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.”

Dialogue Only

This post is a response to November’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’ve never seen anything quite like it.”

“What’s that?”

“People keep saying that one of the stories I wrote is the funniest thing they’ve ever read.”

“That’s a good thing, right?”

“I mean, typically it would be. But it’s the worst piece of shit I’ve ever written.”

“It can’t be that bad.”

“It’s the one I told you about that I tried to write as shittily as possible. The one where the basement dweller and the girl with the lazy eye go on a date, then they start banging fifteen minutes into getting coffee.”

“You’re fucking with me, right?”

“Nope.”

“You wrote that solely for the purpose of making fun of the meet cute.”

“There weren’t even character names in the first draft! No one had names! In a story that is seventy percent dialogue.”

“No one would read that shit.”

“Nor should they. I doing everything I can to keep myself from having convulsions just thinking about it.”

“And yet people like it?”

“Apparently.”

“There’s got to be something good in it. Let’s break it down. The setting?”

“Coffee shop in a suburb. Barista is a bit of a wild caricature of a coffee shop hipster crossed with an overconfident snake oil salesman.”

“That’s out then.”

“Yep.”

“What about the characters? They’re both pretty flawed, right?”

“Oh yeah. Physically, emotionally, psychologically — they’re a trainwreck in every way.”

“There’s a lot of growth that can come from characters like that.”

“Didn’t do it. Not in this story at least. I drilled home that they were grotesque fuck ups. There’s no scrappy comeback to relevance from a guy basically living out of his car. The over-medicated woman remains over-medicated and un-redeemed.”

“Is there anything that makes the reader feel like things will get better for them?”

“They fuck at the end.”

“Sex is good. Erotica is in right now. How did you write it?”

“I didn’t.”

“Why not?”

“My family reads my work. They’re already not fans of my writing. I can’t imagine adding graphically explained sex — especially to this story — would help my cause any.”

“Well, what about where you wrote it? Some people do their best work in the same place. Maybe you wrote this story at the same place you’ve written some of your other quality work.”

“I think I wrote it sitting in an airport after my flight was delayed from a snowstorm. I saw a guy who inspired the barista serving hamburgers at an airport restaurant and just went from there. I’ve only been back to that airport once and didn’t have my computer with me.”

“Fuck.”

“Right?”

“I’ve read it. It’s not a good piece.”

“It’s not.”

“You sound like a bit of an insensitive asshole as the narrator.”

“I do.”

“And people liked it?”

“Even the people who bitched and moaned about some of my other stuff liked it. I don’t get it. Dialogue doesn’t tell a story.”

“It’s part of a story.”

“Sure. I’ll give you that. But if the primary driving force of your story is your dialogue, you’re not writing it well. It’s a lot like how people who only photoblog aren’t really writers.”

“I thought you gave up on that point of view once you realized there’s money in it.”

“No. I gave up on saying they weren’t bloggers when I found out how much money some people made. There’s clearly money in it, so they’re making money blogging. What they aren’t doing is making money writing.”

“Could be worse. Could be a social media influencer.”

“That’s not a real thing.”

“It is and they’re just as filled with irrational confidence as you might think.”

“Fuck. Am I getting old? Did I miss when things that aren’t supposed to be funny got funny? When could you start doing nothing all day and become famous for it? Is this just a fugue state?”

“It’s none of that. You just have to keep working to get better. You have to learn.”

“So I have to learn why this story’s funny?”

“No. It’s shit. People can be dumb. But you do need to learn to work through this plateau you’re in and improve what you’re not good at.”

“Like writing dialogue?”

“Like writing compelling dialogue.”

“Shouldn’t all dialogue be compelling? I mean, I get that not all dialogue in real life is compelling. But no one gives a shit about two people talking about how they need to get a gadget to open the lid of a pickle jar because the factory sealed them on too tightly.”

“But if you don’t write something boring, nothing will ever be compelling.”

“True. Hey, did you notice that we’ve been talking about writing for nearly 800 words and haven’t once been in the genre we’re supposed to be in?”

“What genre are we supposed to be this month?”

“Science fiction.”

“Who thought that was a good idea?”

“Fuck if I know. Probably someone who wrote the prompt and is desperately hoping that someone — anyone — will actually do it this month.”

“Do you think anyone else will?”

“Nah.”

“That’s a shame.”

November Mid-Month Short Story Challenge

Thank you to everyone who participated in last month’s short story challenge. Even though I’m currently doing the book charity drive, I wanted to get a prompt post up for those of you looking to get a leg up on starting your post for December 1st.

Your prompt is for this month below. If you do decide to blog your short story, link back to me and I’ll be sure to promote it where I can.

  • Suggested number of words: 1000-2000 words recommended, but feel free to use this as a guideline more than a rule this month
  • The first sentence of your story: “I’ve never seen anything quite like it.” (You can make this a quote, or not…your call)
  • Seven words to work into your story: Confidence, scrappy, snowstorm, medicated, pickle, fugue, convulse
  • Genre: Science fiction
  • Rating/Content Limitations: None

Your story should be posted on December 1st. Be sure to link back to this post so I can see your story and share. Good luck and happy writing.

You

This post is a response to October’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.


Hi,

As you’ll eventually find out, I’m not exactly the best at keeping my thoughts concise, especially when my emotions or creative writing are involved. This is neither your fault nor your problem, but you’ll likely get annoyed by it at some point in the time that you know me. Have fun with that.

I like change — except when I don’t. If something changes that has a minimal impact on me, I’m usually fine with it. Change can be good. If the way we communicate didn’t evolve, you’d never be able to read this. I have garbage handwriting. But things did change. That’s a good thing.

On the other hand, if that change negatively impacts the safety, security, or well-being of those I care about, I’m less okay with change. I’m not exactly the person I wish myself to be when bad change happens. I stress. I falter. I hold fear deep within my mind. I don’t back down from any challenge, however I am the type to obsessively scrutinize every detail of that challenge in my mind until I keep myself from sleep at night.

I hope that’s not one of the traits I give you. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot I do well. I feel like I have accrued the wisdom to act in a moral, ethical, and just way in most situations. I have a natural talent to pick up most communication-heavy jobs and excel in them faster than most people can get comfortable doing that same job. I used to be an adept musician. I adore geography, writing, psychology, chemistry, philosophy, and history. I’d love for you to get those things from me.

Your mother, on the other hand, is the better person to learn from. She knows how to interact with people — real people, not just the facades of people that can be found on the internet. She’s extremely competitive, even more so than me. She’s organized to a level that gives me anxiety. She has a natural talent to take a moment and use it both as a teaching experience and a moment of consoling. You’d definitely be better off if you inherited her level of love for animals…though I’d encourage you to take after me and my love for cats. Cats are fun.

Neither of us are perfect. And if all you become is the combination of your mother and I, there’s been somewhere along the way that I’ve let you down. The hardest thing for me to learn was how to think for myself — to critically and objectively see the world not just through my own cultural lens, but also with the hopes, dreams, and ambitions of those who do not have the same luxuries I do in mind.

You’ll find that despite whatever experience I have in teaching and leading, I’m very green in knowing how to handle you. My emotions failed me when your mom told me of your existence. Ignoring the fact that I was exhausted and starving, I didn’t know how to react. My excitement was less than enthusiastic. I didn’t mean anything bad by it. You are a change. An exciting one, sure. But one I didn’t (and frankly still don’t totally) know how to handle.

There’s always been this thought in my mind that I’d be a dad. At times, the thought was nothing more than a blip in the vision of my mind — waiting, watching, stalking my thoughts in the distance. In other situations, the idea was much more prominent. Reality, of course, is far more prominent than a thought. The reality that we — our family — face is complex.

The world isn’t the place it once was, nor is it the place that will be in the future. We’re at a crossroads of history. It’s one where I truly believe that those who are compassionate, open-minded, accepting, altruistic, and well-learned will help to shape the future into a brighter world for everyone. My hope is that I can play a significant part in pointing you in the right direction so that you can be even better than those people who I just spoke of.

At some point, I will make a mistake in teaching you. I will yell when I shouldn’t. I will say something you interpret improperly. I will hurt you with my words when I don’t mean to. For that, I am so sorry in advance. Know that as you are learning, I too am learning. I’m learning how to help you learn. I’m learning how to help you be a better person than I could ever be — a person who is exceptional not just for their abilities, interests, and skills, but also for the way they treat their fellow humans.

This is my promise to you. I will help you acquire as many of the tools as possible to be the best person you can be. I will protect you when you need protection. I will guide you when you wish to learn. Above all else, I will love you so that you may love others in return.

You are safe. You are wise. You are loved.

-T

October Mid-Month Short Story Challenge

Thank you to everyone who participated in last month’s short story challenge. I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the amount of involvement people have had with these prompts. Truth be told, I didn’t expect anyone to participate. So. Thank you. I do love reading new stories, so if you haven’t participated, I’d encourage you to do so — to or to encourage your writer friends to do so — this month.

Your prompt is for this month below. If you do decide to blog your short story, link back to me and I’ll be sure to promote it where I can.

  • Suggested number of words: Maximum 1000 words
  • Your theme: A letter to someone you’ve never met
  • Seven words to work into your story: fear, challenge, blip, consoling, wisdom, green, chemistry
  • Genre: None
  • Rating/Content Limitations: None

Your story should be posted on November 1st. Be sure to link back to this post so I can see your story ans share. Good luck and happy writing.