honey lavender matcha latte

Submitted into Contest #53 in response to: Write a story about summer love — the quarantine edition.... view prompt

17 comments

Romance Friendship Happy

We hadn’t seen each other in two years, hadn’t spoken or even texted since then, until she liked my post about moving to the city and asked, in a comment, if she could show me the best coffee in Chicago. And I, having no friends and a roommate I’d just met and didn’t care for, said yes.


She called me twenty minutes before we were supposed to meet. Her name flashed across my phone and I was momentarily confused. I hadn’t heard from her since our conversation in the Facebook comments, and had convinced myself we weren’t still meeting. After all, college acquaintances say all the time that they want to meet for lunch or coffee. They rarely mean it.


I answered the phone and pitched my hello so high that she laughed. “Still on for today?” she asked, and I laughed too, because she sounded the same as always, and because it was a question that anyone else would have asked hours ago. She didn’t apologize for the late call. I told her yes, and she said she would put on shoes.


It turned out that she lived above the coffee shop, not directly above, because that would be too cute, but above and slightly to the left. When I arrived, she was leaning against the wall, talking to a woman, and not looking for me. Though it was only February, she wore a long, flowing floral skirt and short boots, no jacket. Her hair was longer now, dyed a slightly darker brown, but aside from that she looked the same as I remembered: a summer day in the middle of winter.


When she finally saw me, I lifted my hand in a small wave, suddenly uncertain of what I was doing here. We’d been classmates only twice despite majoring in the same subject. The two classes we shared together were the worst I took in all four years of college.

We worked together on projects a few times, and she would grin at me across the room when our professor said something obnoxious. Once, we got lunch together, on a day when class was moved to 11 AM and got out at noon. I recalled her trailing me to the dining hall and sitting down at my table, without asking if she could.


I walked towards her, suddenly very aware of my arms and legs, and trying to figure out what I was supposed to do with them when I was close enough. She solved that for me by pulling me into a hug. I stiffened, then relaxed as she pulled away and said how good it was to see me. I said it was good to see her too.


And it was, in the way that it’s always good to see someone you haven’t seen in a while, like a reminder that you’re still alive, and there are people who know you even when you don’t see them and you never think of each other. A reminder that even in a sea of strangers, there are faces that you recognize and people who know strange little facts about you, such as where you put your pencil in proximity to your notebook when your professor is on a particularly rambling lecture. I felt anchored to the streets of Chicago for the first time since I’d arrived, no longer adrift in an unfamiliar sea. It wasn’t just her; it could have been anyone, and I would have felt the same way. Even if it was someone I hated.


It was much nicer to feel anchored by someone I didn’t hate, though.


When she released me, she waved me towards the door. "Shouldn't you say goodbye to your friend?" I asked, gesturing towards the woman.


Her eyes crinkled and she said, "Her? I've never met her before today."


We went inside, and my eyes drifted around, taking in the abundance of houseplants on the tables and counters and framed watercolors on the walls. She saw me looking and pointed, saying, “That one’s mine.” Somehow, I already knew this, even though I hadn't known she was an artist. The painting depicted a landscape, all hills and squat buildings bathed in early morning light, a dreamier version of our college campus.


“It’s really good,” I said, because I wasn’t in the business of complimenting art or girls.


She pointed again, this time to a chalkboard menu. “Tell me what you want to order, and then I’ll tell you if it’s a good idea.”


I squinted to read the tiny print and said, “Maybe just a latte?”


“Wrong,” she said.


The line was getting shorter.


“Cold brew?”


“Wrong again,” she said, but her voice was teasing, not rude.


“Do you want to just tell me what to get?”


“Nope,” she said, “This is a teaching moment. Also, a learning moment. ‘Just a latte,’ really?”


There was only one person in front of us. I frantically read the specials.


“Honey lavender matcha latte?” I tried.


She grinned. “Good choice. What kind of milk?”


“I have to pick the milk?” It was our turn. She ordered for both of us, a honey lavender matcha latte with oat milk for me, and a black coffee for her. I waited until she had paid to say, “Really? Black coffee?”


She laughed out loud, and it sounded even better than it had on the phone. I just shook my head, at a loss for words.


We sat at a high table carved from wood. Her feet dangled from the stool and she swung them back and forth a little, making her skirt flutter. “Welcome to Chicago,” she said. “Why on earth are you here?”


“Here with you, or here in general?”


“Here in general, of course,” she said, casting a raised eyebrow at me. “I know why you’re here with me—you lack for fascinating company.”


I told her, then, that I was going to grad school at UChicago in the fall but decided to move early. It wasn’t that exciting of a story on its own, but she nodded politely.


The barista called our order then, and she got up to retrieve it. She placed the black coffee in front of me and winked. I thanked her, relieved, and got up to stir in sugar and milk.


When I sat back down, she was sipping her matcha and looking at me with a curious expression. “I don’t think you’re being honest,” she said, and I didn’t have to ask what she meant.


I started talking then, being honest. I told her that I had to get out of my parents’ house, and that my anxiety was getting worse, and that I’d hoped moving would help. I told her that I wasn’t sure why I was going to grad school, but that it seemed like the only logical next step. I told her those things and more, and the whole time she

just sat there, sipping her drink.


I felt compelled to tell her my secrets, as if bewitched. And maybe I was bewitched, in a way, but not because she was trying.


After that day, I didn’t expect to hear from her, and I didn’t. The hour we’d spent in that coffee shop didn’t feel entirely real, and I held onto it as a sweet memory and nothing more. My time was occupied with unpacking, and learning my way around the city,

and taking care of administrative tasks like opening new bank accounts, then figuring out how to use the ATM at my new bank. Grocery shopping, buying stamps. New adult, unglamorous things.


And then it was March, and just as I felt settled, everything fell apart.


Two months into the shutdown, when being stuck inside no longer felt like a fun challenge, I had given up any hope of it being temporary, and was beginning to contemplate cutting my own hair, my phone buzzed with a FaceTime notification while I was watching TV. It was so rare for anyone to call me that I jumped, and my confusion only grew when I saw her name. I answered, assuming it was a mistake, and expected her to hang up immediately.


But there she was, wearing glasses, hair pulled back in a braid, sitting in a bedroom with the walls painted a deep purple, and she didn’t hang up when she saw me. “Hello!” she chirped. “How is the apocalypse treating you?”


Dumbstruck, I started to say Oh, you know, holding up. That’s what I told everyone else. I knew it was what I should say. But one rogue brain cell struck out on its own and I said instead, “Honestly? Awful.” The words started to spill out then: “I feel awful all the time, and I wish I hadn’t moved here, and I hate that I feel awful because I’m just sitting in my apartment playing video games and watching TV, and people are dying or working in hospitals, and, and—”


“Hey,” she said, her voice gentle. “It’s okay.”


“Sorry, I’m rambling.”


“No, it’s fine,” she said as she shifted to lay down, feet kicked up behind her. “Do you want to talk about it more, or do you want to be distracted from it?”


I thought for a moment. “Distracted,” I finally said, and she pushed her glasses up on her nose, as if preparing for a complicated assignment. It was a move I’d seen in class before, a gesture she did when she had an idea, always before she raised her hand.


“Okay,” she said. “As you can probably tell from the hideous paint, I had to abandon the city and run home to the suburbs. So I’m sorry I didn’t call sooner, but it’s been kind of crazy. I take a lot of long walks around cul de sacs these days.” She rolled her eyes, but there was a small grin on her face, suggesting she enjoyed those walks more than she wanted to admit.


“Anyway. Time for a tour of my childhood bedroom!” She stood, and the video shook a little as she readjusted her phone and walked over to a closet. “This is a choose-your-own-adventure tour,” she said, and turned the camera so that I could see into the closet. I held my phone closer to my face, as if I were peering into it with her. “Pick a box. Any box.”


“The one with the green lid.”


“Diaries, notebooks, and old report cards,” she announced as she pried off the lid. “You got the jackpot on your first try.”


For the next hour, she read to me from her journals, which were embarrassing, as expected, showed me her notes from high school classes, and disputed her teachers’ comments on her report cards.


When I went to sleep that night, the only thing I could think of was a surprisingly poignant line from her seventh grade diary: I just want someone to acknowledge that I’m here, and I’m me, and they’re happy about it.


She called me again the next night and told me that it was my turn. I reminded her that I had just moved in and didn’t have any exciting childhood memorabilia.


“So? I didn’t say you had to do the same thing. I just said that it was your turn.”


She was right, so I gave her a tour of my kitchen and made her guess which items belonged to me, and which to my roommate. She guessed correctly on almost every single one.


Every night was like this. She would call me and have some new idea of how we could make our unchanging environments exciting. I assumed that eventually, it would fade away. She’d forget one night, and then another, and that would be that. I also assumed that she was calling a lot of other people, keeping herself busy, always the socialite, but when I told her that, sometime in the first week of June, she gaped at me.


“You think I have the energy to be on FaceTime all day?” she asked. I shrugged. “I don’t even like FaceTime! I hate holding my phone up!”


It was my turn to be surprised. “Wait, what? Why haven’t you told me? I hate FaceTime too. It’s the worst.”


We both dissolved into giggles then, occasionally choking out something about how dumb we were, and after that I stopped assuming it would end. And we stopped using FaceTime and finally switched to Zoom, like everyone else.


One day in July, she called me and when I answered, she was wearing a party hat and blowing up a balloon. She held the balloon between her fingers, keeping the air trapped inside while she announced, “It’s our fiftieth phone call!”


It wasn’t until a week later, just before phone call 57, that I understood what was happening. I’d like to say it was gradual, but it wasn’t: basically, one day, I woke up and realized I loved her. I didn’t even feel dumb, like I should have known sooner. I didn’t

feel nervous either. It was odd. I didn’t call her right away. I waited until our regular time, and for the first time ever, I was the one to call.


She gasped dramatically when she answered and mimed a swoon. “To what do I owe the honor?”


“I love you,” I said, and she laughed, and that only made me love her more.

August 05, 2020 21:44

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17 comments

Amany Sayed
22:14 Aug 05, 2020

This was such an adorable love story, Natalie! You are such an amazing writer and are growing more and more each story you write! I hope you write more romance in the future, as you are amazing. I loved the way you weaved the character's personalities through words. Wonderful story. Looking forward to more!

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00:59 Aug 07, 2020

Thank you! :) I try to incorporate romance when I can, and I definitely need the practice, so I'm sure there will be more in a future story.

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Amany Sayed
01:12 Aug 07, 2020

Yeah, I'm the same way...I kind of have a problem...Whether it's fantasy, action, drama...you name it, I usually find a way to throw in some romance. Definitely continue, because you wrote this so well. :)

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Des Feller
20:47 Aug 28, 2020

AWwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww alsdfkjal;fdkja;sldfkj Amazing work as always Nat

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21:40 Aug 13, 2020

WOW! I SOOOO much loved this Natalie! The creativity is all so mesmerizing. And the characters are just beautiful. wonderful, wonderful! (P.S would you read my two first stories on Reedsy, 'Summer was warm' and 'Kaima', thanks!)

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Sansa Ellis
08:56 Aug 13, 2020

Sweet and delightful! I kept on reading this for days as I saw myself with someone I like at the moment. Your writing truly inspired me, more than you'll ever now. Thanks, Natalie!

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Anna Maria
03:21 Aug 13, 2020

Aw, this is a really good story! I just adore her personality and unwavering attitude. I also love how you made the end seem like he knew it for a long time, but he's acknowledging them. The buildup was also really smooth!

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Aditya Pillai
09:01 Aug 10, 2020

That was such a sweet, sweet story. Loved the characterizations and their dynamic. The details and descriptions are so on point, it really shows your talent. Great job! Would love to hear your thoughts on my latest :) [I think there is an unintentional blank line near the ending (between "I didn't feel nervous either"), I am not sure if its a problem on my end! If it is, ignore this :)]

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Maya Reynolds
21:45 Aug 09, 2020

Aww such a sweet, sweet story! I loved it!! Loved the title too :)

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Anna Irwin
19:37 Aug 09, 2020

Lovable story and lovable characters!!!

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A.G. Scott
06:38 Aug 09, 2020

Really, really good. Some of the details are just chef's kiss *mwah* so good. Just because I can't think of anything else to critique, I want to disagree with a comment below that says they like the 'summer day in the middle of winter' line. To me it feels ever-so-slightly cheesy and cliche in a story that's otherwise pretty straightforward and sincere. Then again, it's the sort of thing you'd expect in romance, which isn't really my area, so take what I say with a grain of salt.

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15:42 Aug 09, 2020

It's funny you say that, because I honestly don't like that line and only threw it in because what I had written before wasn't working. I can't edit it now but I'd change it if I could - to what, I'm not sure. I don't usually write pure romance either. Anyway, thank you, I'm glad you enjoyed it!

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Conan Helsley
20:37 Aug 08, 2020

This was much better. I don't do well with love, but you've done it pretty well here. I like the last line a lot. It feels like something I've actually thought before. I loved the early description of the love interest...a summer day in the middle of winter. I can imagine very well what she might look like, framed by the window, lit by the sun as though she were the only one the light could find. Very well done.

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15:48 Aug 09, 2020

Thank you! I also like this story better, maybe because it was an easier prompt, or maybe because it doesn't have a "message" like the other one. I like what you've written here about the window and the light more than I like my own line about the summer day (as I commented above, I wish I'd written something else there). I find physical descriptions difficult and wanted the reader to imagine that character based on a feeling rather than specific features.

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Verkisto Skribas
15:49 Aug 08, 2020

such a cute story! i loved it!

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Masha Kurbatova
15:42 Aug 11, 2020

this is so cute! the way you described the girl made me fall in love with her too. it flows so smoothly and the buildup to their falling in love is so gradual that it feels realistic. it makes me feel all fuzzy inside.

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01:43 Aug 12, 2020

ah thank you! that was the goal :)

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