I wrote this scene at the Lost Lake Writer’s Retreat in early October of 2017. I forget the writing prompt. Maybe “Where were you?”
I was standing in line at the cafe with foggy glasses and a too-warm coat. The air was humid and thick with the smell of coffee and hair product, and Torani syrup so potent that I could taste the drinks as people walked past me out the door.
From the corner, over the top of the low conversations came a loud “Where the hell have you been?” I looked around but couldn’t see anything. Everyone in line hunched their shoulders and focused more intently on their phones.
Behind me I heard a low “…shit.” The line moved forward and another cloud of Torani walked out the door.
“I’ve been here for half an hour. Waiting! We said three thirty!”
I took off my glasses so I could see. The dude behind me was a pale, sweaty blur. He shrugged, “The roads were…”
“I don‘t care about the roads! You’re late!”
All around us shoulder hunched and heads ducked and phones were fiddled with, fiercely. I squinted into the corner.
I could feel fierce attention land on me. “What the hell are you looking at?”
“I’m, uh, nothing!” I made a show of putting on my still-foggy glasses, and shrugged.
The line moved forward slowly. When I got my coffee I debated staying to watch the show, or leaving and enjoying the slush and salt spray of Lake Drive. The dude walked past me to the corner, a cup in each hand.
She started again. “Were you seeing Her?”
“I was working.”
“Work is five minutes from here. You’re half an hour late!”
“I don’t care about the goddamn roads!”
All around us the vicarious dread had turned into morbid curiosity and everyone was staring into the corner.
He tried again. “I’m not seeing…”
“Half an hour! Where…”
“Hey! Indoor voice!” This was the barista. She was a singer in a local ska band and her voice could cut glass.
The dude shrugged helplessly, “We were just…”
“Pack it in, or take it outside!”
The woman snarled, “Fine!”
My glasses had finally cleared. I recognized the dude. He lived at the end of my street. I had seen his girlfriend around sometimes, and heard her more often, usually yelling at him. To be fair, she wasn’t the only woman I had seen at his house lately. I’d called the cops on them once after a particularly energetic argument. That was when I started spending time in the cafe.
I called across the room, “Hey Sean, is she talking about the blonde with the purple highlights or the one with the black mohawk? Or the one that’s still in high school?”
He flinched and glared at me. “What the hell dude? Mind your own business!”
“I came here to get away from you idiots. Keep your drama to yourself.”
His girlfriend blinked at me, then at him, and stood up. She brushed past him hard enough to spill his coffee and walked out the front door of the cafe. He glared at me for another moment, then followed her out the door.
Now everyone was looking at me. The barista smirked and gestured toward the door with her head.
I pulled a twenty from my wallet and dropped it in the tip jar. “Sorry about that.”
Outside the air was cold and clean and smelled like snow.