A Story by J. Shire

Two people reconnect in a coffeehouse years after their estrangement.

It was getting dark outside. We just sat there, opposite each other with a small round table in between us -- black coffee on my side, caramel frappe on hers. A bleak air of awkwardness was enveloping around us. We could barely look at each other eye to eye.
I didn’t want to sit by the window where passersby outside could witness our humiliating and yet delicate disputes, like we were on display as the main attraction of the coffeehouse, but she was already seated there when I arrived. 
“I hear you got a new job,” she said with her eyes looking down at her frappe. 
“Yeah,” I replied. “I work as an editor now for a small publishing company. The pay’s not much but it’s enough to get me by.”
I anticipated an uncomfortable silence. The reason why we broke up was mostly because of financial problems �" that’s what we told ourselves at least. She worked as a call center agent on slightly above minimum wage. I had to quit my old job as a freelance writer to find work in corporate so we could pay the bills. We were struggling so much because we had just moved into the big city thinking that we would both thrive in our respective careers, but there were hundreds of other people thinking the same thing. The bills and the steep rent proved to be too overwhelming for us. To add to that, I always came home with a tone of misery because I hated my job. Working in corporate was the most boring s**t in the world. I hated how my life was going at the time and she was aware of all this. She was always there at the receiving end of my distress. That’s not to say that she didn’t contribute her own fair share of agonizing disputes. Every day we had arguments on what we should and shouldn’t buy. One time, she came at me fuming when she saw me making a pesto sandwich. She asked me about the pesto sauce I was using. I had just recently bought it and the jar caught her attention because she recognized the brand. She asked me when I bought it and if I knew how expensive it was. I told her I bought it the day before yesterday and that it was a bit pricey, but it was my favorite brand. Apparently the reason why she was so furious was because she had been restraining herself from buying makeup to save money, but I had the audacity to spend unnecessary amounts of money on such trivial stuff when there were cheaper options. It was a sign of my immaturity she even said. The whole week she acted exasperated by my very existence. Small things like that we had fights on consistently. We kept telling each other that we wouldn’t be fighting as much if we had money, so maybe we still had a chance to be happy together. We tried to make things work as long as our sanity could manage. Looking back now made me realize that money probably wasn’t the problem.
“That’s good for you. You’ve always been into reading and writing. Although I wouldn’t have expected you to become an editor,” she said with a faint smile on her face. 
Her response caught me by surprise. She even shifted her gaze up from staring at her frappe to look at me. That was our first eye contact the whole evening since we said hello. I gave a half-hearted smile in return.
“What about you? How have you been?”
“Me? I started working at a daycare center again.”
“I thought that you didn’t like working in a daycare.”
“I didn’t say that. I said that it would be better if I got a job that could afford our expenses. And besides, you were the one who didn’t want me working in a daycare.”
“I always knew that working at a daycare was what you wanted. You were always blabbering about how you wanted to be around kids and even have some of your own. No wonder we started falling apart.”
“How dare you say that. Not once did I ever bring that up in any of our arguments.”
“Yeah, but it was always on your mind. You were miserable because of it.”
“We were both miserable. And it wasn’t just because of me quitting my daycare job. You were infuriated because you had to give up being a writer, but I still had a job that I loved. I quit the daycare because that was what you deemed fair. You said that I needed to find a job that paid more, but the real reason you wanted me to quit was because you hated suffering alone; there always has to be another person suffering with you. I tried to level with you to keep our relationship alive.”
“If you say so,” I replied dismissively.
Before working at a call center, she loved her job at the daycare. She always came home bringing with her an air of enthusiasm, thrilled to tell me how her day went with the kids at the daycare center. There was always something happening. Things started going to s**t when she quit. The house became a place of pent-up emotions and suppressed despair. She even started spouting nonsense about wanting to have kids when we could barely survive by ourselves. She began acting distant and hostile after I told her that it was probably a bad idea with our situation then. I was confused by the way she reacted because she was the one who was always so frugal and practical when it came to the smallest stuff, but she couldn’t understand the reason why I didn’t want to have kids yet at the time. I mean, it wasn’t like I said, “No, I never want to have kids.” I just said that we should give it some more time to think about. What was so wrong with that?
I took a quick glance around the coffeehouse. The place practically had all tables full even though it didn’t feel like it because the atmosphere was so peaceful and classy. I always found coffeehouses like this to have a magical quality. Every table has its own story. People can just come in and sit by their tables either alone or with companions then disappear into their own little world while sipping their coffee. It’s this magical quality that keeps people going back. Most people don’t go to coffeehouses for the coffee, the coffee is just an excuse for them to actually get in the place. What people are really after is the mood and the feeling of being inside a coffeehouse. There’s just something about the smell and atmosphere of a good coffeehouse.
I turned my attention to the mug in front of me with black coffee inside. I could feel the warmth of the coffee’s steam caress my face. It was exactly how I liked my coffee: pure black, no sugar, no cream. I always hated how people would question me why I liked black coffee when it tastes like s**t �" what a bunch of casuals. Personally, I don’t drink coffee for the taste. The bitterness was just something that I had gotten used to. I drink coffee because of the satiated feeling I get when its blissful heat passes through my system and fills my belly. And there’s also what I call the perfect temperature: not too hot, not too cold, that a coffee has to reach for me to fully enjoy the experience of drinking it. 
I grabbed the coffee mug and brought it up to my mouth. The moment the coffee touched my lips I knew that it still hadn’t reached that perfect temperature yet. I took a quick sip anyway. I felt the warmth of the liquid inside my mouth then go down my throat into the rest of my system. It didn’t feel quite right, not yet at least. I decided I should give the coffee some more time to cool before I drank from it again. I placed the coffee mug back on the table and reverted my gaze back to her. She was taking a sip from her frappe. Her eyes clearly looked distressed.
“You quit because we were poor as dirt. We needed money and you were Ms. Practical in the relationship.”
She looked severely disgusted by the comment I just said. 
“You know, that’s the problem with you. You either only remember the things you want to remember or remember them how you want to remember them,” she snarked back at me. 
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
"It means that you’re so self-absorbed that you don’t even care to try and see things from other people’s perspective.”
Finally, the uncomfortable silence I’ve been anticipating came. She started knocking on the table, producing a rhythmic knocking sound against the wood as I noticed the ring on her fourth finger. That had always been a habit of hers whenever she found herself in an awkward position.
The young girl from the table next to us glanced at us for half a second before turning back to continue her conversation with the older woman she was with. A whole minute passed by without either one of us saying anything or even looking at each other. 
“Even two years after breaking up we still find a way to fight don’t we?” she said to break the silence.
“Well, it would almost seem wrong for us not to.”
“Imagine if we got married.”
“Imagine if we had kids.”
“We probably would have ended up grouchier than old man Walt and Mrs. Doris next door.”
“Remember that time when we accidentally let their dog loose.”
“Hey, that was all your fault.”
“How was I supposed to know that the gate was open? I thought it was locked.”
“You could’ve closed the gate when you realized that it wasn’t.”
“I froze. Dude, I wasn’t ready for that. It all happened so fast and that dog was Lightning f*****g McQueen. We were just on the way home from the supermarket.”
“They even went door to door to ask the neighborhood if anyone knew about their dog’s whereabouts.”
“I was sweating buckets when they came to our house and asked me questions. I had to bring out my inner Leonardo DiCaprio.”
“I was trying so hard not to laugh especially when they showed you the picture of their dog and asked if you’ve seen him then you said no so fast without even looking at the picture. You were so obvious. They got so suspicious of us that they even called the local police to talk to us.”
“I have no regrets. I probably did that dog a favor. He probably hated living there to run off so fast.”
“Oh my god. I even remember hearing them shout at each other every night for the whole week.”
“Yeah, that was hilarious. They were trying to find out who left the gate open. Good thing they never found out it was us or they probably would have sued us or something.”
We shared a brief moment of genuine laughter. I was kind of reminded of how we were before we moved into the city. Just two naïve souls, young and in love, living in a small town in the middle of nowhere. We were still dreamers in those days.
Another phase of silence passed us, but this time it wasn’t awkward or uncomfortable. It was the type of silence where everyone involved had a mutual appreciation of the moment. A silence that had this sense of tranquility that came after a hearty burst of laughter over a stupid joke with close friends or a nice long talk catching up with an old acquaintance. It’s moments like those that I find underappreciated by people when they talk about their most precious memories. I developed a habit of appreciating the small things ever since our breakup. 
“It was all my fault,” I said.
She looked surprised.
“No, it wasn’t. We’re both at fault.”
“You’re way too nice. You wouldn’t say that it was my fault even if you knew it was.”
She stayed silent.
“I’m sorry. I fucked up. We had something and I fucked it all up.”
She gave me another faint smile. She reached out her hand to touch mine.
“There’s no need to say sorry. Things were just how they were.”
I closed my eyes for a moment and took a deep breath to regain myself.
“But then, maybe it was all for the best �" us breaking up. We’re happy now aren’t we?”
“I guess so.”
I looked down again at my coffee -- exactly how I liked it: pure black, no sugar, no cream. I felt the sensation of heat emit from the coffee and brush past my face again. I held the handle with my right hand, grasped the side with my left, then I brought the mug up to my mouth. The moment the coffee touched my lips I knew that it was perfect. It finally reached the perfect temperature. Every gulp was flawless. The coffee flowed immaculately through mouth, then my throat, then I felt the warmth circulate throughout my body and be one with my blood. It was a warmth that hugs you intimately, kisses your forehead, and cradles you to sleep. 
I placed the coffee mug back on the table and took a few seconds to bask myself in the serenity of the moment.
I glanced outside. There were crowds of people walking, bright lights from the nearby stores and buildings, cars and trucks passing through the street every now and then. My focus, however, was not on any of those, but rather the bright crescent moon glowing in the evening sky. 
She seemed to notice that I was staring at the moon, so she looked out as well.
“Hey, Prim,” I said. “The moon is beautiful isn’t it?”
“Yeah, it is,” Prim replied while we were both looking beyond the wide piece of glass that was separating us and our own little world inside the coffeehouse from the frivolous world outside, gazing at the moon. 

© 2021 J. Shire

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Added on February 18, 2021
Last Updated on February 18, 2021
Tags: Romance, Drama