Coffee Cups

Billiard’s Pick
Charity C. Tran

Coffee and cigarettes were Jason’s cologne. He was the scattered stream-of-conscious novelist. His coffee was black, two packets of Sweet’N Low, and an air of disgust to anyone who suggested he add milk. Everyday, he sat with a black laptop and a yellow notepad in a coffee shop on Third Street and Oak.

This morning Jason’s attention was directed toward his laptop screen, ignoring briefly the yellow notepad that held his great American masterpiece. He was piecing together another spare-change article, something that fed his mouth more than it nourished his mind and soul. He hated this world of column lengths. If it wasn’t for the money, the only role he would accept in this world was one of the scathing editorial writer. Unfortunately the newspaper had plenty of those and they weren’t interested in his “perspective,” so he drank his coffee, gritted his teeth, and walked the line of lackluster news.

Then Rebecca walked in and writing became second in his mind.

Today she was in empowering pink: a rose Ann Taylor silk blouse and a black Donna Karan suit. Her hair was pulled into a neat coil, highlighting the diamond studs on her ears that matched her tennis bracelet. Her left hand fiddled with this bracelet as she stood in line behind a man yelling on his cell phone about stock options.

She tried momentarily to avoid looking at Jason in his self-proclaimed corner property, but the effort was soon lost and her eyes found themselves in his direction, taking in his tousled hair and gray eyes. As the businessman ordered a venti soy latte, she smiled and Jason grinned in return.

“What would you like today?” asked the cashier.

Rebecca said Jason’s favorite words: “Venti drip coffee, no room for milk.”

While she waited for her order and fiddled with two pink packets of Sweet’N Low, Jason scribbled a few words on his yellow notepad. They were always observations of her beauty and her grace—the way the flecks of gray in her hazel eyes seemed to speak to him.

Jason and Rebecca had a history, an on-going love affair through glances.

It began at approximately 7:35 a.m. when she walked in two years ago. Both were fresh out of college. He was less bitter and jaded. She had a mind full of goals and her eye at the top of the corporate ladder. He saw her first; she caught his gaze, and then they both smiled. In their heads was the outline of an adventurous romance. They would live together after having a rushed exchange of “I dos” in a Vegas chapel. They would own a Downtown LA loft overlooking the city where the kitchen smelled of brewing French Roast coffee every morning. Jason would write his novels by his desk to this aroma, and Rebecca would grab her thermos of coffee, kiss him, and then hurry out to her CEO career.

This romance, however, could only exist in this coffee shop, through these glances.

If she knew, she would wrinkle her nose at his dingy studio apartment above a Chinatown restaurant because of its location, because it smelled of mushroom chicken and chow mein. Without an established career, he would be too uncouth, too eccentric for her business crowd. With a life too busy for anything but self-interest, she would only pretend to read his novels, spouting off automatic praise without much thought—the brilliance of its darkness, the raw genuineness of America portrayed in his words. She was in love with the idea of being with an artist, but loved herself too much to ever spare any time for him.

In his head, she was an innocent lost in the cutthroat world of corporate business, but her perfect shell would crack and shatter with any knowledge he had of her non-fictional life. He knew nothing of her drinking habit—two glasses of dirty martinis most nights out of the week. He would never envision that in her Downtown LA loft that very morning she had left her second lover of the week lying naked and drowsy beneath her Egyptian cotton sheets. This lover would be gone by the time she came home, and she would never return any of his calls.

Rebecca and Jason stopped their romance before hello, not because of these details but because they were content. In her, Jason had a muse. In him, Rebecca had a relationship that could actually function because it was perfectly untrue, untouched by her destructive manicured fingertips. Anything else would have been like pouring milk into perfectly dark cups of coffee.

At 7:45 a.m., they shared one last glance before her exit. Their love affair would continue the next morning and in subsequent tomorrows to follow for another year before Rebecca stopped coming in.

After a few months, Jason was forced to write her out of his script: she could no longer handle his growing fame as a great American novelist and their relationship ended in a stormy, bitter divorce.

Rebecca, meanwhile, had transferred to a management position on the East Coast, forgetting entirely that she had left a lover in a coffee shop on Third Street and Oak.


Charity C. Tran is a Los Angeles native who frequents public transit, arts, and culture. She currently studies in the Masters of Professional Writing Program at the University of Southern California, where she also graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and two minors in Web Technology and Applications and Psychology and Law. She can be found randomly updating her website and traveling Los Angeles through E-mail: charity[at]

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