"Forty-Four Minutes Late" by Mia Nelson

It happened by accident. By some miracle, one whose coming to be could never have been computed or imagined by a calculator with forever sets of numbers, Ava Saffrael got on the 46 bus instead of her usual 45, because her coffee order was late. The barista had mishandled the dark drink and it had wiggled from her hands. She was very embarrassed, her plump cheeks turning an unbecoming cerise, and she profusely apologized. Little did she know that by letting order nine, a dark aromatic espresso, slip through her fingers on that vaporous October Tuesday, that she changed Ava Saffrael’s destiny forever.

Mrs. Saffrael was interning at a high profile law firm and she rushed out of the quaint coffee shop with the same vigor and pace that all successful young business women use to, quite literally, get two steps ahead of the competition. She gripped the barista’s second attempt at her coffee order and she click-clacked her sleek midnight colored pumps against the concrete. She knew she was going to be late, and when her first shoe peeked its way through the doors of the route 46 bus, everyone already seated in the vehicle knew that not only had Mrs.Saffrael missed her bus, but that she was horribly out of place.

At the same time, Ethan Boler was leaning his broad tattooed shoulders against the bus’s window. He saw Ava walk in and watched as her pinched, annoyed expression turned to one of horror as she realized that the bus she had just entered was full of cigarette smoke and parolees. Her sweet, lilac perfume tantalized his nose. Ethan thought she looked like a kid dressed up in her mother’s work clothes. She was very young and beautiful, but already had deep creases around her lips. They were called smile lines, but he assumed that she had the wrinkles for an opposite reason entirely. He didn’t much care for her, but as fate would have it, she stiffly sat in the seat next to him. Ethan watched her sip her coffee. He imagined it was something dull and dark.

“Excuse me? Can I help you?” asked Ava. She had caught Ethan staring.

“Umm... no.” A silence heavy with awkwardness and the scent of public transportation filled the two inch space between them. “I’m Ethan. And I was just wondering what you were drinking. It helps me figure people out.”

Ava looked questioningly at him. She wondered why this intimidating man was speaking to her. His appearance made Ava nervous. She was kind at heart and knew that she shouldn’t assume that Ethan had been arrested multiple times, but she did. So when he asked so nicely what she was drinking, she was astounded. Trembling, she replied, “An espresso.”

“So you're trying to quickly get ahead in your work, right?” said Ethan.

“How did you know?” Ava asked, genuinely quizzical.

“Well, an espresso is a quicker version of coffee, which says that you want to get to the top fast. Which isn’t always the best thing.”

Ava was shocked. Who was this man to question where she was going and how she was going to get there? She sharply retorted, “Are you qualified to tell me that? Do you even have a job?” Her remark stung, so Ethan remained quiet.

“Well, I wasn’t asking for your opinion anyway.” Ava turned her back and looked out the window. She attempted to calculate how many stops out of her way this bus would take her.

Ethan interrupted her thoughts by saying, “I just meant that although espresso tastes okay and looks okay, its never going to be as good as coffee. I was just trying to tell you that sometimes that is true in life too. Sometimes the fastest isn’t always the best. But I’m sorry. I was out of line.”

Ava bit her lip. He was being so considerate and she was curt with him. She tried a smile, “I’m sorry too, I’m worried about being late is all. This bus is delaying me at least thirty minutes.”

Ethan returned her grin. Maybe she wasn’t horrible. Ethan thought that a smile as beautiful as Ava’s couldn’t belong to anyone too awful.

When Ethan said, “You might as well relax and enjoy your espresso, because worrying isn’t going to make you get there faster,” he never intended it to be funny, but Ava giggled in a way that made Ethan want to be the funniest person in the world. “What’s so funny?” asked Ethan, he hoped she wasn’t laughing at him.

“Its just that you’re right. And its nice to relax. Thank you for that.”

And then she smiled again, this time with her eyes, and everything else. Ethan thought she could end wars and make kings bow at her feet with that smile, and he spent the next twenty-six minutes coaxing it out of her again and again. To everyone else on the bus it seemed as if they’d known each other since forever, and so not one single passenger on route 46 batted an eyelash when Ethan got off at Ava Saffrael’s stop.

“Here’s my card. You can call me if you want.” Ava blushed as she handed Ethan her number. Everything about him made her want to be forty two minutes late every day, just so she could catch his bus.

“Maybe we can get coffee sometime,” Ethan bashfully suggested.

“Or espresso.”

They both grinned. “You better be careful with that smile Ava Saffrael, someone might go falling in love with it.” He smirked.

Ethan rushed to hop back on the bus and left Ava to vow that next time, she would tell him to be careful with his smile as well. She stood on the corner for a moment and then walked up to her building, contemplating the small mishap her barista had made resulting the miracle of Ethan. She was now forty-four minutes late and a little bit in love.

© Mia Nelson, Denver School of the Arts, Denver, Colorado


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