It was also one of the reasons all my teachers said I would be a writer, rather than prom king. (Does anyone actually grow up wanting to be prom king?)
Spike briefly joined me in my disheveled bed, staying just long enough to feign affection and throw up next to my dresser before streaking off like a dusty-colored bullet. By the time I’d noticed I was too tired—or too lazy, take your pick—to get up and do anything about it. Making a mental note to get out the carpet cleaner in the morning, I was out, lost in dreamless sleep.
I returned to the café the next morning, consistent at least in my routine if not my actual productivity. This sequel visit went much like the first, though it was considerably less awkward and I managed to crank out a few more pages by the end of my “work day.” I attributed this to the fact that I wasn’t distracted by overthinking my own clumsy attempts at small talk. After all, I’d already asked about the name and presumably cemented the impression that I was just another bumbling middle aged man. What else was there to worry about?
I ordered the same coffee, claimed the same table, and Leigh brought me my orders without incident. She was a bit less bristly, and several times I thought she was on the verge of saying something. She never did though, so I didn’t ask. I wasn’t the sort who tried to get secrets out of people, tried to get them to talk. Observing from afar, hoping I didn’t appear creepy, was much more my style. So that’s what I did. When I needed a break from working on my ongoing piece, I sat back and simply wrote what I saw. How there was a particular kind of camaraderie between Leigh and her coworkers, one I myself knew from having briefly worked in the food industry in high school. It’s hard to understand if you haven’t worked in the industry yourself, but it’s cemented over bitching about customers and a mutual understanding that no one will be purposefully employed there for very long. I wrote about the food, and how one of the employees, a young man wearing a stained apron, took great care in arranging the pastries in the display case. The little quirks and habits Leigh had, from what I could observe: keeping the counter immaculate, toying with her labret piercing when she wasn’t talking, picking at her fingernails. She seemed to be content in being still, however, unlike the young man I assumed was the baker. He was a foot tapper, and when he popped out from the back room on occasion to stop and talk to Leigh, his foot was constantly going. Being a foot tapper myself, I understood the urge, though the habit for me was usually one of frustration.
Unaware I was tapping away as I stared at the half written page before me, I was caught unawares by Leigh bringing me yet another refill. “This has gotta be an expensive hobby,” she commented from behind me as she set the coffee to my right. I muttered a quiet ‘Sweet Jesus’ under my breath and closed my eyes, startled by her appearance. This seemed to amuse her, if I was learning to interpret her subtle grins correctly.
Once I’d regained my composure, I shook my head. “Well, it’s more my career than my hobby,” I gently corrected, “but a few cups of coffee a day and some lunch is cheaper than whatever commute I might be stuck with otherwise. Also, thank you,” I added, nodding to the fresh cup she’d brought me.
“You mean this is what you get paid to do?” Her disbelief was clear in her tone.
I shrugged. “I own a few properties that I rent out too, but yeah. In the good times, writing pays my bills.”
“Huh.” The single syllable was almost snorted, and she blinked at me before pressing on. “What do you write about? Coffee shops?”
That got a laugh out of me, and I shook my head again. “Nah. I uh, well this book is something of a historical fiction piece. During the War of the Roses.” Though I’d never succeeded at being a history professor like I’d initially set out to be, my fascination with history had lingered, particularly as it was such a rich playground for fabricating believable stories.
“This book?” Leigh’s brow furrowed briefly. “How many do you have?”
“Including this one? Five. Here’s hoping this will be the one.” I toasted my still steaming coffee at her, sighing inwardly. Though I hadn’t lied when I’d said that writing paid the bills when times were flush, those times were fewer and farther between than I liked. Sure, I’d received a few reviews by big names, no one had come knocking down my door to discuss film adaptations or tell me I’d finally made it to the big leagues.