(Here’s a story I wrote close to twenty years ago now that seems oddly relevant today. Enjoy.)
Jitters by Tim Jousma
It was as if the crowded room suddenly became still. Joe Dekker sat at the table in the coffee shop and stared across the restaurant at the woman who just walked inside; the woman he’d been pining for. Laura Knight had been the subject of his desires going on almost three months now. Bordering on obsession, he could think of nothing but Laura and how things would be if he could actually take her out on a date. His friend Robert came back to the table with their coffee’s and stared where Joe was looking. He shook his head.
“I should have figured she walked in the room with that blank stare on your face.”
Joe blushed. “What?”
“Dude, you have the hots for that chick. It’s no big secret. Why don’t you just get it over with and ask her out?”
Joe shrugged. “You say that like it’s something easy to do.”
“Yeah it is actually. You just go up and ask her out. What’s the worse that’ll happen?”
“She could laugh. She could slap me. She could get her boyfriend who is an amateur body builder to kick my ass.”
Robert stared at Joe. “Seriously man? Worst thing that’ll happen is she says, drumroll please, no.”
“You don’t know that.”
“Why would she do what you suggest? From what you’ve told me she’s been nothing but nice to you. If she is not interested in going out with you, she’ll be nice about the rejection.”
“But you don’t know that.”
“Oh shut your bitch mouth, reassert your testicles, and go ask her out.”
Robert rose from his chair, walked over to Joe, and forced him to stand. He shoved Joe in Laura’s direction. Joe turned, gave Robert the finger, yet continued on.
His mind raced. All those questions that filled his mind at times like this flooded his brain like a lake after a dam burst. He had to be calm asking her out. First thing he needed to do was calm his shaking hands. Joe took a deep breath and put his hands in his pocket. He had to figure out what he would say to her when he was within talking distance. ‘Hi’ would work but that wouldn’t get him very far. What else could he say to her before asking her out?
The sound of the door chime got his attention. A man walked in, gazed around the coffee shop, spotted the person he was looking for, and walked over to them. To Joe’s horror, the person this insanely good looking man was interested in seeing…was Laura. Joe turned tail and headed back to his table and sat back in his seat, defeated. Robert laughed.
“Down for the count, huh?” he asked.
Joe finished his coffee, rose, and walked out without replying.
Joe couldn’t pinpoint what moment in his life that made him scared to approach women. Sure, being introverted didn’t help but that didn’t necessarily mean it would prevent him from asking women out. Maybe it had to do with his first love all the way back in the fifth grade.
Melinda Gomez. An angel that dropped from the sky and shared the same fourth grade class as his sister. She was the first girl he ever spoke with voluntarily. They’d spend their recess sitting by the slide or the merry go round and just talk. Joe never imagined he’d be able to do that with a girl. It wasn’t too long ago that girls were nothing more than humans with longer hair. Melinda was the first girl to actually make him understand that women had more to offer than just existing. Melinda was his first crush.
But as elementary school love went, it didn’t last. It ended in suddenly. At an assembly one day, Melinda and her younger sister stood up in front of everyone and told the school that today was their last day because their parents were moving to Papa New Guinea to become missionaries. What selfish jerks, Joe thought to himself. He went home that day, which just had to be Valentine’s Day, and cried his eyes out.
Ever since that traumatic experience, he’d been unable to get close to a woman. For whatever reason, he could never be comfortable enough around a woman in order to close the deal. Not that he couldn’t deal with women in general; he’d been able to work with many women just fine in professional and school situations. He just couldn’t get the chutzpah in order to ask a woman out on a date.
He met Laura at work. She worked in the computer department which brought her to his area of the store many times during the day. She broke the ice the first day on the job, commenting on his Doctor Who keychain. Joe hadn’t met many women who knew what Doctor Who even was much less having any sort of opinion one way or the other about the show. They spent many hours during lunch discussing the latest episodes. They’d even exchanged phone numbers and hung out with each other outside of work. But when it came to actually discussing with her his feelings, he couldn’t speak one word.
He had to sort things out. It was time to pay a visit to his best friend. If anyone could give him some advice on how to ask Laura out, it would be Peter.
“So you’ve finally found someone you want to get the courage to ask out and you’ve come to me? I feel so honored,” Peter Vogler said as he finished rinsing off a plate and putting it into his dishwasher.
“Wow. What a way to be sympathetic,” Joe replied, handing him a dirty coffee cup. “Dick.”
Joe and Peter laughed. “So why haven’t you asked her out?”
“I tried earlier today at the coffee shop. I headed in her direction and the moment this guy walked into the shop and started talking with her, I bailed.”
“She has a boyfriend then?”
“I don’t know.”
Joe finished rinsing the coffee cup and put it in the dishwasher. “Then why the hell didn’t you talk to her and ask her out?”
“She ended up talking to that guy.”
“But you don’t know if that’s her boyfriend.”
“So? Looks like it’s full. I’ll grab the soap.”
Joe knelt down and grabbed the soap from Peter’s cupboard and filled up the soap dispenser in Peter’s dishwasher. “Why would I try and ask her out if her man is there? He’d kick my ass.”
“He may laugh at you sure but unless you’re trying to break the damn law, if that is his woman, he won’t touch you.”
“How can you be sure?”
“Simple. Not many people want to go to jail for assault. Starting fights with anyone who glares at your woman will land you there.”
Joe followed Peter to his living room and sat on the floor while Peter started up a video game for them to play. “Ok. So he wouldn’t kick my ass. But it still would have been bad form for me to ask her out.”
“Fine. Let’s go with your assertion that that particular moment was a bad time to ask her out. When is the next time you see her?”
“At work. Why?”
“Ask her then,” Peter said, handing Joe a controller.
“But if she says no then, I’ve made working with her quite an uncomfortable affair.”
“Then you need to find the perfect time man. Fact is, if what you’re saying is true she’s a cool lady and as long as you don’t come across all psycho crazy on her, at the very least she’ll be cool about saying no and will still be your friend. Do you think you can handle that?”
Joe thought about it for a moment. “I get what you’re saying. I just get too nervous and realize that…”
“It can come across like you are a creepy bastard, I get it. Again, she’s comfortable talking with you. Take advantage of that. Now get ready for me to kick your ass. My team is one win away from getting into the playoffs and I need to stomp on your pathetic ass.”
His mind was his own worst enemy. Joe lay in bed that night going over again and again what would potentially happen if he dared asked Laura out. The ‘What If’s’ were visiting him. The ‘What If’s’ were scenarios that ran through his head whenever he thought of asking a girl out that usually went over the very worst case scenarios that could potentially happen.
He imagined Laura was taking a break outside work talking to a friend. He imagined himself taking a deep breath, wiping the sweat off his hands, and approaching her.
“Laura, hi,” he would say.
Laura would acknowledge him without speaking, dismissing her friend. Joe stood for a moment before going on.
“How you doing today?”
“Fine,” she would say, her face not giving Joe an idea of what she was thinking.
Joe would take a deep breath before going on. “Uh, yeah. I was wondering if, um, you wanted to go to a movie or something?”
Laura would smile. What started off as a sweet smile turned into a vicious sneer.
“Why in the hell would I want to associate myself with someone as disgusting as you?” she would say, at which point she would take out a can of mace and spray him in the eyes.
Joe shook his head, clearing the image from his head. Why the hell would she do something like that? he asked himself. Peter was right. She wouldn’t do something like that to him. Why did he keep telling himself that something negative would happen? Before he could knock some sanity into his head, another ‘What If’ scenario popped arrived.
Joe had his cell phone in his hand during this little delusion. He called Laura, each ring making his nervousness intensify. She finally answered.
“Laura, it’s Joe. How goes it?”
“Fine. Why are you calling?”
Joe paused, taking a breath. “I was wondering, uh, if you’d like to go out to dinner sometime?”
There was silence. Just as Joe was about to ask if Laura was still there, she replied.
“Joe, I’ll say this once. Never call me again.”
What kind of nonsense is that now? Joe asked himself, taking a deep breath after that scenario stopped. How much worse can these get?
As if on cue…
Joe saw himself approaching Laura outside work again. Just as he came within arm’s distance of her, she caught sight of him, pulled out a gun, and shot him in the face. With that, Joe rose from bed and headed into the kitchen to get something to drink. Whatever his mind was trying to do to convince him he shouldn’t ask Laura out, he had to prove the fucker wrong just so these stupid ‘What If’s’ would stop.
This was it. Today was going to be the day. If he couldn’t ask Laura out on a simple date today, he’d never be able to do it. Not with her or any other woman. If he failed, his life would be destined to involve tons of lotion and internet porn.
The season finale to Doctor Who would be on tonight. They’d always called each other after each episode to talk about the latest developments and where the storyline for the season would lead the Doctor to next. Joe figured that if he got her riffing on a topic that interested her, if he tossed in the question of asking her out at some point, she wouldn’t be inclined to be negative in her refusal to date him.
He kept glancing at his watch as the episode went on. While he was engrossed with the story, the fact that something so earth shatteringly important as asking Laura out was getting closer weighed on his mind like a Volkswagen Beetle filled to capacity with overweight clowns. He knew he’d have to have something to talk to her about though so he tried his best to remember the main points of the show. Anything he missed he’d pick up later when watched the episode again.
Once the show ended, he took a deep breath and called her. She answered on the second ring. They discussed the episode. Before he knew it, Joe looked at his watch and noticed that twenty minutes had passed. Time had a habit of flying by any time he talked with her.
As they exhausted all topics relating to the show, Joe knew now was the time to ask her out. He took a deep breath. Before he had a chance to go through his prepared comments, Laura interrupted him.
“I saw you at the coffee shop the other day. I was about to go say hi to you but you left real fast. What happened?”
Joe squirmed in his chair. “Oh, yeah. I thought I saw you there. I was just in a hurry you know. Had things to do. I, uh, also saw you were with someone so I didn’t want to bother you.” Great, he thought. A totally smooth way to bring up the fuck face she was with and find out his identity.
“My brother? He just got into town. He’s visiting the family for spring break. I would have loved for you to stop over to talk cause while I love him to death, he’s about as exciting to talk to as a rock.”
Joe couldn’t believe it. The fuck face was her brother. She was with her brother. She had no boyfriend. His very own gospel choir broke out into song in his head celebrating the good news.
“Well, speaking of being out, I was wondering if you wanted to head to a movie or something at some point. You know…on a date.”
Oh God, Joe thought. What a douchey thing to say. Did the ghost of John Hughes force him to say something like that? He could almost picture her laughing now.
“It’s about time you asked me out. I was wondering if you ever would.”
She said yes. Joe couldn’t believe it. A woman finally agreed to go out on a date with him. He did it. He conquered his fears. And he also would be collecting twenty bucks from Robert for getting a date before the age of twenty three. Now that he had the date though, he had something else he would have to worry about.
What would he say and do on the date?