“Hey Gina, did I do something to upset you?” the handsome man asked.

Gina looked up from cleaning the table next to the one he was seated at. She knew him, and was attracted to him—he was a regular at the coffee shop for the past few weeks, and was always friendly and conversing with her and the other employees by name. However, she had learned yesterday to her dismay that he was not only a Trump supporter, but that he might even work for the new administration.

Yet, she was surprised by his confrontative response to her passive disdain today. “I beg your pardon?” she replied with the automatic response one made to an unexpected question.

“Because if I did, I would really like to fix that,” he continued. “I’m sensing a little coldness from everyone in here today after that little spectacle yesterday with those unfortunate young people!” he said with a smile. He smiled because she had witnessed a little confrontation that the man had had with a group of American University students, and in spite of being outnumbered and outshouted, he had clearly gotten the better of them.

“I don’t suppose you’d like to have a cup of coffee with me? Of course, I guess you’d get sick of coffee working here all day,” he added, looking around the small coffee house. “Me, I’d drink it all day long if my poor body could handle it!”

“I can’t,” she replied curtly. “I’m on duty right now.” She distractedly stuffed her rag in her belt, under her green apron. She could already feel the moisture from the cloth contacting her skin. She was petite and pretty and kept her darkish red hair in a short bob in compliance with her employer’s requirements.

“Well perhaps when you’re off?” Gary persisted.

Gina, who was used to a bit of flirting from the men who frequented the establishment, wanted to dislike this man, but felt oddly charmed by him. It was mere biological, animal attraction, she suspected, something she needed to fight off. Probably in his early thirties, he was a tall, robust, dark-haired man and outwardly prosperous, impeccably dressed in a charcoal suit and red tie, and no wedding ring. But he was not overtly foppish in his appearance either. His hair was likely cut at an old-fashioned barber shop, and his shower probably contained soap gel, shampoo and nothing else. He was fit but not so muscularly defined as to be in love with his own body, as some guys were these days. She could tell he was not a native Washingtonian, but she could not quite place his accent. She thought perhaps the Midwest.

Yesterday he had been in the little coffee shop around lunch time and had spread out some paperwork on his little table to read as he drank his coffee. That’s when a group of American University kids came in to get their café lattes. One of them, an effeminate, skinny young boy, noticed a “Trump Administration” heading on one of his papers. The student apparently decided to make a public spectacle out of it. “Oh my God, are you a member of that fascist’s new regime?” he cried out with an affected lisp for all to hear. “That f—ing fascist, Trump!”

His little friends, about four of them, gathered around the man to participate in the public dressing down. The man, looking at his ease, smiled and nodded as if he were welcoming his own children in from the cold. He did not answer immediately, apparently letting the little group stew in their own belligerent awkwardness. After crossing his legs comfortably, he sipped at his coffee and made a slight smirk in apparent appreciation for its flavor. After another moment, he spoke up. “My that’s a good cup of coffee.”

The young student had continued his loud accusations with as much outrage has he could muster. Finally, after a moment, the man looked directly at his accuser. He looked as confident as if he were about to sign his autograph for a fan. “Son, this kind of continuous raging is simply not good for your health,” he said with what appeared to be true concern. “If you keep that up for too long, you might just develop a nervous tick.”

“He’s a f—ing Nazi!” the boy screamed.

“You see what I mean,” the man said, looking at the others in the group, “you see that vein on his forehead? It’s bulging awfully bad now!” He looked around at the little group. “Why you’re all looking a bit flush!” he said, noting their blushing faces. They all began cussing at him, in near hysteria.

“Is this the best you can do?” the man asked calmly. “All this slogan-making and foul language is not a substitute for thinking.”

“Do you deny being a homophobic Nazi lover?”

“All these accusations!” the man replied. “All you’re doing is belittling the suffering of real holocaust victims.”

Gina, who had only been listening so far, was now actively watching the little skirmish, and admired the man’s measured response to this incivility, in spite of her agreeing with the students’ outraged point of view.

“Do you all know who can be the worst kind in world?” the man continued commandingly in his deep baritone voice, somehow bursting through their cries. “Do you know who?”

They actually stopped shouting to hear what he had to say, hoping he would indict himself with his own words.

“It’s people with a righteous cause, that’s who,” he stated. “It’s people who absolutely believe they have been wronged. They seem to think it gives them the license to act like complete jackasses. Like they’re entitled.”

An insightful observation, Gina had to admit to herself.

Outraged, the students all began screaming again, one pointing his finger dangerously close to the man’s face. “Son,” he said firmly, but remaining seated and in full control, “your right to wave your hand around ends at the tip of my nose.”

“Are you threatening me?” the college boy accused him, almost hoping the man might take a poke at him.

“I see you have a law school hoodie on, so I’m reminding you of what an assault and battery is,” Gary replied evenly. “You make an unwanted contact with my nose with your finger, and I could have you slapped with a battery tort suit. And, as you can see, I have plenty of witnesses to subpoena.”

“I know what a battery tort is, a–hole!” the boy said dismissively.

“How about tortious interference with business? Remember that one?” the man replied wryly, looking around at the shocked faces of the other customers.

The manager of the shop, Gina’s friend, Wanda, who had been busy with several back orders, finally stepped in. Gina herself had been busy making the lattes that the students had just ordered. “This is unacceptable! You’re all creating a disturbance,” Wanda cried as she approached the group. “Please get your orders and leave!”

The pack of students seemed to run out of steam at this point, but hesitated moving away from the man, as if it were an admission of defeat.

“I think you’d better leave too, sir,” Wanda said.

“May I be permitted to return tomorrow?” the man asked.

“Yeah, that’s fine,” Wanda said curtly.

As the man gathered up his papers and made his way out yesterday, Gina noted that he did not play the righteous victim himself, although he’d have been entitled to. He was certainly the innocent party in that whole affair, and yet he made no complaint in being asked to leave.

He returned today at his usual time, which surprised Gina a little. It was, after all, an ugly encounter yesterday, and there were certainly lots of other coffee places around the city.

“So, could I treat you to a refreshment after you’re off today?” he now persisted.

“Well, I don’t…”

“Having trouble coming up with an excuse?” he asked with a smile. “Well, how about this? You don’t know me from Adam.”

She laughed in spite of herself. She put her hand on her hip in a near defensive posture, as if to fight off her own bodily impulses. She avoided looking into his dark brown eyes, which were firmly planted in hers.

“Well I’m not letting you get away with that one—let me introduce myself. My name is Gary Overland, and I’m from Northern Kentucky. I’m 32 years old. I recently moved to the District in the opportunity presented by the recent change of presidential administrations. I’m a single, young man with no attachments other than my sainted mother back home.”

“But you still know nothing about me!”

“Only what I’ve gleaned in my visits here,” Gary replied. “Let’s see…you’re a grad student, you’re extremely intelligent, and hard-working. Very fine qualities indeed, and I’d like to get to know you better!”

“Listen, about yesterday…” Gina said, deciding to fight herself. After all, how could she go out with someone like this? (Her social circle would be appalled!)

“That was not a typical day for me,” Gary interrupted. “Believe me I do not go out of my way to get into confrontations—unless I’m paid to do it.”

“I’m sure,” Gina said, “but, you see, I’m don’t like Trump either.” She braved a glance at his eyes, and saw a look of consternation. “They were wrong to scream at you like that, but…,” she quickly added.

“I’m not asking for Mr. Trump,” Gary responded, “I’d like you to have coffee—with me!”

“But I don’t think we’d see eye to eye on much, and…,” Gina persisted but her smile betrayed a weakening in her defenses. Gary saw the white flash of her teeth behind her full red lips. (She had the cutest little gap in her front teeth, he thought.)

“Do you think I want to talk politics with you?” he replied with a laugh. “Heavens, no! But even so, I don’t choose my friends and acquaintances based on their political opinions. That can become a bit of a boring echo chamber, if you know what I mean.”

“Well, I don’t know…” she began, but trailed off.

Gary could tell he was causing her distress, so he backed off. “I’m really not out to bulldoze you into something.”

Surprised at his words, she looked at his eyes again. She was in fact about to say yes, but that was probably indeed due to his forceful personality. He was giving away his advantage now. Still seated, he was looking up at her where she stood. She could see the bulb from the ceiling light above her reflected in the irises of his boyish brown eyes.

“Tell you what,” he suggested, “the offer is open. If you’d like to take me up at a later date, I would be delighted.” At that, he let her go on her way, back to her cleaning and working.

A little while later, when she was back behind the counter, she saw that he was getting ready to leave, and, surprising herself, she started to feel anxiety. She hoped he would look over at her when she could catch his eye. She had to keep looking away to work on the coffee order she was preparing. She looked up again after a moment and saw that he was gone. Her heart sank, and she looked down sadly as she poured milk into a coffee cup.

“Gina,” his nearby voice startled her. He was right next to the counter now. “I just wanted to say ‘see you’ and thanks.”

She looked back at him and smiled with relief. She was in a losing battle with herself. “Come back at 5:30?” she asked softly. (She couldn’t believe she was doing this.)

“5:25,” he said, grinning with boyish glee.

 

Gary showed up right at 5:25, coatless and tieless, trying his best to match Gina’s more casual khakis and polo shirt. They did start out in the coffee shop, Gina ordering them two decaffeinated lattes. (Wanda eyed her wryly, shaking her head.) After about an hour, he invited her to dinner at a local seafood bar that was appropriately causal. She agreed. And as it was a warm late Spring evening they walked the three blocks together.

As they ate in the outdoor café area, the superficial tidbits about each other began to flow. Gina learned that Gary was living in an extended stay room until he could find something suitable. He only had a couple of suitcases of clothes, mainly suits. He worked for a Trump appointee in the Department of Commerce after being active in political circles back in Northern Kentucky. He had previously worked for a local judge and had been an assistant prosecutor for a time before getting active in politics. He was of German decent and had a mother (his father passed away while he was in college) and a married sister back at home. Other than that, he had no other attachments.

Gary learned that Gina was studying for a Masters in Sociology at American University. She was not originally from the D.C. area either, but had lived here for nearly 20 years. She was 100% Irish. Her parents were divorced—her mom, remarried, lived in Northern Virginia and her father now lived in Florida. She was (to Gary’s secret delight) presently unattached but had had a relationship during and just after college that ended badly.

Dinner was eaten and they lingered with after-dinner drinks. After two glasses of wine, Gina decided then to be unusually frank with Gary. She was really beginning to like him, but there was a contradiction here, and it needed to be reconciled. “I did warn you that I was a progressive, didn’t I?” she asked him abruptly.

“You inferred as much, yes,” Gary replied.

“I have to be honest,” Gina continued, the wine’s effect making her less inhibited from speaking her mind. “You seem like a nice person, but I have to tell you again: I didn’t agree with how those students yelled at you yesterday, but I understand why they’re so upset! I think Trump is a fascist, I really do!”

“That’s one of many charges thrown at us, and it’s all meant to label our views and opinions as negative and evil,” Gary responded, “but, of course, I don’t see any of them that way at all!”

“Well how do you see them?”

“The fascist charge, for example,” Gary replied. “I’ve seen no evidence of it at all, minus an off-hand comment Trump made at a campaign rally once that was totally overblown. If I did see such evidence, I would not work for him.”

“Well, his policies are fascist and racist!” Gina insisted.

“Now those students I dealt with yesterday, that was a much better example of fascistic behavior.”

“They were rude, I admit, but…”

“We are what we do. When you start believing in the righteousness of your cause to the point where the ends justify the means, and act accordingly, you are the fascist.”

“Look, we completely disagree on this,” Gina stated. “And if so, why would you want to be friends with someone like me?”

“I like you!” Gary said, but then continued. “I’m reminded of a quote from a book I read in college, by a man named Viktor Frankl. Do you know him?”

“No, but…”

“Hear me out,” Gary said, “Frankl was a holocaust survivor. He was a Jewish psychiatrist. A brilliant man. Well, in his book he wrote that there were really only two races of people in the world. The decent and the indecent.” Gary paused to take another sip of his wine, and Gina did not interrupt, wanting hear where he was going with this.

“The most interesting point about it was that he did not divide the decent and indecent by holocaust victims and their oppressors, the Nazis and the guards, as you would expect. He said instead that the decent and indecent were to be found in both groups. This from a man who was treated abominably by the Germans, who had every right to hate every last one of them!”

“Very nice and philosophical, but I think you are evading the question,” Gina responded.

“Perhaps,” Gary said with a smile, “but I do think Frankl’s observation applies to the present-day politics of this divided country. There are decent and indecent on both sides.”

“I would agree,” Gina said, “but that says nothing about proportions: there were obviously more indecent people on the Nazi side, weren’t there?”

“You’re, of course, correct!” Gary agreed. “And my response is a biblical one: we will know them by their fruits.”

 

They parted after dinner, with Gina insisting she could make it home on her own. Gary did not even suggest accompanying her safely to her apartment, after it occurred to him that she might not want him to know where she lived. While they parted on pleasant terms, Gary was not at all sure that they would see each other again. He was still very interested, but he had doubts about Gina’ feelings on the matter. Especially after their frank talk.

As he walked back to his hotel, he kept kicking himself mentally. He just couldn’t keep it light. And now he was likely to have lost out on a wonderful woman.

And he was right to be concerned. Gina was still attracted to him, but she had serious concerns about his views and how they could ever get along, especially if they were to move about in her social circles. She decided to use her intellect and put this all to a halt before it really got started. In spite of this decision, she unwillingly chewed on Gary’s ‘knowing them by their fruits’ statement for the rest of the evening.

 

The next day started out with an usually busy morning in the coffee shop. “What is going on with all these people?” Gina remarked to Wanda at one point, noting the constant flow.

“Oh, didn’t you hear?” Wanda responded, “it’s some protest march today. I don’t even know what it’s about—something against Trump, so that’s a good thing at least.”

Because they were so busy, Gina didn’t have to worry about deflecting Wanda’s customary questions about her dating. Gina could only tell her that it wasn’t going to work out.

“You and a Trump supporter?” Wanda laughed. “I just couldn’t see it! (Good-looking guy, though…)”

It was a cloudy, cooler day than yesterday. People were ordering lots of hot drinks. Gina could now see that many were wearing protestor-type clothing—lots of spandex and hoodies. Less of the usual business types were coming in. As his customary arrival time approached, Gina wandered if Gary would be showing up as usual. That would be uncomfortable, and she wasn’t looking forward to it. And she didn’t relish disappointing him either.

The crowds were increasing outside as the morning wore on. Apparently there was a staging area nearby where the protestors were gathering for their march. Gina had a moment to go clean up the tables and was wiping down two near the front window. Precipitously she could now hear sirens in the distance. People were running past on the sidewalk. She then heard yelling and screaming.

“Gina!” Wanda called out, “you better get back here! It’s getting ugly out there!”

Indeed, it looked like a riot was in progress, just like the one that took place on Trump’s Inauguration day. Gina moved away from the window and was making her way back to the counter. Just then the front window was broken. There was the sound of shattering glass, and then Gina felt something impact the back of her head. She grabbed for it, and it felt wet back there. She felt a falling sensation but nothing more after that but a fuzzy darkness.

 

Gina had the hazy sense that she had been in a conversation for a time with someone, but had just now woken up in the midst of it. She drowsily looked around the room trying to figure out where she was. She realized vaguely then that she was in a hospital room, and that Wanda was sitting next to her bed chatting away. “Oh my God, Wanda!” she called out weakly, “how did I get here?”

“Didn’t you hear me tell you a few minutes ago?” Wanda replied, surprised. “You got hit on the head with a rock! One of those protestors, some a–hole, threw it through our front window—and you got hit!”

Gina then noticed for the first time that her head was aching. She reached back and felt a bandage on the back of her head. “Oh, it does hurt,” she opined.

“I’ll bet it does!” Wanda replied.

“What else happened?” Gina asked. “I mean, was anyone else hurt?”

“Well, they kept throwing rocks, and broke the window,” Wanda continued, “no one else got hurt…well, that guy got cut a bit…”

“What guy?”

Wanda shook her head. “You know that guy you had coffee with last night? The one you were going to dump today?”

“Yeah…”

“Well, he come in in the middle of it!” Wanda reported. “He jumped over to you and sort of covered your body from the glass as it was flying around. He got some cuts on his neck and hands. In fact, they took him and you in the same ambulance here!”

“You’re kidding!”

“Good thing you weren’t awake,” Wanda joked, “that would have been awkward.”

“Is he okay?”

“He seemed okay, other than the cuts,” Wanda replied. “But I haven’t seen him since…”

The door opened as they were talking. Someone was advancing in cautiously. Gina looked over and attempted to focus her eyes, but it was proving difficult to see.

“How’s the patient?” said a voice. Gina recognized it.

“She’s just waking up,” Wanda replied.

“I just wanted to make sure she was okay,” Gary explained to Wanda.

Gina thanked him for his part in helping her, and Gary deprecatingly insisted that he just happened to be there at the right moment. She could see now that his hands were bandaged.

“Well, I’ll leave you two alone,” Gary said, “I’m glad to see that you’re…”

“Wait!” Gina said anxiously. She turned to Wanda. “Can you give us a minute, Wanda?”

Wanda, who at times could be quite perceptive, took the hint and departed, and after a moment Gary took her vacated seat.

Gina now knew him by his fruits. And she had quite changed her mind about him.

 

The End

 

Photo by Paleokeittiö