I lean back against my couch, stretching my arms and feeling a satisfying pull in my shoulders. My fingers are tired from all my typing, but it’s a good kind of gnawing. A gnawing of progression and productivity.
I am pursuing mental quiet.
Somehow, and I’m not quite sure how, but I’ve recently experienced an onslaught of flooding ideas. The exploration of my primary book project has somehow unlocked a hidden gate inside my head, releasing pent up creativity I never knew I had.
Nowadays the littlest thing, an interaction, an overheard conversation, even something as simple as an image causes a sudden eruption of inspiration. Characters pop up faster than I can keep up with, rushing forward and clambering against each other for my attention.
As a result, my book has been forced into the back, where I can barely see or hear it.
So, I’ve decided to do something new. I’m trying an experiment to see if I can dampen down the chatter.
I’m writing a short story.
It’s simple, nothing complicated or extravagant. It centers around another book idea currently at the forefront of my brain. I know for a fact it’ll develop, growing more complex as I figure it out. But I’m not going to worry about that right now.
I’ve dedicated time to it. Writing it, finishing it, then going back and reading it to myself. Minor corrections are made here and there, while other parts are flushed out for clarity.
I hit the menu button, clicking the option to Print. Then I listen as the printer obliges, spitting out page after page until it falls silent.
The papers are warm to the touch as I stack them properly, hitting the bottoms against my coffee table to line them up.
A quick staple at the corner, and they’re sealed together.
I stuff the papers into my bag, hauling it over my shoulder as I head for the door. There’s an invisible thread wrapped around my waist, pulling me from my apartment and onto the downtown streets.
It’s a cool Monday, the temperatures shifting down as fall draws closer. I breath in the crisp air as a subtle wind blows my hair from my face. Autumn is my favorite season. And I feel a hint of excitement at the prospect of its arrival.
My steps are unfaltering as I head for the archway across from Ron’s antique store. In the past, I’ve always wondered, never knowing if the café and its fun and quirky barista would be present from one week to the next.
Today, however, I know exactly what to expect. I cross beneath the archway, find the familiar chalk-board sign before the open, gated doorway. A pale pink mug sits beneath the multi-colored words of welcome.
Come On In!
Twinkling music mixes with violin strings as I climb the concrete steps, walking all the way up, through the café’s double doors, and stopping just inside the entrance.
No matter how many times I’ve seen it, no matter how many times I will see it, I can’t help but stop and admire the interior of the Character Café. It’s dark gray floors and light gray walls. It’s sapphire blue furniture and warm, buttery orbs of light.
The people there also bring about a strong sense of comfort. They’re people I’ve met a few times before, each providing a healthy dose of writing advice in a moment of need. Usually, when I walk from the doors to the barista’s counter, they sit still, quiet and engrossed in their work or their reading.
But this time is different.
As I pass, Ginette and Lucy look away from their computer screens, giving me a smile, a wave and a “Hello.”
Jan does the same thing, and so does Al. I return their smiles, and their gestures of greeting. Then turn my attention back to the counter as they return to their works. The miniature chalkboard insists I ring the bell for help.
Which I do.
The silvery sound echoes off the walls, and though I’ve heard it before, though, I find my eyes moving through the café, following the sound.
When I turn back to the counter, with its steaming kettles lining the back, I’m not at all shocked to find C.C. standing behind it, leaning her chin in her hand as she smiles at me.
Her sudden appearances no longer surprise me, though I still find them odd. I’ve come to expect them from her. Her rose gold hair sits in a messy bun at the top of her head. Loose strands frame her face, enhancing her high cheekbones.
She grins at me. “Well, hello there. It’s been too long.”
I nod and head for the stools along the side. “It sure has.”
“And I have been open the entire time,” she pointedly adds.
I chuckle. “I know.”
“So,” she perks. “What’ll it be today?”
I ponder a moment, then shrug. “Surprise me. You usually do.”
She grins at me again. Then, turns back to her cabinets, pulling things from up high and down low. One is a container of dried leaves, pink in color. The other is a half carton of milk, a rose-pink coffee mug, a glass tea pot, and a tin cup.
“So,” she says as she begins to work. “What brings you by today? After such a long time of being away?”
I lean against the counter, watching her movements, as she sprinkles pink tea leaves into the tea pot’s strainer, pouring boiling water from her copper kettle and leaving it to steep.
“I’ve tried something new, recently.” I answer, digging the stapled papers from my bag. I lay them on the countertop. “I’ve written a short story.”
She peeks over her shoulder, as she pours milk into the tin cup. A light of excitement enters her eyes. “Really? What about your book?”
“I’m still working on that too,” I say. “But other ideas have been developing too, and I’ve been struggling with it lately.”
She flips a lever, and the machine releases a loud wail as it steams the milk in the tin cup. “And that prompted you to write a short story?”
I nod. “I wanted to get some of the others down and see if that’ll quiet them a bit.”
She arches a brow, appearing intrigued by what I’m saying. “Did it work?”
“Actually, it did.” I slide the short story closer to her. “Would you mind reading it?”
She smirks. “Is that a question?”
C.C. turns back to the machine, turning it off. She pours the tea into the pink mug, then adds the steamed milk. She delicately sprinkles more pink leaves—or are those petals?–on top of the foam.
She slides the mug in front of me. “Why don’t you give this a try?”
I lift the mug from its saucer, a floral scent hitting my nose as I bring it to my lips. “Is that rose?”
She nods and prompts me. “Go on. Take a sip.”
I oblige her, tasting a hint of rose as the smooth, milky tea slides over my tastebuds. Just like the last time she gave me something floral to drink, my body immediately relaxes. “Delicious, as always. What is it?”
“A rose latte,” she answers. “It’s something new I’ve decided to try.” C.C. lifts the short story I’ve printed out, flashing a half-smile as her eyes quickly rove over the first page. “Looks like we’re both trying new things.”
The corners of my mouth pull into a grin. “Evidently.”
“Although, yours may prove to be more entertaining than mine,” she mumbles to herself.
“Oh, I don’t know,” I hum, bringing the mug back up towards my lips. “I find your drinks very entertaining, both to drink and to watch while you make them. It’s like sneaking a peek at a mad-scientist at work.”
A small chuckle escapes her throat as she flips through the pages of my story, appearing thoughtful. She returns to the first page. “Shall I ask what ingredients I can find in this new story?”
I tease her with a simple shrug. “You can, but I might not enlighten you of them.”
“Are you going to make me read it first, then guess?” She squints at me in a playful manner, leaning an elbow on the counter.
I take another sip of the latte, intentionally turning my gaze away and studying something else. I see her straighten in my periphery.
“Very well,” she says. “I accept your challenge.”
She grows silent as her eyes dive back to the pages. I wait patiently as she reads through my typed-up words. I feel a bit nervous, wondering if she’ll like what I’ve produced.
It only takes a few minutes, and in that time, I finish half of the drink she made for me.
The papers gently hit the countertop, and she peers at me with eyes I cannot read.
“Well?” I prompt, when she doesn’t say a word. “What do you think?”
She looks disappointed, and for a moment, I’m afraid she doesn’t like it. However, seeing my confused expression, she slowly smiles at me.
She’s messing with me. And I release a humored huff upon realizing it. “Okay, what does this mean? Did you like it or not? Be honest.”
I nod. “Honestly.”
C.C. folds the first page back, glancing down at the second page, then the third. “I….” She purses her lips, grins my way. “I love it. Its engaging, it encompasses enough information, but doesn’t give too much away.”
I release a sigh of relief. “Must you prank me?”
“Of course,” she answers, as though I’ve asked a ridiculous question. “Did you actually think I wouldn’t?”
“I don’t know,” I say with a shrug. “Everyone has their preferences with books and stories.”
“I think I’ve proven your work so far is my cup of,” she glances towards my empty mug. “Tea.”
“Did you honestly just make that joke?”
She shrugs, palms towards the ceiling, seeming perfectly proud of herself. “Did you expect anything less?”
I shake my head, smiling at her humor. “No, actually.”
She holds the papers up, peering down at the front page again. “I like it a lot. But why doesn’t it have a title?”
“You know I struggle with those.” I drop my chin into my hand, dejected by my constant battle with the ever-elusive book title. “I don’t know why I’m so bad at it.”
“Titles are meant to sum up some form of a story in a number of words. It’s supposed to be eye-catching but refrain from giving too much away.” C.C. says, taking my mug and turning towards a low sink behind the counter. “I can see where something like that would be difficult.”
“It’s like naming children,” I note, watching as she dunks the mug, saucer, and other utensils she used earlier into the soapy water. “It feels so final, once you choose one. Maybe that’s my problem.” I sigh, tapping my fingers on the counter. “I don’t want to choose the wrong one, so I overthink it.”
She nods, as she works, wiping the dishes and utensils. “Sounds pretty reasonable.” She peeks my way. “What’s your solution then?”
I shake my head. “I don’t know. What do you think I should do?”
C.C. sets everything she’s cleaned onto a towel she’s lain on the countertop. She dries her hands as she paces back my way. “Hmmm, it’s difficult to say really. Naming books and naming drinks are a bit different.”
I huff at her words. “No kidding.”
“But,” she quickly adds. “They’re not all that different. You could go for the obvious aspects of your story, throwing them into a title, like the drink you just had. It’s rose tea, made in a latte style. So, its simple name is rose latte. Then again,” she counters. “You could go for something a bit more complicated. For example, alcoholic cocktails often have names indirectly pointing at the ingredients, or based off their appearance, such as a Cosmo, or Grateful Dead.”
“Are you a bartender now?”
“Oh, goodness no.” She responds, waving her hands. “Nor do I drink. It’s just an example.”
“It’s a pretty good example.” I shake my head. “Titles, like character names, are incredibly important. They’re supposed to catch your attention, or make you think.” I knock my knuckles on the countertop, a random question popping into my head. “Hey, C.C?”
“What does C.C. stand for?”
She pauses, her brows rising with evident surprise. “What?”
I know she heard me. “What does C.C. stand for? What’s your real name?”
Her head cocks to the side, regarding me with something I can only describe as intrigue.
“What?” I ask, confused by this strange reaction.
“You’re the first person that’s asked that.”
I frown. “Really? No one’s asked you for your full name before?” The idea strikes me as weird. I glance at the others in the room, wondering why none of them ever inquired.
When I turn back, she’s leaning against the counter next to the rose gold bell and its tiny chalkboard. “You really want to know?”
A strange tingling runs through my body. “Would I ask if I didn’t?” For some reason, I move to my feet, unable to keep still with this strange restlessness under my skin. I move towards the front of the counter, my bag in hand.
I stop before the bell, right across the counter from her.
Her lips rise into a pleased smile. “Are you sure?”
What was this? Why the mystery?
“Am I allowed to know?”
She chuckles at my words as though they’re funny. Which….they weren’t meant to be.
C.C. locks eyes with me, a strange gleam entering them. One I can’t quite describe. In my periphery, I see her raise a hand, her finger tapping the bell’s button, sending a silvery sound reverberating off the walls. It echoes inside my ears almost making me cringe.
She hits it again with the same effect.
“Are you going to tell me or not?”
She grins. “I just did.”
I shake my head, the sound sneaking through my brain pulling my attention away from the counter, just long enough for me to turn around….and find her gone.
“I just did.”
What did she mean? My eyes travel down to the bell, the ghost of its silvery sound ringing in my ears. The act she’d just performed reminded me of a moment in the past. A moment when I asked for the name of something else.
I grab the bell, bringing it up so the café lights reflect off the title etched into the bottom.
The Character Café.
No, I think. No, she can’t mean…..
Yet, my brain can’t deny it as it sits right in front of me.
The Character Café.
I slam the bell back onto the counter, startled and confused.
What……does this mean?
Startled, confused, I grab my bag, rushing for the door. I peer at the other customers as I go, none of them look up at me as I pass, all so absorbed in their own worlds. Any other day it would seem fine, but my brain is rushing a hundred miles an hour.
I hurry down the stairs, bypassing the chalkboard sign outside.
Come Again Soon!
I reach the archway, fully intending to hurry all the way home.
My feet freeze in place at the familiar sound. Slowly, ever so slowly, I turn back towards the café, finding the gated door locked, and the chalkboard sign gone.
I’d seen it happen before. Somehow, I’d grown used to it. Now it stands out to me more than in the past. And I waste no time half walking, half running back to my apartment.
I slam my door shut, tossing my purse onto the couch. I pace back and forth, my hands tangling in my hair.
My short story, I realize. I’d left my short story.
Was it possible? What C.C. had all but revealed to me?
It can’t be, my inner voice reasons. Things like that exist only in movies or…..
My legs carry me to my small kitchen, where I pour myself a glass of water. I can still taste the rose latte on my tongue.
I didn’t leave a tip.
The realization slams into me. Of all the things, this is what I land on. It’s not a funny thought, but a small bubble bursts in my chest, making me chuckle, then making me laugh. I plop down onto my couch, tears of mirth forming in my eyes as I lose myself in this strange, weird moment.
I set my glass on my coffee table, afraid I’ll drop it. When the laughter fades, I fall back against the cushions, releasing a heavy sigh.
As I stare up at my ceiling, my mind wanders back the way I came, to the people I’ve met, to the café and its welcoming atmosphere, then to the barista behind the counter, and her mad-scientist kettles steaming at her back.
In my head, she leans against the counter, flashing that friendly smile. With a small wave, her mouth forms familiar words.
“Come again soon.”