coffee shop therapy – a short story

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.”

“How so?”

“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.”

“Implying…?”

“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.”

Jasper nodded.

“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.”

“What?”

“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

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sunrise – a story in parts

On the tiny island of Minoa, there lived two respected families: the House of Ilios and the House of Daed. Though they were not of the kind to fight over their differences, they existed on different planes. The Ilios family served the people through hard work and volunteering in order to humble themselves. The Daed family, on the other hand, served the people through business ventures and taxation. To the denizens of Minoa, it was clear which family served the community best. Without the assistance and compassion of the Ilios family, the people would go unheard and unrecognized. Under the watchful eye of the Daed family, the people were frightened and cautious. The island couldn’t suffer the reign of Daed without the support of Ilios.

For years it continued in this way: the Ilios family raised the people up while the Daed family pushed them back down. Though the Ilios family tried their best, they were never fully able to overcome the Daed family’s influence on the Minoan people. Instead, they gave back to the community in little ways. They continued volunteering and doing odd jobs around town, eventually procuring enough money to buy the long-abandoned building in the heart of Minoa. They had grand plans for a place that would serve the people by providing warmth, food, and community to anyone who was in need.

It was around this time when Sunday Ilios, the lone child of Mel and Jasper Ilios, was born. The sun shone brightest that day; the warmth practically enlivened the people to join in the construction of the new community building. Day in and day out, the Minoans chopped, hammered, and grouted away at the mess that was the old town winery. Baby Sunday squealed in the background and enchanted the townspeople with her sunny disposition. The child never cried, even when the Daed family came to reclaim the building.

It was also around this time when Russ Daed, the lone child of Mika and Ali Daed, was born. Russ was to be the heir to the Daed fortune, but the world had other ideas. The child grew up in a world of tension and disappointment. The day the Ilios family bought the old winery was the day Russ’s world truly turned black. His father left him at the house in the arms of his nanny, weeping at the absence of parental presence. Meanwhile, Ali Daed rushed down to the building himself and saw to it that the construction was halted. He couldn’t have the street rats giving the Minoans hope. How dare they believe in such a childish feeling. He began shouting and throwing anything he could find. Some undercover Daed supporters began joining in the fight and, soon, the place was a massacre. Mel took Sunday back to the house, but there were no safe places in the era of Daed.

The fight died down after much persuasion at the hands of Mel and Jasper, but Ali made sure his message was clear.

“Mark my words. Whenever you find success in any small amount, I’ll be there. I’ll be watching. I’ll make sure your kind are never given more than what they deserve,” hissed Ali. His hands were bloody with the memory of the battle. He scanned the frightened mob of denizens, each face etched in fear and uncertainty. His eyes at last fell on Mel and Jasper, standing tall and holding Sunday close. “And you. Sunday Ilios. May your days be ravaged with the memory of today. The righteous will always fall.” He wandered up to the unfocused child and marked her forehead with a bloody finger. Mel slapped his arm away and sent him back to his mansion on the hill where little Russ waited.

As Ali wandered back up the hill, little Sunday Ilios let loose a wail that ran a chill through Minoa. The era of Daed had begun, and no one was safe. Not even young Russ Daed who lay, weeping in silence, waiting for the return of his father. While the town mourned the day their delicate harmony crumbled under the weight of solemn victory, the Ilios and Daed heirs entered a new world where they were connected in a way they would never quite understand.

In the days that followed the fight, Mel, Jasper, and the Minoans built up the winery into a rugged yet organically beautiful soup kitchen. Mel and Jasper served the community from behind a shiny countertop with cheerful Sunday kicking away in her highchair. As the years continued, Sunday grew up in the soup kitchen, her days filled with cleaning dishes, taking orders, cooking meals, and eventually taking over the joint. When Sunday was old enough, her parents left the soup kitchen in her hands as an act of trust.

“You’re so strong,” Jasper whispered to a humbled Sunday. “We have complete trust that you can bring this kitchen to greatness. Own it with pride, Sunny. And respect it as if it were living.” Her father kissed her forehead and draped her favorite apron over her chest. Turning her around, he tied the strings and placed a gray beret atop her head. “To Sunday!”

“To Sunday!” The town roared back.

In the days after the fight, Russ was forced to believe that the townspeople had risen against Ali in an act of violence. He cried for days fearing for his father’s safety; he truly believed the Minoans were dangerous people. While these foul thoughts filled his mind, the people outside celebrated a new dawn with the opening of the soup kitchen. When Russ was old enough, and after much persuasion, Ali allowed Russ to leave the house with at least two bodyguards in an act of frustration. Russ was determined to experience Minoa for himself instead of blindly believing his father’s grandiose stories.

Russ took careful steps at first, but once he understood that no one was walking the streets he began prancing like a wild pony. The bodyguards initially acted amused, but they quickly became hostile at the sight of the gathering outside the soup kitchen. They were just about to spring into action when Russ raised his hand.

“Leave them be,” commanded Russ. He had plenty of practice using his patented Daed demand voice that the guards froze in their steps.

Russ peeked around the side of a nearby building and watched Sunday be crowned with her beret and apron. Her auburn hair was pulled back in a messy ponytail, dusted with flour and spices from the kitchen. In a word, Russ was smitten.

“To Sunday!” Her father crowed.

“To Sunday!” Russ was surprised to find himself cheering along with the Minoans, his smile widening as Sunday beamed with her head to the sky and tears rolling down her cheeks.

“Mom, do you have my apron? I can’t seem to find it…” Sunday rummaged through her meager belongings with such force that clothes were flying in every which direction. Mumbling to herself, she clawed at a few sweatshirts on the ground. “I know I left it here somewhere…”

“Heads up, Sunny.” The apron landed on Sunday’s head, splaying over her hair, still wet from the shower. “You washed it last night, silly.”

“Oh, right. Thanks, mom.” She threw the garment over her overalls and yellow “Minoa Minnows” shirt from summer camp years ago. After slipping on a pair of sneakers, she slipped an elastic around her wet hair, tossed on her beret, and kissed her mother’s cheek. “Gotta go, mom, love you bunches.”

Sunday blew into the kitchen and kissed her father’s cheek, slipping a pancake from his plate as she did so. “Thanks for the breakfast, dad! See you later, okay?” She took a bite of the steaming pancake and closed the door behind her.

Within minutes she was on her way to the Minoan soup kitchen. It had only been a few years since her parents passed the business on to her, but she was still just as in love with it as she was the first day. She had come to call the cramped area her second home, complete with a second family that she found in her regulars. Although most soup kitchens were meant exclusively for the needy, the Minoan soup kitchen served any and all who chose to enter the premises. Even if that meant Ali Daed, the self-proclaimed enemy of the establishment, anyone was worthy of service.

Sunday couldn’t help but smile as she saw the brick-walled kitchen appear on the horizon. The early morning sun was still cresting the hills of Minoa, and yet the kitchen’s patrons waited eagerly outside for the doors to open.

“Good morning, Leslie! Kett, you’re looking well,” Sunday greeted her two favorite regulars. They were always first in line for opening and warmed up to Sunday since she began managing the kitchen.

“Mornin’, Sunday! Beautiful day for some fish, hm?” Leslie suggested, elbowing Sunday’s ribs as she tried to open the doors.

“Just because you fish all day does not mean I want to cook fish all day, Les. You know this.” Sunday laughed, finally succeeding in opening the doors. She and the patient patrons flooded in and turned on the lights, the sound of pleasant conversation rising to a healthy din.

“Leslie, if you eat so much fish you’re going to become one yourself,” Kett chided gently. She ran a hand through Leslie’s sea salt-encrusted gray mop. “You’re also a fright. Let’s get you cleaned up!” Kett, Leslie’s patient wife, took Leslie’s hand and brought him over to the sink behind the counter.

As the two chattered over the cleanliness of Leslie’s appearance, Sunday took it upon herself to start lunch. Today’s special was tomato soup, as it was every Wednesday, and it was a town favorite. If she didn’t start early, Leslie wouldn’t leave enough for the rest of the town.

Sunday unpackaged the ingredients and smiled as Kett quietly took up a knife and began slicing tomatoes. Leslie, though less precise than Kett, began chopping basil with a large machete-like knife. Kett made a joke about the knife being sharper than Leslie and the three of them laughed so hard they naturally salted the ingredients with their tears. At some point in the morning Sunday began to realize just how lucky she was to have this family, to have this kitchen, to have this life. What more could she possibly want?

“Pops, do you have my satchel? I seem to have misplaced it…” Russ paged through his expansive closet like a well-worn book, piece by piece moving left to right in a steady rhythm. No matter how long he stared, he couldn’t find the satchel.

“I swear, if you ask me where that piece of trash is one more time, I’ll burn it.”

“That’s saying we find it first,” Russ retorted, finding a different bag in the back of his closet. He puffed it out and dusted off the top with a smile. “Never mind; this’ll do.”

He began packing the bag with his “Day Out” essentials: water, pencil, and his trusty notebook. Russ never heard a response from his father about the bag; it was probably better that way. When Ali Daed was in one of his moods, the household was essentially a prison.

That’s why Russ wanted to get outside. He wanted to escape the mood swings and possibly, if he were lucky, get a good story to write for the Minoa Chronicle. The thing Russ liked most about the town’s newspaper is that the management didn’t care that he, Russ Daed, was the son of the richest man in town. That being said, he was finding it difficult to break the barrier and enter the journalism world.

“Write a story, plain and simple,” the editor had said. “Once you give us a story and it doesn’t sound half bad, we’ll consider your application.”

That sounded simple enough, but finding a worthwhile story in Minoa when the same hundreds of people lived there each year wasn’t easy. Plus, most businesses in town were not willing to hire the snotty rich kid from up the hill; after all, he had all the money. What did he need with more?

For Russ, though, it wasn’t about the money at all. It was about the search for truth, justice, and the occasional act of vengeance. Being raised in a house of lies was enough fuel for the journalistic fire that burned within Russ’s mind. His first step towards being his own human was getting this job.

Russ was out the door before Ali could ask where he was going. The walk from his house to Central Minoa was a bit long, but there was no way he would get a good story if he didn’t walk. So thus the journey began.

By the time Russ reached Central Minoa, his legs were throbbing with the strain from the exercise. At that moment, he would kill for a water; he had already gulped down the bottle he brought on the way down his own hill. He figured there would be plenty of cafes that sold beverages in Central Minoa, but Russ couldn’t see any. There was also no way he would survive walking even a block in any direction, his legs were so sore.

He plopped on a bench and massaged his ankles. While he did so, the sounds of chattering Minoans got louder and louder. Was it a mob? Another confrontation? It had been years since the last one, so that would be interesting…

Russ stood up begrudgingly to see what the ruckus was about. He hobbled over to the wide street and noticed the crowd of people waiting to get into a brick building. As he walked past the long line of people, he could pick up certain dialogue.

“Have you heard what soup it is today?”

“Tomato basil, my favorite!”

“Do you think Sunday’s cooking today?”

“Of course, don’t you smell the spices?”

Russ forgot about all pain. All he could think was: Soup. Sunday. Spices. This is the soup kitchen line. It was surreal to see so many people waiting for some tomato soup. It was even more surreal that Sunday was just beyond the crowded doors still holding up the business. Perhaps it was most surreal that Sunday had no idea who Russ was and yet Russ practically worshipped the ground Sunday walked on.

Eager to fix that minor detail in their relationship (or lack thereof), Russ hopped into the soup line and began mingling with the Minoans. Some recognized him as a relative of Ali’s, the two didn’t look alike save for the same black hair and copper skin, but no one held it against him. In this neck of Minoa, everyone was accepting and simply eager to enjoy some of Sunday Ilios’s tomato soup. Within his waiting period, he learned that this year was Sunday’s fifth year of management, hence the long line and popular soup.

By the time, Russ entered the soup kitchen, it was past noon and the place was just as busy, if not busier, than it was before he jumped in line. The inside of the soup kitchen was decorated with banners celebrating Sunday’s fifth year as well as confetti and streamers in varying shades of orange. The line dwindled down before him, but as he got closer he noticed Sunday struggling to get the soup out of the pot. He heard the scraping of metal on metal and saw a flash of panic across Sunday’s face.

At last it was Russ’s turn. He stepped up to the counter and caught Sunday’s eye, smiling. She was in the midst of requesting the next large pot from an older woman off to the side, but she still managed to crack a smile.

“Well, you’re a new face! Ever been here before and I just haven’t noticed?” Sunday asked, leaning on the counter while she waited for the soup. Her auburn hair was barely held in an elastic band under her beret; the locks fell around her face like a lion’s mane. Her shocking blue eyes met Russ’s, leaving him gaping instead of responding to her question.

“Uh… uh, no! No, unfortunately I’ve never been inside.”

She raised an eyebrow.

“That is to say, uh, that I was at your crowning.” Her eyebrow stayed raised. “When you were given the kitchen? I… I was there then.”

“Oh, okay! I don’t remember seeing your face, and I’m usually good with faces.” She laughed, a lilting sound that reminded Russ of wind chimes on a summer day. “Well are you here to eat then…?”

“Russ, the name is Russ,” he spattered.

Sunday nodded and took the large pot of tomato soup from the older woman next to her.

“Well, nice to meet you, Russ! I’m Sunday. Enjoy your soup!” She exclaimed, ladling the soup with such precision that she must have done it at least one hundred times today.

The fact that Russ was walking away from Sunday hit him as he sat down to eat his meal. He hadn’t even talked to her! He just spat out his name and took the soup without even saying thank you. What kind of person did she think he was after that? And it wasn’t like he could just run up to her and start apologizing for his awkward mannerisms; when your father never let you leave the house when you were younger, it was tough to acquire social skills. No, he needed a reason to speak with her again…

Russ looked around for Sunday, but of course she was behind the counter serving the rest of the Minoans. His eyes fell on the banners about Sunday’s fifth year… and click. An excuse to talk to her again. The news story he so desperately needed and, after a quick scan of the room, no other seedy journalists were lurking. It was his big break!

Russ stood up so forcefully that his chair toppled to the ground, the sound making everyone turn to stare. Even Sunday raised a hand and called out, “Y’all right, Russ?”

The sound of his name on her lips made him beam and wave in response. “Yep, all good here!”

Sunday smiled like she knew that wasn’t true. Laughing to herself, she continued ladling soup. She started spilling little amounts of tomato soup at first, just little dots of red sprinkling the countertop. But, by the time Russ appeared at her counter again, she had just finished spilling an entire ladle’s full over a poor woman’s hands.

“Oh, goodness! I’m so sorry, Mrs. Peters! Do you want another bowl?” Sunday gave one to her anyway and sighed heavily. What was wrong with her?

“Hey, do you have a moment to perhaps, uh, talk?” Russ asked, hanging off to the side of the counter to give people room.

“I’m a bit busy…,” responded Sunday. She was intent on watching every drop of soup enter each bowl, so looking at Russ was not an option, never mind speak to him.

“Well, it’s for the Minoan Chronicle… I wanted to do a story on you!” Russ blurted out.

“A story? On me?” Sunday responded, dropping the ladle into the pot with a splash. She wiped the soup off her cheek and covered the pot. “You’re not serious, are you?”

“Serious as I’ll ever be, I’m afraid!” Russ responded.

“Well, um, okay! Yeah, sure, okay,” Sunday tried to keep her smile small, but the thought of being in the town newspaper was a bit exciting. “Kett, could you take care of this? Thank you so much.” She beamed and tossed her apron over a chair behind the counter.

When she came out of the kitchen, Russ directed her back to his table where his soup sat uneaten. At the sight of the full bowl, Sunday’s heart sank.

“Uh, you’re not going to write a story about my cooking, are you? Seeing as… seeing as you didn’t like it.”

Russ looked down at his bowl and gasped so loudly the surrounding patrons looked up in alarm. “What? Oh my, no! I wanted to write a story on your experiences here after five years of management!” Russ laughed.

“Oh!” Sunday laughed along with him, grateful for the relief. Experiences were better than talking about her cooking. “Well that’s fine, then!”

“Perfect!” Russ took the notebook out from his satchel and the pencil from behind his ear. “Sunday, have you ever been in the paper before?”

Sunday knit her brow and tried to think, but she couldn’t remember a time when her business with the soup kitchen was published in the Chronicle. The little pamphlets that were passed around town always had her face on them—she always assumed they were menus of the soups for the week, even though she never published the list officially—but otherwise her stories were untold to the richer society of Minoa.

“Well, no. I don’t believe I have. Not the Chronicle, anyway,” she responded.

“We’re going to change that,” Russ replied with a smile.

The two began talking, a situation that changed from awkward to familiar in a short amount of time. Anyone who looked over at them would notice the reddish tint to Sunday’s cheeks, the genuine smile on her lips, and the way she nervously played with her hair. Russ was a ball of sunshine, his cheeks straining from the laughs and smiles Sunday caused. A few times he put a hand on her shoulder during a particularly powerful laugh.

There was a point when Kett was about to ask Sunday to return to the kitchen, but she realized how happy she looked just enjoying the moment. Instead, Kett and Leslie served the Minoans until there was simply no soup left to provide. Luckily the Minoans had come back for seconds and thirds before they ran out of soup, so no one was left without food.

“What school did you go to again?” Russ asked, leaning back in his chair.

Sunday was perched on her chair with her knees up to her chin, but that didn’t stop her from chuckling.

“Minoa Middle, you know? The Minoan Minnows?” She pinched the shoulders of her shirt and pointed to the logo. “We’re the Minnows!” She made an obnoxious sound and dissolved into fits of laughter when she saw Russ’s concerned face.

“I always knew it! The Minoa Middle Schoolers were the worst! They were such hooligans; no wonder you went there!” Russ teased.

“Oh yeah? Well where did you go, Mister High and Mighty?”

“Minoa Prep, of course.”

“I always knew it! The Minoa Preps were the worst!” She mocked him, waving her hands in the air like she was telling a ghost story. “Only problem is, you don’t seem to be as big of a jerk as the rest of the Preppies.”

“Oh, and that’s a problem?” Russ asked, smirking.

“Well, when you put it that way… no. No, it’s actually a good thing.” Sunday examined her nails to avoid Russ’s gaze. The comfortable silence hung between them for a little longer than Sunday was used to, but it was nice.

Russ looked at Sunday, Sunday looked back. Russ smiled, Sunday smiled back. When Russ stood up and gathered his things, Sunday followed suit.

“I’m sorry to break this up, but I really need to get going and finish this story,” Russ apologized. “I had the best time today, though.”

“Me too.” Sunday smiled.

“Uh, I’ll let you know when the story’s out!”

“Yeah, yeah! Of course! Don’t be a stranger, Russ,” Sunday replied, reaching out to put Russ’s pencil in his hand. She closed his fingers over it and pat them before disappearing behind the counter once more.

When she entered the kitchen, Kett stared a hole into the back of her head. “What—”

“Kett! He’s still here…,” Sunday hissed, waving as Russ exited the building.

“Who was that?” Kett exclaimed, her voice reaching stratospheric pitches. Her hands clasped around the ladle she was cleaning, soap flying everywhere.

“Oh, just… Russ.” Sunday bit her lip to keep from beaming and turned to the dirty dishes.

“Sunday and Russ…” Kett murmured to herself as Leslie laughed.

“We gots ourselves a little sunrise at sunset,” Leslie boomed, smacking Sunday on the back with a smile.

Russ worked tirelessly to get the story finished before the morning Chronicle was delivered. He was eager for his story to be considered; the sooner it was published, the sooner he could return to Sunday with a fresh paper in his hands. Hands.

If he thought about it long enough, he could still feel her warmth on his hands. He had been so surprised by the gesture that he was sure to burst from happiness, but he had left before he could make a fool of himself. All these years, aspiring to be in Sunday’s social circle, and it only took an afternoon to fall. Sunday Ilios was his soulmate, he was sure of it.

The only thing he could do now was submit the story and wait. He ran down to the Chronicle at midnight, knowing they were working on the morning publication even this late. He burst through the door and held the draft in his hands.

“I have a story for you, boys!” Russ bellowed, passing the draft over to the editor.

It had been at least a week before Sunday saw Russ again. She’d be lying if she didn’t admit to waiting like an idiot by the door every morning, watching for his ink-black hair and bright smile. His hazel eyes were imprinted in her mind, the way they squinted when he laughed, which was often. The way he praised her work at the soup kitchen made her insides feel like her own pot of soup, all warm and churning.

On the morning of the seventh day, though, she only half expected him to show up. It wasn’t that she had given up hope, but the odds of him returning or even getting the story published were pretty slim. Sunday had thought about this a lot, but why would a rich people newspaper want a story about the child of a family who tried to take down the Daeds? Wasn’t that just asking for humiliation? Come to think about it, maybe it was for the best that the article not get published. Though, a part of her still wished Russ would come back, even if the story were rejected.

The evening of the seventh day came and almost went. Sunday was just locking up the kitchen when she heard hurried steps.

“Sunday!”

She turned around to see Russ running at a dangerous speed down the slanted road to the kitchen.

“Sunday, look!”

In his hands, he held what looked like a paper, flapping in the wind. She couldn’t believe it. Was her story really published?

Russ ran up to her and thrust the newspaper into her hands. Flipping through it, she found the story and began reading. Russ had said so many nice and wonderful things, and the story itself was written wonderfully, but how did the Chronicle decide to publish it?

“I still don’t understand… why would the Chronicle want a story about the Ilios family when the readership worships the Daeds?” She asked.

He flinched at the mention of his family name but tried not to show it. “They really wanted a breath of fresh air, Sunday. And you’re it!”

“I… I just can’t believe it.” She could feel tears, but she refused to cry.

“Well, believe it, Sunday! You’re a star now. The whole of Minoa is watching, so stay on your toes.” He winked and put out his hand for the paper. “I need to return it to the Chronicle so they can copy it for tomorrow’s release.”

Sunday gave the paper back reluctantly. She couldn’t wait to show her parents tomorrow, but they didn’t get the Chronicle in this part of town. “Hey, Russ?”

“Yeah?”

“Would you be able to get me a Chronicle tomorrow? We don’t really get that paper over here.”

“Oh, uh, sure!” Any excuse to see Sunday again was good enough for him. “Meet you here tomorrow?”

“Of course.”

The two looked at each other, waiting for the other to either continue or end the conversation.

“Well…” They both started at the same time, laughing.

“Well… thanks, Sunday. You’re a star, now! No longer a minnow, but a large fish in little Minoa,” said Russ. He hugged Sunday, smiling when she returned the gesture. They stood that way for a few seconds, just relishing each other’s company.

When they finally broke apart, Sunday blushed and began backing up to go home. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Russ.”

“You got it, Sunday.”

“Oh, and Russ?”

He stopped in his tracks. “Yeah?”

“Thank you.”

He smiled and waved, tucking the paper into his satchel and strolling down the street with his hands in his pockets.

As Russ disappeared into the streets, Sunday ran up the stairs and into her house, her face flushed with excitement. She was going to be a star! All of those years at the soup kitchen really paid off. Plus, she made a new friend. It wasn’t Kett or Leslie, or even her parents, but a human her age. If that weren’t enough, she remembered that Russ was due at the soup kitchen tomorrow with her copy of the paper. She had even more reasons to be grateful.

As Sunday sat on her bed, she flung herself backwards and closed her eyes. In the morning she would see her name on the Chronicle. In the morning she would see her parents, Kett, and Leslie proud. In the morning she would see Russ. Pure, simple, rounded Russ.

In the morning, there would be a sunrise, possibly the best Sunday would ever see.


Featured image: Landscape with the Fall of Icarus (~1558) by Pieter Bruegel the Elder via Wikimedia Commons

Warmth in the Winter [Book Review]

i'll give you the sunDuring the summer of 2015, my best friend and I picked up I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, the author of The Sky Is Everywhere. I had heard from my Young Adult Literature professor (shout out to Dr. Bittel!) that Give was highly praised and weighted with award authority. If there’s anything I’ve learned from award-winning books in any discipline, it’s to tread carefully and keep expectations low. Sometimes what you consider award-winning isn’t what Newbery or Printz believe, and that can be disappointing.

However, Nelson’s novel deserves all of the awards and then some. I’m not kidding or even exaggerating when I say this book is beautiful. The language, the imagery, the dialogue, the pacing, the characters: it’s all gorgeous and breathtaking in a way I never thought possible. I spent years lusting over John Green’s language-wielding powers, and I still do to a point, but with Give Nelson has cast me under her spell. I have found another teacher to whose talent and quality I aspire; she joins the ranks of JK Rowling, John Green, and Neil Gaiman. A pretty hearty cast of characters, if I say so myself.

I can hear you asking: is this just Riley gushing over a book because of the honeymoon stage (yes, that exists in books, I swear)? When I first read it, I would have discredited my high praise because of the honeymoon stage. If you’ve been here a while, my review on Divergent was a result of the honeymoon book stage, and I definitely have different views on it (and the series) now. However, the love for Give is real and legitimate. Six months later, I’d still start a life with this novel and swear to read nothing else (except maybe Harry Potter). It’s that entrancing.

A brief summary: Noah and Jude Sweetwine are twins estranged by the twists and turns of life that force them apart. However, at age 13 when the book starts they aren’t separated just yet. In the second chapter, at age 16, the separation is definite and you aren’t sure why. Nelson switches between ages 13 and 16 (with Noah and Jude as narrators, respectively), and the answers to rising questions aren’t revealed until the very end. As described on the back of the book: “The early years are Noah’s story to tell. The later years are Jude’s.” With that in mind…

What makes this novel so good? Let’s look at the breakdown.

IGYTS quote 1Organization

Switching between two different characters at two different times in life may seem risky, especially when those two characters are twins, but Nelson manages to make the transitions clean and swift. I often found myself longing to continue the story of Noah by skipping a Jude chapter, but once I started with Jude I couldn’t possibly skip her point of view. You soon realize both perspectives are necessary because what you get from one you won’t get from the other, especially because of the age differences. The chapters begin as typical 20-ish pages, but by the end of the novel they escalate to 70 pages a piece. While this seemed a bit nonsensical at first (I’m one of those who needs to finish a chapter before I do something else), the total immersion you get as a result is significant to how you understand the story and how you feel about the characters.

Characterization

Speaking of characters, they are definitely a large reason this book is so wonderful. The first page of the first chapter begins with Noah Sweetwine: “This is how it all begins.” Very fitting. With this sentence, he looks at the reader, takes them by the hand, and sits them down. He eases the reader into the narrative with six words of welcome. In contrast, the first page of the second chapter begins with Jude Sweetwine: “Here I am.” Instead of taking the audience by the hand, she stands like a piece of art waiting to be judged. She presents who she is without beating around the bush and doesn’t give the audience a chance to sit. She’s fast-paced, using half the words her brother does to greet us. To be honest, these sentences are very telling about the characters who say them. While the focus of the novel is definitely on Noah and Jude, the background characters are just as rounded and dynamic. The Sweetwine parents, Grandma Sweetwine, Brian, Oscar, and Guillermo all jump off the page and beg you to listen to their words. Trust me: when I listened, they pulled me straight into the pages and refused to release me. Even to this day, when I haven’t read the book in six months.

Language

Holy goodness gracious, the language. I spouted about it earlier, but it is beautiful. It changes between Noah and Jude because of their vast difference, as you would expect, but Noah’s chapters have the best descriptions. In describing why guys like Jude, he says: “And because of her hair—I use up all my yellows drawing it” (3). You can immediately see him drawing pictures of them together, all of his yellow pastels wasted on the curls of Jude’s hair. It’s a striking image to me because of how little is said to get such detail. Noah also uses names of hypothetical paintings to summarize a scene. When he imagines Zephyr, a surfer, walking away with the ocean at his back, he uses the following title: “Portrait: The Boy Who Walked Off with the Sea” (3). This happens with every large point in Noah’s chapters, whereas Jude uses verses from Grandma Sweetwine’s bible to rationalize her strange decisions. In the second chapter when Jude is about to walk into her art critique, she cites the following passage: “A person in possession of a four-leaf clover is able to thwart all sinister influences” (24). The language each twin uses captures the world through their eyes and sets them distinctly apart from each other. It’s interesting to watch their words fluctuate and evolve as chapters continue and events occur; their language grows with them.

One thing I will warn about is that, with Noah’s language at least, it becomes hard to tell whether he means things metaphorically or literally. It warrants having to read the phrase or sentence a couple times over, but I would argue that’s part of his charm. He is so beyond reality that his language and thought processes stretch with him. In contrast, Jude’s language stays close to home and vague normalcy while her mind floats beyond the realm of rational possibility. Another concern that’s been aired is the convenient way things tie up at the end. I’m not going to say much more on that, but I liked how it ended.

IGYTS quote 2

In the interest of keeping this review spoiler-free, I won’t continue with my thoughts on character relationships and the like, but I will leave you with this: Give delivers emotions and laughs in a carefully-wrapped brown paper package tied up with string. I can only hope it’ll become your favorite thing, for the sake of rhyming. If you do happen to read Give, let me know! I’d love to talk about it. I’m in the process of rereading it and would love to hear your thoughts. Until next time!

-Riley

Feature image from Wikia, cover image from Tumblr, first quote image from Goodreads, second quote image from WordPress

Keep Calm & Carry On

Anglophiles, we’re going back to the UK. YA enthusiasts, Rowell is back with gusto. Fantasy fanatics, this will feel familiar. Why? Because Carry On, set in the UK and based off the fanfiction written by Cath in Fangirl is essentially Harry Potter. Not really, but I may be getting ahead of myself.

If you haven’t read Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, you haven’t lived. And that’s saying something, coming from me, considering I badmouthed the book (without reading it for shame) until I found it for bargain price at BAM. Morgan and Gillian, two of my loveliest friends, recommended it up and down to me but I wouldn’t budge. To this day I can’t really say why I opposed it so much; I’m just sorry I waited so long.

But, anyway. I’m not over-exaggerating; this book is fantastic. If you’re anything like me—a geek who grew up loving Harry Potter so much that sometimes the divide between fantasy and reality was a bit too wide—then you’ll relate to the story’s protagonist, Cath. She is ½ of the dynamic sister duo, Cath and Wren, at her new college. However, things aren’t all peachy-keen. Being a twin is difficult because not only are they growing apart, but Cath doesn’t know how to be herself without Wren. The only thing she does know is Simon Snow, and that’s the world she prefers. Of course there’s an adorable male love interest, Levi, but you need to read the book to discover him.

Now, this isn’t a Fangirl summary or review, but I think you get the gist. Essentially Cath writes enormous amounts of fanfiction about Simon Snow, and she’s afraid that makes her strange. Maybe in some circles it does, but I completely relate and feel that fanfiction is, in fact, not strange. From a writer’s point of view, what better way to explore characterization and keeping true to it than by fanfiction? Besides, it’s not like you’re publishing it officially (I’m looking at you, E.L. James).

Regardless, being a huge fan of Harry Potter, it’s impossible not to get caught up in fanart and fanfiction. Like I said, I even write some myself. It’s a creative way to explore the world you love even further and in a more intimate way. There was a point when that sort of thing used to be strange (How dare you use someone else’s characters and make them do things they don’t do in the books! BLASPHEMY!!), but now with the age of Tumblr and countless fanfiction websites, it’s the norm. If you’re not reading/writing/reblogging/drawing for your favorite things, you aren’t an active part of the fandom (says Tumblr at least).

Enter Carry On. Originally the fanfiction Cath writes for her favorite series, Simon Snow, before the final book comes out, now Rowell is actually publishing it as a book. And not really tied to Fangirl at all, just a book on its own. I can’t even fathom how excited the publication of this book makes me. Fangirl is one of my favorite books of the past decade, and the Simon Snow fanfic parts were some of my favorite bits. Now the whole romance-yet-not relationship of Simon and Baz (reminiscent of Draco and Harry) can live on in full book form! My heart is singing with excitement, to say the least.

To wrap it all up, I’m beyond ready for Carry On to be safely in my hands smelling of fresh paper and ink. I’m completely prepared to laugh, maybe cry, and definitely feel mountains of emotions for Simon and Baz. But most importantly, I’m fully amped to share this all with my two greatest friends who introduced me to Fangirl and remind me every day that I am that weird geek, that girl lost in her fiction worlds, but that’s part of the reason they love me. Besides, they can’t complain because they’re the same way!

Now, stop reading this and go read Fangirl before Carry On comes out on October 6. Trust me, you won’t regret it.

Forget “wake me up when September ends”, how about when the semester ends?

Good morning/afternoon/evening, fellow book lovers! Riley here with an update of sorts.

My life as an English major is about 75% amazing and 25% ridiculous amounts of reading and writing. Add on a Writing minor and we’re talking even more writing. I’m not complaining, but I’ll use my previous sentence as an excuse for not posting as much to BookingAwesome. You may be wondering, “Riley, you said you were going to do a read-along of Frankenstein! What happened to that?” Or “What about those other fun and fantastic books you were talking about? HAVE YOU ABANDONED US?” And to both of those questions I will not really have an answer except for NO I DIDN’T ABANDON YOU. WE DIDN’T ABANDON YOU. WE ARE NOT FINISHED HERE! ALAS, THIS IS JUST THE BEGINNING! So hold on to that hope and hang on to the reigns. We’re going to have a fun ride, gosh darn it!

But seriously. As most of you know, I started my sophomore year of college this past month. Even though it’s only been a month, so much has already happened. I have probably finished around five books already (Children’s Lit being the bulk of those) and will probably read ten more by the end of semester AT LEAST. Because I have finished so many books already, it is possible that I will do book reviews on them. They may be quite quick, but short ones are better than nothing, am I right? So here are the books you can look forward to possibly seeing in a book review (and trust me, they are all great books):

  • Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan
  • The Devil’s Arithmetic by Jane Yolen
  • Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson
  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  • The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
  • currently reading One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia
  • will soon be reading Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte and Blizzard! by Jim Murphy

Like I said, all of these books (except the ones I haven’t read yet) are amazing in their own right. It is possible that this week, since I have some free time (or I think I do), I could do a book review or two. So keep a look out for that!

There are plenty of exciting books on the docket for the rest of this semester, so please stay tuned. We’re not finished here! BookingAwesome will slowly become a place for children’s literature, YA literature, and the classics. There will be something for everyone! Thanks for sticking around with us, everyone. It’s been a bit rough lately, but hopefully my fellow bloggers and I will get back into the swing of things.

Until next time, DFTBA!

-Riley