The Physics Professor and the Latte

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

109 comments

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. 

 



 


October 11, 2020 01:42

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109 comments

Echo Sundar
19:03 Oct 18, 2020

I love this story!! I like how you spend the whole time describing all the drinks! Its really entertaining!! Great job!!

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Deidra Lovegren
20:19 Oct 18, 2020

YAY

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Roger Meachem
10:31 Oct 18, 2020

For a start the vocabulary is fun! Peppermint Philautia, Pint of Pragma with toffee and buttered rum. I hope some Barista, somewhere is reading this. Then you add the spice of physics, just enough to get the point without going too deep. Your characters are believable, poor Stevens, but how did he get so lucky as to meet the humanities prof - whose name we never get to know? The coffee-shop idea works of course because you use the coffees to uncover Steven's character, and the reader knows this and is eager to read on. The structure is neat ...

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Deidra Lovegren
16:05 Oct 18, 2020

Alliteration always brings the fun. As for not going "too deep" with physics -- I had to laugh. My paper-thin knowledge of any left brain activities renders me almost useless. The scrunched up nose did it for our boy. Humanities professor had him from the start, being late, causing his desire to wax. She played him like a harp, a lyre, a cupid's bow.

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Jim Snyder
09:13 Oct 18, 2020

I've definitely had a couple of professor-friends in this ilk. I love the characterization. Absolutely perfect! Of course, I'm also a fan of the varieties of Greek love, and tying them all together with a coffee shop is perfect! All around excellent tale!

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Deidra Lovegren
16:02 Oct 18, 2020

Nothing like falling in love in fall. Pity about the Humanities, hopefully not disappearing from the college campuses entirely. If this becomes just a STEM world, it will be awfully cold and lonely.

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Julie Ward
23:46 Oct 17, 2020

Your story was right under mine when I posted it and I loved the title so I opened it up. What a treat! So creative - I like the way you wove the plot around the names of the coffees. I could tell that you had a lot of fun with those names. I also really enjoyed the interplay between the characters - and how Dr. Stevens forgot all about how much the drinks cost. That made me chuckle!

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Deidra Lovegren
01:06 Oct 18, 2020

YAY Cuffing season :)

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Julie Ward
19:04 Oct 19, 2020

The most wonderful time of the year! LOL!

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Deidra Lovegren
19:33 Oct 19, 2020

Until the Turkey Drop (Thanksgiving) or Christmas Dump (no presents for you!) or the Valentine's Day blow off :)

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Julie Ward
22:31 Oct 19, 2020

And so it goes until the summer hook-up...or the vacation fling...

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Deidra Lovegren
22:33 Oct 19, 2020

It's the CIRCLE OF LIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIFE Ingonyama nengw' enamabala Ingonyama nengw' enamabala Ingonyama nengw' enamabala Ingonyama nengw' enamabala Ingonyama nengw' enamabala

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Rachel Macmorran
21:28 Oct 17, 2020

You got the science all wrong. 😉 It’s OK—you got the frisson all right. Hapless physics professor could only have been more out-maneuvered if he had left holding the leash of her golden doodle, Aristotle so she could re-button his askew cardigan.

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Deidra Lovegren
22:42 Oct 17, 2020

I was hoping no one would notice my botch of a science blathering. Oh well... Cardigan totally askew, and probably dirty. Labradoodle is named Plato, not Aristotle.

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Rachel Macmorran
16:54 Oct 18, 2020

Ha! Plato, of course!

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15:29 Oct 15, 2020

Romance is cool and you did a good job on this one. I can see them later in his apartment that smells of cheap perfume. It's nice to just imagine everything. She talks a lot. Is that good? I'll tell you this though: At the start, you mentioned how he only considered the humanities professor as a friend, and only halfway are we introduced to the new feelings in his heart. Correct? I saw a thread between you and Tyler where you both think because she let him pay for the drinks, she just might be using him. I'd say probably with capital lett...

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Deidra Lovegren
16:09 Oct 15, 2020

I thinks she's all right. Tyler must have had a bad experiences with an English major in college; but, the humanities professor is just searching for a good solid guy. I think the poor physics professor turns this friendly meet up into a date, broadcasting his future intentions by buying her coffee. When I was dating my husband, I found his checkbook in the glove box of his car while he was pumping gas. Of course I looked at his balance. He had spent 1/2 of his total account on flowers for me. At that time, he was broke, but spent almost 5...

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L.A. Nolan
04:35 Oct 15, 2020

Nice Deidra, really enjoyed this one!

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Deidra Lovegren
16:01 Oct 15, 2020

Thanks, Lee! I always appreciate the support :)

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Black Rose
13:23 Feb 13, 2021

Best story ! I can't believe someone can write this amazingly!

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Mohammed Nahir
14:16 Jan 19, 2021

clever using coffee to structure the story. Immensely enjoyed it

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Deidra Lovegren
14:35 Jan 19, 2021

She's going to break his heart :)

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11:28 Oct 23, 2020

Brilliant, I loved the characters and their POV on coffee and love. Thanks for sharing!

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Deidra Lovegren
12:39 Oct 23, 2020

Always fun to talk about love and coffee.

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Kaylee Tinsley
21:26 Oct 21, 2020

Love this!!! So cute how their two personalities mesh!

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13:06 Oct 20, 2020

Entertaining, laced with subtle tension and interesting thought pieces. I just enjoyed reading this. Don't have the heart to critique whatever tiny issues might be wrong with this. Great job, keep on writing!

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Deidra Lovegren
13:30 Oct 20, 2020

Feel free to critique at will. Minor issues are my favorite things to correct. Always looking to progress and get better. HAVE AT IT, MAN.

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Deidra Lovegren
13:30 Oct 20, 2020

Feel free to critique at will. Minor issues are my favorite things to correct. Always looking to progress and get better. HAVE AT IT, MAN.

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13:53 Oct 20, 2020

Meh, maybe I shall, but personally I feel with comedic pieces logic is overrated. Literally, the only thing I saw was that perhaps the exposition describing the contrasting college buildings was a little upfront? Their separate workplaces, however, tell us a lot about both professors, and their personalities. I wouldn't change it.

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Hriday Saboo
03:21 Oct 15, 2020

Hey Diedra, loved the story. It was cooooolll! Liked the story a lot. No mistakes that I found. Mind reading my new story?!

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