The line for coffee was unusually long and slow moving.
Tian Liu checked her phone for the tenth time, but there was still no text message from her roommate and best friend, Shuyi. “Damn” she muttered to herself. “What is taking so long?” At the head of the line two businessmen chattered excitedly in Cantonese - something about a new high rise real estate development in Shanghai. Behind them, a teenage couple grabbed at each other and giggled. The girl bumped Tian’s elbow as she tugged at the baggy pants of her boyfriend, pretending to pull them down. The boy yelped and jumped backward, knocking over a free-standing sign. The two of them roared with laughter. The rest of the shop’s clientele seemed to hardly notice or care. The grating whine of a bean grinder punctuated the cacophony of voices. The scent of oolong pervaded the small café.
Tian checked her phone again.
Shuyi routinely complained that there were far too many people in Beijing city and begged her to move to the area around the 5th Ring Road. But Tian didn’t want to move. She liked being close to work. This coffee shop, her favorite, was always bustling, but today it was more crowded ever. She was late. She should have passed it by, but she needed hot coffee to soothe her chilly mood. There was so much to do. And so little time. And Shuyi’s sudden disappearance wasn’t helping her situation.
It wasn’t until it was her turn to place an order that she noticed the man sitting at a nearby table, staring directly at her. He was handsome. Well- groomed and well dressed in a tailored business suit and bold, crimson necktie. Tian looked away. She ordered and looked back furtively at the attractive man. He was still staring intently at her. Their eyes met. His were clear and confident. She was captivated by the moment.
And then he smiled. It was an enigmatic expression, friendly and yet, slightly mischievous. Was he flirting? A blush of warmth washed over her. Taken aback by his forwardness, she smiled back at him.
That was her first mistake.