The Physics Professor and the Latte

Submitted for Contest #63 in response to: Set your story in a coffee shop that’s just introduced a new line of autumnal drinks.... view prompt

110 comments

Oct 11, 2020

American Contemporary Romance

It wasn’t like Dr. Stevens to spend $4.38 for coffee. 

Not coffee—a latte. A latte was essentially a fancy espresso with a thin layer of foamed milk. Either way, $4.38 was an egregious amount of money to spend on a beverage for a young professor with crushing student loans. A young professor who would have been just as happy sipping the dregs from the burnt coffee pot in the faculty lounge. A young professor who wasn’t sure about his students' abilities, whether they would put in the hard work and dedication necessary to understand the beauty of physics. 

$4.38 for coffee. Did he need a decorative swirl to justify the expense of a latte

He thought about the formulas for oscillations and mechanical waves that made the coffee swirls possible. This passed the time while he checked his watch and waited.

Perhaps he should order his coffee now? 

According to the laws of thermodynamics, the coffee would cool too quickly. Of course, this was relative to how much energy would be given off by the styrofoam cup compared to the time it would take the coffee to lose its energy. He mentally drew up the equations.

Dr. Stevens waited outside the coffee shop for the one friend whom he had made at the university since joining the faculty. She taught in the humanities department. 

He looked at his watch again. From the sidewalk, he watched cars start and stop at random intervals, mentally running through a calculus proof of centripetal acceleration.

“Sorry I’m late,” she repeated, more loudly. 

“Oh, I didn’t see you,” he smiled sheepishly. She’d startled him.

“This coffee shop is fun. You’ll like it!” she beamed. She liked everything, like most humanities professors. The humanities building brimmed with effervescent idealists, all on the cusp of discovering revelations about the human condition. Its lobbies with overstuffed couches with festive throw pillows and “contemplating chairs” invited minds to ruminate. 


As for the physics building? The gray slab had the worst lighting on campus, tacitly alerting future engineering students that they’d sold their souls for endless physics and calculus courses. 

Dr. Stevens’ new friend opened the door to the coffee shop for both of them.

“See the specials on the chalkboard? Every month the coffee shop picks a theme. Since October is cuffing season—”

“Excuse me. Cuffing season?” Dr. Stevens inquired. 

“Every October. When there’s a chill in the air, an energy? You haven’t noticed students pairing off, sometimes right in the hallway? It’s the time of year to find a mate to cozy up with for the winter months,” she laughed, a sound as melodious as windchimes. He knew the sound of her laugh was simply vibrations in the air traveling in longitudinal waves. 

Yet, still. 

“Oh, cuffing season, I see,” Dr. Stevens said.

“So there are eight special lattes,” she explained. “They are all based on the eight types of love, according to the Greeks.”

“I didn’t think I’d need a humanities professor to order a cup of coffee,” Dr. Stevens said seriously, but she laughed at his wit. 

“There’s Autumnal Agape with cinnamon and vanilla. Agape is unconditional love,” she said.

“Like a mother’s love?”

“More like Jesus,” she replied. 

“That seems like a bridge too far. How about the 911 Mania with Irish crème? That sounds good,” he suggested.

“Mania means obsessive love. It’ll get you a restraining order.”

“I’ll pass on that one,” he said. They both looked at each other and nodded in mutual agreement.

“Let’s see. How about Pint of Pragma with toffee and buttered rum?”

“It sounds like old people smell,” he replied, knowing that quantum physics purported that smell depended on the shapes of molecules, not age. 

“Makes sense that you’d feel that way as pragma is love that has matured over time. It’s like watching your grandparents hold hands, assuming they are still married,” she added quickly.

“They’re dead, so let’s pass on the pragma.”

“Next one. Let’s see,” she squinted. Her nose scrunched up in an adorable way, a way that Dr. Stevens stared at for a bit too long. “Steaming Storge with hazelnut? Fabulous Philia with raspberry? Both have heavy friendship connotations.”

“Friendship is all right,” he wavered a bit.

“Ah! Peppermint Philautia, the love of self. Perfect for you!” she beamed.

“Do I come across that arrogant?” He was stung.

“No,” she laughed her windchime laugh. “Philautia is self care, self-compassion. It’s a healthy love.”

I’ve had years of self care, Dr. Stevens thought. Years in the lab with Michelson and Morley's luminiferous ether experiment and Minkowski's spacetime and the Lorentz transformation. No where in Einstein's velocity addition did anyone mention anything about cuffing season. 

“You could try Elderberry Eros,” she looked at him slyly.

“Eros—”

“Hot unchecked passion. Perfectly fine for a lost weekend in Vegas. The type of love that burns hot and bright, yet burns out fast. The Greeks were actually afraid of Eros, afraid of losing control,” she explained.

Eros is basically combustion, Dr. Stevens surmised. A chemical reaction between substances. There would be a generation of heat and light in the form of flame

“I’m not sure what elderberry tastes like, so I’m not going to risk my $4.38,” he said flatly. She again thought he was joking and laughed, putting her hand on his arm. It felt nice there.

“Last one. Red Licorice Ludus.”

“I love red licorice!” he exclaimed, pulling out his wallet. “What exactly is ludus? Can I get arrested for it?”

“Ludus is the Greeks’ playful form of love. It’s a crush. The starting point for young lovers,” she said.

“That is the perfect cup of coffee for cuffing season,” he thought, calculating how cozy it would be to cuddle up with her. 

With that, Dr. Stevens paid $8.76 for two Red Licorice Ludus Lattes, and even tossed the extra $1.24 in the tip jar on the way out of the coffee shop with the humanities professor. 

 



 


You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

110 comments

Laura Clark
20:09 Oct 16, 2020

I love socially awkward physics professor and bubbly fun humanities professor romance ❤️ He’s so perfectly written - I love him. I love how varied your writing is whilst still being excellent. You got raaaaange.

Reply

Deidra Lovegren
20:54 Oct 16, 2020

Have we met? You seem so familiar...

Reply

Laura Clark
20:59 Oct 16, 2020

Oh you’d remember me, baby.

Reply

Deidra Lovegren
21:02 Oct 16, 2020

Right. At the TESCO when I was a lesbian for five minutes.

Reply

Laura Clark
21:14 Oct 16, 2020

I have nothing but jealousy. He’s a handsome fella.

Reply

Deidra Lovegren
22:43 Oct 17, 2020

Handsome, yes. But his grammar and mechanics are atrocious; he wouldn't know a comma if it violated him, but his content and general bon homie is good. B+

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Miley Clubb
12:39 Oct 22, 2020

wait why do I love this-

Reply

Deidra Lovegren
17:22 Oct 22, 2020

Because everyone gets stupid in October. We all want to fall in love or be in love or find love.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 2 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
04:19 Oct 16, 2020

I particularly like stories that teach me things. Love the Greek interwoven. This piece just feel ‘smart.’ And I loved your first line especially. So subtle but I had to know what happened. Awesome job as always

Reply

Deidra Lovegren
09:16 Oct 16, 2020

High praise Indeed! Those Greeks figured everything out — codifying for all Western civilization. I played with mythology in “Seven Greek Gods Walk into a Bar” — always fun to write about imperfect deities. Like ex-boyfriends...Haha

Reply

13:06 Oct 16, 2020

😆

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Aisa M
06:54 Oct 11, 2020

Wow! This is short and sweet. Love the girl's voice. Love the Greek explanations. Just love this!

Reply

Deidra Lovegren
17:34 Oct 11, 2020

Cuffing season! No one is immune. :)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Rayhan Hidayat
04:40 Oct 11, 2020

This reminds me of the overpriced seasonal specials at my university cafe, which I always fall for (I’m a sucker for having an entire Flake shoved into my cup) This was such a fun read, anyway. The nuances in dialogue that hint at their intentions were amazing. And viewing everything in a scientific light is a great way to make a compelling narrative voice. Always a pleasure to read your stuff Deidra! 😙

Reply

Deidra Lovegren
17:35 Oct 11, 2020

I'm just glad I can google scientific factoids...because we all know numbers are the devil's alphabet. I had to work out the cost of the lattes a few times to make sure the amounts were correct.

Reply

Rayhan Hidayat
00:09 Oct 12, 2020

Honestly I thought for a second you might have majored in physics! But yes, the internet is our best friend

Reply

Deidra Lovegren
00:54 Oct 12, 2020

I’m just waiting for some nerd to tell me I’ve botched the science entirely — setting humanity back centuries 😜

Reply

Rayhan Hidayat
01:22 Oct 12, 2020

Haha, I suppose it IS a matter of time before a certain rocket scientist named Charles Stucker finds this story

Reply

Deidra Lovegren
01:23 Oct 12, 2020

I think he’s torn me apart before, so come at me Mother Stucker!!

Reply

Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Howard H
07:42 Oct 15, 2020

I adored your story and loved the frisson between the two characters. Having said that, I think the beginning was a tad slow to get going. However, much like my favourite singing kettle, the pace soon picked up. It rapidly progressed from a gentle simmer to maintain a steady rolling boil and ended with a delightful whistle. Well done. I look forward to reading your next piece.

Reply

Deidra Lovegren
16:04 Oct 15, 2020

Thanks, HH :) "Ay me! For aught that I could ever read / Could ever hear by tale or history /The course of true love never did run smooth."

Reply

Howard H
17:45 Oct 15, 2020

“...O hell, to choose love by another’s eyes!“ ... :)

Reply

Deidra Lovegren
19:45 Oct 15, 2020

"Exit, Pursued By A Bear"

Reply

Howard H
23:32 Oct 15, 2020

The question remains. To which genre does the bear belong? Is Antigonus’ death by bear the final “act” in the tragedy? Or does it kick off the comedy and set the tone for the second half of the play?.... :)

Reply

Deidra Lovegren
00:36 Oct 16, 2020

OK, Howard. You win. I give up. Which story should I read of yours first? I'm intrigued now.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Tyler Runde
04:14 Oct 11, 2020

I'm just going to come out and say it, the humanities professor is a hussy! By the end of the story Dr. Stevens pays $8.76 for both of their lattes, when at the beginning he was having great difficulty justifying paying $4.38 just for his own. This man just got taken for a ride! Dr. Stevens expressed no romantic interest in the humanities professor at the beginning of this story(!), as evidenced by how he referred to her as just a "friend" twice before she showed up, as well as stating, "Friendship is all right", later on (though by that ...

Reply

Deidra Lovegren
17:56 Oct 11, 2020

First of all, where have you been my whole life? I have referred a few friends over to see your amazing work. I particularly liked the LAVA and ORGY stories, which probably gives you a horrible (and correct) impression of me. Thanks for a comment (that literally is longer than my story.) I enjoy Dr. Stevens' discomfort, strung out in front of the coffee shop, waiting for his "friend." She knows what she is doing. (I'm sure he arrived 5-7 minutes early, too, calculating the traffic patterns.) OF COURSE the Humanities Professor is t...

Reply

Tyler Runde
00:38 Oct 12, 2020

I just feel bad for the guy. Often, relationships end because the parties involved each have widely varying beliefs about what the relationship actually is. I can see this story picking up several months later as the weather begins to warm again. During this time, Dr. Stevens has driven himself further and further into debt by lavishing the humanities professor with dinners and gifts and nights out. And now he's utterly convinced that she's the one and he's splurged on the most expensive engagement ring he possibly can(not) afford. He's e...

Reply

Deidra Lovegren
01:05 Oct 12, 2020

Look, she’s a humanities professor...by Winter Solstice she will discover she is a latent bisexual and will start dating a female grad student named Apple. She will travel to Paraguay 🇵🇾 before teaching her new elective: “The Vulva’s Battle Against the Patriarchy” Dr. Stevens will meet an Episcopalian preschool teacher and cook Hamburger Helper in their 3-bedroom Cape Cod house in the college town. He will make tenure almost immediately. His wife will container garden and scrapbook the twins’ childhoods. Dr. Stevens will coach their w...

Reply

12:58 Oct 20, 2020

I laughed at this comment string. Congrats on imagination guys. XD

Reply

Deidra Lovegren
13:28 Oct 20, 2020

Thanks, Leo. Jump on it. The water is fine :)

Reply

Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Pragya Rathore
04:06 Oct 11, 2020

Sweet romances are really your thing, aren't they? This reminded me of Sheldon Cooper from TBBT. I laughed aloud at this part: "$4.38 for coffee. Did he need a decorative swirl to justify the expense of a latte?" I also loved how the professor kept inserting complex physics into mundane, simple things. And this was certainly informative about the different types of love :p A heartwarming, light-hearted and entertaining story.

Reply

Deidra Lovegren
17:59 Oct 11, 2020

I guess. I had a wife chop up and BBQ her husband last week, so I guess things all even out. :)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Elena Whitford
19:04 May 15, 2021

This story is so cute! I love their conversation and the touches of humor in it. The different flavors of coffee are a nice touch. Great job on this! :) -Elena

Reply

Deidra Lovegren
19:18 May 15, 2021

Even nerds want to fall in love <3

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Kate Macguire
23:38 Dec 18, 2020

Amazing job creating the professor archetype in this piece! It was very fun to read. I like the playful energy b/w the two professors too - you can tell that if they stay together, she'll be the type to mess up his hair, just to see him scowl. Fun!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Sam W
19:00 Nov 11, 2020

So much fun, Deidra! omg yes. I absolutely adore nerd love, and the same goes for greek mythology. I relate massively to the penny-pinching, indebted prof as well. You put together all my favorite things, thank you. Just one little thing. "Yet, still" seems a little stilted. I would suggest sticking to good old "But still" or going full-on old-fashioned with "and yet."

Reply

Deidra Lovegren
20:48 Nov 11, 2020

The conundrum concerning coordinating conjunctions -- and yet, you make a good point. But still, I think you are write. (Homophone intended) Yet, still, it does seem less rhythmic than your suggestion which I should make :)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Thom Brodkin
17:27 Oct 24, 2020

I'm not sure how you do what you do. You see things that only a gifted writer sees. You know things only a gifted writer knows. You write things only a gifted writer can write. You make me want to go to that coffee shop because of the possibilities. I see the humanities professor as Laura Dern from The West Wing episode "The U.S. Poet Laureate" and the physics professor is Richard Gere from "Pretty Woman" when he is walking on the grass by himself. Bottom line, I loved it.

Reply

Deidra Lovegren
17:56 Oct 24, 2020

Excellent use of anaphora in your commentary. Even in your comments you are erudite! Your casting is, as most things you conjure up, utterly perfect. If only one could find the perfect beast and run through six or seven of the Greek typologies of love? Ludus is the easiest, especially with smooth talkers who tell rambling stories and dad jokes. Eros, that ineffable spark that transcends time and space or hundreds of miles, cannot be manufactured. (It's there or it's not.) However, without dear Philia, Eros just ends in a sodden pile of ...

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
L.a. Nolan
23:42 Oct 22, 2020

Your prose flows freely, the dialogue is natural and crisp and the overall tone is warm and familiar. I really enjoyed this read Deidra. It's uncanny, your Humanities Professor and my English Lit Professor (Sour Apple Sunday) seem to be cut of the same cloth! Or perhaps, are drinking the same latte! Great submission!

Reply

Deidra Lovegren
23:47 Oct 22, 2020

Lee! Thanks for coming by again. Always fun to hang out with you. Thanks for the comments :)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Bianka Nova
18:02 Oct 22, 2020

Very original use of such a simple prompt. Physics, ancient Greeks, 8! creative coffee flavors. The story and the dialogue flow seamlessly. What I found missing is some funky quirk or other adorable trait of the guy. He comes across too nerdy and boring to make their future cuffing believable. At least that's how I saw him.🤷‍♀️ Anyway, always a pleasure reading you. 😊

Reply

Deidra Lovegren
18:14 Oct 22, 2020

I am sure the humanities professor is just trifling with his poor shrunken heart. He will become embittered, sad to say. And drink his weak coffee in the teacher's lounge. At least it will be free.

Reply

Bianka Nova
18:33 Oct 22, 2020

So sad, but you're right. That's definitely an option. Maybe the chances of him meeting a kindred soul in the physics department would be higher. See how well it worked for Sheldon in TBBT. 😄

Reply

Deidra Lovegren
19:00 Oct 22, 2020

Like my mother said, "Every pot has its lid." He'll find someone just as boring and pedantic.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Sonia Chauhan
03:46 Oct 22, 2020

Oh, that is such clever dialogue! A straight 10 on 10 for coming up with such lovely banter. There is so much detailing in this story, and I love detailing. The coffee names (on various types of loves) is so cool. The physics talk in his head is so cute (and impressive at the same time). Both the characters do have a chemistry and that makes your story a treat to read. But the best thing about this story is how naturally you have captured that little moment of joy. You know, these little moments scattered over life that we easily ove...

Reply

Deidra Lovegren
09:10 Oct 22, 2020

I’m not entirely sure my physics is accurate, but it was fun (and daunting) to research. The idea of different forms of love has always intrigued me. And the ancient Greeks are usually right about everything. Ludus is the most glorious form of love and the one most missed as we get older. Who doesn’t want to fall in love? ❤️ The dopamine rush is addictive. You are right: these are the little moments of joy which make the other 95% of mindless gray drudgery bearable.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Madria Johnston
17:10 Oct 21, 2020

Good story I like any stories about coffee shops

Reply

Deidra Lovegren
17:46 Oct 21, 2020

They're where all the cool kids go.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Maverick Cotsen
19:14 Oct 20, 2020

This was honestly some of the most creative social comments on young teachers that I have read. You really drove home the points you emphasized, and you should write more like this

Reply

Deidra Lovegren
20:08 Oct 20, 2020

I'll give it a shot, Maverick. Thanks for your comment :)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Kylie Rudolf
17:31 Oct 19, 2020

He is so well put together! You perfectly describe the feelings of doubt and want for a $5 cup of caffeine

Reply

Deidra Lovegren
19:31 Oct 19, 2020

Starbucks is printing money. What a racket :)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Emily :3
15:07 Oct 19, 2020

I love this! I study Ancient Greek at school and reading this made me so happy UwU

Reply

Deidra Lovegren
19:41 Oct 19, 2020

Thanks Emily! Let me know if I got anything wrong. You might like my "Seven Greek Gods Walk into a Bar" -- very obscure Greek Gods. Aphrodite's retinue are running around and eating/drinking in chain restaurants...

Reply

Emily :3
14:09 Oct 20, 2020

I will definitely check it out <3

Reply

Show 0 replies
Emily :3
17:04 Oct 20, 2020

I just read it and omg, I love ittt! Minor gods are so underrated and I absolutely love the way you described their personalities. While I was scrolling through your stories I noticed that there’s one that starts with a Latin sentence: I study Latin as well, so I’ll definitely read it now:)

Reply

Deidra Lovegren
20:10 Oct 20, 2020

It's Latin for "Motherfucker." So....................................... Just read the prompt. It was shortlisted, I think. Surprising due to all the cursing. But if your mother banged your fiance at your wedding, I think you are entitled a few F-bombs.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 2 replies
Show 1 reply
Iris Greyfeather
11:16 Oct 19, 2020

His reaction when she said that it meant obsessive love and could get a restraining order.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Tom .
00:15 Oct 19, 2020

Your writing has very pleasant rhythm. It flows so effortlessly from one part to the next.

Reply

Deidra Lovegren
00:46 Oct 19, 2020

Sweet ❤️

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply