The next morning finds me tired and cranky. Mom has no coffee at home and on top no decent Wifi, so I’m off to find a coffee shop after washing up real quick. With my hair covering half of my face I feel safe enough to leave the house without checking my surroundings constantly.
At the coffee shop on the main street there’s a line a mile long so I turn into a side road, just around the corner and stop in front of an old fashioned café. When I was still in High School I often walked past here and wondered if anyone actually entered. But it looks cozy from the outside and a small sign in the window confirms that there is Wifi. The scent of coffee tickles my nose, bypasses my brain and lures me in. A small bell rings when I enter, it startles me briefly but the sound is muffled, reminds me that my hearing aids are still on my nightstand. Not that it matters much, I just want a coffee and check my emails. Although I graduated there are a few projects I am working on, replies from companies I applied at I’m waiting for. No personal mails, nope.
“Hi, pick a table, I’m with you in a minute.”
The woman behind the counter is battling a huge coffee machine, a monster of chrome and levers. I sit down at a table at the wall, with the door in view but away from the windows. My laptop is cooperative for once and boots without the usual string of updates and warnings. A few clicks and I can check my mails, completely focused when the coffee lady comes to my table and sets a menu down.
“What can I get you?”
I look up, blink once. One second I’m thinking about how to finance my project now that I don’t get any funding from the college anymore, and the next I have to try to understand some spoken words.
“Yeah, figured so much. Only coffee? Do you want to eat something, too?” She holds a tiny notepad and a pen, impatiently taps it against the paper.
“Just coffee for now, thanks. Black.”
“Like my soul,” is what I think she says, but I’m not sure since it’s only mumbled. Three minutes and a few rejection emails later she puts a cup down in front of me and I want to cry in gratefulness. Finally some coffee. It’s strong, but not as bitter as I have feared. Either they use good coffee beans here or the barista knows what she’s doing.
For a while I get lost in my work again, the coffee half empty by the time I look up. The café is empty except for me and the coffee lady who is busy polishing some glasses. Sam and I used to go to cafés like this on Sunday mornings, small places, private and intimate. Not one of the hundreds run-of-the-mill coffee places you can find at every corner. Sam is always looking for something special and for a while I thought I could be that, but in the end…
“Is everything okay?”
The coffee lady looks at me questioningly and I rush to assure her that indeed, everything is just fine.
“Do you want a refill?” She motions to my cup and I stare at the dark liquid that already shows these iridescent streams on the surface.
“No, thanks. But do you happen to offer hot chocolate?”
“Hot chocolate?” Her gaze flits towards the window, out into the bright and sunny morning.
“How about a scoop of ice cream for your coffee and we save the comfy fall drinks for when it’s actually fall?”
Before I can hold it back my laughter sounds loudly in the café. Not exactly a ‘the customer is always right’ kind of attitude, but I don’t mind.
“That actually sounds great. How about some whipped cream on top?”
“And chocolate syrup?” She grins, her hand already hovers over a row of bottles.
“Sure, why not?” I get up, stretch a bit before I take my cup and join her at the counter. “Slow morning, huh?”
“Eh, I had worse. Business will pick up after lunch. Hardly anyone comes here for the coffee, most people come for the cakes.” She shrugs and points to the glass show case that holds six delicious looking cakes and some smaller pastries. While I’m still staring she already gets some ice cream and whipped cream for my coffee, tops it with chocolate sauce before she slides the cup back towards me.
“Voila, healthy breakfast.”
I go back to work with my coffee sundae, it’s surprisingly good but as soon as it’s gone I pack my stuff and go back to the counter to pay.
I’m halfway there when the door opens again, the muffled chime announcing another customer. He’s tall, looks good in his suit. Dark hair, bright eyes. Smart. Probably a banker.
He greets the coffee lady with a nod, a tiny smile and a simple ‘Good morning’. She immediately grabs a paper cup, presses a few buttons and pulls some levers. While the coffee brews they just stand there, stare at each other. It’s not even the typical dance of sneaky glances and quickly looking away again, trading shy smiles. It’s a stare down, so intense that I’m rooted to the spot to not accidentally step into the danger zone.
The rattling and wheezing of the coffee monster subsides and the barista blindly reaches over, grabs the cup and sets it down on the counter. He tilts his head slightly, lips twitching into a smile, takes the coffee and hands her some money.
I feel like I’m witness to some strange ritual and wait breathlessly until he leaves the café again before I pay and follow him outside. I’m not really following him of course, I’m not a stalker and although the scene just now was strange it’s not enough to pique my interest and even less worth embarrassing myself by sneaking after a complete stranger.
Besides, I have enough work to do. I might not have a paid job yet but a lot of projects I want to get done before the summer is over. That’s what I promised Sam. And myself.
Back at Mom’s place I ignore my hearing aids, I work better without them anyway.
The sound of the door closing is what makes me look up after a few hours, with astonishment I watch Mom walking in, another bag of groceries in her arms.
“Honey, I’m home.”
“And early to boot. I haven’t expected to see you before dinner.” But my tired eyes and the tension in my neck and upper back cheer at the forced break. I put my laptop down, stretch once and follow Mom into the kitchen. She’s chatting animatedly but without seeing her face I have troubles understanding everything.
So I resort to my usual ‘Huh?’ only to earn another admonitory glance.
“Why aren’t you wearing your hearing aids?” She puts some cheese into the fridge, doesn’t even wait for my answer. “Honestly, you know you should wear them all the time.”
With a sigh I march into the guest room to get them from the nightstand, but Mom comes after me before I can put them in.
Her frown deepens when she sees the old, prominent BTE-hearing aids I hastily slip into and behind my ears.
“What happened to the new ones? Didn’t you say you like them better?”
I do, they are less noticeable, lighter and more comfortable to wear, but they are also really expensive.
“They needed some fixing so I had to send them in. Don’t worry, I will get them back before I go to another job interview.” Not that it matters, my CV says that my hearing is under 50%.
“Honey, that’s not why I’m asking. I just want you to be happy and I know you hate those old ones.”
Again, I do, they are bulky and need new batteries all the time, but they are also cheaper in the long run.
“It’s just temporary. They are the replacements, okay?” I smile at her to ease her worries but being my Mom she probably knows I’m lying. “Now once again, please: Why are you so early?”
“Oh, the mayor said I could leave after preparing lunch for him since I told him that you are back home for a while. He says ‘hi’ and wants us to do something nice together.” She already rushes back into the kitchen, something nice always involves food in her world.
“I thought we could go shopping a bit. Now that you will be working you need some decent clothes,” she practically chirps – maybe it’s only my impression because of the difference the hearing aids make.
“I don’t need new clothes. I still got some good ones for the interviews and as long as no one hires
me there’s no need to get new stuff.” Especially not when Mom still wears the same shirts like ten
years ago. She really takes good care of her clothes, but I swear, she never throws anything out. Only mends it or transforms it into something new. She never spends money on herself.
“Rubbish. You get dressed now and we are going to that outlet center two cities over.”
And by virtue of her status as my mother we do exactly that. She talks me into buying two blouses, both of them at least 50% off, and a skirt, but of course refuses to buy anything for herself. We get ice cream on the way out and are back at home in time for dinner. I laze on the couch while she’s busy in the kitchen, watch TV but nothing really captures my interest.
My phone is still burning a hole in my pocket. Three days since I last talked to Sam. One since the last text. If I don’t get an answer to it today… well, it’s my own fault. For being so cranky and bitchy all the time. It’s a miracle someone puts up with me at all, especially someone as wonderful as Sam.
My fingers hover over the screen, but I don’t pull up the messenger app. Instead I keep stalling, do what I do best. Pretending not to hear anything. Not even the voice in my head telling me that I’m a stupid coward.