Coffee predicted the future; Jasper knew this for certain. If you stared into the milky depths of a classic brew, you would see the career you retire from. If you delved into caramel swirls, you would see the pets you’d own at any given time. If you dared to mix raspberry and chocolate, your true love would appear.
Now this last one was tricky because often the fates thrust a person through the café doors just as the future was predicted. One longing glance into the cup and ting-a-ling the bell would ring and a human came into focus. Whether coincidence was a jerk or coffee was truly divine was a question that often arose.
A lonely town off the main drag was home to the most superstitious group of human beings the world had ever seen. However, it was also a magical place by all definitions, so the denizens had every right to be superstitious. Anything and everything that could possibly happen had happened. So, imagine their collective surprise as the new “coffee prediction” phenomenon took the town by storm. Finally, a way to be sure of the future! Or, at least, some aspect of it.
Even though coffee crystal balls sounded like an easy concept to grasp, not just anyone could predict the future. The lucky few that could were taken aside, assigned stations, and dispersed throughout corporate hotspots and indie cafes. The only condition? The place had to sell coffee. The fortune tellers appeared across town wearing civilian clothes so no outsider could abuse their powers. Patrons had other means of finding out who in the shop was the teller of truths…
So there Jasper sat, in a cushy corner of the local Starbucks where the seat cushion was molded to his form. The orange pleather upholstery squeaked as he shifted to cross his legs, the fabric stressing at the seams. His large brown sweater sat unevenly on his shoulders yet his navy pants hugged his legs. Curly, unruly blonde hair fell into his face as he gingerly sniffed his caramel latte. He was waiting for someone.
“Wafting is for wussies.”
Jasper’s eyes traveled slowly from his cup to a pair of bright blue eyes. He smiled at the start of the secret phrase. “And beans are for brutes. Sit down.” He kicked at the chair in front of him, which slid out for the customer to sit. The body fell into the chair and collapsed with his head resting awkwardly on his outstretched arms. The man had no coffee to read; he simply came for the therapeutic conversation.
“Jazz, ya gotta help me. You’re the closest friend I got.”
“What else is new? You’re here so often people think we’re brothers,” Jasper purred, pretending to count his nonexistent customers. He pushed a thin wooden stirring stick in the man’s direction and whispered, “I know it helps you think.”
“Thanks,” the man blubbered into his arms. He snuck the stick under his arm and popped his head up with the stick firmly balanced between his teeth. His hair, unlike Jasper’s, was slicked back and straight, a jet black that almost looked blue in the dim lights of the café.
“Please don’t ever mention it. So, tell me, Lou.” Jasper placed his hands lightly on either side of his steaming latte. “What ails you?” Jasper lightly blew on the drink, the caramel scent traveling up and away past recognition. He was going to get a stray cat in a few days; the prospect was exciting and inevitable.
Lou chewed relentlessly on the end of the stirring stick, the visible interpretation of what his mind was going through. “It’s… the ladies.”
That was hardly a new answer. Jasper refrained from rolling his eyes by sticking his face in the wide-brimmed latte cup and taking a large gulp. Upper lip graced with milk foam, Jasper stared ahead. “Paint me surprised.”
“I’ll paint you an entire landscape if you can help me,” Lou cried. His shriek attracted the attention of a few tourists across the floor.
“I don’t have room in my flat for your subpar artwork, you know this.”
Lou nodded sadly. “I know, I know.”
“But seriously, be specific. What ladies?” Jasper humored his friend. He was well-versed in Lou-ology to know that there weren’t multiple ladies—in fact, it was just the one.
“Harper. She’s driving me insane, Jazz!” Lou said.
“Ah yes, that old vixen.” Harper was a reader like Jasper, though she operated down the street in a family-owned coffee shop called WholeGrounds. “Tell me, Lou,” Jasper mused, “Is there a reason you keep trying?”
The question made Lou drop the stirring stick, mouth agape. Jasper had never dared to ask that question—it was possible Lou could see it as a bit too personal—but apparently, all bets were off today. Did the barista put cinnamon in his latte? Sometimes that made him a bit spicy.
“Has Harper shown any signs of love? Any little hints?” Jasper asked. Lou began to raise his finger in thought, but Jasper pushed it back down. “I only ask because this is killing me inside.”
As Lou continued to look perplexed at the thought of considering someone else’s feelings, Jasper slipped his phone out of his pocket and sent a quick text.
Lou frowned. “Well, come to think of it…”
Just as Lou was about to ramble on about signs that Harper was definitely not in love with him but made her seem like she was, Jasper caught the eye of a potential customer. She looked away shyly, but the classic coffee smell was unmistakable. She was waiting for a reading.
“Hey, Lou, can we talk about this later?” Jasper asked, patting Lou’s arm.
Lou turned and noticed the waiting customer. He nodded and lumbered towards the checkout counter. Jasper watched him fumble through his wallet and wait in line to order a drink, something Lou rarely did. Before he could analyze Lou just a bit more, the girl in waiting sat down and placed her coffee gingerly on the table.
“Wafting’s for wussies,” she chirped a little too loudly.
“And beans are for brutes.”
He couldn’t let Lou leave his sight.
Luckily, the girl’s reading didn’t take too long. She and Jasper discussed her career prospects, consulted the coffee, and came up with a reasonable solution for her future. As she left the Starbucks, Jasper frantically searched for Lou.
Abandoning his station, Jasper combed the small, yet jam-packed, coffee shop. A couple people looked up to see what the fashionable young lad was doing ducking and bending around the close-knit tables, but overall no one seemed to notice him. He finally found Lou sitting in the farthest corner of the shop, a cup of steaming liquid in between his large hands. Lou was sitting quite close to the rising steam, little droplets of moisture forming on top of his nose.
“Lou, what are you…?” Jasper asked.
“Shh! I’m trying to read,” Lou whispered, as if the coffee could hear their conversation.
Lou never acted so strangely. Jasper frowned and eyed the dark milky brew. He knew that combination anywhere, especially in his place of work.
“Raspberry and chocolate,” Jasper said aloud. “What are you doing?”
“Hush, Jazz!” Lou waved a hand at him. “I’m looking into the milky depths… how do I know when my true love walks through the door?” He despaired.
“You just sorta—” Jasper was interrupted by the door’s bell ringing. “Oh my God.”
“You don’t think…?” Lou whispered in amazement.
“No, I don’t think. Now just drink your coffee, okay?” Jasper snapped, ditching a confused yet hopeful Lou.
Jasper made a beeline for the door and, more specifically, the person who walked through. She was a young woman, dark red hair against olive skin, bright eyes that always asked how you were doing. Today she wore a gingham dress under a homemade apron, the name “WholeGrounds” embroidered on the front.
“Hey, Jazz! Something the matter?” She asked as she noticed Jasper’s glare.
“Just turn around and exit the building, Harper. Meet me at WholeGrounds,” he hissed.
“But you texted me—”
“Yeah, I know what I did! Just turn around!” Jasper pushed her and tried to ignore the hurt look on Lou’s face from across the room.
Jasper picked up his satchel, exiting the coffee shop. His caramel latte sat unfinished atop the chipped granite of his table, the final stems of steam dissipating before the bell on the door rang.
“Do you want to tell me what that was about?” Harper asked, pulling her keys out of her pocket. She fiddled with the key until the WholeGrounds door opened. Turning on the lights, Harper tossed her jacket to Jasper. “Hang that up, will ya?”
Jasper hung the coat over a large hook in the wall and slumped into the large couch in the center of the café. Compared to the stuffy and crowded atmosphere of Starbucks—which Jasper tended to like anyway—WholeGrounds was more open and intimate. There were hardly any lights except for the coffee bar, and the only seating areas were tables against the windows, large sofas in the center. The place forced you to interact with strangers but let you talk in secret if you desired.
“Poor timing, that’s what!” Jasper said, playing with his phone case.
“Poor timing? Poor timing made you push me out of the store?” Harper laughed and began setting up shop. She set little coffee pods across the counter labeled with “free sample” stickers and started writing up the evening’s specials.
“Yeah, sorry about that,” he responded.
“It’s whatever. But really, what’s going on?” Harper asked.
“Well, do you happen to know a rather large and imposing man named Lou?”
At the sound of his name, Harper froze; the C she was writing derailed. “Lou? That’s a pretty common name.”
“Maybe so, but this Lou is pretty unmistakable.”
“Well, he kinda loves you. Like, a lot.” Jasper smirked as Harper dropped the chalk and sighed. “Now, do you know Lou?”
“Yeah, I know him,” Harper said quietly, fixing the C. ”What about him?”
“He uses me as his therapist.”
Harper snorted and finished the word she was writing: chocolate. “Well that was his second mistake.”
“His first was using me as his reader and… falling in love with me. It’s a joint mistake, really.”
Jasper gasped so hard he coughed on his spit. “Um, excuse me, what?”
“Well, you know I’m a reader, right?”
“Yes, Harper, we established this a few years ago.”
“And you know I started reading here at WholeGrounds, right?”
“Yes, and now you work here. Wish Starbucks would offer me a position…”
“No, you don’t, and yes, now I work here. I still read during my lunch breaks, though. That’s when Lou first came to me.”
Jasper was aware of how much Lou loved Harper, but he had never imagined that it was because of any previous interaction he had with her. Harper was an attractive woman by pretty much any standard; by definition that meant Lou would most likely love her. But once Jasper sat down with Harper, he realized there was more to the story.
The two returned to the large couch. Harper began to gush about how lovely Lou had been, how kind, how sweet. She painted a picture for Jasper about their first meeting and how Lou bought her a coffee so she wouldn’t feel awkward reading his drink. She blushed and laughed, all of these little memories of Lou lighting up her face like a Christmas tree.
“He ordered every drink on the menu just to spend time with me. I was flattered,” Harper said.
“How did it go wrong, then? You seem so smitten,” Jasper commented.
Harper blushed again, her face turning a bright scarlet. “Well, he left the chocolate raspberry latte for last.”
“And I was about to tell him to drink the coffee and see who walked through the door, but someone had just dropped off a bunch of vintage coffee mugs outside the shop. So I went outside for a few minutes to thank the donor and returned.”
Despite the seriousness of the story, Jasper was hooked like it were a soap opera. “And then?”
“It was me, Jazz.”
“I am Lou’s true love.”
Jasper clapped his hands together and jumped with the energy. “Well that’s perfect then!”
“What do you mean?”
“He loves you! He isn’t just making it up!”
Harper shook her head at Jasper’s exclamation. “But I don’t know if these readings really work, Jazz!”
“That’s ridiculous. We tell people everyday exactly how their lives are going to play out.”
Harper laughed bitterly. “Have you ever checked back in with your patrons? See if their life path is really how you predicted? Have you ever had someone throw coffee in your face because you didn’t predict something happening to them? Have you…” Her voice tapered off, her eyes watering.
Jasper frowned and pat Harper’s hands. Taking one between his own, he warmed her hands.
“Well, no, none of those have happened to me. Honestly, I’m thankful. However, the answer seems pretty easy to me. Why don’t you drink the latte to find out if Lou is your true love? What harm could it do? At the very least you get a great cup of java out of it.”
“That’s ridiculous. It doesn’t work like that, Jazz; life doesn’t work like that!”
“Well doesn’t love trump all? Can’t you just do it to see?”
Harper was silent for a moment. Just as the quiet became too much, she whispered, “But what if it isn’t him? What do I do then?”
Jasper shrugged. “Well, at least then you know. You could move on.”
WholeGrounds was busier than normal, though perhaps that was because of the evening’s special. The main barista, Harper, was shouting orders left and right, but her eyes were bright with the adrenaline rush. Her customers were happy, so she was happy.
After what seemed like years, Harper took her break and sat down next to one of the windows. The early evening light gave the seat a cool glow, though it cast a shadow on the person sitting opposite her.
“Are you ready?” He asked, pushing the latte cup towards her.
Ignoring the cup, Harper looked across the table at Jasper with pursed lips. “I’m not sure.”
“What are you afraid of?”
“…being hurt. Knowing for certain.” Harper looked out the window to avoid Jasper seeing her nervous tears.
Before Jasper responded, he checked his phone. With a smile he said, “Look at it this way: you’re going to know eventually, so why not ask the fates now?” Jasper put his hands over Harper’s. “The worst they can do is be right. Or not put anyone through the door, which could be a blessing if you think about it.”
Harper laughed. Nodding, she took a deep breath and pulled the cup towards her. She could feel the warmth around her fingers and closed her eyes. Raising the cup up to her lips, she took a deep breath and a small sip.
The bell on the door rang.
It had been weeks since Jasper saw Lou; the big guy usually came through once a day and asked for therapy. Lately, the Starbucks had been quiet without him.
The usual customers came and went; after you had so many readings, you pretty much knew everything a brew could tell you. Especially if you came to Starbucks; the options there were truly limited. But, Jasper had to admit he missed Lou and his sob stories. In fact, he also missed Harper, though he could just hop in and say hi whenever he wanted to.
Harper still worked at WholeGrounds and actually picked up more readings on her days off. Whenever Jasper did stop in, he had to watch that she wasn’t giving a reading; he couldn’t have anyone falling in love with him anytime soon. After the stress event that was Harper and Lou’s matchmaking, Jasper couldn’t take any chances.
As Jasper sat on his comfy orange lounge chair, he looked at his phone. At the top of the list was Lou’s name in bold print. “Thanks” was all it read. Jasper sat back and looked out the window next to his chair. He had long dismissed the ringing of the Starbucks bell—it was so busy that the bell became background noise—but this time he looked up to see bright blue eyes and a smiling face.
“Reading’s for rookies,” Lou teased.
Jasper laughed and handed Lou a stirring stick. “Yeah? Well love’s for losers. Take a seat, wise guy.”
The two talked until Starbucks forced them out the door and into the world. It was a strange and mythical world, but it was one where coffee and flavor shots determined your love life. Unless, of course, your therapist had a cell phone and the power of influence.
Featured image: Cappuccino Italiano II by Christopher Clark