It’s an average day, in a small, average city, in an incredibly average—uneventful—life. The sun beats its heated rays atop my head, making me sweat. I regret not grabbing my sunglasses this morning. I already feel a headache gnawing at my temples from my pupils straining against the light. I use my hand to shield my eyes, giving them a moment’s reprieve.
I’ve been released from work early. Usually I’m off on Mondays, but a co-worker called in this morning saying she couldn’t make it till the afternoon. With few people to contact—we’re only a small filing company—my boss reluctantly gave me a call. It was only a half day, yet I still feel drained.
In need of a small pick-me-up, I messaged my friend with an invite to lunch after I’d clocked out, which she quickly accepted. However, it’d be another hour before her lunch break, so I’m left to my own devices, exploring the city’s small downtown while I wait. Despite its size, the area has an abundance of restaurants and small shops. It even has a bakery, which I quickly avoid for my own self-preservation. Sugar tends to rob me of any form of self-control.
With little else to do, I decide a brisk walk through the park would do me good. The sound of passing cars and human chatter are muffled when I turn down a short alley. There are many ways to get to the Downtown Park, but this one is my favorite. Rather than the usual cemented walkway, or the occasional patch of bricks, this alley is comprised of sandy-white cobblestones.
Every time I traverse this path, my mind tends to wander. My imagination ignites with questions and answers pertaining to the history of this alley, as well as the city. Why was this the only path with cobblestones? What made this area so different from the rest of the city? Because it’s the oldest, maybe?
If that was the case, then what was the earliest someone walked this way? Early nineteen-hundreds? Maybe earlier. Immediately my head fills with images of men and women in dated clothing walking along the stones, their heads bent in conversation.
I head in the direction of my favorite part of the alley: an arched doorway in the left-side building. For as long as I can remember, it’s been blocked by a black, filigreed, wrought iron door. The dark stairway behind it leads up to an unknown destination.
This particular feature really fuels my imagination. Especially when my echoing footsteps carry through the archway, giving the illusion of someone climbing the abandoned staircase. I ask myself what business used to be up there. Why did it shut down? Where’s the owner now? I’ve never seen the ghost of any signs for a business no longer with us.
As I make my way closer to the archway, I can hear my steps resounding off the cobblestones and bricks. But the moment it comes into view, my feet freeze in place, as I behold a sight I’ve never seen before, nor ever expected to.
The wrought iron door is open.
A small, standing chalk board with bubble letters points the way up the stairs.
Come On In!! It reads in a multitude of colors. A big, steaming mug on a saucer sits beneath the words. My gaze darts between the sign and the now, brightly lit stairway.
No way, I think. I’d come this way just a couple days ago, and I heard nothing of any cafes or bakeries opening. I study the sign, looking for a name without success.
I glance up the stairs again, curious. I peek at my thin, skin-colored watch.
I’ve got time. And given the opportunity, there’s no way I’m not going up there to see.
I begin my climb, drawing closer to the top. The sound of distant music reaches my ear. I can’t quite place what kind of music it is, but it’s a mixture of music box twinkles and violin orchestra. It’s a strange combination, yet I find I like it.
I step onto a brick landing and turn right, coming to another, larger archway. Two huge doors stand open, and I gasp at what I see. Dark gray walls contrast with lighter, cement floors. Midnight blue chairs surround wooden tables of varying shapes and sizes, while golden globes dangle from a copper tile ceiling, giving off a soothing, buttery glow.
I immediately breath in the smell of coffee, cinnamon, chocolate, and a slight hint of dry herbs for tea. Along the left side of the café, a large, wooden counter stretches from halfway along the wall, to the perpendicular one. Above, copper framed menus display a variety of drinks, with surprisingly low prices.
I come to a stop before the barista’s counter, admiring the steaming kettles, pots, and percolators lining the wall behind it. One in particular catches my attention, the rose gold body and snout emitting steam and heat. I’m surprised by the lack of people, and when no one emerges from an open doorway to the right, I begin to wonder if I’m the only one at all.
“Hello?” I gently call, feeling a bit embarrassed. In situations like this, I can’t help feeling conscious. I don’t really know why.
The briefest of moments follows, carrying nothing but silence. And just when I begin to contemplate leaving, a young woman bursts up from behind the counter, startling me back several steps.
Her arms go wide, her voice exclaiming, “Welcome! Thank you for coming in today. How can I help you?”
Shock glues me to my place, my mouth robbed of use for several seconds. The girl, who appears around my age, stands expectantly, smiling with bright, blinking eyes.
I swallow. “Were you back there this entire time?”
“Ah.” She blushes with embarrassment. “Yes, actually.” She pats at the back of her alligator clipped, rose-gold hair. “I’m glad you said something. I didn’t hear you come in.” She leans her elbows on the counter. “You’re a really quiet walker.”
I’d heard that a lot growing up. “Yeah, apparently, I’m naturally light of foot.” I take in the café’s interior again. “I was actually just passing by on my way to the park. I saw the gated door open and got curious. Did you just open?”
She frowns. “No. I’ve been open for a quite a while now.”
The corners of my mouth droop with confusion. That’s impossible. “Really? I just passed here a couple of days ago, you weren’t here then.”
The barista taps her chin in contemplation. Eventually she shrugs. “Bad timing, I guess?”
Rather than ask what she means, I give up. Perhaps I passed by on an off day or something. I study the menus at her back, my eyes roving over all the options of drinks. “Any recommendations?”
“Hmmm.” She spins, looking at her white lettering. “What do you like? Coffee, tea, smoothies?”
Given how slow my day is moving, and how tired I feel as a result, coffee pulls at my taste buds more than anything else.
“Coffee,” I answer, which earns me a pleased grin.
“Do you prefer sweet, or unsweet?”
“Definitely sweet.” I quickly add, “But still tastes like coffee.”
Her fingernails drum against the countertop. “How about something basic?” She offers. “Do you like caramel macchiatos?”
“Love ‘em,” I respond.
“Good!” She gestures to a stool along the side of the counter. “Take a seat and I’ll have that right out.”
I slide onto a four-legged stool, watching as she sets to work, managing the machinery with seasoned speed. I feel weird sitting quietly as she works, so I decide to speak. “A bit quiet in here today. Do you usually have more people?”
She smiles over her shoulder. “It fluctuates. My place tends to speak to a specific group of individuals.”
I frown. “What do you mean?”
She pours the coffee and caramel mixture into a mustard, yellow mug. She tops it with whipped cream and more caramel, then gently places it in front of me. “I get a lot of different people in here,” she explains, “but eight out of ten times the ones who walk through those doors are Creatives.”
I lift the round mug by its handle, the delicious sweet and bitter smell making my mouth water. “Creatives?” I huff through my nose. “Like what? Artists? Actors? Videographers and photographers?” I take a sip of coffee and whip cream, jerking back. “Wow,” I exclaim. “That’s fantastic!” Caramel, cream, coffee all come together in perfect proportion, and I quickly come to the assumption it’s one of the best coffees I’ve ever had.
She grins, obviously pleased. “I’m glad you like it. And in answer to your question, I get all of those people, as well as web designers and a lot of writers.”
I lay my cup down. “Writers? Like journalists?”
She ponders, then nods. “Yes, but I get playwrights and authors too.”
My ears perk. Authors?!
“What kind of authors?”
A small, knowing smile perks her lips. “Have an interest in authors?”
I lift the cup to my lips again, hiding behind the cream. “Just curious.”
She leans against the counter. “You’re a writer, aren’t you?”
I take another delicious sip, setting the cup down on the countertop. “I dabble. I don’t know if I’d call myself a writer, though.” Not after considering how little of it I do. It felt wrong carrying that title.
She grins excitedly, her hand smacking the counter with triumph. “I knew it,” she shouts. “I know a writer when I see one! So, what do you do? Books? Blogs?”
I wave her questions away. “Neither, neither. I don’t write anything.” Though I desperately wish I did.
The barista frowns, “Why not?”
I tap my fingernails against the ceramic mug, uncertain how best to answer. “I don’t know. I just…don’t.”
A single brow rises in response. “But you want to.”
It’s not a question. I take another sip of my drink. “Well, yes. I do. I really, really do. But…” How do I explain this? Truth be told, I went to school for writing. I spent four years attending English courses, Creative Writing courses and everything in between. I thought I’d be writing books by now—two years after graduating—but I never got around to it. Instead, I immediately got a job and found myself so swept up in that—as well as leisure time after I clocked out—I never sat down and typed up any of the stories clambering inside my head.
Sometimes, when I think about how I’ve let my creativity fall to the wayside, I get so frustrated I want to pull my own hair out.
Suddenly, the barista claps her hands together, startling me back into reality. “How about this?” she offers, drumming her fingers together. “I say the moment you get home, pop open your laptop, computer, iPhone, notebook or whatever you have. Spend at least ten minutes writing something, could be ideas, character traits, world descriptions.” She shrugs. “Could even be your own thoughts and aspirations. Then, tomorrow do the same thing. And keep doing the same thing until you figure out just what it is you want.” She leans closer. “Sound like a plan?”
I contemplate the suggestion. Ten minutes? I can do that. Anyone can spare ten minutes for something, right? Finally, I nod. “Okay, I’ll give it a try.”
She perks. “Good. I can’t wait to see what you come up with.”
I open my mouth, ready to ask if she really wants to read what I might write, when my phone’s ringtone cuts me off. I glimpse the caller ID. I hold up my pointer finger. “One sec,” I whisper.
She waves me on, “Go ahead.” Then proceeds to wipe down the counter and wash the materials she used to make my drink.
I answer my phone. “Hello?”
“Hey,” Angie, my best friend says from the other line. “I’m almost at the restaurant, where are you?”
Surprised, I peek at the watch around my wrist. How had the hour passed so quick? “Umm,” I stand up from my stool, fumbling with my bag. “I’m headed there now. I stopped in at a café.”
Angie makes a sound of interest. “A café? Which one?”
I struggle to find words, realizing I didn’t know. “I’ll tell you when I see you.”
“Alright,” she acquiesces. “I’ll see you in a second.”
“See you soon.” We both hang up. “I gotta go,” I say, wrestling my wallet from my purse.
Upon seeing it, the Barista waves it away. “Eh, don’t worry about that. First drink is on the house.”
I pause, “You don’t want me to pay?”
She shakes her head. “Nope. Just bring the material you write up later. I want to see it.”
I crinkle my nose. “Are you sure?”
She grins. “Of course! Now go on, meet your friend.”
I hesitate, briefly wondering how she knew it was a friend I’d be meeting. I must have mentioned it or something. I place my wallet back in my bag. “Well, thank you. Have a good rest of the day.”
She flashes a knowing smile. “I’ll see you around.”
I hurry from the café, taking one last glance over my shoulder.
I manage to beat Angie to the restaurant, and we sit down for a light lunch. It’s always fun when we get together, the demands of work making it difficult for us to meet up as often as we’d like.
“Any other plans for today?” I ask as we exit the small, Italian restaurant.
She frowns, “I’ve got a few more hours left at the office, then I plan on doing absolutely nothing once I get home. What about you?”
I consider my options, the Barista’s words coming back to my head. “I say the moment you get home, pop open your laptop, computer, iPhone, notebook or whatever you have. Spend at least ten minutes writing something.”
“I think I’m going to write.”
My friend’s head snaps towards me so fast it makes me wince. Her eyes glow with excitement. “Really? What’re you going to write?”
I fight the urge to smile at her enthusiasm. Angie has always been a great support system for my goals. She’s known what I wanted to do for a long time. The fact I never truly started bothers her as much as it bothers me.
We stop at her car.
“I don’t know yet,” I finally answer. “But I’m going to see how it goes.”
“Well, be sure to keep me posted. And send anything you come up with. I want to read it.”
I wrinkle my nose again. “I don’t know.”
She pins me with a lecturing finger. “Send it,” she demands. “Or I’ll find you. I know where you live.”
That’s right, she does. “Okay, okay,” I relent. “I’ll send you whatever I’ve got that’s worth reading.”
Angie flashes a triumphant smile. “Perfect.” She unlocks her car and opens the driver side door. “Need me to drive you home?”
“Nah, I’ll walk. It’s not too far anyway.”
“Are you sure?”
I nod. “Yep. Go home.”
“I’ll see you later,” she says, giving me a hug.
I wave her off as she backs out and drives away. Once she’s gone, I begin my walk home.
I instinctively go the way I came, cutting through the park and walking towards the alley. My mind wanders as I go, thinking of what I might want to type up when I get home.
My steps immediately stop when I see the arched doorway.
I frown, drawing closer. The gated door is closed and locked, the stairway dark and empty. It’s only two, I note. Why would she be closed already?
Maybe she had something to do? A distant, internal voice says. And though it sounds reasonable enough, I can’t shake this odd feeling in the pit of my stomach.
I shake myself. Your mind is getting too active again. I push away from the gated door, stealing another glimpse as I walk.
The Barista’s knowing smile enters my head. “I’ll see you around.”
Yeah, I think back. See you around.