Coffee Confidential

I arrived at Jean’s Beans twenty minutes early and killed some time by browsing the magazine rack while waiting for my favourite table to be vacated. It was a burgundy, heavily marked, round wooden surface balanced on a gleaming silver pole with two stools bolted to the floor on either side, right in the corner.
Perched there you could survey the entire room in all its lavish glory, from the classic Wurlitzer jukebox by the fireplace, to the black and white portraits of movie stars displayed proudly on the walls, to the signs hanging on the washroom doors – top hats for the men, high heels for the ladies. With décor like that it was no surprise that Jean had to tell three or four customers a night that she didn’t serve booze.
Jeanie Harvey, the chocolate-haired proud owner and mother to two grown children, never seemed to take a day off - in her black and tan apron she was a blur of constant, caffeinated motion behind the glass counter every time I dropped by. She was terrible with names but could match a face to a drink in seconds flat. By the time the two lovebird college students left my table, with only five minutes to spare before date time, I’d already had to tell Jean three times that I wasn’t ready for my hot chocolate with cinnamon quite yet.
I slid on to the stool facing the main doors and tried to clear my mind, with very little success. Despite her reassurances, I couldn’t stop imagining a nightmarish array of scenarios of what was happening to Cara at that very moment. I was growing more and more convinced that I would come home later that night to find her collapsed in our apartment, pale from blood loss, and it would all be my fault. Her friend Mel would be banging on our apartment door, trying to force her way in, and she’d turn to see me coming out of the elevator and…
“Oh my goodness Nate, I’m so sorry I’m late!” Dawn announced, appearing at my side out of thin air and giving me only a minor heart attack. “Oh dear, Nate… late… I bet you had to endure all sorts of terrible rhyming nicknames as a child.”
“No, I was lucky enough to be the first to get a growth spurt in my class, so I was left pretty well alone. Please, have a seat.” She sat gracefully across from me, her cheeks delicately flushed from the cold, and undid the large black buttons on her grey wool coat to reveal the deep purple sweater hidden underneath. She took a few moments to take in her surroundings before returning her eyes to me with a smile. “Not a bad little place, huh? Can I get you something to drink, or eat? Jean makes a mean carrot muffin.”
“Geez, at this rate we’ll be rhyming names all night… but if you call me a fawn then this conversation is over, pal,” Dawn said with a mischievous smile. “I already ate, but I’d love a vanilla latte.”
I made my way to the cashier, my gait made awkward by over analysis, and placed our order. Well, Dawn’s order – my hot chocolate was already waiting for me. I wove my way back to our table with two steaming drinks and absolutely no idea what to say. Thankfully Dawn took the lead once again.
“Thanks very much. Oh, yours smells delicious!”
“I can assure you that it tastes even better. Want to try a sip?” I slid the mug across to her but held on as she reached for it. “But you have to promise to give it back.” Her eyes narrowed and her nose twitched as she attempted a scowl before plucking the drink from my hand. After only four sips I was allowed to have it back. I held the mug in both hands, letting its warmth soothe my knuckles, then looked up to find Dawn leaning forward, her expression becoming more serious as she studied my face.
“You look exhausted Nate – what’s going on?”
“It’s been a very long day,” I said. “I feel like I just went twelve rounds with Muhammad Ali in his prime. With one arm tied behind my back.”
“So let it all out, tough guy. It’ll be good for you and I’ll probably feel better about my day to boot!”
“Oh, what happened to you?”
“Nuh uh,” she said with a wave of her finger, “you first.”
I gave her the full story of Alex, from our first meeting to the showdown at the airport, and she made encouraging and sympathetic sounds in all the right places. I stumbled a few times in omitting Cara’s part in things and it felt a little like betrayal. But I was nowhere near ready to broach the existence of my daughter and thankfully the drama revolving around me and my trainee was plenty enough to earn Dawn’s compassion.
“Well at least it sounds like everything is working out okay,” she said after finishing her drink. “And it sounds like Alex has a good head on his shoulders and he’s willing to listen to reason – not like my kid.”
“Sorry?” I asked, grateful that I wasn’t mid-sip. “Have a bad day with one of your pianists?”
“Oh, no…” she replied then paused, biting her lip. “I suppose I shouldn’t have told you like that, I’m sorry. It’s been a long time since I’ve spent time with someone new outside of work; I’m just used to everyone around me knowing all about my daughter. She’s turning four next week – want to see a picture?”

The End

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