The last straw, sitting in its metal canister, all alone, waiting to be taken. Seth and Sarah both walked to the counter at the same time, strangers about to stand off. In a strange coincidence, although Sarah had ordered first, both iced frappamachinos showed up at the same time. Both, not knowing what was to come, walked to the creamer kiosk. In unified motion, they reached for the last straw. They froze, seeing the other’s hand also hovering over the metal canister. They let the grocery-store pop music play over the speakers for a moment, afraid to move. Sarah’s cellphone vibrated, but she wasn’t sure what to do. To answer it would relinquish the mutual claim on the straw. They locked eyes, her hazel and his brown, and she noticed the uneven stubble on his face. He noticed the pimple on her right cheek. Her arm—suspended in the defending-the-straw position—was covered with bracelets of various colors. His own arm had an anachronistic looking watch strapped to it, and was probably too hairy, definitely too hairy, for a hot day.
“You can –” He started to say.
“No, you can.” She started to say.
“No, it’s okay.”
“No, it’s fine.”
He tried to cut her off again, but realized that the script was over. There was nothing else to say. They both gaped, suddenly trapped in the inertia of politeness and want. Was there anything to give? Was there any way out? Decorum would say let the other have it, but then what would happen to their own drink? On such a hot day, what were the options? Maybe take the plastic top off and clumsily pour it into your mouth? Could you do that while walking?
Sarah had just been told she had been passed on for a new position. The short lunch break was her one opportunity to get out of the dirty cubicle and decide if she was going to tell them to fuck off forever. Of course it went to a man. Probably one with the same kind of bad, old watch as whoever was now locked in straw limbo with her. Seth had just hung up with a mechanic, the car would need another $1000 dollars of repairs. Was a drink too much to ask? Could one just break decorum once, and take it? Would they be stuck like this forever?
“Excuse me, here you go,” a barista stepped into the no-man’s land and placed a heaping, voluptuous, near obscene amount of straws back into the canister. In a second, he was gone—only the slight ghost of wind remained as he walked away.
Sarah and Seth glanced at each other again. Relief washed across both of their faces. They almost said something, something which would open a whole new realm of possibilities, where both of their lives would suddenly merge for days, weeks, or years, leaving each other inexorably changed. But instead, they smiled to each other and each grabbed a straw, walking quickly toward two separate exits. The world could continue again.