Confessions From A Coffee Shop (5 page)

Kat’s imploring gray eyes focused on Charlie’s Kitchen, across the street, hinting at the idea of a nightcap. After three sorrowful gazes in that direction, I gave in, chuckling. The woman had me wrapped around her finger.

The place was packed, but I made my way to the bar and squeezed between two customers perched on red barstools straight out of a fifties diner. I ordered Kat a vodka tonic, and a water for myself.

As I handed Kat her drink, I noticed a couple leave their table, so I whisked her over so we wouldn’t miss our chance. I was beat. After my shift at Beantown Café, teaching, and dealing with my mother twice in one day, I needed to take a load off.

“Why can’t you try to be nicer to your mom sometimes? She tries so hard to be nice to you, you know.” Kat chewed on her cocktail straw.

“When you say nice, don’t you mean passive-aggressive? And what’s this about my father? How did she get on this kick?” I raked my fingers through my hair, forcing it back into a ponytail.

“Okay, I don’t believe your father is having an affair either, but you know you can’t talk any sense into her. Sometimes you just have to go along with it until it blows over. You need to try to not let it get under your skin‌—‌that’s dangerous when it comes to her.” Kat eyed me carefully, knowing me well enough to know I might take her comments the wrong way.

“Under
her
skin? She was the one talking about reading porn!”

A young man glanced over his shoulder and smiled at me.

I inhaled deeply.

Exasperated, I said, “She’s never been rational a day in her life. And you don’t help. Please don’t feed her insecurities. I know you are trying to be nice, but please stop.”

“What, you want me to stop being nice to your mom?” Kat cocked her head, one eyebrow up, ready for battle. “She’s more of a mother to me than my own.” Her tone told me I had overstepped my boundary.

“No, that’s not what I mean. I mean just don’t encourage her delusion.”

“Whatever, Cori.” Kat bounded out of her seat and snaked through the crowd to the bathroom at the back.

All of the mirrors in this diner depressed the hell out of me. The man who eavesdropped earlier raised his drink at me. I stared back, stony-faced. He turned back around and I swore he muttered bitch to his friends. They tittered, ogling me not so discreetly.

Kat reappeared right as the 86 pulled up. It then immediately drove away, well ahead of schedule. Public transportation in this town was maddening. We were stuck for another hour.

I glanced at my watch. Eleven. Now we wouldn’t get home until after midnight, and I had to be at work at 5:30. This was my punishment for not supporting Kat, who, in fact, was supporting me by dealing with my crazy mother. I sighed and draped an arm over her shoulder. “I’m sorry. She just gets to me sometimes.”

Kat smiled. “I know. I have to admire her skill‌—‌she can get you from zero to sixty in less than a second.”

“Hey now, don’t be picking up any tips from her.” I leaned down and gave her a peck on the cheek. Sometimes it was hard for me to keep my hands off Kat. She looked hot as shit, sitting there on the red stool, sipping her drink and batting her eyelashes at me.

“Truce then. Shall we just take a cab home? I’m beat.” She sucked down her vodka tonic before I came to my senses and realized I couldn’t afford a cab.

In the back of the cab, I nuzzled my face into her shoulder so I wouldn’t be able to watch the meter tick upward. I had twenty dollars in my pocket. I hoped it didn’t come to more than that.

“I like it when you’re cuddly.” Kat tickled my side.

I couldn’t help but laugh.

“So what do you say, should we make our own porno tonight?” Her tone was alluring, even if her question was crass.

Maybe I
was
a prude. Around my mother, I definitely was.

I shook my head, needing to get the thought of Mom out of my head so I could concentrate on the beautiful woman next to me.

“I think that can be arranged.”

Kat informed the driver to put the pedal to the metal. Her eagerness turned me on.

The cabbie ogled us in the mirror, pretending to be checking traffic in the rearview mirror.

I closed my eyes and ignored him.

* * *

When my alarm trilled at 4:30 a.m., Kat groaned. I silenced it immediately and popped out of bed. I never hit the snooze button‌—‌not once in my life. It would take me twenty minutes on the T to get to work, which didn’t allow me much time to shower, dress, and grab something to eat before I had to make a mad dash to the subway stop.

It was still warm outside, but when winter hit, I’d likely have to forego the shower to avoid my hair freezing on my way to work. In warmer months, I was content sporting a wet ponytail, which had plenty of time to dry by the time the store opened. The only caveat was that I then had to wear it in a ponytail the rest of the day, since it dried with a permanent dent where the hair-tie held the wet strands together. Sporting a ponytail while teaching showed my dedication to research, rather than to preening, I told myself. Either that or it proved I was lazy, or a slob, or worse, both.

It was still dark outside. While I waited for the T, I nibbled on a tasteless energy bar. Peanut butter, my ass. It tasted like cardboard. Choking down another bite, I wondered how long until my mom called to talk about my dad’s supposed affair again. More than likely, she’d also want me to pick up her car.

The screech of the T’s brakes alerted me that the train would arrive soon. I wasn’t teaching today, so I had an eight-hour shift. Then Kat and I were to have dinner with the family at Aunt Barbara’s house. I rubbed some sleep out of my eyes.

When I entered the first car of the T, I tapped my Charlie card. I missed the days when you could flash your pass and enter any door. Only one other person was insane enough to get up this early. Actually, I think she was on her way home after a night out. I chuckled as she hid her face. The T-ride of shame was always humbling at five in the morning, but humorous for the rest of us. From the looks of her disheveled clothes, she had rushed out as soon as she’d opened her eyes and realized what she’d done. Her T-shirt was even inside out. Did the guy know she was gone yet? The thought perked me up some.

She wasn’t the only one regretting her late night this morning; of course, mine had nothing to do with a one-night stand.

Harold was not in the store when I arrived. I was five minutes late, but of course I didn’t expect him there for another hour. How he managed to keep his job for so long, considering his habitual tardiness, baffled me. Of course, I never told on him, and maybe others didn’t either. That was hard to believe of the employees who called him Harry Pooper, but maybe Harold had some dirt on everyone in the store. He seemed like the type who would collect dirt.

The first hour flew by. Samantha didn’t make an appearance. I was disappointed by that. I’m not sure why, but I really thought she would pop in to say hello, or at least to grab a drink.

Of course, I couldn’t pinpoint why I wanted to see her. High school was years ago, and my crush had subsided. Having an extremely hot girlfriend put the kibosh on most crushes, but it had been good seeing her‌—‌someone who knew me when I was on my way to making a big splash in the world. Even if it turned out I did a belly flop for all to see.

Oh well, I looked like I’d been up all night, which for the most part, I had, so it was probably a good thing that Samantha didn’t pop in. After my second espresso I no longer felt like super-gluing my eyes open, although my heart now thumped and I had clammy hands.

“Did you sleep at all last night?” asked Harold, who looked in even rougher shape than I was. Not for the same reason, was my guess. I’m pretty sure the guy was still a virgin.

“Some. What about you? You look like shit.”

“Not much. I got the new Gaiman book yesterday.” Harold’s entire face smiled.

“Oh, you must like it if you stayed up all night reading.”

“Like it? I love it! I finished it a couple of hours ago.” His eyes glowed with happiness.

“Is he your favorite author, then?” I didn’t feel like talking, but it did help pass the time. Oddly, the store was quiet. Had everyone slept like crap last night and stayed in bed? I wished I’d had that option. Must be nice to be a suit.

Snuggling up to Kat was heads above standing in an empty coffee shop, talking to Harold.

“Hands down the best author.” To emphasize his point, Harold slapped the countertop with one hand. “What’s your favorite book of his?” He seemed eager for my reply.

“Um, I haven’t read any of his books.” I looked away, feeling foolish but unsure as to why. It wasn’t like I was a non-reader. However, the look on my coworker’s face told me I was a huge disappointment to him. An English teacher who hadn’t read Gaiman? Unheard of, in his world.

He pinned me with a look of total repugnance. “But I thought you taught English.”

“I do. British authors, to be exact.”

He threw his hands up in the air. “Gaiman is British! Seriously, Cori, how can you call yourself a professor of British lit and not know Gaiman? That ain’t right.” He crossed his arms.

I heard the bell tinkle, but I didn’t bother to turn around. “Maybe I should be clear, if the author isn’t dead, I don’t read him or her. Did Gaiman die within the past hour?”

“You’re a snob. A book snob!” He refused to break eye contact, waggling a finger in my face and hopping around as if his feet were on fire.

I heard a woman clear her throat, and I turned to see Samantha. My heart stopped. Two days in a row she had arrived during an embarrassing moment.

“Well, I’m a coffee snob, if that makes you feel better.” She flashed me a supportive smile.

“What can I get you?” I shot Harold a look to shut him up.

“Hey, do you like Neil Gaiman?” Harold ignored my silent plea.

Samantha cocked her head, thinking. “Did he write
Neverwhere
?”

“Yes!” Harold clapped his hands in glee, like a girl.

“Then, yes. I liked that book. I read it when I visited London last year. Mind‌—‌”

“The gap!” Harold finished her sentence.

I looked at the two of them as if they had lost their minds. Mind the gap. What did that even mean? Was it a reference to the store, Gap? Why would a British author write about a jeans store? I hated their jeans‌—‌too tight in the crotch. I preferred having blood flow down there.

“Cori, here, who teaches British literature”‌—‌he rolled his eyes‌—‌“has never read him. Can you believe it?” His voice was filled with shock and loathing.

“No! Really?” I couldn’t tell if Samantha was egging him on or agreeing with him.

“I know. Crazy! We need to educate her.” Harold swiveled his head to enforce his intention.

“Doesn’t say much for Harvard if they don’t read the classics?” Sam’s eyes sparkled, and I knew she was teasing.

“You went to Harvard?” Harold turned to me, baffled. “I thought you went to Adams.”

I could tell he was impressed, and simultaneously dismayed.

“Yep, I’m Harvard alum. I teach at Adams.”

Not that my Harvard degrees helped me all that much
, I thought to myself, bitterly. Here I was, standing in a Beantown Café apron schlepping coffee. Fucking pitiful.

“Pumpkin spice latte. Bean Supreme, please.” Samantha took advantage of Harold’s silence.

“Hey, you’re picking up the lingo.”

She looked pleased at the compliment.

While Harold made her drink, I tried to start a conversation. “Got any big plans for the weekend?”

“No. Unless you count working.” Sam sighed. “You?”

“Very exciting. Dinner at my aunt’s.”

“Ha! I’d rather do that than stare at spreadsheets all weekend. Is she a good cook?”

“Horrible! Last year I got food poisoning. But she’s my aunt. What can I do?” I shrugged.

“One pumpkin spice latte!” Harold screamed, for some inexplicable reason. It was just the three of us in the entire store. I wanted to ask him if he was on crack‌—‌Gaiman crack.

Samantha picked up her cup. Harold had scrawled “Mind the Gap” on the side. “Cute, Harold.” She waved goodbye to both of us and left.

“I think she’s the only suit I get along with,” Harold said as soon as the door closed.

“You know her?” I was flabbergasted.

“Of course. She’s one of our regs. Duh, Cori.” He reached into his bag and pulled out a Neil Gaiman book. “It’s eerily quiet today.” He opened it up.

“Is that the one you read last night?” I gestured to the book.

“Yeah. I can’t wait to read it again.” He buried his nose in the book.

“If Samantha is a regular, how come I haven’t seen her before yesterday?”

“Oh, she just got back from an extended trip.” He didn’t look up.

“Really?” I didn’t mean to phrase it as a question.

“Yeah. I think she was on her honeymoon or something. She planned it for months.” Harold waved his hand, his attempt to silence me.

I was relieved he didn’t look up, because I didn’t want him to see the look of disappointment on my face. Sure, I had a girlfriend, and sure, Samantha was rich, successful, and beautiful‌—‌totally out of my league. But I liked the idea of her. Not in the girlfriend way, but in a friend way. Married friends weren’t much fun‌—‌at least not straight ones. Before too long, she’d pop out a kid and would be too busy to live life.

My phone buzzed. A texted order from my mother: Pick up the car and drive Kat to Barbara’s. I wondered if Kat called her to make that suggestion. Kat hated taking the T to the Chestnut Hill stop. Even though it was only one stop past the Reservoir stop near our home, Kat claimed it was out in the boonies and she swore we would get raped or mugged and that we should take a cab each time. I agreed that the stop was a little creepy, but there were two of us, after all.

* * *

“Let’s stop at the liquor store.” Kat’s tone implied it was an order.

I waited in the car while she ran in to get the essentials: a bottle of wine for the hostess, and a six-pack of Sam Adams for my father and uncle.

She emerged from the store carrying a box full of booze.

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