Ready for something totally different from me? This is a short story I wrote for my last creative writing class. It had to follow a “scaffold” of another story, but made my own. In other words, the flow of events had to be the same but the events themselves entirely different. No horror here–at least, I don’t think so. Hope you enjoy!
Getting his morning coffee from Starbucks was the highlight of Greg’s day. If anyone knew it was Greg’s only social interaction, they might label him as a shut-in. Socially inept. There were plenty of words to describe it, none of which he liked.
Which was one of the reasons why he never sought psychiatric help for his condition. He could diagnose himself; he didn’t need someone to tell him what he already knew. Besides, they’d put him on a handful of drugs and send him on his way.
The daily Starbucks routine felt good to him. Normal. At exactly 7:30am he woke up and did his morning drill of making the bed, showering, and eating breakfast. At 8:35am he began his walk to Starbucks.
Greg didn’t go to the nearest Starbucks as they consistently got his drink order wrong. It drove him insane and despite many conversations with the manager, it was never resolved. The other location on 8th was another six minutes on his walk, but it was worth it.
On an early September day that smelled and tasted like fall was arriving, he began his walk to the 8th street Starbucks. The frosted grass crunched underfoot as he cut across the lawn of a bookshop. As he entered the coffee shop, about four minutes earlier than normal, its warmth engulfed him. The rich scent of roasted coffee beans soothed him. There weren’t too many people in line either, surprising for the time of day. Even the drive-thru appeared to be empty.
Greg stood in line, taking in bits of detail around him. He was a writer, after all, and any cataloging of details was good for his novels. The only problem was that he didn’t leave home often, if at all, so gathering details was difficult. The same Starbucks only yielded so many new things a day.
A rugged looking gentleman ordered a large coffee. The barista bristled at the word ‘large’, asking if he meant grande or venti. The usual band of trendy young people were already nestled in oversized sofas and chairs typing away on their laptops.
“Could I get a triple grande, half-caf, upside down soy caramel macchiato, extra hot, with a half pump of vanilla and no extra drizzle on top?”
Greg gasped. Was this a joke?
At the head of the line a young woman ordered his exact drink, with all 7 modifiers, in the precise order he did each morning. He’d never seen her before. In fact, as she paid the outrageous cost of the drink and turned, he paid close attention to her features to be positive he hadn’t. Shiny auburn hair, porcelain skin. She was well dressed in a simple charcoal business skirt suit with emerald green pumps. Much more sophisticated than the usual crowd at the 8th street Starbucks.
“Greg? Hey, Greg?”
He snapped out of it, having been zoned out while the two people ahead of him already ordered and stepped aside to wait. His Monday/Wednesday/Friday barista grinned and leaned forward as he approached.
“Do you know that lady?”
Greg shook his head, still in disbelief himself.
“Well, in all my six years working here, I’ve never heard someone order that drink besides you. Maybe you’re soul mates? That’ll be $8.64, we’ll bring it to you.”
He paid her and wandered to his spot by the window. The girl tapped on her smart phone, glancing up occasionally to check for her drink.
Soul mates. What a joke. And yet…
Greg didn’t speak to people. No small talk, no pleasantries. He had no friends. Speaking to people was a huge risk. What if they didn’t like him? What if he said something stupid? But he found himself wondering what it would be like to speak to her. Mentioning their same drink would be the perfect lead-in. It was almost as though they’d already spoken. A drink like that was a sign she was someone worth talking to.
Greg made a note to always come five minutes earlier, in time to catch her ordering her drink. He needed to make sure it was legitimate, that it was her every day drink, and it wasn’t just some freak cosmic accident. From there it was a matter of building up courage until he had enough to talk to her. If they had that much in common, who knew what else they’d have in common, too!
A thousand thoughts swam through Greg’s mind as his barista set down his drink. The pretty woman had long since left, but the memory of her was still vivid.
He hadn’t seen Amelia in four days. On the first, he waited. On the second, he came early and stayed later. On the next two, he came much earlier and stayed much later but she hadn’t shown.
Did she catch on to him? Did another barista mention something to her? What could’ve happened? Every day for a week he walked in the door at 8:35am just in time to see her order. He’d learned her name by carefully watching the drink bar for her white cup with her name written on it. Then, poof, she was gone.
To add to the already soured day, there was a new barista working. Greg approached the counter, already knowing she’d write at least one part of his drink wrong.
“Could I get a triple grande, half-caf, upside down….yes, that is half-caf…soy caramel macchiato, extra hot…with a half pump of vanilla and no extra drizzle on top?”
He said it slowly so she had time to write it all down. She’d skipped upside down, but he corrected her, paid, and stepped aside to wait. His usual barista would bring it to him, but this one wouldn’t make the special effort.
“That’s so crazy, I order that exact same drink!”
She was speaking to him. Greg’s mouth became dry in an instant. He turned to see Amelia standing behind him. Everything he’d dreamed of saying to her since the obsession began slipped his mind. All he could manage was a chuckle and nod. Then, “It’s the best, isn’t it?”
Amelia nodded. Her phone buzzed and she withdrew it immediately. “Yeah, they give you a hard time about it but it’s worth the stares.”
The new barista called out the drink. Obviously it was Greg’s since he ordered his first, but he had a better idea. “You take it. It looks like you’re in a rush and you know how long it takes them to make it.”
Greg had to admit, it was smooth. And it worked. Amelia giggled and took the drink. “Thanks…” she looked at the side of the cup. “Greg. I’ll see you around.”
“You too,” he managed to say before she clicked away on her shiny heels.
Later at home Greg replayed their conversation until his head ached. It was like something from a movie. He was charming, she was charming. It was everything he’d hoped for their first conversation. He was proud of himself.
Therapist, he thought. I’m doing great! A regular socialite.
But despite his new bout of confidence, his nerves were rattled. It was too much interaction for the day. He tried settling down by writing, but he was restless. Hours passed and he’d only written a few pages. Around seven he made a pot of chamomile tea and settled in for the night to watch his shows.
His mind was on Amelia. When he spoke to her again, he would ask her out to lunch. No, dinner. They had a connection and he was sure she’d accept. After how well their encounter went that morning, there was no was she’d say no.
He was optimistic.
In remembering the events he realized she’d been eying him very flirtatiously. She must have noticed him before and had been waiting for the right moment to speak to him just as he had been with her.
Greg poured another cup of tea, smiling to himself as he imagined their next encounter.
No matter how many times he tried, he couldn’t ask. Greg had many opportunities. They exchanged the same small talk every time he managed to see her. A joke about their shared drink. Sometimes Greg let her take his drink and vice versa. It meant Greg would cut his time at Starbucks short, but it was worth it to have the moment with her.
Yet every time he thought to ask her out, his palms sweat and the words left him. Maybe he did have social anxiety that was proving to be his biggest obstacle on the quest for love.
An obstacle, but one that could easily be overcome. If he couldn’t do it on his own, he needed help.
Greg broke his routine one morning to attend an appointment with a psychiatrist. The doctor was quick to diagnose him. As Greg predicted, the doctor diagnosed him with social anxiety and gave him a few medications to try.
“This is to stabilize you on a day to day basis,” he said as he scribbled on a prescription pad and tore it off. “This is for instances where you know you’ll be in a high stress, high anxiety situation. Take it ahead of time and it should smooth you out.”
He just needed that one—Xanax—to get him through asking Amelia out. His sister often took a Xanax before Christmas and Thanksgiving dinner to help her handle their parents. It seemed like the right drug to loosen him up, too.
“Hey, Amelia,” Greg said as they approached the Starbucks door at the same time. He could tell the Xanex was working. It gave him a sense of lightness he didn’t usually have. “Good morning.”
“Good morning,” she returned. Her auburn hair was in a long braid down her back, resting against her usual charcoal suit. “It’s getting cold out lately, isn’t it?”
He nodded. It had been two months since he first saw her and they were nearing the end of fall. He pictured the romantic winter dates they could have ice skating and seeing Christmas lights.
“Do you want to go out to dinner some time?”
Part of Greg wanted to run out and never come back. This was his worst fear. The anticipation of rejection, the tightness in his lungs.
“Sure,” she said. “I’d like that. Meet me at Black Bottle at maybe, seven on Friday?”
And this was his dream come true. A date with Amelia, the girl who ordered his same drink, finally happening. “Sounds good.”
They ordered their drinks and parted ways. She left him with her number. Greg didn’t think he could be any happier.
Amelia drank a lot, more than Greg would’ve considered appropriate for a first date. She was on her fourth glass of wine. Her words slurred occasionally, eyes sparkling and a bit distant.
Their conversations at Starbucks were so short, they never had time to get into anything serious. But now, an hour and a half in, they were running out of things to talk about.
Amelia was a receptionist at an expensive spa. She had no plans to finish her communications degree she started years ago and her biggest aspiration was to get on a reality TV show. Everything about her was painfully superficial.
One question—what was I thinking?—ran through Greg’s Xanax-spotted mind the entire evening. She seemed like so much more to him when he first laid eyes on her. So beautiful, so vibrant.
He’d always thought their drink order was quirky. Cute. In reconsidering, it was obnoxious. Unnecessary. And he’d based some irrational desire for her on that alone!
“Greg, you have the check, right?”
He refocused and saw her pointing at the check. She returned to her phone, tap-tapping away.
This is what he needed. A reality check. He thought of the stabilizers the doctor gave him at home. Of his drink order, cultivated over years of visiting Starbucks at the same time every day for years.
He glanced at the flushed, uninteresting Amelia in front of him.
This wasn’t the life he wanted to live. Not anymore.
“The usual, Greg?”
The barista took the grande cup in her hand. Just before the sharpie landed, Greg stopped her.
“I’ll have a tall peppermint mocha today,” he said. “To go.”