She couldn’t remember just what had spurred her on, or why she had decided to be sitting in this coffee shop
at this particular time. But something had flashed a signal. A stop sign, or a telephone pole. Maybe the one on the corner of 2nd and Alameda, so riddled with staple gun
holes it hardly passed for a pole anymore.
Had it whispered? She certainly drove past it enough times; a conversation might have formed unawares while she was waiting. Certainly the rest of the poles in the city couldn’t claim to know what coffee had to do with anything. Not that she really did either.
But tonight, she had stopped, parked, gotten out of her car, and taken the necessary steps to come face to face with a yellow flyer stapled to the side of the pole. It had nothing especially eye-catching or exciting to offer. There was a xerox
ed mug giving off steam, a street address, and a row of block letters: ‘Stu’s Coffee’.
She didn’t like coffee. She didn’t know anyone named Stu. She only came downtown for the Japanese and Mexican restaurants. Yet somehow she had found herself here.
It was dark, but warm, and she was slightly curled into a corner booth. She drummed her fingers on the table, which was empty. She hadn’t been able to order anything yet, or hadn’t brought herself to. She wasn’t exactly keen on sampling the latest bitter flavour of brown. Coffee drinkers were all drones.
Three months in L.A.
and already jaded
At least there appeared to be no stage built for musical ‘acts’. Coffee house rejects were the worst. Thirsting for applause to grace their generic Radiohead
covers, straightening a pair of khakis
and fiddling with a pair of glasses, trying to sell as an indie
intellectual. It was almost as bad as New York
Thankfully, not quite. Things were even less palatable there. There was less colour, more smoke. She hated New York. She hated the coffee shops more. She hated—
She was in love.
Her train of thought derailed. In fact, thinking became a peripheral concern. Breathing was the real problem.
and some kind of blonde framed on beauty
had stolen it.
, somebody said. Remember to breathe.
It didn’t matter how many millions of times she’d laid eyes on him. It didn’t matter. He was still there.
She wondered how the majority of the people sitting around the shop felt about him. Was he a speck? Just a man in a suit? Another business hotshot wearing fancy shades?
She couldn’t fathom not knowing. Not knowing might have been another life completely, someone who she couldn’t have been, not ever. Empty like that. A cave of herself.
He wavered by the doors, hesitating before crossing to the counter. He picked a free newspaper out of a wicker bin and thumbed his way to the contents page. He stood, completely unassuming, nothing less than natural.
A strand of hair in his face struck her as poetic.
But she couldn’t walk. It was too much, all at once. Her head swam, and it was doing the backstroke.
Say something, the somebody said again. Say anything
She wouldn’t. She was nothing. She didn’t even know what she was doing here in the first place. A crappy coffee house in downtown Los Angeles with nothing going for it other than a booth for comfort, cool café goers, kids staring at her from behind the counter; there was nothing here for her. It was all dead. There was nothing.
Except another look, and a catch of breath. It was the only thing to remind her that she had a pulse
Look, said the somebody. This may be your one chance. Your opportunity. The only time the fates or the gods or the whoevers are giving you. Unstick your cynical butt
from that bench and make yourself known. Somehow. So this is a coffee shop. Coffee means nothing unless you want it to.
She stood up. She scooted out of her booth, realising how cramped it had actually been, and stook a certain number of tentative steps. She stopped, and waited.
It took a moment for him to look up from his newspaper. But then he did, and he said hello.
“Hi,” she tried to say. Then, “Would you like to get a cup of coffee?”
He peered at her curiously for the moment it took to realise that he had likely entered a coffee shop for entirely such a reason.
She started to laugh. “What I meant was… I mean, you obviously want to get coffee,” she stumbled, quite certain that she was the only coffee-hater to ever pointedly come to a coffee shop. “But. Can I buy you one?”
The words lingered in the air like steam, straining to be heard against a backdrop of casual conversation. She might have tried to grab them and put them back into her mouth, but they had settled. She tried to smile.
Instead of saying anything, he returned the newspaper to the basket, looked back up, reached a hand to the side of his head and took off the sunglasses.
Her smile attempt was suddenly very real.
The seconds swirled and changed colour. The bitter air seemed to sweeten. Someone was pouring cream into it.
They ordered their way through the line, still not speaking, preferring to ride this, whatever it was. She picked the first thing on the menu. After a few seconds, she forget everything about it. The coffee makers mixed and stirred along with her insides.
She began to feel that the corner booth would have to be overlooked. She sat instead in a small chair at a round table in the middle of the room. He sat down across from her.
She took a sip from her cup and set it gingerly down. “So,” she said, still smiling, her whole heart poured into it, splashing around and trying to swim
He ran a hand through his hair, thanked her, and said that he’d never seen her here before. Then he put his hands around styrofoam
and sipped, and she imagined all her love
, all she had ever wanted to say, contained in that coffee
, warming his throat on the way down.