It was a well-established fact that dates were well out of Olivia’s comfort zone. Stick her in a room with a stranger and she was fine, but as soon as romantic connotations were introduced, she was lost.

Which was why she was currently hovering outside of the Tinderbox coffee bar instead of actually going in. Olivia had spent longer than necessary questioning her fashion choice and styling her hair as best she could, considering how short it was, and in the end had simply thrown on a blouse and jeans before rushing to her car.

Somehow, she was still on time; which was a miracle enough, even without considering the fact that she’d hit traffic two minutes into her journey. Yet now after all that trouble, she couldn’t quite force herself to go inside.

Idly, she thought of Elise, who had sworn off romance and men almost as young as Olivia herself. Olivia was trying something new here, attempting to try new experiences and live life a little differently. If Olivia could do it then so could Elise, and perhaps if she tried it now, she might embolden other friends to try the same. Of course, she hadn’t spoken to Elise in a long time… but perhaps a little part of Olivia wanted to prove that it was doable. Enjoyable, even.

Taking a deep breath, Olivia stepped inside.

In truth, she hadn’t been inside Tinderbox more than once or twice in her life, and it looked different to when she had last been. Window seats with high stools greeted her, but there were private booths nearer the back and a narrow hallway that led to an alcove with fluffy sofas and armchairs. There was an upstairs too, which seemed to be where most people congregated, but the rest of the coffee bar was quiet.

Olivia heard Liam before she saw him. A voice called, “Olivia, back here!” and then she turned to see his smiling face from one of the little booths to her left. He waved, gesturing to the seat beside her.

Delicately sliding into the seat across, Olivia offered a smile in return. “Sorry if I’m late,” she said, “roads were a nightmare.” That, and the fact that she had spent too much time staring in a mirror, which unfortunately only showed how unused to all of this she was. When was the last time Olivia had worried about her appearance?

Liam’s bright smile put her at ease, though, as he leaned back in the plush booth seat. “Do you know what you want? I’m more of a traditional coffee kind of guy, but I’m kind of feeling iced coffee today.”

“Iced coffee is good,” she agreed with a laugh, “with way too much sugar and flavoured syrups. It’s the only way I’ve survived my job as long as I have.” Did she love her journalism career? Yes. But she also acknowledged that the hours were painfully long sometimes, and even she needed something to help get her through the weeks that dragged by.

“Regular iced coffee for me then, and for you?”

“I’ll take a vanilla.”

Liam had to order at the counter, which for a while left Olivia on her own in the booth. She glanced about the place and saw that it was almost empty, probably because it was only half-past eleven in the morning. In her eyes, it was never too early for coffee, but perhaps not everybody felt the same.

A moment later, Liam popped back into sight from around the corner, settling himself back into the seat. On the tray were two huge iced coffees, and a slice of what looked like chocolate cake. “I wasn’t going to,” he admitted, gesturing to the cake, “but it looked too good to turn down. We could share?”

Olivia didn’t usually eat cake – she was more of a savoury person when it wasn’t drinks – but this was a day for new things and hell, why not? She took Liam’s offered fork with a smile, and stabbed herself a small piece.

“So,” Liam said after a brief lull of silence, “journalism. What does that involve? Are you one of those people who travel abroad for great stories and get right into the action?”

She looked up at him with a grin, resisting the urge to roll her eyes. Cute. That wasn’t how it worked, though. “No, I’m mostly office work. Online research or local pieces. The kind of journalists you’re thinking of is a completely different kind; and I know it’s a buzzkill, but they don’t really see much action. Journalists aren’t usually allowed to get involved.”

Liam’s nose crinkled in disappointment, but his eyes still sparkled with interest. “Still, though, I bet it’s interesting. You must see all sorts of things and hear about some really strange stuff.”

“There have been some,” she admitted, popping the bite of cake into her mouth. The icing was too rich and the cake itself was so sweet, but Olivia was surprised to find that she actually didn’t mind it. She took another piece just as Liam did too, and they shared a smile for a moment. “It’s definitely the kind of job that keeps you on your toes,” she added, “which keeps things interesting, for sure.”

“And you live alone?” Liam asked, “I mean, you must be earning pretty good so I can’t imagine you have a need for roommates or whatever. Then again, I lived with a roommate until I was twenty-nine, so you never know.”

“No roommates,” Olivia answered with a laugh, “just me and Apricot – she’s a golden lab though, not a person.”

“So you have a demanding job, live alone, and have no kids. Just a dog.” Liam grinned in a way that was somehow both teasing and kind of sweet. “You’re most people’s worst nightmare.”

It was said with such humour that Olivia could only laugh, muffled by the back of her hand. “Yeah, maybe,” she admitted with a shrug, “but it’s how I like it. I mean, why do things just because society says you should? It should be for you.”

“Oh I totally agree, I’m most people’s worst nightmare too. I work at an antique shop and live in my pyjamas on weekends. I’m almost an old man already. Just, you know, an old man whose ‘children’ are his two cats.”

Hiding another laugh behind a sip of coffee, Olivia turned to look at him properly for the first time. Liam was perhaps a little older than his profile picture made him look, with crows feet at the corner of his eyes and greying stubble along his sharp jawline. He looked good, though, although perhaps not Olivia’s type. If she even had one, anyway.

Clearing her throat, she asked, “so no kids? I don’t want you thinking I’m prying and I know we’ve mentioned it already, but…I’m curious. How come you’ve never had any?”

Liam offered a shrug and took a drink of coffee before digging back into the cake. He was probably going to have the rest of it, considering Olivia had taken two whole bites and decided it was enough. “I’ve never been married, for one,” Liam said around a mouthful of cake. Either it wasn’t a personal topic for him or he simply didn’t mind talking about it, because he didn’t look embarrassed at all. “And most of my relationships haven’t been long ones. Anyway, I’ve just never really been all that interested. Bringing up kids is a big deal, and it wouldn’t be fair to the kids or me to have one just for the sake of it.”

“Yeah,” Olivia murmured, “I think I know what you mean. People should have kids because they want them, not because it’s what people are supposed to do. Doesn’t seem like a very healthy worldview, does it?”

“Exactly! It isn’t some kind of default setting that you decide to opt-out of. It’s a big decision that lasts a lifetime, and I just can’t see myself ever committing.” Liam took another bite of cake, then set his fork down onto the plate. Wrapping his hands around the iced coffee glass, he added, “it’s not that I don’t like children. I think toddlers are adorable and kids can be kind of fun, but there’s a difference between looking after a niece for the weekend and taking care of one for the next decade or two.”

Honestly, that was how Olivia felt, too. Friends tended to assume that her unwillingness to have children came from some deep-rooted dislike or fear of them when in reality it was much less simple. She didn’t have any strong feelings towards having children, positive or negative, and there were plenty of things she preferred to put her energy into. Work, friends, family…

“I mean, I don’t have the strongest work ethic on the planet,” Liam continued quietly, “but I like what I do, and I like my life the way it is. Sure, I’d like someone to share that life with, but I think partners can be perfectly happy without kids.”

“Me too,” she replied, glancing up at him over the rim of her glass. The coffee was almost gone now, down to the dregs at the bottom of the cup. She found herself wanting another, but these things had a horrendous amount of sugar, not to mention the caffeine content. Setting down the glass, she said, “I just don’t think having children is something to be taken lightly. I wish more people understood that it just isn’t right for everyone. I can’t tell you the number of times someone told me you’ll change your mind when you get older!” She rolled her eyes. “Well I’m thirty-three now and I haven’t changed my mind yet.”

Liam’s face broke into a grin, and deep laughter rumbled in his chest. “Same here. In the end, I sort of just blocked it all out.”

The longer Olivia talked to him, the more she felt some kind of companionship in Liam. He was funny and quick-witted, which were traits Olivia wasn’t too proud to admit she lacked, and he didn’t hold back. He was truthful, too, but not in the harsh kind of way that left her feeling like an idiot. It was more gentle than that.

This talk of kids had given her plenty to think about, too. It was difficult to find a guy who had the same viewpoint as Olivia, and even harder to find a guy who was open about it. She could imagine herself sitting here with him again, chatting over iced coffee and too-sweet cake.

In the end, though, their coffee date had to wind down eventually. Even now, Olivia’s mind was always half on work, remembering unfinished articles and oh, did she remember to turn off the laptop last night? She stared down at the now empty coffee and said, “it’s been fun today. I don’t know what I expected, really, but I’m glad we met up. I bet most people don’t get conversation as deep as this on their first date.”

“I wouldn’t know,” Liam replied with a grin, “the last date I went on was two-thousand and fifteen!”

Olivia had him beat by several years, but she kept that to herself with a wry smile. “Maybe dating would be more interesting if people did talk like this. I hate small talk.”

Liam rose from the booth, grabbing a denim jacket from the back of the seat. Combined with the long hair and oversized glasses, he really did fit the laid back hipster look. “You’re right, it’s awful. I had a good time too, though. Would… would you feel like meeting up again?”

“Yes,” Olivia replied, perhaps a little too quickly. Then she paused. Did she really, or was that just an automatic reaction? Sure, Liam was attractive in a rugged kind of way, and he knew how to hold a conversation… but did she really feel that spark? Shifting from one foot to the other she hesitantly added, “as friends, though. I think you’re great, and we have plenty in common, but I’m just not sure if there’s anything romantic there, you know?”

It sounded harsh even to her own mind, but to her surprise Liam visibly relaxed. “I was worried that I came on too strong, and I didn’t want to give you the wrong idea. As friends, yes. That’s fine by me.”

Relief spread through Olivia, and she let out a sigh. “It’s not that I don’t like you, I’m just not sure I’m ready for a second date yet. With anyone, it isn’t just you.”

“I feel the same. It’s been a long time, we have to ease into this stuff slowly.”

Olivia and Liam shared a laugh, and it felt like they were two old friends sharing an inside joke together. Olivia managed to relax as Liam walked her outside, and she found that she was eager to meet him again.

So she had tried something new today and discovered that it wasn’t the right time. So what? The point was that she’d tried, and learned something about herself in the process. Not bad, was it?

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