Out of all the fantastic and amazing drinks you could have in a coffee shop in autumn, Vinny ordered water.
“Seriously," Kathy laughed, “I thought you were going to help me try out all these new fall drinks.”
“When have you ever seen me drink coffee, not to mention the salted Frappuccino mocha caramel espresso with nutmeg you just ordered.”
“ I wish that were on the menu.”
Kathy and Vinny stood in front of the coffee shop counter glaring at the menu above as if competing to see who could memorize the most drinks. Vinny lost track of the numerous Frappuccino combos. He would bet money that she knew all of them by heart.
The Barista chewed her gum with mild irritation, staring at them as if they were insane.
“Here you go.”
They sat at a small table facing each other. The wooden chairs were uncomfortable but at least he had on his black sweat shorts and grey university hoodie. It was his chill fit and crocs would have completed the vibe. But he would never be the person who wore their crocs everywhere.
“What about the pumpkin spice lattes?”
“Look Kathy, I know you love the stuff but it's just not for me.”
“But have you tried one of these drinks before?” Kathy reached for her notepad, opened it up to a fresh page, and scribbled “New Fall Campus Coffee Shop Drinks.”
“No.,” Vinny said
“Then you’re like the perfect person to bounce ideas off of for the newspaper piece.” Kathy's eyes lit up with excitement “but if you prefer not to then that's fine.”
He took a pitiful sip of water from his cup and breathed in the smell of the coffee shop. The scent of roasted coffee beans mixed with cinnamon and vanilla made him sigh with relief. A sense of warmth like the kind that emanates from a cozy fire tingled his skin. A bead of sweat began to form on his forehead.
“This one tastes a lot like a fancy hot chocolate. It’s got coffee and chocolate mixed with fluffy whipped cream, a small amount of caramel and it all comes together with this salty yet sweet flavor. It’s honestly amazing.”
Vinny licked his lips and tried to ignore the overwhelming aroma of the coffee, cinnamon, and vanilla that was starting to make his stomach growl. It was hard to resist. He took another sip of his water and whipped his forehead with the red beanie he had stashed away in his pocket.
She continued to describe the way each drink tasted, stopping each time to jot down notes in her notepad. Vinny tapped his finger on the table with anticipation.
“Fine, I’ll give one a try.” Vinny blurted out.
He flipped the straw over and took a deep sip. The coffee shop seemed to brighten up and Vinny perceived dozens of cups to choose from and try.
“How is it?”
Vinny tried yet another and another. He laughed with delight as the savoriness of coffee, caramel, chocolate, whipped cream, mocha sauce, cinnamon, pumpkin spice, and toffee seemed to swirl around in his body and inject a heightened feeling into his veins. He was going to try every single flavor there was even if a boatload of cups now stood in front of him. He talked about the consistency, the flavor, the kind of coffee bean, anything he thought of that was helpful for her article.
She wrote down a sentence or two but for the most part, she was too busy snorting with laughter as Vinny pointed and lectured on. Coffee cups now littered the floor near him and it was hard to get up from his seat because his stomach was full.
“I know why you let me come along. You wanted to hang out with your lonely old friend. It’s ok to admit it because if I’m being honest a lot of people don’t care and you genuinely do. I appreciate that.”
“Everything isn’t about you Vinny.” She smiled while saying it.
He scratched his forearm and sensed a red rash forming. That was strange, but he pulled his grey sleeve up and made nothing of it.
They toasted each other, glumped down the last remaining contents of their cups, and sat back content like nobody's business. Vinny's head was a little light but he felt more alert than ever. He could discern the smallest of scratches present on the coffee table, consider the way that the warmth of the coffee shop made his eyelids heavy and take in the smells that were more pleasant every time he inhaled. A certain tenderness wormed its way up to his stomach and quieted his mind. Nothing in that moment existed but the coffee shop, it had taken a life of its own, centered its presence deep in his self-conscious and embraced Vinny like home. Kathy looked red from extended laughing and wisps of brown hair fluttered from her head like feathers. He did not want it to end.
He closed his eyes and fell out of his chair with a hard thud. He woke up in a hospital bed, the glaring lights of the room forcing his eyelids to open. They were swollen and his throat felt like he had swallowed a fistful of sand.
“The doctor said it was a pumpkin allergy.” He turned to see Kathy standing near his bedside.
“I’m sorry I pressured you to drink any of those stupid drinks. I never stopped to consider maybe you were allergic or something or-”
Vinny held up his hand, “I didn't know I had a pumpkin allergy so you couldn’t have known,” he said with a hoarse voice, “Plus, it was fun.”
“You’ve got to be kiddy me.”
“You must have blown a ton of money after all those cups of coffee I drank.”
“What do you mean, it was only four cups,” Kathy said.
“Wait..how? I could have sworn.”
“Get some rest. I’ll see you on campus.