May 24

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The Coffee Shop That Has It All

There is a quest every author takes up when he or she begins writing an novel: where to write it.

Bedroom? Kitchen table? Sure, why not! But then the chicken wallpaper begins to dance in your peripheral and your cat starts eating your power cord. Your boyfriend begins pestering you to marathon Mad Men with him because, “You can do both!” (But as one knows, you cannot simply do both. It’s either all or nothing. It’s either you dedicate yourself to your characters or to drooling over Don Draper.

Soon you realize that the kitchen is the absolute worst place to be (it’s too easily for you to stress-eat), and being in bed all day gives your cat (and boyfriend) ample time to pester the living crap out of you.

So, you pack your life into a little computer back (Laptop, check. Notebook, check. Sunglasses to hide the rungs under your eyes from all that stress-writing? Check.) and you strike out with only the characters in your head to keep you company. And you wind up…

At first, a Starbucks. It’s nice. But the music sucks. And the coffee’s burnt.

Then you go Panera, but there are so many kids here you swear off ever reproducing, inhale your cranberry-turkey club, and strike out again.

Now, you’re simply feeling dejected. Does the world not want you to finish this story? Is it a sign?

But wait–you actually see a sign.

Small, inconspicuous, in a corner of your old college campus.

You haven’t seen that sign in years. It brings back memories. Some good, some bad. But then you remember their Perfect Lady, and you dig two dollars worth of quarters out of your backseat cushions to park on the street, and enter the hovel of a shop.

The savory scents of cinnamon and bitter coffee swarm around you as the door closes. It’s quiet, but not your-kitchen quiet. The murmur of the barista doing dishes and humming to Night Terrors of 1927 greets you as you climb the stairs to the second story, and walk up to the bar to order a drink. A few graduate students loiter about at wobbly, ink-stained tables, sitting under art pieces donated from your alma mater’s visual design classes.

All of the undergrads have already gone home for the summer, thank God.

The barista turns around. She’s cute in a pixie-dream-girl sort of way, caramel hair piled up on her head, braids intertwined with the beginnings of dreads. Her skin is dark, her eyes framed by thick Woody Allen glasses, eyelashes so long they would be perfect to wish on. You decide to put her in your story — she’d be perfect in your story. She greets you with her forget-me-not eyes.

“A Perfect Woman,” you reply, meaning the drink, not the barista. But then your cheeks redden.

She smiles. “I can do that.”

A double entendre.

“For here or to go?”

“Here,” you reply a little too quickly, and inwardly wince. “I like the soundtrack,” you add, pointing to the speaker in the ceiling.

Your boyfriend doesn’t know what you did in college. He met you post-college, after your “wild days.” After you kissed girls with cherry lipgloss and laced up corsets to lingerie parties. You love your boyfriend, but the stirrings of what-if begin to buzz in your head like a song that has never quite left you.

There had never been a clear line in your head between girl and boy, between this or that, between your right-wing parents and left-wing friends. That might be why you love the characters in this story you want to write — because they don’t see flaws, only possibilities, they don’t draw lines, they move in wide bending circles.

You leave for a table, knowing that the barista’ll bring your drink out to you, and you set up shop at your old window. It overlooks the side of the property, out toward Main Street and the old skeleton of a movie theatre, now relocated to another part of town. You pull out your laptop and you open it up, take out your notebook, and settle back.

You had your first date at this very table. He was a willowy boy with glasses and a lopsided smile. You liked him. But not enough to do what you inevitably did. You met your best friend here, who you loved more than your heart could hold and who never quite loved you back.

Secretly, in this story you’re trying to write, she walks your words like a phantom.

Like sliding into old, worn gloves, your first fingers find the F and J keys, and you begin to write. Night Terrors of 1927 fade into Fitz and the Tantrums. No cat to chew on your power cord. No boyfriend to draw your attention away, no Don Drapper to drool over. Just you, and your characters, (and, okay, the hot barista) living a life you could only dream.

At some point, the barista brings your coffee in a delicate teacup of flowers and vines, a chocolate wedge sitting against the side like a slide of lemon, but you don’t notice the coffee until she’s gone. In your story, a girl almost like her, but quite certifiably not, chases after a dog in the rain. As you write, you feel the cold droplets on your skin, thundering rolling over your shoulders as lightning crackles on the page.

The Perfect Woman tastes like you remember, a mocha latte with a dollop of whipped cream hitting all the spots the pot of coffee in your kitchen couldn’t reach. You replace the cup back onto the napkin the barista brought as well–but the print on the napkin is different that you remember. On the corner, like embroidered handkerchiefs, sits the picture of a black-stained coffee cup, steam rising in wiggly waves, and underneath it in ornate cursive, reads Cool Beans Coffee.

The phrase is ironic, coated with sweet nostalgia as you remember the girl you were the last time you came here, and the woman you are now.

And you smile, because you found it.

Your place.

And it has the best music.

You can visit Cool Beans Coffee Company in Columbia, South Carolina. The author of this post highly recommends the Perfect Woman, but the Perfect Man isn’t bad, either. Or, if you’re really jonesin’ for some chocolate, try a Holy Mocha. Because, holy mocha, it’s good.