Coffee With a Stranger
Elissa sighed, staring out the window at the gray sky. Her shoulders slumped and her eyes drooped with exhaustion – god, what she wouldn’t do for some actual coffee right now.
Coffee hadn’t been around for almost 50 years; after coffee plantations were struck with the agricultural virus that swept the globe, 98% of coffee plants and seeds were destroyed. Ever since, coffee had become a rare commodity, only provided to those with the wealth to buy it.
And Elissa certainly did not have any such wealth. She worked in a coffee shop, for goodness sakes. (If it could even be called that – the drinks it sold were merely false replicas of coffee that tasted nothing like the substance they tried to imitate.)
She heaved another sigh. Setting her arms on the counter and resting her head on them, she let her eyelids shut. So much had changed in this era. The world had become so gray and gloomy, too, what with the never-ending rain storms. One of the few salvations from boredom in this world was Delight – a legal drug that stimulated the growth of endorphins in the body at an insane rate and thus had the power to invoke immediate happiness. Unfortunately, Delight only lasted for a short time (that length depending on how quickly one’s body metabolized the stimulant), soon returning its users to boring reality.
Elissa was well acquainted with Delight. The coffee shop infused its drinks with the drug, making it quite popular with the city. But today was to be a slow day, it seemed. There had been a grand total of sixteen people to visit the coffee shop, and it was already 5 PM.
She opened her eyes and glanced at the old clock on the wall behind her (really, Kim could afford a better clock). In just one more hour, she’d be free to go home and…
And do what, exactly? Cook dinner, brush her teeth, and go to sleep? Then wake up the next morning to come right back here?
What a sad life she led. Routine after routine after routine. God, if only there were something to break the monotony-
Elissa paused, letting a soft smile find its way across her face. Of course.
She turned to greet the customer –
“Hi there!” The woman beamed.
Elissa smiled back and opened her mouth to reply, “Hello! Welcome to Kim’s, what can I get for you?”
…And then she realized that actual sounds were not coming out of her mouth and that her jaw was hanging slightly. Even worse, she may or may not have been staring at her green curls – which in Elissa’s defense, were absolutely beautiful. In all the years she’d known her, she’d never looked so stunning.
“Oh, uh…” Her glasses slid down her nose as she shifted her weight, quickly becoming uncomfortable under Elissa’s gaze.
Get it together, Elissa.
“Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry. I’m staring, aren’t I?”
“A little, yeah.” She giggled, her eyes turning up as she did so. “It’s the hair, isn’t it? I knew it was too flashy.”
“No, not at all! Well, the hair is what caught my attention, but it’s not bad.” Elissa stumbled over her words, becoming more and more aware of how awkward she was making things. She took a deep breath.
“I love it.”
“Thank you! It’s one of the new things my friend’s working on – implants to make your hair change colors based on emotions. Like those mood rings they used to do back in the day.”
As she spoke, the roots of her hair began to transition from green to a pale shade of yellow. It complimented her dark skin nicely.
“See?” She pointed to her hair. “Yellow for happy.”
She took a look around. The popularity of the shop’s Delight-infused coffees certainly paid off, and Kim had invested quite a sum into its aesthetics. After much deliberation, Kim had decided to go antique with decor of the 2020s. She’d set up small wooden tables, enough for two or three to sit around. Dim lights hung from the ceiling and illuminated art hung on brick walls. A long strip of chalkboard behind the cash register listed the drinks of the day, as well as a couple scones and muffins they sold. It wasn’t an exact replication of coffee shops in the 2020s, but it was close.
Remembering herself, Elissa reverted back to sales mode.
“So, do you know what you’d like to order?”
“Uh…” The woman hesitated, turning her attention back to Elissa. “No, I need a second. Sorry, I’ve never been here before, my friend recommended this place to me.”
Her grin was wide, exposing her gums slightly. Elissa returned the smile, feeling quite comfortable with the woman’s presence.
“No problem, take your time.”
Elissa turned away to give the woman time to peruse the menu. She took a cloth from her apron and began wiping down the counter, as if she hadn’t already done that three times in the past hour. Stealing glances, she took in the sight of her, admiring the perfect curve of her nose, the roundness of her cheeks, the fullness of her lips. God himself had sculpted this face, and he had been very kind.
After a few more moments’ contemplation, she was ready to order. She chose a classic caramel macchiato with an extra dose of Delight.
“Does the Delight really work?” She asked as she twiddled with a tassel on her purse.
Elissa nodded. Mustering her strength, she hit the machine to get it started. Problems with running an antique coffee shop: nothing worked.
“Oh yeah, definitely. Though to tell you the truth, I’m not a big fan of it. It tastes great, but the smell’s just awful.”
The woman wrinkled her nose.
“Ugh, really? I hate bad smells.”
“Yeah, like the smell of dirty dishes when you’ve left them in the sink too long because you didn’t want to wash them?”
“Exactly!” She laughed, a loud laugh that might annoy someone that wasn’t Elissa. “I hate washing dishes.”
Soon enough, the drink was made. Elissa pulled out her marker, quickly scribbled on the paper cup, and handed it to the woman.
“There you are, one caramel macchiato with an extra dose of Delight.”
Elissa set her arms on the counter and leaned forward. The woman took a sip, shutting her eyes momentarily as if to appreciate the flavor more.
“How is it?”
“Fantastic! This is… probably the best coffee I’ve ever had.”
They both laughed. “Come on, it’s okay.”
“No, really! I mean it, it’s really good. Look at my hair!”
She took another sip. Elissa could tell the Delight was kicking in because her hair went from a pale yellow to a very bright, neon yellow. When she spoke again, her voice was a little higher than before.
“Would you want to, maybe, sit down with me? I know you’re working, but seeing as there’s nobody in here right now, I thought-”
Elissa untied her apron and set it on the counter. They sat by the window, the woman drinking her coffee and Elissa pretending to look outside at the rain. It was then that Elissa realized how sweaty her hands were, and how dry her throat had become. After all this time, you’d think she’d stop being so nervous.
“So are you Kim?”
Elissa’s brows furrowed. “I’m sorry?”
“Are you Kim?” The woman repeated. “You know, this place is called Kim’s. I just assumed because you’re the only one here-”
“Oh no, I’m not Kim. My name’s Elissa, I just work here as a barista.”
“Oh okay. Well my name’s Maggie, and it’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“The pleasure’s all mine.”
“I was gonna sit here and read my book, but I’m in a pretty chatty mood. I’m sorry in advance for unleashing all of this on you.”
“Don’t worry about it, I’m a great listener. Chat away.”
“Okay, well I’m reading this book about the zodiac signs. I think astrology’s really interesting, even if it’s a fake science or whatever.”
“Fake science or not, it’s fun.”
“It is!” Maggie’s eyes lit up at that. “People always brush it off because they read the horoscopes and it’s super vague and they think that’s all there is to it, but there’s so much more. Like in your birth chart, you have your sun sign, your moon sign, all of the planets and whatnot, and it all ties into who you are. I personally don’t feel very much like my sun sign, Leo, because I’m moon dominant.”
Elissa didn’t understand very much of this, but she nodded. Maggie seemed to be very thrilled to have somebody to talk to about this, so Elissa was content to just sit and listen. They talked about astrology, politics, books, music, pets, technology, and then astrology again. Every once in a while, she would interject with her feelings on the matter.
“It’s a little odd to think that some stars can decide your fate, though, don’t you think?”
Maggie tilted her head slightly. “I guess so. They are just burning balls of gas floating in space. But personally… I don’t know how I feel about what’s out there. If there’s a higher power or entity or something. I’d like to think there is because the world can be very kind.”
“But it can also be very cruel.” Elissa finished her thought.
“Yeah. Do you believe in anything?”
Elissa was caught off guard by the question. It was the first thing Maggie had asked her about herself.
“I do. I believe in God. But mostly, I think, I believe in people.”
“What do you mean?”
“I like to believe in people, in their ability to do good. Sure, bad things happen, and I know I can get hung up on those things a lot, but there are always people there to set it right. To make everything better.”
Maggie smiled. Silly as it was, it made Elissa’s heart skip a beat.
“That’s a nice way to think about it. I should think more like that.”
At that moment, there was a loud bang. Elissa and Maggie jumped up, turning their heads to the source of the sound. It was a customer – he had slammed the door behind him, a scowl quite evident on his face.
“Who’s working here?”
Elissa stood, making her way quickly to the front of the store.
“I am, sir.”
“Why aren’t you at the front?”
Elissa felt irritation rise up in her. One of these customers.
“Well sir, if I’m correct, it is after hours.” She pointed to the clock that read eight, all signs of friendliness gone from her body.
“Well your door was open, so I’m gonna order. I want something big and strong.”
Clenching her fist, Elissa glared at the man. He was unfazed at the sight of her, even though she towered over him by several inches.
“Sir, I’m going to have to ask you to leave. Even if we served after hours, I wouldn’t give coffee to someone as rude as you.”
He was indignant at that, his pale face turning red. However, just as he opened his mouth to give his retort, he was interrupted.
“We’d be happy to make you coffee, sir.”
Elissa turned to Maggie, confused. She had a slight smile on her face, and she was gently grasping Elissa’s arm as if to hold her back.
“Are you having a bad day?”
The man was silent. Then, almost at once, he deflated, his shoulders falling and the redness fading from his cheeks.
“I am. I just got fired from my job.”
Maggie frowned. She set a hand on his shoulder, moving to comfort him. At the sight of this, Elissa felt the anger slowly leave her, and not knowing what to do with herself, she poured him a drink. He took it gladly.
“I’m really sorry I took that out on you, that was horrible of me. I promise I’m not usually like that.”
Maggie spoke up. “It’s alright, sir. Just try to take it easy, you’ll find another job out there.”
He soon left the coffee shop. It was beginning to get dark out, so Maggie gathered her things as Elissa closed the store. They walked side by side down the street, sharing an umbrella.
“How did you do that? How did you just… make him calm down? I was getting really sick of him.”
“Patience. A lot of it. And like you said, bad things happen, but there are always people to set it right.”
“Oh wait, here’s a trash can, let me throw my cup away.”
Maggie walked towards it, Elissa following with the umbrella. Before she tossed the cup, however, she turned it, reading what had been written on it.
“You have beautiful handwriting.”
Elissa chuckled, “I really don’t. It looks like chicken scratch.”
“No, I like it. I like the way you write the g’s in my name.”
She shrugged. “To each their own.”
They made their way to the bus stop, despite the rain suddenly falling harder. The bus was nowhere in sight, so Elissa stood and waited with Maggie. Her apartment was just down the street, anyway.
“I really enjoyed your company today.”
“I enjoyed yours too.”
“I was wondering… could I get your phone number?”
Elissa looked down at Maggie, noting how her hair had turned rosy pink. She was in no way flustered, though, and she looked up at Elissa earnestly.
They exchanged numbers, Maggie putting a sparkly heart next to her name in Elissa’s contacts. Not long after, the bus pulled up, so they made their goodbyes.
“I’ll call you, okay?”
Elissa nodded. A raindrop fell on Maggie’s face, so instinctively, she brushed it away with her thumb.
“See you soon, Maggie.”