A few weeks was all it took before the once clear skies and lively sun had faded into a grey mass hanging overhead. Each day’s forecast warned of a chance of rain small enough to warrant not bringing an umbrella, but large enough to leave you romping around in wet socks and a homemade puddle on the off chance the clouds felt a little too temperamental. The outside world sat at a temperature too cold to enjoy, but too warm to have an excuse for staying inside all day.
I sat near the edge of the store and stared out the window beside me. Short trees and their soil replaced panes of cement in the sidewalk outside. Their leaves had scattered in the bitter wind. A few still held on to the skeletal remains of the helpless plant. Assorted pedestrians in coats and sweaters of varying sizes hustled past the miserable shrubs. Occasionally one would turn to open the door beside me and usher in a chill breeze.
“Caramel apple blend for,” From across the shop a high-pitched voice rose above the calm commotion. After the first few words, her voice trailed off as if distracted by something out of my view. “Carton?”
I rolled my eyes upon hearing the gross butchering of my name. My behind had started to feel sore by the time I finally got up to get my drink. Things like this tended to drag on until the warm feeling from the anticipation had cooled into a bored disinterest. It’s Carter. How is it that hard to say? The line repeated in my head as I approached the counter preparing to give the barista a piece of my mind.
“It’s--” Before I could get a sentence out a frenzy of blind butterflies awoke in my stomach. They fluttered around, colliding with each other and then rejoining the others in their aimless dance.
In front of me, a woman stood before a cup marked with my name in black marker. She spoke to a friend as the dingy light fixture overhead showered her in a golden light. Her pumpkin spice hair flowed down from her hat and onto her stain-covered apron, the tips glowing from her homemade spotlight. A faint but relaxing smell of maple filled the air around her. My heart pounded as she turned to look at me.
“Is there something wrong?” I closed my jaw not realizing that I had left it open. My mind raced to find a response. Her hand rested on the counter separating us. Each of her fingernails had a different color of coating. The reds, browns, and yellows all accented various features of hers. I looked down at her hand and wished that it could be in mine.
“Hair. Coffee. You. Movie?” The words escaped my lips one by one as if my brain had plucked a few thoughts and placed them into an unorganized mess. If my ancestors watched me from the heavens they would not be proud, but at least those from the Pleistocene era could relate. After realizing what I had said, I drew my hand from my side to cover my mouth. My eyes widened and I braced myself for her reaction.
She stood for a moment scanning every inch of me. The butterflies in my stomach had become more playful than before and as the seconds dragged on they explored the bounds of their territory. They inched up my chest and into my throat.
Before long she had finished her examination. We locked eyes as the corners of her lips curled upwards into a warm smile. She let out a single giggle. After it, a few more followed until she roared with laughter.
Each of the chuckles she let out came together to create a soothing melody. As each note passed through my ear it echoed inside my head filling me with her peaceful serenade. The moment lasted a lifetime but with a blink, her laughter had dissolved into thin air.
Her song had kept the butterflies at bay but they refused to succumb. They clawed at the walls of my esophagus, rejecting their bodily cage. I gulped down on my saliva in an attempt to fight them, but they worked harder regardless of my challenge. With every breath I took they inched closer to their freedom.
The back of my throat burned. A bubbling liquid rose to the top like a volcano ready to erupt. I couldn’t hold it back for any longer so I turned and ran out the door.
“Sure,” She said. By the time I heard it I had one foot out the door. I dashed down the street and out of view of the window of the store. My head swerved in all directions as I looked for a place to rid my stomach before. I decided to make do with a mound of dirt surrounding a nearby tree.
The “fertilizer” I emitted from my mouth soaked into the ground until the dirt had become so saturated that a green pile sat next to the tree. After I had vacated my insides, I stared down at the soil and grabbed the tree to keep from falling. Its roots spread throughout the underground and collected nutrients despite its branches failing to do the same. Through the season’s change, it cherished the opportunity to rest undisturbed by insects and animals. Well, most animals.
Pedestrians walked by throwing away common courtesy to stare for as long as they pleased. Stumbling away from the tree, I realized I forgot my drink.
I wiped my forehead of sweat and started walking home, pretending nothing happened. I’ll go back there. I have to. No matter what I do she won’t leave my head. I can’t say I’m worse for it though. Her smile brightens the parts of the world the clouds impede on and every time I hear her bashful laughter from behind the counter I dream of the day I return to my autumnal sun.