Title: The Invitation
Lights, which were verging on overstaying their welcome, twinkled and cast colored shadows on the wet pavement. Inside the coffee shop Skinner sips his latte and sighs; he wonders why he chose this, of all ways, to spend his New Years Eve. People in gay finery sweep by the window, and a few too many stumble with the awkwardness associated with unpracticed drunks. For a moment he's tempted to join them out in the festive dampness, and not go to the party with the woman he's waiting to meet.
Perhaps it was loneliness, or a mere longing to fill empty post-work hours, that prompted him to log onto a chatroom for singles in the DC area. At first he'd been timid, and interjected little into the scrolling conversations, but eventually he became relaxed, and found himself returning again and again, to speak with the people who also hid behind their names and numbers. He never realized how much one could grow to like people whom you never saw, but these people, they taught him that there are others out there who are also reaching out for words of kindness and camaraderie.
At first he chatted amicably with whomever was in the room at night, not really taking note of the individuality of the various people who also frequented the room. Then, as people in these situations often do, he found himself drawn to one other chatter in particular. She had a sunny demeanor, which he found a welcome change from the cynicism that hung around his coworkers, and himself, like a storm cloud. Eventually her optimism became infectious, and he found himself having the types of pleasant happy thoughts that had eluded him since late childhood. With his sudden new found happiness came an eagerness to share more with this woman, and to soak up information about what made her Her as well. Each e-mail from her, each conversation, was like an unexpected gift, and it was not long before even he admitted that he was quite taken with her.
After Thanksgiving they got up the nerve to exchange photographs. He'd held his breath until she replied, because he was desperately afraid of being rejected by this woman whom he'd grown to care for so much. Her reply was kinder than he'd ever dreamt of expecting, and her own photo took his breath away. In an act of uncharacteristic spontaneity, he asked her to spend the New Year with him, and was thrilled by her enthusiastic acceptance.
Which brings us back to the man sitting in the coffee shop, waiting for his unseen love. A man who chides himself for his lack of faith in the woman for whom he sits and waits, because he has no evidence, not even a second of lateness, to give credence to his growing fear that she won't come. Desperate to take his mind off of his worry, he plays games in his mind, assigning half-seen passersby lives based on appearances. So caught up in this game, he doesn't notice at first that the woman he'd just decided was in love was standing at his elbow, softly saying his name until he looked up at her, and smiled.