Kyler went quiet, taking a look back at the notes he’d made on his laptop. He’d planned to try to steer this meeting back to where he was interviewing Charlie about his life story. Things hadn’t gone as he’d hoped, just as they’d careened away from his plan last time. Might as well lean into it, he reasoned.
“What’s your point here?” Kyler asked. “Is your life story about how all you want is to fall in love over and over again?”
“Not at all,” Charlie replied. “I’m a happily married man. Granted, I travel quite a bit for work, so I don’t get to see my wife as often as I could. But that’s part of what keeps the spark in our relationship.”
Charlie took the last few bites of his muffin, crumbling the wrapper up and placing it on the plate. Within a few moments, Meagan walked up and grabbed the plate off the table.
“Anything else I can get you?” she asked, a smile plastered across her face.
“No, thank you,” Charlie replied. “Just enjoy yourself tonight. Can you do that for me, sweetie?”
“I think I can.”
Meagan walked away, leaving Kyler and Charlie alone once again.
“Part of why I’m so happy,” Charlie continued, as if the interruption had never occurred, “is because I spent so much time in the early stages of relationships when I was young. I was just like you. If I wasn’t dating someone, I was trying my hardest to find someone to love me. And frankly, I felt kind of alone. Lost, if you will. But I kept searching for someone who made me feel like I was falling in love again every single day. And I did find her.”
The sound of Charlie’s phone ringing broke his focus. He stood up from the table and began to talk hurriedly to whoever was on the other end. Kyler checked his laptop, hoping that someone had provided a distraction via instant message. There was a message from Troy, but Kyler was quickly disappointed to find he’d been sent a penis drawn with ASCII art. There was an email from Lauren about their project, but before Kyler could open it, Charlie was walking back to the table.
“I’m afraid I have to cut our meeting short,” said Charlie. “I’ll pay for your coffee the next time we meet to make it up to you.”
“You paid for my coffee this time,” replied Kyler.
“No. I taught you something this time. Next time will be my treat. Think about what I said, would you? It’ll make these interviews a lot easier.”
Charlie picked up his bag and walked out the front of the coffee shop. As Kyler began to pack up his stuff, Meagan walked back over from the counter.
“Was that your dad?” she asked.
“No,” replied Kyler. “Just a guy I have to interview for class.”
“Oh. Well, do you think you could get me his number?”
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