I’m planning on releasing the Barista at the beginning of the year. It was on this site for free for a while. Maybe you got a chance to read it then. I’ve made a lot of changes and corrections since that original book was on this site. I thought it would let you read the first chapter as a preview of the new book.
The Barista (A Starlight Cafe Novel)
Lisa swirled the foamy milk in the stainless steel pitcher as she hummed along to the remake of Across the Universe that floated through the tinny speakers in the ceiling behind her. The music was barely audible above the buzz of conversation in the coffee shop. Her father used to sing this song to her when she was little. It was then that she’d discovered the beauty of language. Before she had even known what a poem was, she had been searching for the perfect combination of words to express her feelings. In the large blocky scrawl of a child she’d write about her love for animals or her favorite teacher. She’d found that some words nestled into the lines on the page more comfortably than others. Their sounds all conveyed feelings beyond their meanings. It was only natural that she’d gravitate toward poetry, writing it, reading it, and recognizing it in the snippets of conversations she heard in the coffee shop she’d worked in for years. The Starlight Café was busy like it was most mornings. The air was overflowing with interesting words that captured Lisa’s imagination.
Tipping the milk into the white ceramic mug, she watched it mix with the dark espresso. “One latte for here,” she said, sliding the mug across the counter to an old woman, her back hunched from osteoporosis, her thin hair dyed lemon-yellow.
“You’re always in such a good mood,” the woman said, stirring sugar into her drink. “Coming here makes my week.” Betty was a regular. She and her friends came in every Monday. The four of them would gather around a table in the back corner to play cards and cackle loudly at each other’s jokes. Too old to care about what other people thought of them anymore, they wore layers of costume jewelry and brightly colored scarves, their hands flailing every which way as they talked.
When the coffee shop was slow Lisa would watch them with a tinge of jealousy. She hoped that she’d find that kind of confidence with age because too often she noticed that her own awkwardness paralyzed her socially.
“Aww, that’s so sweet,” Lisa said over her shoulder as she started working on the next order. It was part of her job to smile, and she was good at it. She managed to make it seem real on days when it wasn’t, like this one. Even with the music floating in her head and the caffeine rushing through her veins she couldn’t seem to shake the heaviness in her heart. She would be going to Chicago soon to get her master’s degree in business. She had always wanted to continue her education, but the MFA she really wanted wasn’t practical. No one supports themselves being a professional poet. Business would be a better choice. That’s what she told herself when she had sent in the application, but as her time to leave got closer a feeling of uneasiness kept rising in her chest. She secretly wanted to stay at the café, but never made enough money as a barista. That was too bad because the only thing she liked more than poetry was coffee.
“Two large lattes to go,” Ruth said, slipping the customer’s cash into the register.
“Okay got it.” Lisa took two large disposable cups from the stack next to the espresso machine and set them on the table.
“Are you okay?” Ruth asked. The morning rush was winding down, and there were no more new customers in line.
“Yeah, I’m fine. I was just daydreaming.” Lisa made the lattes quickly. She’d worked at the Starlight Café for so long that she didn’t have to think about the orders anymore. Her hands naturally remembered how to make them. Her mind was free to wander as she did.
Ruth had only been working at the coffee shop for a couple months, but she learned the ropes quickly. Lisa remembered how flustered she was on her first day. There were so many customers, and Ruth kept pushing the wrong buttons on the register. Lisa thought for sure she would quit like the guy before her who had only lasted a few months. The Starlight Café was the most popular coffee shop in town, and the lines got long in the mornings despite the fact that there was a Starbucks only a few short blocks away. The people in St. Pete still appreciated a good cup of coffee made by people who cared.
Lisa liked working at Starlight. The time flew by during the busiest hours, and when it was slow, she enjoyed chatting with the regulars. She’d loved the smell of coffee her whole life. The rich earthy aroma made her feel safe and loved. She worked her way through college in a coffee shop full of sagging thrift store chairs and mismatched tables. Beneath the smell of coffee, the scent of sandalwood incense lingered. That place was a stark contrast to the Starlight Café with its gleaming white tile floors and dark wood tables lined up in neat rows. At each table sat matching wooden chairs. The work of local artists hung on the pristine white walls. This month the large colorful canvases of a local painter stared out at them from every direction. His paintings were angry splashes of color that Lisa didn’t quite understand. She’d been there when he set up the exhibit. His sentences shot out of him in a rapid-fire staccato that was very similar to his paintings.
Ruth grabbed a cloth from the sink and started wiping down the black countertops, her red hair falling around her face like curtains. Lisa replenished the stack of disposable coffee cups.
“I bet you can’t believe this is your last month?” Ruth said.
Lisa looked over at her, an eyebrow raised in surprise. She wasn’t close to Ruth and was sure that she hadn’t told her that she was leaving.
Seeing Lisa’s questioning look, Ruth said, “Connie told me.”
Lisa nodded knowingly. “Of course. I guess it’s not a secret.”
Connie owned the Starlight Café. She was a short, gregarious woman with an unruly mane of prematurely white hair. Her full cheeks were always flush like she had just finished working out. Connie had a lot to say so Lisa shouldn’t have been surprised that Ruth knew she was leaving. Everyone at the coffee shop probably knew they just hadn’t told Lisa that yet.
“I think it’s great that you’re getting your graduate degree. I’m such a mess I can’t even get an associate’s degree together.” Ruth rinsed the cloth out in the sink and hung it over the edge.
“It’s not that impressive really,” Lisa said. School had always been easy for her. She was good at memorizing facts. She didn’t mind sitting in a lecture hall taking notes and loved surrounding herself with all kinds of books and information. University had been a safe cocoon that she could hide herself in before stepping out into the real world. That’s what school was for, a place to go to prepare for the transition into adulthood. Somehow that transition didn’t go smoothly for Lisa. Before she was finished turning into a full-fledged adult, graduation had already arrived, and she was thrust into the world, her wings still too new to keep her in flight. She didn’t know what she wanted to do with her liberal arts degree or even where to start. She followed her best friend, Jamila, to St. Pete because life seemed a little more magical on this side of the Tampa Bay. She bought a few business suits, one black and one gray, and went to a series of awkward job interviews. Her lukewarm answers always gave away the fact that she didn’t really want the job. Interviewers could see that more clearly than Lisa could herself. The “Help Wanted” sign in the front window at the Starlight Café drew her in one confused morning as she walked to her car after another terrible job interview. She’d worked in coffee shops ever since she could work. She had no problem getting the job.
Lisa wasn’t sure if school was the right thing to do or even if it was what she wanted. She just knew she had to do something. At twenty-six years old she could already feel thirty nipping at her heels. She loved the time she had spent at Starlight, but she needed to make more money if she was ever going to live on her own. The only thing she could picture herself doing was writing, and she knew that would pay even less than being a barista. School was a way to figure out what she could do. Business was a good major because there were businesses everywhere. That was not a very good reason to pick a major and she knew that, but it was all she had for now. She was hoping that once she started school she’d figure out what she was meant to do.
When she had applied to the University of Chicago’s MBA program, she and Richard were still together. They’d transitioned to a long-distance relationship six months ago when Richard got his dream job in Chicago. When he left Lisa was nervous. She’d heard from friends that long distance relationships didn’t work out. They’d been together for two years though, and he was so confident that it would all go well. She always believed him. She liked believing him. That was her downfall.
As the months rolled by, he started sounding more and more distant on the phone. The stories he told her lost their vibrant detail and flashes of color. When he told her that he loved her it sounded like he was reading from a script, his voice flat and dull. Whenever she asked him if anything was wrong, he would tell her that it was okay. “Everything’s good,” he’d say. “It would just be better with you here.”
That was what she wanted to hear, so she ignored the other clues he dropped. She told herself that he didn’t call as much anymore because he was busy with the new job. She told herself that his distance on the phone was just the way he expressed missing her.
Lisa was sitting on a bench in the park by the water watching the sky come alive with the colors of the setting sun when Richard had called her. She didn’t realize right away that something was wrong. Upon picking up the phone she immediately started talking about her day, but then Richard stopped her mid-story and said he had something important to say. He had met someone else at work. She worked in the same department, and they really hit it off. He hadn’t told her sooner because he wanted to make sure. He didn’t want to hurt her, but it felt like they were becoming so distant.
“But I’m coming out there in a few months,” Lisa had said, her voice quivering. She was too devastated to be angry. Anger would come later. “I already have my ticket. I’ve been getting rid of my things.” She thought of the box of knickknacks that she had just donated to the local thrift store and all the old papers she had gone through and thrown away. Richard always complained about her being a bit of a packrat, and she knew that most of the things she had weren’t worth taking with her. All she needed was Richard and a place to start over. Even though the idea of the harsh winter weather didn’t seem good, she was a Florida native, Lisa was looking forward to living in a big city and discovering a little more of the world.
She got her acceptance letter two weeks later. At first, she was sure she wouldn’t go, but then she decided otherwise. Chicago was a big city after all, and she needed to start over someplace else. Even though Richard no longer lived in St. Pete, almost every place she went reminded her of him. Going away gave her a chance to start something new, so she sent in her paperwork for the semester, started looking for a room to rent, and planning to go to university just as she did before. She wouldn’t leave for Chicago as early as originally planned, but she would still go. She’d dive headfirst into a world of new opportunities despite what Richard did to her. She just had to keep reminding herself that anything was possible if she was willing to act.
The Barista will be released on January 2, 2018.