At a long work table in Starbucks, an older gentleman sat at one end while my son and I were at the other. He sat across from a young man working on a laptop, headphones at the ready. The older of the two watched us sit down, he smiled as my son tucked into his cake pop and chocolate milk. I stood up when my name was called, my iced tea was ready at the counter.
When I came back I heard his shaky voice, "Oh, it's nothing, just notes." There was a pause. He moved his coffee cup around in circles, and tapped a free hand on a napkin. I'd noticed the napkin as I walked by. Dark, inky words penned in haste. As the young man grabbed his headphones the shaky voice turned more confident.
"Actually, you're looking at the next Ernest Hemingway!"
"Really? What is it you're writing?" the headphones were carefully placed on the table.
"Just the great American novel," his voice boomed, the sweater that hung loosely from his frame danced in the fluorescent light filled room as he raised his arms like a goal post, "in FOUR parts." He sat back in his chair, arms crossed in front of him, his fingers grabbing for the folds of his cream colored sweater, the waffle texture wearing thin exposed hints of a grey tee shirt.
"That's great," said the man with the headphones, his eyes darting from his table mate to his computer.
My son asked me a question, taking me away from eavesdropping. When I turned my attention back to the other end of the table their conversation had moved on, to a lost phone. "It was an ordinary, black phone. One helluva phone. I remember making a phone call down by the railroad crossing, but after that, I have no idea. I've got to find it before we move, you know, we're moving down to the senior center and there's so many boxes. It was really one helluva phone."
I stole a glance. His gaze was straight ahead, past the young man who ached for his headphones, down the hallway to the back entry way. He slouched back in his seat the same way my son did. I could imagine his feet both planted firmly on the ground below. Comfortable. Unconcerned with appearance.
We gathered the remains of our snack and drinks, and as I walked towards the end of the table the young man slid the headphones over his ears, eyes on his laptop. I turned the corner and heard the next Earnest Hemingway mutter to everyone and no one in particular, "I've got a million of these napkins, they just keep piling up..."