Today I feel like a first draft. I feel like the relieved birds of paradise that are ushering in the Los Angeles autumn with a sigh. I feel like the first good socks of the season.
That first day, she scrolled through Bird’s 1,200 Instagram followers just to try and find the barista's name. No luck.
It had all happened so quickly - she was reading a crackled, old book of poetry at one of the tables outside Bird’s Café, when he stepped outside in his black apron with a pair of scissors. He reached up and started trimming the bougainvillea strands from the doorway. They’d been catching in the door as hurried customers came and went.
The pink flowers precipitated on the ground by his worn sneakers. Once the doorframe was clear of the vines, he gathered up the scraps and held them in his hands for a moment before looking at her.
“Would you like these?” he said as he held out the wiry, unkempt bunch.
“Sure. They’re lovely!” she squeaked. Was it too eager?
She drained her coffee and went home to arrange the vines into a heart-bursting bouquet.
He was a dream. He was taller than her other boyfriends, but that would be fine. He always wore dark denim and leather bracelets with hanging beads that swayed when he was frothing milk. His eyelashes pulled attention to his hazel eyes like a million tiny waving hands. She could make out the edge of a geometric tattoo on the inside of his arm when his sleeves were short enough.
She found herself at Bird’s the next day - this was her haunt now (she’d always wanted one of those) - ordering a latte so that she could talk to him longer than ready-made drip coffee would allow.
“How is your day goin’?” he asked as he ran her credit card. He sounds like he’s from the Midwest, I bet that’s nice.
“It’s good, how are you?”
“Good, good. Hey thanks,” he said as she slid her signed receipt to him with a two dollar tip.
“Yeah no problem.” The milk squealed in the metal pitcher, and he twitched his head in what looked like a nod. Was it a nod?
She waited a moment when he slid the latte across the counter before taking it so their hands wouldn’t meet on the paper cup. She would tell him that, years later, that she didn’t want to scare him. She went off to work, buzzing from their morning interaction.
That night she sat on her dining chair at home, looking at the bougainvillea bouquet, proud of its pink leaves in her grey apartment. She’d need another dining chair.
As the week rolled on, she found herself at Bird’s every morning. He was nowhere to be seen on Tuesday or Friday, but he was back at his post on Saturday morning.
He was wearing a Pink Floyd shirt. A real, vintage-looking one he probably found down the street at the grimy thrift store. He placed her drink on the counter and this time, if he was paying any attention, he would have noticed how close their hands were to touching.
She spent her weekend sorting through the racks at that thrift store until she found a denim jacket that she adorned with a tiny Pink Floyd pin she saw at the counter. She went home and listened to Pink Floyd for the first time while assembled a dining chair from IKEA.
On Sunday night, she had to say goodbye to the wilted bougainvillea. The leaves had rested in the water all week, and there was a viscous green film on the surface that smelled up the entire apartment. She opened a window, lit a candle and walked the poor scrap bouquet down to the dumpster.
She took a picture of it first, for posterity.
He was there on Monday, but he was not the same. His eyes seemed sunken. It was a long weekend, I bet.
“Mondays, right? I’ll take a latte please - make it almond milk.” The dairy had been vocal in her stomach the whole week before so it was time to back off. Plus, it caught him off guard and he smiled.
“Switching it up,” he said as he rang her up. She took the opportunity to look him straight in the eyes and realized that they weren’t hazel - they were green. And they were red.
Oh God, he’s high.
She worried all day. Weed made her feel like a frantic cockroach - but somehow worse - so she rarely smoked. She imagined herself, twitching and darting, while he curled up on the couch to watch a stoner movie.
She could do it, for at least a little while, until they got serious enough for her to tell him the truth. She didn’t like it, and she didn’t sign up for it.
On her way home she stopped at the nursery and bought a tiny potted bougainvillea for her balcony to remind her of happier times. She cozied it up next to her balcony ledge and twisted its baby vines around the railing.
She decided not to go to the café the next day.
But then she did go to the café the next day - she needed to get a closer look at his eyes to see if they were as red as she thought they had been. Instead, a petite brunette girl took her order - she was cute, but her glasses made her look like a guilty bug.
Ah, forget it. “Just a black coffee today.”
On Wednesday, there he was. Freshly shaven and bright eyed. He got his act together!
She approached the counter where he stood and the bug-girl popped out from behind him and intervened, “black coffee again?”
No, no, no. All wrong. I want him to make my drink. “Oh no, an almond latte actually.”
She rang up the order as he began to tamp down the espresso grounds.
“I’m going to a concert tonight,” he said. Finally.
“Oh nice - who’s playing?” said buggy.
“My buddy’s cousin is in a band called Third Middle Child and they’re playing at the Hudson. It’s some sort of ska-punk band.” The milk squealed.
He's probably going to ask her to go with him. Why did he have to fall for her? I've been here all along, right in front of him.
Later that night, while her dream barista and a bespectacled Delilah were probably having their first date at a ska concert, she was at the nursery buying a bigger bougainvillea.
She arranged it next to the tiny pot on her balcony and gave them both a good watering. She clipped a few vines off of the large plant and brought them inside. She arranged them in a vase in her bedroom, sad and feeling truly alone for the first time in weeks. She fell asleep with a heavy cry in her throat that remained painfully uncried.
But when she woke in the morning and saw the magenta blooms on her nightstand, she didn’t feel quite so heavy anymore.