Chapter 1 : Monday
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A/N: This is a short story. As in, this has more than one chapter. Donít look so shocked.
The inside of the coffee shop is warm, a stark contrast to the icy cold wind that whistles through the busy morning streets outside. The air is thick with the aroma of coffee beans, a sweet scent that comforts the people inside the coffee shop, warming them from the inside out. Like most mornings, the coffee shop is bustling with activity as people come and go, the bell on the back of the door tinkling every time the door opens to let someone through. Some rustle the morningís paper in their hands as their eyes scan the headlines while others stare into space, bleary-eyed and waiting for their morning fix of caffeine. Some amble in slowly with friends, laughing as they take off their gloves and scarves, others stand in front of the counter impatiently, bouncing lightly on the balls on their feet and blowing hot air into their cupped hands as they run through a mental schedule of their day in their mind.
In the corner, away from the hustle and bustle of the crowd, a man sits at a small table. There is nothing special about his man. His eyes are brown, as is his hair. His attire is simple, a pair of grey trousers and a black woollen sweater. He sits hunched in his chair, one leg crossed behind the other, chin propped up on one hand as he absent-mindedly stirs a long-forgotten mug of cold coffee with the other. He makes no attempt to bring the mug to his mouth; he simply continues to stir the liquid as he stares listlessly into space.
The barista behind the coffee counter, a thin man, greying around the ears, glances at the young man every so often as he stirs, wipes, shakes and pours. On any other morning, he would approach the young man and politely ask if he could make his leave. The mornings are the busiest time for the small coffee shop and, though business is thriving, the barista and his wife have put too many years of hard work into the coffee shop to let even one unhappy customer wait for a table. It would be different if this young man was a regular customer Ė regular customers are good for business, but the barista has never seen the man before.
What stops the barista from walking the few feet to the small table is the defeated look in the young manís eyes. The young manís eyes are red-rimmed as though he has not slept well in a while and lack the usual brightness the barista is accustomed to seeing in men of his young age. Perhaps it is the stress of work that has gotten to the young man, perhaps he is simply exhausted from a night out with friends, perhaps something more sinister such as the loss of a loved one; the barista does not know what has made the young manís eyes look so hollow, so empty, but the barista has seen enough in life to know that this man has experienced some sort of heartbreak. And the barista does not have the heart to interrupt the young manís sad contemplation.
The bell on the door chimes through the shop once more and the barista looks up as he continues to wipe the counter down with a moistened rag. A young woman walks through the door and the barista lets out a quiet chuckle as she almost trips up the small step near the doorway. The barista has seen her come into the small shop every morning for many months and her carelessness has never failed to amuse him. She always appears harried and this morning is different. One side of her pale blue shirt is untucked from her tailored black trousers, her thick winter coat is only halfway buttoned and it is obvious the woollen purple hat on her head was an afterthought from the way it sits lopsided on her bed of red hair, threatening to fall.
She catches sight of the grin on her face and narrows her eyes as she approaches the counter. He knows better than to believe she is angry with him, the twinkle in her eye betrays her true emotions. Placing her small hands on the counter, she greets him hello before her eyes scan the board behind him, her mouth slightly mouthing the words of the menu and the barista hides another smile. Every morning, she proclaims that day will be the day she will try something new, yet she always orders the same coffee. Small cafe lattť, two sugars. The same drink that he had suggested to her those months ago when she first wandered into his shop and confessed to him that she had never tasted coffee before.
She looks at him sheepishly when he asks if she wants her usual and the two fall into an easy chatter after she rummages in her bag for some coins and he prepares her order. The barista has never been a man of many words. He prefers to listen to others and the few words he does offer are always carefully thought out. This morning, the barista listens to the young woman as he carefully measures the milk and smiles at the carefree tone to her voice, a tone only found in the young and one he recognises from the visits from his own daughter. The young woman does not mind his silence and chatters away as she does every morning. Her boss has accepted her proposal she worked hours on. The girl who shares her desk at work has finally bought a set of quills of her own. Her sister is going to be a nightmare later that afternoon at her wedding dress fitting.
Levitating a cup down from the shelf behind him and continuing to listen to the young woman with one ear, the barista lets his eyes scan the coffee shop and has to hide a smirk as his gaze falls on the young man in the corner. As the barista pours the steaming hot liquid into the cup, he continues to watch the young man out of the corner of his eye. The young man is no longer hunched over and staring at the wall in front of him. He is now sitting up straight in his wooden chair and is staring, transfixed, at the young woman. As the barista watches him, the young manís eyes unabashedly rove over her form and take in her slight figure, the tinkle of her laughter, her bright blue eyes, the slight redness on her nose and cheeks from the cold morning outside. The barista cannot blame the young man for his fascination. The young woman is a pretty little thing and the carefree way with which she carries herself draws smiles from all those around her.
The young man continues to stare as she takes her cup with a smile and raises it slightly at the barista who nods at her with a smile. As she walks away from the counter towards the door, the barista greets his next customer with a smile, a young mother whose young daughter stands quietly beside her mother, her young, wide eyes taking in the posters on the walls of the coffee shop. As he listens to the order and picks up his wand to summon a new bag of sugar, he glances at the young man once more and, this time, the barista cannot hide his smile.
The young manís clear green eyes, once so hollow and empty are now bright, filled with curiosity as he stares at the door the young woman exited through moments ago.