An Uncommon Autumn Morning at Céleste's Café

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

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Contemporary Friendship Inspirational

The sun is still creeping over the horizon, but life in the coffee shop on Third St. is in full swing.

Muted black, brown and tan decor, dark brown and tan slate floor tiles, display a splashy pattern designed to mask spills. Black rugs in front of the door and register. Interesting prints on the walls, of people drinking coffee, serene forest scenes, many of them having small plaques underneath with a blurb about the local artists who painted the scene.

Inside are people in business suits chatting across tiny round tables, or sitting alone clicking away on laptops and absentmindedly sipping steaming drinks. The business people wrapped in their own bubbles, unaware of the world moving around them, like rocks planted unmovable in a stream. Their animated chatter and laughter mingles with the sputtering of the coffee machines, and hissing of the machine that scalds the milk, to make flawlessly foamy lattes. Customers order drinks and breakfast at the counter. Ceramic cups clatter and metal spoons rhythmically tap as people stir their coffee. All of it blends together into a unique coffee house symphony.

A blend of enticing smells wafts through the air, spices, the nutty and woodsy smell of coffee percolating, and the smell of milk.

An older man with a long white beard and sad, haunted eyes sits near the door, with his chair turned, allowing him to sit with his back to the wall. His sharp blue eyes take in everything from under his worn army hat. He is as observant as the executives are unaware, but no one looks at him long enough to notice, people glance at him as they come in, but their eyes skitter away as their feet carry them forward.

Usually he drinks coffee, black; but when the pretty, young barista sunnily told him about the shop's new line of autumn drinks, apple spice chai, pumpkin-vanilla lattes, and nutmeg cinnamon coffee, he had chosen the chai, for a change. The blonde haired barista reminded him of how his wife had looked when she had been young. She had succumbed after a long battle with cancer, last year, around this time. His son had called earlier this morning, but he was busy with his three kids and couldn't talk long. The man had gotten tired of listening to depressing news programs, and the big empty house that he was considering selling, and decided to get out and enjoy the weather. It had been awhile since he had come to this coffee shop and he missed it. He had been retired for many years, but he remembered when he had worked as a travelling salesman, after he got out of the army, and he had met and chatted up clients, sometimes in coffee shops, like the executives across the way. That was a long time ago, now he feels like he is just taking up space in a world that no longer needs or wants him.

The old man is surprised by the flavor of the apple spice chai; he didn't know what chai was, and is slightly disappointed to find it is tea, and not a new type of flavored coffee. It tastes good, and smells sweetly spicy, though it's a bit too sugary for his liking. He has a bacon egg and cheese bagel to wash it down and scrape away the sweetness. He wraps his gnarled hands around the cup, enjoying the warmth.

The bell over the door rang as the door opens, letting in a gust of cold, crisp air, and with it a young woman blows in. Her dark hair had slipped out of its braid and a few strands were floating around, and she has dark circles under her eyes. She tows a small boy by the hand, who looked up at the older man and grinned shyly, showing a gap where a tooth had recently fallen out. He reminded the man of his oldest grandson, and he smiled back at the child.

The woman hurries to the counter and orders a coffee for herself and a chocolate milk for her son. The barista tells her the total and the older man watches as she searches through her purse, and then looks up at the barista and stammers, "I'm sorry, I thought I had my card, but I left it at home. Sorry." She turns to leave, and the older man notices something he missed when she came in. She has a bruise on her cheek. It is covered by heavy makeup, but the old man's sharp eyes nevertheless notice it. He gets to his feet with a speed and agility that is unexpected for a man his age, and suddenly he is no longer invisible, conversation stops and every eye is on him.

"Let me pay for your drinks, ma'am, and breakfast too, if you want it." He gently takes her arm and steers her back to the counter, nodding silently as she stammers "thank you."

He helps her carry the drinks and food back to his table by the door. "You look like you have been having a worse day than me." He says. "Or maybe you are running from something?"

He watches her over his cup as he sips and waits for her response.

She looks down at her steaming cup of coffee and glances at her son, happily slurping chocolate milk through a straw and tearing a bagel to bits. She is trying to decide how much she should tell this kind stranger.

The other patrons have lost interest and returned to their own small worlds.

"Yes, my husband is….well it's a bad situation, we had to leave. I thought I had my credit card, but," she stops and coughs and clears her throat, fighting tears. "He must have taken it when I wasn't looking. He was still sleeping when we left, I walked here. I don't know what I am going to do now." She reaches over and strokes her son's hair, her shoulders slumping in defeat.

The older man rubs his beard thoughtfully, hoping he wouldn't regret what he was about to do. "Well. I have a big empty house, I was thinking about selling it...but maybe…"

October 09, 2020 16:40

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1 comment

Spencer Steeves
09:51 Oct 22, 2020

This was a well-written, simple story. The description was creative and engaging, and though not much actually happened, your writing kept me wanting to read more. Honestly the only suggestions I have are to do another grammar check. I noticed a couple of commas that were out of place, but nothing that makes any sentences too confusing. I may be wrong, but I thought that this, "Black rugs in front of the door and register," was an incomplete sentence. I was admittedly hoping there to be more to the story, though the end might have to do...

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