A bubbly shhhhhhhhh filled the mostly cavernous emptiness within the coffee shop. Until the last 6 months, the shop would have been filled with customers eager to spend $10 to $15 on a coffee and a pastry, sitting in the cool air conditioned space and listening to the latest company endorsed album while sitting on leatherette seats a la MOMA classics and couches made to look like the midcentury Danish modern pieces that had come back into vogue. But now the shop was anything but inviting… The world was anything but inviting.
She couldn’t help but make the all too familiar trip to the coffee shop, though, despite the coldness of it all. She’d spend decades haunting coffee shops everywhere she’d traveled and lived. It started in high school with hot teas (she was an avid tea drinker) and steamed milk. Those steamers were the first step on the slippery slope and now she matched her coffee with her mood. She always had local favorite shops where she frequented and could make recommendations to anyone in search of a unique coffee experience, places that had a Story to tell, but she also knew she could always count on the big chains to deliver a drink that tasted exactly as she expected it to every time.
That was what she was after today:
The comfort of a drink that would taste today exactly as it had tasted the first time she had it.
She wasn’t always sold on the chain. There was a time when she would have stubbornly demanded that folks shop local only, until one night when someone had told her that in his travels he always felt like he was home when he walked into the chain shop and knew his latte would be exactly what he wanted. He traveled a lot, all around the world, and not always in the nicest locations, but there was something about the way he held his mouth and the far away look in his eyes when he said it that struck her and softened her and now she understood.
He always found the rough, hard, jagged edges and quietly, kindly, wore them away until she was soft. That was his way.
She stood listening to the murmur of the grinder grinding down the beans that would be the espresso shots for her drink as the ghosts of a thousand mornings, evenings, late nights in coffee shops like this one the world over flitted around her, the gauzy ungraspable smoke she could not touch or hear. Journals filled with words of love and heartache, textbooks slowly being rifled through and filled with pencil notes and highlighter, scribbled notes and paper outlines, stacks of student work to be graded, laptops open to unfinished manuscripts. She lived her life on this side of the counter, always seeking out the comfort of the dark and the din, because it always felt exactly the same. Even now, in the absence of a comfortable chaos that comes with a space filled with customers, the shop felt like the embrace of an old friend.
“Venti French vanilla latte…?” a barista behind the counter asked looking at her while slipping a sleeve over the bottom of the excessively tall cup. She was the only customer there but the propriety of it all felt normal in a world that felt anything but.
She thanked the barista and turned to the door, pulling down her mask, closing her eyes, and taking that first sip of her drink and the froth that felt like the elixir of life, and in an instant the room behind her was full of life and light, conversation, the shuffling of papers, the ringing of a cell, the sound of some jazz piano barely audible over the conversations happening in every corner.
For a moment everything felt right with the world.
As she opened her eyes and replaced her mask, another solitary customer hurriedly walked through the door and stepped away from her. The spell was broken and reality set in again.
The world was changed and she was unsure if it would ever return to the normal she once knew.
Brought to you by this Ragtag Daily Prompt.