A Hundred Chaste Cappuccinos by Isla Robertson

She was sitting in her chair when she got the call. Well, it wasn’t her chair, it was the company’s chair but it was at least the chair she always sat on so for ease of reference she always knew it as her chair. After all the company had several hundred chairs but she didn’t sit on any of those. She sat on this one. So, she was sitting in her chair when the telephone rang. This wasn’t an unusual occurrence, the telephone often rang. I mean she was a receptionist for goodness sake, a ringing telephone was part of the job description. What was unusual about this occasion was who was ringing. It wasn’t a wrong number for a start, or someone selling something. Nor in fact was it someone who was looking for someone else and was, quite frankly, tired of always ending up talking to receptionists who couldn't give out any classified information because it was against their code of conduct. No this person, ringing at precisely quarter to five on the Monday afternoon we are speaking about, was actually looking for her and, to cap it all, they knew who she was. They knew her name and everything. It was a man, not her brother or her father, they didn’t ring her at the office, or at all really. It wasn’t a friend either, she didn’t really have male friends. No, this man wasn’t a relation or a friend, he wasn't even an acquaintance. He was a, well, what do you call them, you know…well, a sort of boyfriend I suppose. Not that they lived together or anything like that. Not that sort of boyfriend. But they had been on dates and everything, that counted didn't it? He had even, well you know, stayed over. Just sometimes, only when he wanted to. She didn’t really like initiating these things. What on earth would she say if she did? It was much easier just to nod and smile and hope for the best. 

So she was sitting on a chair that was hers and not hers when the phone rang as it had many times before and she answered to hear the voice of her sort of boyfriend and had such a shocking conversation that she sent her luke-warm instant coffee flying all over the desk. 

The conversation went something like this:
Sort of boyfriend: Janet? Is that you?
Janet: Derek! I, hello, um gosh I wasn’t expecting… It is me, yes ,of course, it is me. Is it you?
Derek: Listen I-
Janet: Am I late? I thought we were meeting after work? Sorry, I can’t really get away early. What if the phone rings? But then I’m on it now I suppose. Gosh, perhaps we shouldn’t be- 
Derek: Janet, listen to me.
Janet: Sorry, yes, of course. Listen.
Derek: I don’t think I can come tonight. 
Janet: Oh. Well that’s ok. We can do it anoth-
Derek: I don’t think I can come then either.
Janet: Oh.
Derek: Look I’m sorry, I really am. I would do the whole it’s not you, it’s me thing, but, well, I’m not really into that. I just don’t think it’s working. There’s so much I want to do in life, you know, and well, you’re just not really a going and doing sort of person. You never try anything new, and I don’t know… I just don’t think you ever will. I’m sorry. 
Janet: There’s someone else.
Derek: No. God. No, there’s no-one else. Well, I mean there’s my life. Things that I like doing that you aren’t interested in. I mean for God’s sake, I doubt you’ve even had a cappuccino. You probably don't even know what that is. I’m not ending it to be with someone else. I guess I’m ending it because I want to do something else. I want more interesting things. Janet? Are you still there?
Janet: Yes, I’m still-
Derek: Ok, well look I’m really sorry. I’m going to go now ok?
Janet: Ok but-

Brrrrrrrrrrrr. The phone line was dead. 

Janet placed the phone back on the receiver. Ten to five the clock read. Five minutes it had taken. Just five minutes to end- Her heart skipped a beat. Five minutes?! That’s 3.5 potential work calls she might have missed. She checked the machine, no one had called. Ten minutes until five o’clock. What was she going to do? Wipe down her desk. That was the last task of the day. Sanitiser spray in hand she worked automatically as Derek’s words washed over her again. Boring he had called her. He hadn’t said it but he had meant it. Boring. She was boring. How dare he! She wasn’t boring. She lived. She had made such an effort for him to try new thing, it wasn’t her fault that she didn't enjoy them. “And I do know what a cappuccino is!” She burst out suddenly, making the copy boy Jake jolt out of his end of day snooze. She glared down at her mug of instant. Well that can go for a start she thought, hurling it into the bin and ignoring the splash marks all over the desk, boring, I’ll show him who’s boring. She threw her sanitiser spray down in a temper, grabbed her bag and stalked off. Five to five, an erotic thrill of daring shot through her. She had never left work early in her life. She would get some wine on the way home. That would make her feel better.

This, of course, was only destined to end one way and, predictably, when the alarm went off the next morning Janet emerged from her cocoon of tear stained tissues, chocolate wrappers and self help books wondering what on earth she had been thinking. She also had a thumping headache. On route to work, in a moment of self-indulgent rebellion she de-toured into a coffee shop. The smell of freshly ground espresso engulfed her in a passionate storm of emotion. This was just what she needed to feel better. She didn’t need Derek. Or did she? She stared up at the menu board above the bar. Cappuccino. One tantalising word that might mean the recovering of all she held dear. Perhaps…? If she tried these new things, maybe he would come back? 
“Hello?” She started. A tall dark man in an apron was looking at her enquiringly. He was rather good looking actually, if that wasn’t inappropriate to notice. She tried to smile and opened her mouth, “A cap-” She couldn’t quite get the words out. This was ridiculous. How was she possibly this tongue tied? Derek was right, maybe she was useless. 
“A cappuccino?” He was smiling at her. Smiling, just smiling. But smiling in a way no-one ever had before. Was this flirting? She wasn’t sure. Perhaps-
“What’s your name?” He had an accent. She wasn’t quite sure what but is was definitely an accent. A foreign one she decided. He could have been Spanish, maybe a New Zealander, or perhaps he was just from Glasgow. She’d never quite got the hang of the Glasgow voice. But it was rather a nice voice, where ever it came from. She mumbled out “Janet” in a sort of half stutter and he scribbled something on her cup.
“Would you like an extra special espresso shot? It’s from Venezuela.” The way he said Venezuela made her shimmer. ‘Extra special’ she thought, ‘he thinks I’m extra special’. She nodded, holding her breath. And then it was all over, she had paid and was collecting her steaming hot take away cup and walking out the door. As she walked to her desk, she inhaled the intoxicating fumes of caffeine wafting through the lid, and smiled. ‘Extra special.’

“Morning Janet” She stopped in shock. This had never happened before. She turned uncertainly and faced her accuser. “Good morning”, she smiled uncertainly. It was John from Accounts and he didn’t seem to be making fun of her, instead he nodded at her coffee. “That smells good, might take a leaf out of your book and nip out and get one myself”. She laughed nervously and nodded. Was he making fun out of her? She wasn’t entirely sure what to say. No-one had ever spoken to her here, unless they were annoyed or wanted something. What on earth was going on?  By the time she had got to her desk and tasted a sip of cappuccino she had decided. Cappuccino’s were magic. From that moment on, her day was a delight. Her headache subsided and by lunchtime she had survived two more friendly encounters with co-workers. One, and she was really proud of this, instigated by herself. ‘Is this what cappuccino does? It really is magic!’

The next morning she did the same thing, got the same smile and had the same good day. The barrista was so friendly. She did the same the next day, and the next day, and then it was the weekend. She had made a decision though. Next week things were going to change. She was going to leave for work early. She had a plan. 

Monday morning came and there she was, half an hour early. Should be enough time, she factored as she stepped off the bus and into the coffee shop. She took the plunge and did it. She ordered a cappuccino to sit in. The barista smiled at her even more. She watched him all the time she was there. Admiring him over her froth and enjoying his smile as she finally finished the last drops and left. The rest of the week she did the same thing and slowly she began watching the other people who came in. The women particularly. Some of them looked so smart she thought. At least the ones she noticed looked smart. And they all smiled. They were all so confident. How did they do that? She began to watch more closely. Began to listen to their conversation, work out how they did it. They all seemed so very much more together than she was. They wouldn’t worry over whether a chair was theirs or not. They would just sit on it. Lots of them seemed to belong to the same gym. She decided to join. She went after work three times a week and began to quite enjoy it. The classes were fun and no-one laughed at her. She changed her coffee order. A skinny cap she decided. The barista smiled again, writing her name on without even asking now. He was definitely flirting now. There was no hiding it. Flirting over a cappuccino. She would never have believed it possible. She didn’t need Derek anymore. She had her beautiful barista.

As the weeks passed she decided to take another bold move and ordered some clothes. She had gone down a dress size and it felt justified, she was hardly a big spender. It was time to treat herself. Trying on the new dress at home was a sheer delight. It was leopard print and clung in places she would never have dared to reveal before. She liked it. She wore it the next day and couldn’t wait to see his face. Would he like it? Would he even notice? He didn’t disappoint. Of course he didn’t. He was her barista. He smiled at her and placed her order, giving her a little wink this time as she walked out the door. She laughed and skipped all the way to work. She had been invited out to drinks that night, the first time ever the work ‘in crowd’ had bothered to include her. Life was certainly looking up. She hadn’t thought about Derek in months. She had friends. And she had her barista. And on Monday, this coming Monday she was going to do it. She was going to ask him for more than a coffee. Perhaps she would just ask if she could get him one, perhaps she’d suggest a drink, or a film, or maybe dinner. But she was going to do it. She was going to ask.

When Monday came she was all of a flutter. She got on the bus even earlier than usual and she fidgeted impatiently as they waited at the roadworks. Didn’t the world understand she needed to get somewhere?! Finally, an age later, she arrived at the door and put out her hand to enter. A deep breath in, and she pushed. He wasn’t there. She walked in and looked around, maybe he was cleaning tables. But no, he wasn’t there. He wasn’t anywhere. She didn’t know what to do. There was another man in his place. Another man wearing his apron. A pimply, bored looking man. She could tell the apron was her barista’s, it had a little tear in the top right corner where he always played with it when he was bored. And now someone else was wearing it. 
“Hello” the someone else interrupted. “What can I get you?”
“A, um, a skinny cap please” 
“Coming right up, what’s your name?”
“Oh, Um Janet. My name’s Janet. Where’s…?” She suddenly realised she didn’t even know his name.
“Chris? People have been asking that all morning. Everyone seems to be obsessed with him! Chris has gone. His girlfriend got a job in another city so he’s transferred there.”
“Yeah. She got some fancy new job apparently. He was all excited about it.” 
“Yeah..” he was looking awkward now. “Do you want our extra special espresso shot? It’s from Venezuela.” Not sexy. The magic had gone.
“Um..no. Not this time. Just the skinny cap. And take-away please. Make it a take-away”

She was in a daze. He’d gone. He’d changed her whole life and he’d gone just like that. They’d had a connection. Hadn’t he felt it too? He hadn’t even told her he was going. And he had a girlfriend. A real life actual girlfriend.  All that time when he’d been smiling and winking at her. He had winked at her, she wasn’t making it up. He had definitely winked at her. And he had a girlfriend. A girlfriend! And now he was gone. Gone.

She took a sip of the hot drink. It didn’t really taste the same anymore. It wasn’t extra special. She saw herself in the mirror in the lift. He hadn’t even seen all her new dresses. He would have loved this one. 
“Hey Janet” It was John. 
“Oh, hello”
“Are you ok?”
“What? Oh sorry. Sorry John, I was dreaming”
“I hate Mondays too. Why are you here so early? Don’t you start at 9?”
“I, yes, I had something I was going to do, but it, well, it fell through”
“Me too. Came in early for a breakfast meeting but they haven’t showed. I was going to catch up on some work, but, well, since you’re hear, do you fancy some breakfast? We ordered in tonnes of croissants and no-one’s going to eat them now.”
“Ok” Janet smiled, “we could split my skinny cap if you like?”
“Could we? Thanks. I’m dying for a good coffee, I’ll go get my mug. Meet you in the conference room?”
“Yes” She smiled again and half laughed. “Yes, I’ll be there.”

Sitting in the comfy chairs in the conference room she realised that her chair that wasn’t her chair was seriously lacking. Perhaps John could help her find a better one? She lifted the lid of the coffee and laughed out loud. The new barista had dusted a smily face into her foam. Chris the Barista was gone but she wasn’t and neither was the cappuccino. There was one thing she knew for sure, there was no way in hell she was going back to life before cappuccinos. 

© Isla Robertson 2017