These Mugs Hold More Than Coffee

Written in response to: Write a story about a teenager whose family is moving.... view prompt


Fiction Friendship Sad

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

Jake’s eyebrows raised as he looked on at the cluttered table, hands on his hips. It meant that he was surprised. More surprised than he thought he’d be.

“I told you I have a lot of them.” Caroline said, her face flushing. She scratched the back of her neck.

“I know. I didn’t think you meant a lot, a lot.” He responded.

The dining table in the small apartment was crowded with mugs. All different sizes, shapes, styles, colors. Teacups, from dainty to thick handled, were mixed in here and there. A few had their own decorative plates.

Caroline, whose parents were generous enough to tolerate the weird hobby, had an entire corner of the kitchen dedicated to the collection. 

The girl sighed and picked up the enormous roll of bubble wrap she’d bought. It was green and squeaky against her hands. She popped one of the bubbles with her fingernail.

“Well,” Jake looked at her, lowering his eyebrows. It meant he’d resigned himself to helping her.

“Let’s get started.” 

With a nod, Caroline sat at the table. Her love followed suit and selected the chair right next to her. He grabbed an empty box nearby and set it between them with an air of solemnity.  

“Oh!” Caroline exclaimed, jumping up again. “Do you want a soda?”

She walked over to the fridge and began digging around.

“We also have milk… chocolate milk, strawberry milk… all the milk.” The girl scratched her neck without thinking.

Jake laughed.

“How about something with caffeine?”

The girl pushed a pickle jar and some coffee creamer to the side. Behind it sat an unopened liter of Dr. Pepper.

“You got it.” She said, pulling the bottle out. 

Caroline walked back to the table and handed it to Jake. She spread her arms toward the table, gesturing at all the mugs

“Take your pick.”

The boy pursed his lips and squinted, feigning deep concentration. He stared at the wide selection.

“My, my, my. So many choices.” 

After a minute or so, Jake closed his eyes and extended an arm. He moved it around before placing it on a random spot. It rested on one of the frilly teacups. 

“It is decided.” He declared, lifting it up. There were rose designs on the sides, slightly raised from the rest of the white ceramic.

“Seriously?” Caroline snorted. 

Her own pick was a transparent glass mug with leaf designs across the surface. She unscrewed the lid from the Dr. Pepper and gave herself a generous amount. Jake took it next and filled his small, dainty cup. 

He raised it to her, one pinky out as he held the handle. Caroline grinned and gently tapped her cup against his.

“To the manipulation and inferno-ing of clay!”

The girl smiled wider and drank from her cup. She liked watching the bubbles form toward the bottom and rise to the surface. Jake sipped lightly from his cup, smacking his lips and blinking rapidly. It was supposed to be an impression of someone fancy. Caroline rolled her eyes and took another drink. She felt some of the heaviness lift off her eyelids.

It was 11:56 pm. Caroline and her parents would soon be moving to a house on the edge of town. Her parents were already asleep. Jake had agreed, despite the late hour, to drive over and help her pack the mug collection. He already lived on the edge.

“Hey,” Jake said. 

His love looked up and he tapped a finger on his ear. It was a question: Can we have some music?

“Oh, sure!”

She was about to stand up again, but he stopped her. 

“Where’s your speaker?”

“My room, on the desk.”

Jake nodded, standing. 

He navigated around the boxes in the living room and disappeared into the hall. 

While he was gone, Caroline pulled her phone from her jeans pocket and opened Spotify. After sweeping through her rather small library, she selected an album called ‘Vessel’ by Twenty One Pilots. It was on shuffle, so a song called House of Gold came up first. She paused it and waited for Jake to return with the speaker. He did moments later, handing the cylinder shaped object to her with a quizzical look on his face.

It meant he was asking about it.

“It’s…” She stopped, embarrassed, and laughed.

“Go on!” He prompted, seating himself.

“I bought it because it’s shaped like a cup.” Caroline confided, holding the ‘on’ button.

A cheerful dinging noise told her that it was now active. She connected her phone and pushed play on the song. A high, muted strumming noise buzzed from the speaker. 

Caroline held it, letting the vibrations purr against her hand. She set it on the table, in one of the very few gaps.

“I like to think that it’s holding the music.” She mused. “Like tea in a mug, or something.”

Jake shrugged.

“Why would music be tea?” He asked. “Why not… strawberry milk? Or that weird Mexican soda from the store?”

“I was just using that as an example.” She responded.

Caroline set her soda down and grabbed a random mug. Cutting off a sufficient piece, she wrapped the cold ceramic in green, bubbled squeakiness. After enclosing it with a layer of paper, she taped it off and set it at the bottom of the box.

“One down, one million to go.” Jake smiled, sarcastically giving her two thumbs up.

She ignored him and continued wrapping. He stopped talking and did the same.

Each mug was associated with a memory or a feeling to Caroline. They were very precious to her and she refused to throw any of them away. Doing so would feel like trashing part of her past.

Her Mom called her ‘overly sentimental,’ but Caroline thought it was easier to organize her mind when she could put most of it into cups. The girl was currently dreading a blue, cylindrical mug toward the back of the table. It had a big smiley face on the side.

“After we get married, we should have a cup shaped house.” Jake declared. 

They were not engaged, but he talked like this quite often.

“How about a house shaped cup?” Caroline asked. 

She grabbed a bulky ceramic cabin with an opening in the top and a handle. It was one of the few that she rarely used.

“That works, too. I guess.” He shrugged. 

Caroline sniggered, wrapping the ugly mug. This was difficult because of the unusual square-ish shape. After fumbling for a couple minutes, she managed to seal the paper with tape and placed it in a corner of the box.

“Didn’t I give you this one?” Jake asked. 

He had a simple, solid black mug in his hands. There were faint traces of lines across the surface.

“Ah, yes. The disappearing map one.” 

When filled with any hot drink, the outside of the mug displayed the ‘Marauder’s Map’ from Harry Potter. When empty, like right now, the cup was blank.

“Have you ever used this thing?” He questioned, beginning to wrap it.

Caroline shrugged.

“A couple times.”

“I am insulted.” He sniffed. “It should’ve been your favorite.” 

“You’ll just have to do better next time.” She sighed sarcastically.

The girl picked up her mug and took another gulp of soda. She found that her hand was shaking. Dr. Pepper had been Oliver’s favorite. A few blurry memories from three months ago started creeping into her vision. She felt her heartbeat speed up.

Breathe, don’t panic. Breathe. She thought. Count five things you see, four things you can hear, three things you can touch, two things you can smell, one thing you can taste…

“Hey,” Jake put a hand on her shoulder. “Are you okay?”

Caroline’s vision cleared and she focused on his face, the brown eyes. His tan skin stretched roughly (he never put lotion on) over facial features that were almost lumpy. His cheekbones and chin stuck out with near defiance. 

When she didn’t answer, he said:


She looked around the room. Her vision was swimming but she did her best to focus.

“You, um… the table, the mugs…” She looked again. “My chair… the fridge.”


Caroline closed her eyes and listened.

“Your breathing, the f-fridge humming, cars outside and,” Her expression softened. “The rain.”


She ran her hand along her chair, the mug in her lap and tapped her feet on the floor.

“Good. Two.”

“My soda,” Caroline put her nose to her cup and inhaled the cherry scent. “And your breath.”

Jake blew on her face with a smile and kept going.


“Easy, Dr. Pepper.” She said, sipping it once more. “It was Oliver’s favorite.”

Most of the panic had subsided now, leaving the nervous feeling that she carried with her always.

“Is that what triggered you?” He asked.

Caroline thought about it, then itched the back of her neck. She fiddled her hands and glanced at the front door.

“I-is the front door locked?” She asked.

“Yeah, it is.” Jake assured her.

“All the locks? Can you check?”

The boy nodded and stood, hopping over the boxes to get to the door. It was lined with a menagerie of locks, deadbolts, chains, a bunch of random ones in between. Jake studied each one carefully before turning around.

“All good!” He announced.

Caroline breathed a sigh of relief and went back to wrapping her mug. It had the memory of their family’s trip to Telluride, Colorado. The mug was a plain, squat white one with a picture of the town and the mountains. She had at least three mugs from that trip.

“Is the soda what triggered you?” He asked again, seating himself.

The girl nodded, not looking up from what she was doing.

“You want me to put it away?” Jake offered.

Caroline looked over at the bottle, sitting partially empty on the table. It acted innocent, its dark red label wrapped around it like a coat. Little bubbles still formed on the inside.

“No.” She responded, looking down. “It's just a bottle.”

Jake, surprisingly, smiled. It meant he was pleased with her. Probably because she’d started being reasonable again. Just a little. 

He grabbed another mug to wrap. They’d done about a quarter of them total.

“Are you happy to be moving?” 

“Yes.” Caroline grinned nervously, itching her neck. “It’s, it’ll be much quieter out there.”

“And you’ll only be ten minutes from me.”

“I’ll like that.” 

She was now working through her birthday and Christmas collection. They stretched back around three or four years.

“That you all have guns. And you never put the safety on. And you all have plans, to take it, to take it, don't take it, take it, take it…” 

Her speaker was still playing music and Guns For Hands had come on. The singer was almost screaming when he got to ‘don’t take it, take it, take it.’ It jarred Caroline, but she liked it. It seemed to work so well with the song.

“I’m trying, I’m trying to sleep…” She began singing along.

Jake joined her.

“But I can't, but I can't when you all have guns for hands, yeah!!”

Caroline was rocking back and forth to the beat. She and Jake continued singing, slowly growing in volume as they wrapped. Eventually they arrived at:

“...And you NEVER put the safety ON! And you ALL have PLANS!! To take it, to take it, DON’T TAKE IT, TAKE IT, TAKE IT!!!”

After nearly screeching it out, the girl stopped and doubled over from laughing. Her love was wheezing so hard that he had to set his mug down. It would’ve rolled off his lap and shattered.

Caroline leaned over, still giggling, and hugged Jake. 

“You, you’re the best.” She bubbled.

“You… too…” He panted, now out of breath. 

They sat back, smiling at each other, and resumed their work.

“We are not good at staying focused are we?” Jake snorted.


Caroline pulled her raven braid around her shoulder. She’d grown her hair out past her waist, so it got in the way unless she put it back. The color clashed with her green eyes, but everyone told her that it made her unique. Jake told her that it made her Harry Potter’s lost twin.

The girl’s face seemed somehow more beautiful when she was not smiling. A grin broke up the arrangement of her features, de-emphasising the curves in her cheeks and the solemn shape of her eyes. She liked this, as it made her expressions unreadable. People couldn’t discern the trauma behind it.

“Let’s quiet down, we don’t want to wake up my parents.”

The boy wiped his eyes and agreed.

She was now at the end of her Starbucks You Are Here collection. Only two miscellaneous mugs separated her from the dreaded blue. 

The box between her and Jake was full. He sealed the cardboard flaps with tape and reached for the sharpie on the table. It squeaked as he wrote ‘Mugs’ across the top. He pushed it away and grabbed another one. 

“They sacrificed their anniversary trip for the new house’s down payment.” She told him. The girl was wrapping the last mugs very slowly.

“What? Really?” Jake looked up.

“Yeah. They’d saved up for so long.” She shook her head. “But we couldn’t stay here.”

He reached over and squeezed her shoulder. Moments later, the second to last mug was fitted snugly in the box. 

Caroline stared down the final blue cup. Its wide brim seemed to smile widely in sync with the smiley face. She felt like it would burn her if she grabbed it, or at least spit a mouthful of blood onto her face.

“Is that the one?” Jake asked.

She nodded. He leaned across the table and grabbed it. Caroline held her breath as he did, but the blue ceramic remained inanimate. 

“It’s just a cup.” Jake noted, studying it. “It needs to be washed on the inside.”

Without thinking, the girl snatched it from him and glared at the inside. She kept all of her mugs spotless. At the bottom was an old coffee stain, dry and black. She stood and tripped hastily over to the sink. 

It took her a minute of diligent scrubbing before she realized that she was holding it. This sky blue mug with the stupid smile that Caroline had been avoiding for three months. It had been giving her stabs of pain from even looking at it! Let alone touching it. Oliver gave it to her a mere week before he died.

“My little sister needs a smile in the morning.” Was all he’d said. He was a good brother, but rarely expressed emotions or talked. Gifts were how he showed love, and even these he gave sparingly. 

So Caroline had grinned when he’d handed it to her. Given him a hug. He always smelled like cigarettes (which was weird given that he didn’t smoke) and something else associated with cars. 

“Huh.” The girl said as she dried it off. “It is just a mug.”

Jake nodded and took it as she got back to the table. He carefully wrapped it and laid it to rest in the box.

The box was sealed and labeled. That was it. Caroline and Jake sat for a while, gazing down at the two filled boxes beside them. 

“You… want to watch a movie?” The girl asked. 

Her love said he’d like that.

Together, they rose from the table and weaved their way to the living room couch. A slightly outdated TV and DVD player sat in front of it.

After some deliberation, the pair chose Up, from Disney. Caroline inserted the DVD and then laid down on the couch with her head on Jake’s lap.

She started falling asleep almost immediately. It was already 1:56 am, how the time had flown.

“Do you want kids someday?” Jake asked. 

They’d just passed the scene with the main character’s wife sitting in the front yard just after she’d learned she couldn’t have children.

Caroline’s eyes were closed but she smiled.

“Yes. Then I’d be a vessel.” The girl said with contentment. “Like in the Giver.”

“How many times have you read that book, again?”

“I don’t know, like five or six.” Her voice was growing quieter.

He shook his head in wonder.

“You… you don’t have to do it now,” Jake began. “But would you tell me Oliver’s story sometime?”

She kept silent. Another fifteen minutes passed before the girl spoke again.

“I… woke up because I heard glass smashing.”

He looked down from the movie, listening intently.

“Mom and Dad were gone on a weekend trip. I stayed really quiet, hoping the person would just grab something and leave. Oliver had a gun in his room.”

Her voice was surprisingly clear.

“The burglar was ruffling around in the kitchen, so he managed to sneak into my room with his pistol. He told me that if we just kept quiet, they’d probably go away. But they came looking through the rooms. We didn’t have a lock. I don’t know how they knew, but they knew we were there. They burst in so fast that Oliver didn’t have time to fire.”

She swallowed, but didn’t stop the tears.

“They tackled Oliver. His gun got knocked out of his hands. He fought so hard but the man had a knife, he… he…”

She cleared her throat again.

“The gun was near me. I just flipped the safety off, aimed it at the guy’s head and fired. I kicked him off Oliver… but he was bleeding out. I ran to get my phone from the kitchen. Called 911. They didn’t get here in time.”

Caroline was crying freely now, but silently. Jake said nothing, just stroking her face. Eventually she stopped and started falling asleep again.

“Do… do you need to get home?” She murmured.

Her love said no, but she’d fallen asleep.

“That’s alright. You rest now.” He whispered. “I’ll be here.”

February 10, 2022 17:35

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