He walks into the cafe, enlivening the chimes at the door to an abstract, twinkling song. Long strides take him swiftly to the counter. The young woman behind it looks up and smiles.
“Long time, Declan. Your usual?” she chirps.
“Not today,” Declan answers. “I’m fancying something creamy and sweet. Any suggestions?”
The barista ponders a few moments and then asks, “What are your thoughts on maple syrup?”
Declan takes equal time to consider before answering, “I like it on pancakes and ice cream.”
“Then I promise you’ll enjoy a maple latte macchiato. Shall I make it a regular?”
After paying for the drink, Declan deposits his laptop bag at one of the tables, yet another switch-up from the same-old-same. He hasn’t been to this usual haunt for months, and is quite frankly surprised that the barista remembers him, much less his beverage of choice. Then again, black-two-sugar isn’t exactly the most complex of coffee shop concoctions in this age of medium in a large cup no whip soy tea latte half sweet with honey. Caffeine seems to be developing an international language of its own.
“Regular maple latte macchiato, for here,” the barista calls from behind her shining machine, setting the cup and saucer on the counter.
Declan retrieves it and thanks her again.
The first sip is heady, thick with sweet foam and maple drizzle. Coffee the shade of hazelnut leaks out from the protective blanket of froth, providing a bitter balance. The rich experience is a welcome change from the drab drip with white sugar.
A voice behind Declan asks him if the change is for the better.
“Of course it is, Elsie,” Declan whispers back. “I’ve been stuck in this rut far too long.”
The woman, Lily Christianson, asks if the rut is responsible for his pathetic attempts at communication. She observes that he hasn’t been his usual self for quite some time, silent and brooding where once his words overflowed with vivacity.
“I’m in a much different place now,” he answers. “I’m not the same person I was when I started, and so much has happened that I could never hope to account for. It’s changed me, Lily.”
Declan pauses as his companion seats herself beside him.
“You’ve changed me, Lily,” he breathes finally. The words are a soft sigh, a near-silent prayer sent to the heavens. It’s an honest admission, and meant more for his ears than hers.
Then again, everything Declan tells her is for his own sake.