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In Which the Coffee Runs Dry MAG
“Large blonde whole bean decaf dark roast vanilla latte.”
The man behind the counter lets out a short bark of laughter.
“You don’t know what that means, do you?”
I shrug. Does anyone?
He gestures to lean in. His fingers have deep grooves in the pads. There’s a loop of ink sprouting from beneath his rolled up sleeve, and his nails are neatly trimmed. I indulge him, because of the nails.
“How about you order something different, and I won’t tell my coworkers you asked for a coffee that’s both light and dark roast?”
I blush. Why does it matter? Will my boss care what kind of coffee I buy?
I eye the man. “You choose.”
He grins; it’s crooked and emphasizes the angle of his chin.
“Medium coffee, black.” He holds his palm out like he’s asking for my hand. Come with me, I’ll teach you how to order coffee correctly. I’ll show you what kind of beans we use, how to work the syrup pumps, and if you’re lucky, I’ll tell you how I came to be the knowledgeable barista I am.
“That’ll be three seventy-nine.”
I hand him the money, and his eyes soften. The smile rights itself, and the sharpness fades.
“You’ll get the hang of it.”
It’s raining, and the water droplets are talking. They speak in sloshy whispers: Buy coffee. My boss hears them and asks his intern to get him a cup, and the girl in the cubicle across from me pays heed to their chatter: It’s cold out – buy coffee. I concede to the gentle pitter-patter on the windows and get my coat.
“Will that be dark or light roast?”
He shakes his head as I make a dismissive gesture. I’m bothered, but his teasing is diluted by his smile.
“What are you doing that requires a coffee break at two p.m.?” he raises his eyebrows. His shirt sleeves are rolled up, and the ink loops morph into words.
“I’ll answer your question if you answer mine.”
He laughs into the foaming cup.
“Fair enough. What do you want to know?”
“What does your tattoo say?”
To the dismay of the girl behind me, he rests the unfinished coffee on the counter and rolls his sleeve up.
“First of all, it’s not a tattoo; it’s Sharpie. It says, ‘I went to sleep a poet and woke up a fraud.’” He observes my unmistakable confusion. “It’s a lyric from Fall Out Boy.”
“You have a song lyric written on your arm. How … pretentious.”
He clasps his heart in mock pain. “Me? Pretentious? Hypocritical much, Ms. Large Blonde Whole Bean something something?”
“But in Sharpie? How old are you anyway?”
He shrugs noncommittally. “It’s not permanent, right? I can always change my mind.”
“Hmm. Are you sure you can handle that much caffeine?”
“What am I paying you for? Your coffee or your wit?” I counter dryly. The ache in my arm intensifies at the thought of the papers in my briefcase.
“In your case, both.” He hands me my cup, and I settle on a stool by the window. Twelve e-mails to answer, three memos from my boss, seven messages from my mom. Yes, Mom, I’ll call you when I get the chance.
“Three seventy-nine please.”
I tuck the steaming cup under my chin as the files balanced precariously in my arms begin to slide. Oh no you don’t. I put them on a table before they can meet an untimely end.
Memos, invoices, return phone calls, inform my boss I’ll be on vacation next week. Where’s my pen?
“Hey, man, congratulations on the engagement!” a booming voice carries across the room, redirecting my attention.
He waves and says, “Thanks, bro.”
I lean back into the stool. Apparently there’s no such thing as a dark and light roast coffee, as he was only too happy to tell me. His chin isn’t so distinct when he’s genuinely smiling, and I wonder which band lyrics received the honor of being recorded in Sharpie this week.
you have 1 new message
“What size?” he asks, holding out several sized cups.
hey, i had a nice time yesterday! how about next time i take you out on the lake?
“Large, please. Has it been crowded today?”
“The snow is forcing people inside, so I can’t complain.” He shrugs.
Someone drew a smiley face in the fog on the window, and through it I observe the hush, the emptiness of people and the ice that fills it. Jane Eyre or Little Women? I’m a sucker for Mr. Rochester, though the clever quips of the March sisters offer comfort in a storm. “‘Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,’ grumbled Jo, lying on the rug ….”
I rub my eyes, disregarding for a moment this morning’s poor attempt at putting on makeup.
i think we should take a little break. i know we had fun at the play last week, but i’m interviewing for the executive position, and i have to focus on work right now.
His mouth forms a narrow line, but my hands are groping for change and I’m too drained to notice.
your cousin is getting married next week, and i expect you to attend the wedding.
but, mom, i haven’t spoken to her in years. we hardly know each other.
He nods, his brows furrowed.
well, bring that man of yours as your date. you know him.
I sip slowly, restraining the urge to gulp it down and scald my throat in the process. What time is it? Do I have enough to tip the taxi driver? I’ll find out in about two minutes.
I read somewhere that pregnant women shouldn’t drink coffee. But can I go without it for another six months? “Without the coffee.”
“So plus the ‘frappe,’ minus the ‘cino’?” The corner of his mouth quirks up.
“Flowers! For me?”
“Anything for my beautiful wife.”
“Thank you. Oh, don’t forget about the labor breathing class tonight.”
“Oh, honey, about that … as an executive, I’m supposed to go to the work party. Can you get one of your friends to go to the class with you?”
He hands me my drink and waves dismissively.
“Don’t worry about it. That’ll be three seventy-nine.”
There’s a shiny layer of coins at the bottom of my purse, but I ignore them. Can germs on money hurt the baby? My next order of business is to buy a bottle of hand sanitizer.
“What can I get you?” His impassive, see-through eyes fall into mine as deeply as oil can mix with water, as steadily as fingers can catch that water and hold it indefinitely.
“I’ll have a medium coffee, black.”
If he’s surprised, it’s hidden behind eyes and mouth that don’t touch. Glass thicker than his knuckles, thicker than the band on his finger. I want to tell him it’s unsanitary, to make food with your ring on, but I don’t.
“Hon, I’m working late tonight, so I can’t watch the baby.”
“But I have a book club meeting, and I’m the president.”
“I understand, but this is our livelihood we’re talking about. Just go to the next one. And can you turn that noise down? You know I hate those rock and roll bands.”
I run my hands through my hair, and they catch on a sticky knot. Is that mushed banana? I hope none of it got in my briefcase ….
“Miss? Your coffee.”
“Oh?” The ringing in my ears fades, and I remember I’m in the coffee shop. There’s a gentle pop: the conversation, his hand draped around the coffee cup like skin.
On his arm I can see “When she walks, her” but the rest of the lyrics are obscured by folds of blue fabric.
“Thank you.” Does your wife like rock bands? I want to ask, but don’t.
“Have a nice day,” I hear, before the exchanges between the patrons melt into a meaningless vibration.