‘‘Small latte ...” The barista in my local coffee shop hands me a cup and I blush like Jane Austen in an erotic bakery.
“Thanks,” I say, “Wow – you know, I can never understand how you guys make those hearts in the foam. It’s just so skilful. I could never do that. I bet I could practice for, like, a decade and I couldn’t do it ...”
I continue to ramble on about the artistry of foam, while the barista smiles and nods. My cheeks are hot and everything just feels ... clammy. Weird thing is, I’m talking to a dude.
No, I’m not trapped in a Sophie Kinsella novel – I just go very weird around good-looking men. Along with attractive straight women and important writers – don’t even get me started on attractive, straight, important writers – handsome men are one of the Acid Reflux Three: the types of people who trigger my most violent outbreaks of social anxiety.
I didn’t sign up for this. I’ve shunned men and donned an earthy wheaten coat and wooden knickers combo. When I embraced lesbianism, part of the deal was that I’d never have to be weird around male humans. Ever. So why does it keep on happening? And why does it feel so startlingly similar to sexual tension?
As an exercise in creative writing, I shall now attempt to appreciate a man’s handsomeness, in words. I haven’t done this since I was 12 and I wrote a poem about a boy at school I thought I fancied. In retrospect, I wasn’t attracted to him – I kind of wanted to be him. It’s complicated. Anyway: Coffee Guy’s jaw is definitely the right shape. It’s angular and rugged, a bit like a sexy cliff. He has golden brown eyes that bore into your spleen, and black, wavy hair that’s probably quite texturally pleasing. I haven’t touched it but it’s a bit like freshly cut grass or bubble wrap, in that I’d really, really like to.
As I sit, staring into my decorated drink, I begin to realise what’s going on re: me and handsome men. See, I assume that Coffee Guy assumes that I fancy him. I also assume that he assumes that I assume he assumes I fancy him. Keep up. So eager am I to signal to him that this isn’t the case, I get flustered and begin to display the very symptoms of physical attraction he’s probably expecting from me. The blushing, the rambling, the clamminess; it’s all born out of my determination to assert my gayness.
I glance over at Coffee Guy. He’s being all, “Look at me with my nice hair and my penis,” brandishing his barista tools like a middle-class Viking.
“I am not afraid of you,” I tell myself.
In my head, I drain my cup and get up to leave. As I near the door, I spin around on my heel and look Coffee Guy straight in his stupid, handsome face.
“I don’t want to have sex with you,” I say.
The coffee drinkers gasp collectively. A grey-haired woman in a fleece stands.
“The spell ... the spell is broken!” She declares,“All hail the Light Bringer.”
All fall to their knees. Coffee guy turns into a tin of Heinz potato and leek soup.
In reality, this happens:
I leave in silence, then go home and google other nice coffee shops near where I live.