The coffee grinds wafted by her nose before she even opened the door. Kaley’s eyes scanned the room, looking for a place to sit. Every table was occupied. She flipped through the calendar in her head, realized it was likely the week before finals, and remembered those days just a few years before when she’d be here cramming for exams too.
Frantic, red-eyed students dressed in pajama pants and sweatshirts flipped through their textbooks, highlighting passages and closing their eyes as they studied their flashcards. They whispered to themselves, trying to commit the information to memory. Frustrated grunts and the occasional cuss word slipped through their lips whenever they paused in forgetfulness.
Aside from them, there was one couple, dressed to impress. Kaley assessed them, noticing the nervous way the man tinkered with his coffee cup, picking it up and putting it down several times before he finally took a sip. The woman, on the other hand, wore a wide smile that seemed pasted to her face. Her mouth moved fast, and the man couldn’t meet her gaze, his eyes wandering from side to side as he nodded here and there to acknowledge that he was still listening.
In the window seat, a young woman sat, typing away on her laptop. A navy blue scarf was wrapped tightly around her neck, and her legs were crossed, her posture bunched up like a cat in the shape of a meatloaf, its paws and tail tucked underneath its unmoving body. The woman’s eyes narrowed, scrutinizing the computer screen, and she frowned, taking a sip of her latte as she used her index finger to hit a single key on the keyboard with repetitive fervor.
As Kaley ordered a small caramel macchiato and a Danish, she wondered where she would sit to wait for her friend. Then she noticed a man sitting alone at a table with one empty seat. She walked towards him, taking notice that he was reading the paper.
“Excuse me,” she said, gesturing to the chair across from him. “Do you mind if I sit here awhile?”
“Go right ahead,” he replied. He placed the paper down, and his eyes scanned her notebook and laptop. “Are you still in school?”
“Oh no,” Kaley answered with a light laugh. “I’ve been out of school for a few years now. I came here to write.”
“You writing a novel?”
“Yeah.” Kaley nodded once, studying the man a bit more. Silver strands integrated themselves among the remaining black hair of his youth, while his sideburns were completely white. He had a pleasant sort of face, still rather boyish, and his eyes had a devilish gleam.
Kaley’s eyes dropped to the motorcycle helmet on the stack of newspapers by the man’s side. “You ride?”
“Yup, every morning,” he said. “Ride here to get my coffee, read the paper, and then head back. I know almost every kid who comes in here by now.” He paused for a moment. “So tell me more of this novel of yours. What genre do you write?”
“Mostly fantasy,” Kaley said. “Adventure, romance, and magic all in one.”
His brown eyes glinted with humor. “Any sci-fi? I’m a sci-fi geek myself. Big fan of superhero stuff too.”
“I haven’t tried writing any sci-fi yet,” Kaley said. “Maybe one day. I do like superhero stuff though. So what about you? What do you do for a living?”
“Been working as a food inspector for the past thirty odd years,” he said. “’Bout time to retire. I have lots of hobbies and side projects I’d like to work on.” His smile grew wide. “I found an old chest of drawers at a garage sale and refurbished it. My sister took it to decorate her living room.”
“That sounds pretty cool,” Kaley said.
“Yeah, I have some other junk in my garage that I need to work on,” he said. “Hopefully soon.”
Kaley watched as the awkward couple on their first date stood from their table.
“Well,” she said to the man, “I’m gonna go grab that table. But it was really nice talking to you. Hope to bump into you again. Good luck with your projects.”
“And good luck with your novel.”