You walk into the coffeehouse and pick a seat beside the thin woman whose beauty is coiled into tight vines of hair. Never seen her here before, you think as you slide into the bench beside her, careful not to get caught looking in her direction.
You take off your coat, power up your laptop, check your cell phone for messages. You coyly lay your trap.
The barista comes in from the supply closet and says, “Hey, Sammy.” The skinny, clear-skinned woman looks up, a gazelle at the watering hole.
“Hey,” you respond, then give the woman a quick nod. Already, her head is back into her book: Earth Organizing: Community and Environmental Justice. Her skeletal fingers bear no rings, except a thick band on her left thumb. The silver is engraved with a crescent moon.
She gives a slight start when you hand her the plug to your computer. “Do you mind?”
She puts down her book and says, “No, no, of course,” then plugs the cord into the socket beside her bench.
“How’s business, Sammy?” the barista calls over the sizzle of foamy milk.
“Rough,” you say, grinning. This coffee shop is your new office since you lost your job. “Only six g’s this month . . . so far,” you add. The woman smiles at her book without looking up. Her nostrils twitch.
You slowly unzip your leather-bound portfolio and start typing bullishly on your keyboard. Your cell rings like a retro phone and everyone in the coffee shop looks up. It’s your mother calling to find out when you’ll be home for dinner and can you please stop at Kroger for kitty litter on your way?
You grunt and nod and bang on your laptop as if she were a client. Long after she hangs up, you go on talking to the air, punctuating your one-sided conversation with words like “recycle” and “fair trade” and “organic.”
The girl beside you hasn’t turned the page of her book for at least five minutes. Her narrow foot is jiggling beneath the table. “Give me until Friday,” you say, ending the nonexistent conversation. Shaking your head, you look at the girl and say, “Clients,” the same way grandfathers say, “Kids today.”
She puts down the book and asks, “What do you sell?”
Her hair is unreasonable. Her gaze is wary.
“I’m not a salesman,” you correct her. “I’m a coffee apothecary.”
The gears are working in her head. She’s a smart cookie. “You’re selling coffee in a coffee shop?” she asks.
“Yeah, Sammy, why you selling coffee to our customers? The hell’s wrong with you?” the barista asks. “Ask him to buy you another latte, miss.”
She is skittish. She starts packing her books.
“It’s organic, fair trade, natural, good for the libido,” you say to your computer.
She stops moving for a second, then turns to you. “Sex coffee?”
“I can get it for you for eight dollars a pound. Your boyfriend’ll love it.”
“I don’t have a boyfriend.” Her limbs are tensing.
“It works for everyone,” you say discreetly.
She turns and considers you intently. She is an ambush of hair and black-hole eyes. She leans so close to your lips, you can smell the savannah in her pores.
“Everyone doesn’t need it,” she whispers, then escapes on long, swift legs.
You try to go back to filling your orders, but you can’t think. “Gimme a cappuccino,” you say to the barista. But even a double shot leaves you jonesing for that hot, bitter jolt.