This story is by Lina Jenson and was part of our 2019 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Every day I go to the same coffee shop. I sit at the table farthest away from the bathroom where there’s always a line of people waiting awkwardly to use it. Instead of being by that commotion, I’d rather sit in the corner by a window, where the sunlight pools through and gives soft touches to the table.
“Hey Rhea,” Preston greets me. He’s just working behind the counter, pouring cream into a warm drink that was newly added into the menu: Original.
The Original latte consists of a shot of coffee, a squirt of lemon juice, a little bit of raspberry compote, plus chocolate cream. It may sound gross, but their drinks never disappoint. Essence Coffee brings unique twists on coffee drinks, and when you compare it to other cafés, they truly have a sense of individuality.
“Preston.” I smile back warmly, walking over to the order counter. “How’s work?”
“Pretty good,” he answers back, his hazel eyes twinkling. “I have your drink on the counter for you.”
My smile grows wider. “Thank you.” Walking over to the pick up counter, I grab my Calm latte. Taking a sip, I realize that it’s still steaming hot, but that’s just the way I like it. Waving to him in a farewell, I sit at my table, ready to work.
Only a few moments after I get my book out, Preston calls out, “Allie, your Original latte is ready!” I briefly look up from my book and watch a young adult with fiery red hair, who I presume is Allie, getting up from her seat to grab her drink. Though she seems completely confident, her facial expression wavers when she hesitantly begins to reach and grab the cup. I frown, catching that short flicker of doubt. Curiosity gets the best of me and I choose to look closer.
Not only a second later, I spot what I was trying to find. Her hands are shaking as she grabs the mug. Quickly, I start to get out of my seat as I can predict what is about to happen, but I don’t make it in time.
As she turns around to head to her chair, her grip slips and the cup falls. She yelps as the mug hits the ground, the glass shattering around the surrounding area.
Once the noise pierces through the room, the coffee shop goes quiet. I look around and notice people shaking their heads, whispering to their company. Allie’s smile fades as she stares at the puddle on the floor, then back to the judging people around her.
Her hands are still shaking. Furiously, she shoves them into her pocket and I can see her crystal blue eyes start to water, yet she’s still trying to keep a strong and composed reaction. She looks around quickly and then pulls her hands out of her pockets, slowly bending down to pick up the glass.
My eyes widen and I immediately walk over. “Here, let me help,” I say, grabbing some napkins on the counter and a pair of rubber gloves. I begin to wipe up the mess as Allie stands there, unmoving, her hands returning back to her pocket—the safe space.
“I’ll make you a new drink!” Preston says from behind the counter, already steaming the milk. “It happens all the time,” he reassures her, his gaze hardening as he glances at the staring people. They jump, realizing that their stares have made Allie uncomfortable, and so they begin to talk amongst themselves, occasionally giving side glances back to us.
I just shake my head.
“Thank you,” she whispers to me once the attention was off of her.
She bites her lip, staring down on the floor. “It just…slipped out of my hands,” she murmurs, her voice tightening.
I nod. I know there’s a bigger reason behind it, but I don’t want to go too far. After all, I just met her about five minutes ago.
“As Preston said,” I offer, “I’ve seen so many people spill their drinks. One time, there was a guy who tripped over his own feet. When he fell, the whole café went silent. But, there was a girl sitting right by where he fell, so he just stood up with a big grin on his face and he told her dramatically, ‘I think I just fell for you.’” Laughing, I add on, “It’s definitely one of my favorite memories from here.”
She cracks a grin, her hands slowly reappearing from her pocket. Once I throw all of the wet napkins away, revealing an all-clean floor, Allie talks again. “I have Parkinson’s Disease,” she says suddenly. I look up at her, slightly surprised at her willingness to share. I do want to listen and try to help, so, looking back at my table, I gesture for her to sit down. She nods back to me, heading over to the table in the corner.
“Do your thing,” Preston murmurs to me, winking. He slides his remake of the Original latte to me, and I grab it for Allie as she takes a seat. When I return back to the table, I give her the drink, as well as a straw to make it easier.
“I’ve been teased all my life,” she says softly, continuing where she left off. She lifts her shaking hands. “They never stop—my hands and the people around me.”
I frown. “Does what they say get to you?” I ask hesitantly. I don’t want to push the boundaries by asking a personal question, yet it has to be asked because it would show the true reason for her insecurity. She has to acknowledge it and then make a difference to help herself be confident.
“All the time,” she whispers truthfully, her eyes welling up with tears. “I try to not care, but every single time, people point at me and laugh. And… there’s no way I can just ignore what they say because I care about my image. Even though it’s been so many years, you would think I would finally ignore what they say or just get used to it, but no. I still think of myself the way other people would think of me.”
I nod my head. Throughout my life, I cared about the exact same thing. It’s funny how we always think that we’re alone in our own journeys, but when we talk with other people, unexpectedly they go through the same thing. I think that’s the reason why there are billions of people in this world. There is always at least one person who can relate to our problems, and I just found one of them: Allie.
“Do you know what I just realized?” I ask her, smiling softly.
She looks up at me, sipping her drink. “What?”
Gesturing towards her cup, I say simply, “The drink you got was Original.”
“Yeah,” she laughs quietly. “It looked good.”
“Original always looks good,” I tell her. “It’s created with a purpose. Now let me ask you a question: when artists paint a canvas, what’s unique about it?”
“Well,” I begin, “if you truly study every painting, they’re all different. There are some flaws, of course, but all of them bring something new—something you would never expect to be painted. A whole wide spectrum of artistry: different shapes, colors, ideas!” I spread my arms wide for a dramatic effect. “When you combine all of them together, they create a masterpiece—a discovery that leads to the artistry world.”
Her eyes clear up, starting to get the idea of what I was saying.
“Allie,” I ask slowly, “would someone want to buy two of the same painting?”
She shakes her head. “Nope.”
“Exactly. The whole meaning behind viewing paintings is to search for aspects that are unique and original to that particular artist. And, comparing that to people, that’s exactly why we all look and act differently. We all are original. Why would we choose to make our painting a copy of someone else’s?”
Allie purses her lips in thought. Her eyes are deep as if she was deciding between two options. She stares down at her covered hands, and slowly but surely, pulls them out from her pockets. Pushing her chair back and standing up, she says simply, “Thank you.”
“You knew it inside,” I tell her. “I think you just needed someone to remind you.”
She nods again, with a smile on her face, and places her empty, unbroken mug in the dirty-dishes bin. Then, after waving goodbye, she walks out of the door, her hands confidently at her sides.
I sigh in content, staring at the seat in front of me, where numerous people, over the course of the month, have come and talked with me, sharing their fears and dreams.
Why is this table my favorite? Well, I think you now know the answer.