The Order of the Sacred Jade

This post is a response to April 2018’s mid-month short story challenge. Click on the link in the previous sentence to read the prompt, share your story, and read those written by others.


Matthew and I joked about it regularly throughout middle and high school. The sacred jade pendant and all of its mystical powers. It was silly, childish stupidity where we attempted to mock the absurdity of religion without actually being good at doing so in a nuanced manner. Matthew’s grandmother had given him this necklace with a triangular jade pendant hanging from a black rope. He wore it somewhat regularly, particularly during track season where it served as his good luck charm before races. It was a cool piece of jewelry, as well as the start of a great joke, but that was the extent of my attachment to it.

While I was in Manila for a work trip last fall, I visited one of the large local markets near my hotel. In one of my previous trips to the Philippines, I had purchased two pairs of knock-off Converse high tops, one in the iconic black and white and the other in a forest green and construction orange combination that further served to show these weren’t the real deal. I went back to the same market, hoping to find an equally absurd pair of shoes. Instead of the shoes, I walked away with a jade necklace — its pendant shaped in an acute scalene triangle similar to the one Matthew had owned — and a tin toy jeepney for my daughter.

I’ve been back in the states for six months now, frequenting my usual brunch spot on the weekends and driving my daughter, Valerie, to her hockey games on weeknights. Valerie typically joined me for my Saturday morning visits to the cafe, though my parents had her for the weekend. A little time with grandma and grandpa always provided me with a welcome mental reprieve from the job of being a single father. The downside was that I had to spend the next two weeks dealing with the after effects of Valerie’s exposure to my mother’s smoking and my father’s inability to filter out his cursing when around a nine-year-old.

I stared out the window into the foggy Ohio morning. It seemed like every September morning was filled with a fog so thick that machetes struggled to dent it, only for the clouds to burn off by nine or ten in the morning. Today was one of the few days where the mist persisted as the afternoon neared. Though I was parked right outside of the window, my car’s headlights taunted me through the fog, laughing at me for venturing out in this mess.

Behind me, I heard the front door of the cafe open. A tall, raven haired woman walked through the door and directly to the register, her outfit from head-to-toe doing its best to match her midnight locks. Though her smooth, straight hair flowed down to her shoulders, it was held back by a black headband with tiny silver accents. The chill in the air necessitated her donning a black fabric trench coat which ended just below her knees. Her long coat blended into her black stockings, which themselves transitioned naturally into her black, thick-heeled shoes. Her attire was so monochromatic that I wouldn’t have paid such close attention to it were it not for one lone pop of color that caught my eye.

A triangular jade pendant hanging from her neck.

It had to be a weird coincidence. She’s just a woman who really like jade. And why wouldn’t she? Jade is quite the beautiful mineral, be it on its own or inset into something else. She was a woman good taste and nothing more.

“Excuse me?”

I broke my trance-like stare into the distance, only to realize the woman had left the cashier and was now standing just a few feet in front of me.

“Excuse me?” she repeated. She was staring intently at my own jade pendant. “Is this a safe place to talk?”

“I…what?” I stammered.

“Is this a safe place to talk?”

“I’d imagine so. I’ve come here most every Saturday for ten years and haven’t been yelled at once for having a conversation.”

The woman leaned in closer to me.

“I don’t mean to chat,” she whispered. “Can they hear us?”

“Who hear us?” I said at a normal volume. She slapped my leg.

“Keep your voice down if it isn’t safe. Come to my car with me. It’s safe there.”

“I don’t even know who you are.”

“I’ll explain there. Just trust me.”

“Can I bring my bagel and coffee?” I asked.

“I don’t care what you do as long as you come on,” she said.

We walked out of the cafe into the dissipating fog. She pointed to a blue sedan with darkly tinted windows. With a push of a button on her key chain, the doors sprang open. She motioned for me to get in the passenger’s side. I did, shutting the door behind me. I didn’t feel great about getting in the car with a strange woman, but I didn’t see a better alternative without causing a scene.

“Now that we’re in the car, will you tell me what’s going on?” I implored. “And who you are for that matter.”

“Communications jammers are still booting up,” she said. “You can call me Keri.”

“Okay, Keri. Why am I here?”

“Eat your bagel and wait ten seconds, would you?”

I obediently took a bite out of my bagel, trying hard not to get crumbs on her seats. Keri grabbed my coffee from between my knees and placed it in the cupholder between our seats, just in front of her own cup.

“Clear,” she said. “What is your name?”

“Yancey,” I replied.

“Not your public name. Your cloak name.”

“My what now?”

“The jade,” Keri said, pointing to my pendant. “Your pendant signifies you’re an elder of the Sacred Jade.”

I began laughing hysterically, nearly dropping my bagel in the process. Keri, clearly trying her hardest not to slap me, gave me a half smile while I composed myself.

“Oh…oh god,” I said, wiping tears away from the corners of my eyes. “That’s something I haven’t heard in a long time. How is Matthew?”

“Who?”

“Matthew Henson. He clearly put you up to this to fuck with me. Classic Matthew.”

“I don’t…”

“How has he been? I haven’t heard from him in years! Are you his wife?”

“Yancey!” Keri shouted, visibly growing impatient with me. “Are you an elder of the Sacred Jade or not?”

“Considering how serious you’re taking this, I’m going to guess I’m not.”

“Fuck.”

Keri started the car and began pulling out of her parking space. Very quickly.

“Hold up. Where are we going?” I asked.

“I went to the wrong fucking cafe!” she screamed. “Again! This can’t be happening again.”

“What’s going on?”

“My name is Li-an Ke’ri Balmi. Guru and protector of the Order of the Sacred Jade. And you’re clearly not Elder Rathsuman.”

“Now that we’ve sorted that out, can I go?” I wondered aloud, hoping Keri would let me out before she pulled too far away from the cafe.

“No time,” she said. “The Agate Templar is coming after him.”

“The who?”

“Do you know how to use a gun?”

“What?”

“A gun. Bang bang you’re dead. Rooty tooty point and shooty.”

“No!” I yelled. “Why would I know that?”

“Doesn’t matter,” she replied. “You’re going to get a crash course in about six minutes if our timing is bad.”

Keri pointed to the dashboard in front of me.

“Open the glovebox and hit the blue button.”

I followed her instructions, causing a panel to rise out of the dashboard, producing a pair of handguns.

“Keep them on your person at all times,” said Keri. “And pray to the Sacred Jade you don’t need them.”

“Who is the Agate Templar? Why am I here? What is the Sacred Jade?”

“You ask a lot of questions for someone who got into the car with a strange woman after asking so few questions.”

She wasn’t wrong.

“Crash course me then,” I said. “What do I need to know to not die in a few minutes?”

“The Order of the Sacred Jade is an organization committed to the protection of the world’s greatest scientists and scholars. All of the scientific advancement that has been made in the past two millennia has been made thanks largely to our protection of the brightest minds in the world. Our elders help identify the minds that are considered to be lynchpins to society. From there, we protect them from whoever may come after them. Governments and corporations are more likely attackers in modern times, but they’re relatively easy to deal with. The Agate Templar is a rival group who thinks their science is better than our science. They’re much less fun to come across.”

Keri pulled her emergency brake and turned abruptly into a parking lot, leaving her car parallel to the building she parked near. She opened her door and motioned to a man inside wearing a similarly shaped jade necklace. Just as the man opened the door, gunfire rang out.

“Automatic protection mode engaged!” the car said through its speakers. The driver’s door slammed shut, the windshield blackened, and a fine pink mist began to fill the car. I clawed at the door handle, trying my hardest to open it, only to find the door locked. I began to feel dizzy and the seat became infinitely more comfortable.

I woke up and found myself leaned up against the wall in a chair back in the original cafe I had been sitting in earlier that morning. I looked around, baffled how I had gotten back there. I yelled at the cashier to get her attention.

“Maddie. When did I get back here?” I asked.

“What?” she said.

“How long wasn’t I here for?”

Maddie walked out from behind the counter and came closer to me.

“Are you feeling alright, Yancey?” she inquired.

“Yes?”

“You’ve been here all morning.”

“No I haven’t,” I insisted.

“Yes. You have. You dozed off about twenty minutes ago and have been leaning against that wall ever since.”

I stared at Maddie, confused why she was telling me all of this. I was in a shootout earlier. Or at the very least shootout-adjacent. There had to be some evidence I could show her to prove my point.

“You haven’t even touched your bagel,” Maddie continued. “It’s probably cold now. The butter won’t melt on it.”

I looked at the bagel on the plate beside me. It was still whole, albeit it cut into two halves, its open parts staring back at me. I know what I had seen.

“Was there a woman in here earlier by the name of Keri?” I asked. “Tall, slender, wore all black?”

“There was.”

I knew it! I hadn’t been making it up.

“Did you know her from somewhere?” Maddie questioned. “I didn’t call out her name when brought her pastry to her.”

“What about her coffee?”

“She didn’t get anything to drink.”

This wasn’t making any sense. I touched at my neck, comforted to find the jade necklace was still there, the pendant hidden beneath my shirt.

“I think I need some air,” I said.

“When you come back in, I’ll make you a fresh bagel and get you some orange juice,” Maddie replied. “It’s on me.”

“Thanks.”

I walked outside into the foggy September morning. The parking space where Keri’s car had been was empty, with no sign of a burnout anywhere near the spot. My own car was in the same place it had been since I got to the cafe, the low-hanging clouds slowly condensating on my windshield and windows. As I watched the fog hang in the sky, I felt a hand tap me on the shoulder.

“Glad you made it out of there alive.”

I turned around to find Keri, this time dressed in a police uniform, standing behind me.

“What? Where did you come from?”

“We’ve got to get you into protection, Yancey,” Keri stated. “You’re a more valuable asset than you realize. Go back in and get your food. I had Gail make you a few meals for the road. We’ve got a long drive ahead of us.”

“Who’s Gail?” I asked.

“Gail. Taryn. Maddie. Tashia. Whatever she goes by in this town. It’s hard to keep track of when she’s been moved so many times.”

“Where’s my daughter?”

“On the way to the safe house too,” Keri replied. “We’ll rendezvous with my partner there. She’ll make sure you and your daughter are safe while we arrange safe transport to your next location.”

“I thought the Order of the Sacred Jade only protected scientists and scholars,” I said. “I’m a low-level supervisor at a data analysis company.”

“You’re the Agate Templar’s next target,” answered Keri, “but it’s not because of you. It’s because your daughter has the mind that could save the world. Or end it.”

“Valerie does?”

“Yes. Now go grab your food and let’s go. I only bought us so much time earlier today.”


Featured image used under a Creative Commons License. Image by Maureen Didde.

The Isle Charon

This post is a response to March 2018’s mid-month short story challenge. Click on the link in the previous sentence to read the prompt, share your story, and read those written by others.


After the darkness ended, I was greeted by a light. It wasn’t the kind of light I was expecting, as this pale chartreuse aura did not match the splendor of the spring sunlight I had woken up to yesterday morning. I remember groggily climbing into my car, turning up the heat to defog my windshield, pulling out of my drive way, and getting on the highway. From that moment until now, all I have is darkness.

Beneath my feet, the ground moved slowly and purposefully. Silver and gold handrails adorned either side of my path. I couldn’t see the ground itself, as the yellow-green aura kept me from seeing beneath my knees. But I felt it moving steadily forward. I couldn’t turn back.

Through the misty surroundings, a small island began to appear. Atop the island sat a large gazebo made from cherry wood. The gazebo was flanked by six dogwood trees, one for each of the structure’s six sides. The flowers of the trees were in full bloom, with the occasional petal falling to the ground below. The closer I got to the island, the more the aura faded away, allowing me to see that the ground was nothing more than a transparent walkway carrying me above a pristine lake. Beneath the walkway, dozens of fish swam happily along, darting to and fro within their schools.

When I was a few feet from the island, two women in simple silk robes exited the gazebo and began walking toward the edge of the land. The first woman was tall, lanky, and pale, with her flaxen hair tied up in a tight bun atop her head. She wore an indigo robe, while her counterpart wore a bright yellow one. The second woman also appeared to be taller than me, though shorter than the first woman. Her skin was much darker, with her own ebony locks also tightly and carefully positioned against the top of her head. As the walkway deposited me on the island, the woman in the yellow robe spoke to me.

“Welcome to the Isle Charon,” she began. “Do you know why you’re here?”

“No, I don’t,” I replied.

“Your name is David Jennett,” continued the woman in the yellow robe. “You were involved in an automobile accident. You fell asleep at the wheel and careened off of a bridge into a gorge below. You died instantly.”

“And who are you?” I asked.

“We’re known by many names,” said the woman in the yellow robe. “I am Elu, the keeper of what humans consider life. This is my sister, Eterna, the keeper of what humans consider afterlife.”

“What do you mean, consider life and afterlife?” I questioned.

“To Elu and I, life is one continuous line,” replied Eterna. “Humans see life and the afterlife as two separate things because your consciousness can’t handle the experience of death that occurs between the two.”

“I see.”

“We are the guardians of this passage,” continued Eterna. “We are responsible for the existence you experienced before arriving here, as well as that which you’re about to undergo after leaving Isle Charon. All experiences on Earth, be they good, bad, or indifferent, are through Elu’s creation. I am the creator of all things in the world to which you’ll be venturing after this visit. All experience in the afterworld, be they good, bad, or indifferent, are through my creation.”

“I’m sure you have many questions of us,” interjected Elu.

“So many. So very many.”

Elu chuckled to herself.

“Humans always do,” she stated. “There’ll be someone in the world created by Eterna that will help you adjust to your new life. I assure you that most of your questions will be answered there.”

“So what is this place then?” I asked.

“The Isle Charon is where every recently deceased soul comes to handle the complexities of their unfinished business,” replied Eterna. “For some people, they never got to say goodbye to their family. For others, there’s a feeling of not having accomplished everything you could have while on Earth. Elu and I will help you work through those feelings so that you can be at peace once you leave here.”

I stood there staring at Elu and Eterna, combing through every place in my brain I imagined unfinished business to be stored. Nothing. Not just unfinished business, but no memories. The mental block I’d hit was overwhelming. I could feel that I was me. Beyond that, there was just emptiness.

“What were those pieces of unfinished business I had on Earth?” I asked.

“Let’s have a seat and talk you through them,” said Elu.

“Coffee? Tea? Cocoa?” asked Eterna.

“Those things exist after death?” I inquired.

“Just because you’re dead doesn’t mean you have to suffer through not having coffee,” replied Eterna.

“Coffee sounds nice,” I answered. I wonder what happened to the coffee I’d brought with me in my car. It probably exploded all over my windshield during the crash.

Eterna walked over to a cabinet on the far size of the gazebo. She reached opened the door and reached inside, producing a piping hot mug of coffee. She walked back over and sat it back down in front of me. Despite me giving no question nor command, Elu answered the question that was on my mind.

“Don’t think about it too hard,” she said. “The rules of this world don’t work the same as yours. We keep our coffee out of sight, be beyond that, we can get it whenever we want.”

“Huh,” I said, still surprised that a wooden door held steaming coffee behind it.

“You’re an uncommon one, David,” Eterna stated. “When many people come to the Isle Charon, we talk with them about their family and friends. Sometimes there’s a moment of disappointment of not achieving fulfillment with someone’s career.”

“We even had a gentleman the other day that just needed to see his rare ornamental bulbous plants bloom,” interrupted Elu.

“But your mental block that’s keeping you from moving into the afterworld is not what you had in life. It’s what you didn’t have.”

“I don’t follow,” I said.

“Let me give you an example,” stated Elu. “A few months ago, your girlfriend moved in with you. Things by and large were going fairly well for you, but you two fight a lot. When you fight at night, what do you go to sleep thinking about?”

“How much I wish we hadn’t fought?” I questioned.

“More specific than that.”

“How I wouldn’t be fighting if I was with someone else.”

“Exactly,” answered Eterna.

“Here’s the thing, David,” continued Elu. “It’s not true. No matter who you would have been with, you would have fought with them.”

“But what about that soulmate that’s out there for everyone?” I asked. “That one person that changes your world and makes love perfect.”

Elu sighed heavily.

“We both hate that concept,” Eterna replied. “It’s flawed in so many ways, not the least of which is that the idea that a perfect love exists without any frustration or anger is unrealistic.”

“Let’s try this,” said Elu. “Your relationship with your girlfriend, Arryn, is one that grew out of a friendship, right?”

“Yes,” I responded.

“Alright,” Elu continued, “now of all of the women you ever wanted to be with — regardless of whether you dated them or not — who was the most perfect person for you in your mind?”

Without skipping a beat, I blurted out the name of the only woman I never failed to fumble over my words in front of.

“Julie Soria,” I replied. “We were friends in college. She’s pretty much the only reason I stuck with my history minor.’

“And what made her so perfect in your mind?” Elu inquired.

“She was kind and caring. She had this very open mind, to the point where she took being humbled when she was wrong as a learning experience. Julie had these gorgeous green eyes that she always wore blue contacts over, making it look like she had either cyan or teal irises, depending on how the light hit them. And she always had the most wonderful smelling something for her hair. No idea if it was shampoo or what, but it made her lovely red hair that much better.”

“And why didn’t you guys date?” Eterna asked.

“We hung out here and there, even alone at times,” I replied. “She always invited me to church, but I never saw the appeal. After a while, she just stopped talking to me.”

“That church she went to was a cult,” Elu said. “Forty-six people, including Julie, killed themselves as part of a ‘religious experience’ or something.” Elu make giant air quotes as she said religious experience. “Had you gone with her to that church more than a couple of times, the two of you would have dated, but it would have ended with you bring brainwashed and being another death.”

“Holy fuck!” I exclaimed. “How do you know that?”

“This is literally what we do,” answered Eterna. “We know all, we see all, we help people move on from every possible permutation of their lives.”

“Okay,” I responded, “but what if I would have stayed with my high school girlfriend?”

“You two would have divorced six months into your marriage and you would have committed suicide,” replied Elu dryly.

“Do I always die young?” I asked.

“You always arrive in the afterworld young, regardless of the choices you made on Earth,” said Eterna. “But I promise it’s better there.”

“How do you know?” I shouted. “You’re not even there.”

“Because we created both worlds,” answered Eterna.

“And what if I don’t want to go there?” I asked.

“That’s not a choice you have,” answered Elu. “You have notahtame haeave to go farem.”

“What”?” I asked.

“I said it’s noth yarr cohiecth. Yoafa have moatame haeave feam.”

The chartreuse mist was beginning to engulf the gazebo and everything in my sight. Eterna and Elu faded into the distance, but I could still hear Elu talking to me, though I couldn’t understand what she said. As the mist grew stronger, I felt a searing pain in my legs, along with a massive headache forming around my eyes. The mist shifted into darkness, leaving me with nothing but pain and the echos of Elu and Eterna’s voices.

I woke up atop a hospital bed in a dimly lit room. I looked around, slowly moving my head as the painful headache was still there. It took me much longer to scan my surroundings than normal, but I found that I was alone. Outside my room, I could see a coffee cart. From my angle, I could see the elbow of the person behind the cart, but not much else.

“Hey!” I yelled, my voice straining as I did so. “Can you hear me?”

The merchant from the coffee cart peeked into my room and smiled at me.

“I don’t think you can have any coffee, man” he said. “I can flag down a nurse for you.”

“Nah, I’m good,” I replied. “Have I been here long?”

“At least since I got here Tuesday morning. It’s Friday now.”

“Shit. Any chance I can use your phone?”

The coffee cart man walked over and handed me his phone.

“Just don’t take more than a half hour,” he said. “I’ve got to head upstairs at 6:30.”

The coffee cart man unlocked his phone and left the room. I opened the keypad on his phone, only to realize I didn’t know Arryn’s number. It was always in my phone, so I never had to memorize it. I dialed the only number I could remember — my dad’s work phone. It rang multiple times before the voicemail picked up.

“Hey dad,” I said. “It’s me. I think I got in a car wreck. I’m at…where am I?”

“Cedar North Hospital,” the coffee cart man shouted.

“Cedar North Hospital apparently. When you and mom can, come see me. And if you could call Arryn and tell her…I don’t know where my phone is. I love you. Bye.”

I sat the coffee cart man’s phone down on my chest and closed my eyes. All I wanted was to go back to sleep. As I began to drift off, I could see the chartreuse mist in the distance, beckoning back to the Isle Charon. I didn’t want to go back, even though I knew I’d see Elu and Eterna again eventually. With any luck, I’d wake up to see my parents or Arryn, even if it was only for a few minutes before I had to go back to the island.

Time Crunch

This post is a response to February 2018’s mid-month short story challenge. Click on the link in the previous sentence to read the prompt, share your story, and read those written by others.


Shit, shit, shit. I’m going to miss my plane. Why do they have to put the gates so far apart? I only have a half hour to make it all the way across the airport to the C terminal from the far end of the A terminal. I couldn’t have done that in my youth, let alone now.

Where’s the cart man? There’s always one around except when you need him. If I could only see past the aquarium that’s ahead of me. Who puts a giant fish tank in the middle of an airport? Is it supposed to be art? That’s not where fish live. I don’t care if it’s unorthodox or it’s kitschy. It’s an eyesore.

The lady at baggage check in Denver got all upset that my checked bag was over weight by one pound. One pound! She tried to make me pay for it. I wasn’t having that, not when I can wear all my hats on my head and put my handbag in my carry on. Oh the hubris of my morning self, always thinking I can do more when I have energy.  Two in the afternoon me hates that person and wants to give morning me a piece of my mind. At least there’s only three hats this time. Last trip it was four.

I ran by a baby in a stroller, my rolling bag careening perilously close to taking out the sleeping child. That’s the life. You get to lay and sleep in public whenever you want, all while having someone take care of you and watch for your safety. I don’t miss doing taking care of my children that way, even if I do miss their childhood. Pretty soon, I’ll have them take care of me. Not because I need it — you don’t run through airports at my age because you’re frail — but because I want to see the look on my daughter-in-law’s face when she has to regularly interact with anyone she sees as old. Selfish harlot. She only married my son for his money. Joke’s on her. He’s a compulsive gambler.

Up ahead, I see a cart. The man driving the cart is waiting as a woman in this lovely flower print shirt is slowly climbing onto the back of the cart. Her cane is dangling on the edge of the handrail of the cart, mere inches from falling to the ground. Fall! Fall you wooden trinket! It’ll keep the cart man from leaving until I get up there.

The cane didn’t fall. I start waving my left arm frantically as I drag by bag with the right.

“Cart!” I yell. “Don’t go! I need a ride!”

My top hat comes flying off my head as I pass an open seating restaurant. The brim lands directly in the middle of a pregnant woman’s fruit plate, knocking her assorted berries to the floor. At this point, I have a choice to make. Do I go back for the hat and miss my cart or do I keep running forward and leave the mom-to-be with my good sun hat? While time suggests I should ignore the hat and keep going, the data behind how infrequently my family calls me would dictate that my kids can pay to rebook my flight if I miss it and they really want to see me.

I slow down and turn around, running back to grab the hat. The woman has the hat extended out to me in advance, fully seeing that I’m in a hurry to go somewhere. If she knew I was going to South Carolina, perhaps she’d be inclined to help me avoid the trip.

When I turned around, the cart had begun moving. I shouted after it, but the cart driver didn’t hear me. The lady on the back of the cart did. She turned and looked at the cart driver, then turned back to me, raised her wrinkly arm to the sky, and flipped me the bird.

I need a drink. Family can wait.

Mid-Month Short Story Challenge #7

Responses to this month’s prompt

The Airport (Tabitha Wells)

Time Crunch (Me)


Welcome to the short story challenge that you’ll have the least amount of writing time on all year. With February being the shortest month of the year, you get only 14 days to complete this prompt rather than the standard 15 or 16 days, depending on the month. Not that it’s a concern — in this month’s prompt, you’ll take the point of view of a very hurried woman and tell her story. Now rush along and write your story.

Your prompt is for this month below. Your story should be posted on March 1, 2018. Be sure to link back to this post so I can see your story and share. Thank you so much to Stephanie for her help in coming up with this prompt.

  • Suggested number of words: 1000 word limit
  • Seven words to work into your story: Dangling, aquarium, stroller, data, orthodox, handbag, berries
  • Genre: Slice of life/melodrama
  • Rating/Content Limitations: Your choice
  • Topic: You are an elderly woman who is rushing through the terminal of an airport. You are wearing three hats on your head, trying to balance them on your head as you drag a small rolling bag behind you.

Your Order Is Ready

This post is a response to January 2018’s mid-month short story challenge. Click on the link in the previous sentence to read the prompt, share your story, and read those written by others.


I miss it, you know? The calm, faint jazz music in the air. The antiquated computer systems set up on the far wall providing forever unused free internet. The clamor of touque-clad locals thinking it’s cold outside even when frost can’t form. It was a surreal place to be.

“Darren!” shouted the girl with deep red hair from behind counter. “Ice caramel latte with sweet cream for Darren.”

I watched as gray-haired man in a tan suit strode up to the counter and took the drink from the girl. She gave him a wide smile, though his face was angled away from me, preventing me from seeing if he’d reciprocated. Most people didn’t. I doubt he did.

Fall is a fickle time in the upper Midwest. You never know from one day to the next if you’re going to wake up to late-summer heat, bone-chilling Arctic plunges, rain that soaks through ever article of clothing, or unpredictable winds that blow umbrellas away from unsuspecting tourists. Today was one of the few lucky days before the birds flew south for the winter that nearly everyone seemed happy about the weather.

The variety of clothing in line at the register amused me greatly. At the end of the line, a short, bulky man in his later years wore khaki pants and a white button up shirt. He carried a book and a newspaper under his left arm, clearly set on using the coffee shop as a place to read. Why even bother dressing up? Behind him, a woman and her daughter wore matching outfits — a t-shirt about a 5k run that had taken place earlier in the day and a pair of black sweatpants with white lines running vertically up the side. Next in line, a woman with impatient eyes pulled a lint roller out of her purse, carefully removing every stray pet hair from dark blue top. She scoffed every time she rolled over a hair, only to have to go back to the same spot and try again. Finally, a young man in a dirty sweatshirt and stained blue jeans nervously fumbled with his hard hat, trying to find a way to balance it in his right hand while playing a game on his cell phone with his left.

I love visiting coffee shops. Aside from fulfilling me primal desire for caffeine, they allow me to watch as little moments within the stories of so many lives that take place independently of one another become ever so briefly intertwined.

“Arnold!” the girl with the deep red hair yelled out. “Black coffee with room for Arnold.”

The elderly man in dress clothes moved slowly toward the counter, grabbing his coffee once he arrived. The girl behind the counter gave that same wide smile I’d watched her give so many times before. The elderly man thanked her and made his way back to his paper and novel.

I missed that coffee shop in Arizona with the jazz, the computers, and the people who didn’t understand the cold. The drinks weren’t markedly better than they were here. Sure, I liked the weather here than there, but I could get authentic baklava with my iced coffee there. There’s nothing quite like eating a Greek pastry with Colombian coffee while sitting on the patio and listening to American jazz music as the smells of the Mexican restaurant next door waft past your nostrils.

There was a sense of community there, even if it was largely an unspoken one. On more than one occasion, I left my computer alone at my table while I ran off to the restroom. I knew no one would touch it while I was gone. That type of action wouldn’t have fit into the coffee shop’s community.

“I’ve got a french vanilla cappuccino for Karen and a strawberry Italian soda for Kat,” said the deep red-haired girl from behind the counter. She didn’t have to shout this time, as the mother and her daughter were waiting there for the drinks to finish. The child in particular was excitedly impatient for them to get done. The girl behind the counter added a friendly wave to the little girl to her smile, causing the child to chuckle.

The deep red haired girl behind the counter was particularly fascinating to me, as she was the lone like — aside from coffee, that is — that tied the two places together. The name on her name tag was Izzie, at least it is here. That said, when I first met her ten years ago in that coffee shop in Arizona, she introduced herself to me as Becky.

Izzie, or Becky as she was then, got in line behind me as I was waiting to order my coffee. Our meet cute, as Izzie insisted on calling it, involved Izzie not watching where she was going as I turned around from the counter. She ran into me hard, knocking the lid off of my coffee and spilling it down the front of her mint green and white polkadot dress. I apologized profusely for my own inability to keep the coffee in the cup, but she was too busy laughing at my failure to get a reasonable amount of napkins out of the holder to give to her to notice.

“Chai tea latte with skim milk and a shot of hazelnut for Miriel!” Izzie shouted to the woman still struggling with her lint roller. The woman tossed her lint roller into the trash, grabbed her coffee and stormed out the door.

I offered to take Izzie out to dinner to apologize for ruining her dress. She accepted, only to wear the exact same dress to dinner, just to prove it wasn’t ruined. She surprised me midway through dinner by kissing me on the cheek as she came back from the restroom, then surprised me further by taking me back to her immaculately cleaned apartment later that night. That kind of flattery got her everywhere. For as well as our first few dates went, the magic fizzled out quickly. Izzie and I broke up less than three months later.

Shortly after we split, I got a promotion at my job that relocated me to Fargo, North Dakota. I jumped on the offer and moved away, ultimately kickstarting my career. I only have to go into the office one day a week, meaning every other day, I can work from home — or as I prefer to do, work from the coffee shop. The last ten years have treated me quite well.

I wish I would say the same for Izzie. I ran into her in Fargo for the first time just over six years ago, with her behind the counter of a local coffee shop in Fargo, just as she is today. We recognized each other immediately, though she didn’t speak to me. As I was waiting for my order, Izzie told me to meet her outside as soon as I got my drink.

I got into her small sedan with pitch black tinted windows and listened to how Izzie’s life had gone south over the past three years. A later boyfriend of hers was a major drug dealer in the area, not to mention he had a nasty habit of killing anyone who crossed him. When Izzie agreed to flip on him in court in exchange for going into a witness protection program, she jumped at the chance. It meant not being Becky anymore — not going to a college where she had great friends and good grades, not living minutes from her family, not being who she once was, not dying her hair away from the deep red natural color she hated. But it meant she got to feel safe.

Every day during the week except Tuesdays, I sit in the coffee shop and do my work. I watch the people coming in and out. I’ve begun to recognize their faces, their habits, and their drink orders. I’ve learned to watch for that wide smile of Izzie’s to know everything was okay with the person she was helping. If something did go awry, I’d be there to help her.

“Decaf cafe latte for Aurelius!” Izzie shouted.

She handed the coffee to the man with the hard hat. He held his phone in his lips, placed his hard hat back on his head, then grabbed his phone and coffee and left. With no one in line, she shouted over to me.

“You need any more coffee?”

“No thanks,” I yelled back. “You guys going to start carrying baklava?”

Izzie laughed as she wiped off the counter with a wet rag.

“I’ll have to ask the manager.”