Once upon a time* there was a slightly lonely girl who went to Starbucks. She was standing in line about to order when she realized that her life was incredibly boring and that if she drank one more tall hot mocha, the same drink she ordered every morning at precisely 8:30 AM, she was going to have to shoot herself in the face. Normally she relished just the thought of that hot, chocolate goodness, dark and warm and rich and addictive, running down the back of her throat. More often than not, she compared that first drop on her tongue to the long awaited fix of a battle hardened heroin addict. It always felt just a little bit dangerous. But today, oh, fateful day, the birds on the trees and the sun in the sky and the handsome man standing behind her served no purpose other than to remind her of the rut she called life that she’d been digging herself into for the past five years. Same drink, same people, same lack of progress.
“Usual?” the barista asked, reaching for a cup, his pen poised to make the large ‘M’ to which it was so accustomed. The tip of the Sharpie had almost reached its destination.
“No! Stop!” she said, with more force than she’d intended. “I want something different today.”
Also once upon a time in that same Starbucks, the handsome man was lost in his own thoughts. He had never been to this particular location before, and in his opinion, every time he walked into a new Starbucks it was like finding a hidden pocket of jungle life deep in the jungles of South America (of which he had much experience). New sloths, new bugs, new screaming monkeys, but same habitat. In fact everything was the same, but everything was also different. He hoped that his white mocha wouldn’t be different. That was one thing about the jungle: it didn’t have white mochas. The handsome man simultaneously believed this to be its greatest strength and its greatest weakness. And while he had the chance, he had every intention of drinking as many of the hot, sweet confections as he could get his hands on. Grande, one shot, extra white mocha syrup and extra whipped cream. He’d never ordered anything else and he didn’t plan on ordering anything else at any point in the near future. Why mess with perfection, especially when perfection was usually so far away? Quite unexpectedly, the handsome man was snapped out of his strange reverie by the slightly lonely girl’s forceful exclamation.
“Branching out, are we?” the barista said. But she wasn’t going to let his cheeky banter distract her from her brand new mission: to find a new drink, to change something in her life.
“What else is good?”
The barista sighed in mental preparation, and was about to answer her, the handsome man was sure, with his extensive list of espresso based beverages, frappucinos and sweet tea lemonades, but he wasn’t in the mood to wait while she made up her mind.
He tapped her on the shoulder. “Excuse me,” he said. “May I make a suggestion?”
The lonely girl nodded back to the handsome man, who she was extremely surprised had even talked to her. She noticed that he had some sort of tattoo on his left arm that was partially obscured by his t-shirt and that he had some of the most unkempt hair she had ever seen in her life. He smelled like airplane. After a quick once over, she replied, “Shoot.”
The handsome man noticed her sizing him up and wondered what she was thinking. He just had time to notice that the soft wave of her hair was the same color as a white mocha, before she answered him. Time to make another convert, he thought.
“White mocha, extra sweet if you want, but I have more of a sweet-tooth than most.”
The lonely girl’s heart was beating very fast. “Is that your usual?”
A sly grin. “Yes.”
“Maybe you should try something new as well. We could trade usuals, like a game.”
“Diversification buddies?” The handsome man didn’t much like change, but he did like games (and monkeys), and this girl had mischief in her eye. The barista simply looked bored. “Ok,” he relented, “but if I don’t like it, I’m blaming you.”
They turned to the barista, who was now picking his fingernails with the edge of the Sharpie. “You heard the lady: diversification buddies, on me.”
“Tall mocha and . . .?”
“Tall white mocha, extra whip,” the handsome man supplied, handing the barista his charge card. Another thing the jungle didn’t have: sweet, pretty girls with white mocha colored curls.
“Thank you,” she said.
“You’re quite welcome, diversification buddy.”
The lonely girl was fast become equally appreciative, although now that the deal was done, she was a bit nervous about whether or not she was actually going to like the thing. Five years is a long time to be drinking the same drink. She didn’t have long to wait, however. Their drinks were quickly called out; the place wasn’t busy. The handsome man picked both up and handed her the white mocha.
“Cheers,” he said, raising his 90% recycled paper cup.
“Cheers,” she agreed, and took her first sip. It was hot and burned her tongue, and it was entirely too sweet. She instantly missed the dark intoxication of the mocha; there was no mystery to its white counterpart, no danger. She watched the handsome man for his reaction.
The handsome man was careful to take several sips before betraying any hint of feeling. The espresso stung his mouth, it’s bitter flavor amplified by the dark chocolate. Where was the sweet joy of the white, the silky texture and just the barest of hints that it was coffee at all? “I’m pretty sure my mouth is very angry at me right now,” he deadpanned. She let out an obnoxious little cackle.
“What a disaster,” she said. “Want to trade?”
There was a brief moment of quiet as both enjoyed the welcome relief of their old friends, savoring the comfort of that which they hadn’t really appreciated until just that moment; the tap, tap, tap of the barista’s Sharpie could be heard over the soothing XM radio. Removing their respective cups from their lips, both the handsome man and the slightly lonely girl searched for the words to express the moment that had just passed between them, but unable, settled for awkward smiles. Finally, the handsome man cleared his throat.
“I told you I would have to blame you,” he said.
“It was your idea, remember?”
“Oh, yes, I’d forgotten in my anger and confusion. But have no fear, soon I shall be exiled to the lush but ferile jungles of northern Argentina where, for my punishment, I will be denied any and all access to this, my most guilty of pleasures.” The handsome man knew that she thought he was kidding, so he pressed further. “I will probably be eaten by a panther or some sort of bear, but really, it’s no problem.”
The lonely girl, welcoming the easy banter as nothing more than harmless flirting, did not take his words at face value. Because she wanted nothing more than to keep talking to him, with the vague hope of a meeting in this very spot in the near future, she wrongly assumed that he simply had a large imagination, and played along.
“I hope it’s a crocodile.”
“You wound me, truly.” There was an awkward pause, during which each felt the need to say something profound and moving, but nothing came to either.
The handsome man finally broke the silence. “And that’s my cue to leave.”
“Something like that.”
The lonely girl glanced at her cell phone and saw that she was going to be late as well.
“Have a nice day,” she called to the handsome man as he headed out the door. He raised his cup to her. For the rest of the day, she felt better than she had in years. Who knows where this might lead, she thought. I was looking for a way out of this rut, and a chance presents itself literally ten seconds later. Fate. There was a little extra bounce in her step.
But if it was fate, she never knew. Instead, she sat in the corner of that Starbucks every morning between 8:15 and 8:40 AM, ordered a tall, hot mocha and watched the world go by, waiting.
*In case you were wondering, I was bored.**
**Also, this is a story, just as a clarification. Fiction. Comments and feedback would be much appreciated.