Chai Tea Latte

Chai Tea Latte

Every morning, suddenly, I am awake. My hair falls in my face as I sluggishly rise from my overly pillowed bed, the warmth leaking out from my nest as soon as my feet hit the cool wooden floor. My chest feels heavy and my eyes burn from sleep. Sometimes I have an alarm to turn off, and other days I’ve woken up on my own.

Some days, I brush my teeth and comb out my hair, styling it in the same fashion as any work day. Loose around my shoulders with a plaid or solid colored headband. I apply a brown, matte lipstick and apply just enough eye makeup to hide the bags under my eyes and make it seem as if I had a good night’s rest. My cardigans always matched my headband and my skirts always had biking shorts underneath. My socks were always white, or if I was feeling daring that day, patterned with some kind of cute animal. I have an image to keep, as any accountant would.

Other days I let my body flow freely, wearing just a loose tanktop and a pair of basketball shorts around my apartment. My tattoos are exposed and my hair goes wild and unbrushed for the sake of freedom. I might be drunk by noon, and I might stay sober until the sun goes down. If it’s a special occasion, I might even order in takeout and get high until I feel sideways and don’t know which way is up.

Between my days, there’s one thing that is always consistent. The shop around the corner from my apartment complex always calls to me at the same time each day. Thirty minutes before the coffee shop closes, I stop in, either in my perfect work attire or my messy loungewear, and I see her smile and wave to me, her smile perfect and her eyes crinkling just so.

Sometimes her hair is in a pretty ponytail, and other times she’s given herself low sitting pigtails that cascade down her shoulders. Sometimes her lipstick is there, perfectly complimenting the rest of her being, and other times she wears just a clear gloss. I wonder if it’s strawberry flavored. Her name tag says “Katie” in big, bubbly, cute letters with a pink heart at the end.

I know it’s just customer service. I know that she has to be polite to me because I am there to buy coffee from her. I know she doesn’t care to know my name or know my body. I know that her reality and my reality only cross for the few minutes that I am at the counter, looking up at the menu with big brown eyes before tilting my head and asking for a medium chai tea latte. It’s always the same every single day. She always seems so happy to see me. I would pay the $3.50 the latte costs, and slip a $5 bill into her tip jar before she can even give me my change. Then I would slip away, waiting for my drink quietly at the other end of the counter, well out of her sight. She’d wish me a wonderful night as I left.

Two years passed exactly in this fashion. Every night, without failure. Sometimes Katie wasn’t there. She never seemed to be around on Saturdays or Wednesdays, but I still came in for my latte just in case she was there. She was my ray of light, my sunshine, my reason for getting up in the morning. It was so small, and I didn’t know anything about her, but you could say that I was in love with her. Because I loved her so, I was fine without ever knowing her beyond our chai tea lattes.

Then she stopped being behind the register, or in the store, at all. After three days, I leaned  in closer to the cashier, an older woman named Michelle, and asked if Katie was alright.

“Oh, honey. She’s your favorite, ain’t she? Don’t you worry your pretty little head about Katie. She just moved on to greener pastures, that all. She got into that fancy art school across town and got a job at a different cafe down that ways.” Michelle said it with a friendly smile, and it cut me deeper than she could have ever imagined.

My favorite? Was I that transparent? I stared at Michelle for a moment and gave a light smile, trying to hide my heartbreak behind a small, friendly gesture.

“Thanks. I’m happy for her.” I slipped a $5 into Michelle’s tip jar, ordered an iced coffee for the first time in my life, paid, and left.

I stopped going to that coffee shop as often after that. Every once and a while, I started driving around the city, always ending up near that fancy art school. What was she doing there. Fashion design maybe? She had always dressed so cute. Was it sculpting? I could imagine those soft, dainty hands molding clay to her will, using tiny tools to add detail to her visions. Graphic design? The thought of Katie hunched over a computer, tablet pen in her lazy hand as she thinks about what would be the perfect finishing touch on her design, caused my heart to flutter. I suppose I was praying to catch a glimpse of Katie in a place outside of the coffee shop, but I never saw her. There were so many students milling about that it was surely a long shot, anyway.

Four months passed after Katie changed coffee shops. I hadn’t gone into any of the ones near the art school simply out of hesitation. What if she saw me there? Would she think I was stalking her? Would she smile and greet me as if nothing had ever happened? I wasn’t willing to find out.

It was Saturday. The sun would be setting soon, and the coffee shop around the corner would be closed in a couple of hours. I slipped my wallet into my pocket and stuffed my feet into my slippers before I headed out, not bothering to lock my apartment’s door behind me. This was a safe neighborhood, and I wasn’t going to be gone long, anyway. That’s how it always was. The coffee shop was the same as always, minus Katie. I approached the counter, my expression neutral. Michelle was at the register today.

“…A bottle of water and a blueberry scone, please. For here.”

Within minutes, I was seated at a two person table by the window, a cute yellow plate in front of me with a perfectly warm scone in the middle with a beige napkin hanging off the side of it. It just wasn’t the same here without Katie. I pulled out my phone, lazily scrolling through social media while I picked away at the scone in front of me. It was sweet.

Twenty minutes passed. I tuned out the sound of the bell on the door to the cafe tinkling every few minutes as people came in for last minute treats. As I started reading a bullshit clickbait article, I heard a petite cough from directly next to me. Looking up, I raised an eyebrow at none other than Michelle standing there next to me, a medium chai latte in hand.

“Someone special sent this your way, honey.” She smiled wide, and placed the latte down in front of me. I looked between the latte and Michelle, stammering out a thank you as my heart started to pound. Who sent this? Sparks of hope erupted throughout my being as I scanned the cafe, looking around for the one who sent this to me. Finally, my eyes laid to rest upon her.

She stood near the doorway, wearing a lacy pink top and cute white shorts, her hair in those perfect low-sitting pigtails. Was I hallucinating? I waved a feeble hand, giving Katie a shy wave. She saw, and smiled wide, grabbing a medium sized drink off the counter next to her. She pointed at the cardboard protector on her own cup, and turned to leave the cafe. What?

My brows furrowed in confusion as I tried to decipher her message. I looked between my latte and the door a few times before Katie’s message clicked in my mind. Hands shaking, I turned around the cardboard protector on the cup until I saw some writing in big, bubbly, cute letters.

You’re not my customer anymore, so here’s my phone number! Text me?

I love her.

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