Coffee, black

Perusing the Sunday paper and digging in to my reward breakfast (reward because I ran a personal best time in the Race for the Roses 5K this morning – 27:12! 8:45 per mile pace!) in a window seat at the Limelight. Home-fried potatoes, scrambled eggs, French toast, sausage.

And coffee. Lots of cream and sugar, and I’d just gotten it to the perfect combination of temperature and flavor. The cup was half-full.

Lydia approached the table, asked me how I was doing. “Great,” I said, smiling. She carried a coffee pot.

She started to turn away, saw my coffee cup, turned back. Poised the coffee pot over my cup. “D’you want me to top it up?”

I didn’t answer right away. I sat there, looking at the cup, mentally still tasting the flavor of cream and coffee and sugar, feeling the hot-but-not-too-hot-to-drink liquid splashing over my tongue and warming my tummy.

The moment, silence… lengthened. Grew.

I looked up at her. “…ok” I finally said. She flipped her blonde bangs from her eyes, and her normal polite smile shifted into an amused sly grin.

I felt compelled to explain: “It’s just that I’ve got it to that perfect state -”

She laughed. “Oh, no, I remember!” She filled the cup, the milky tan fluid darkening to a rich medium brown.

“- and I didn’t want to have to do it again, but I figured the cup -“

“It’s a delicate balance,” she agreed.

“- was half gone already, so…” I trailed off. She knew. She understood.

“I drink mine black now, but I remember the ritual of preparing my coffee, back when I drank it with waaaaay more cream and sugar than almost anyone I know,” she continued. She’d moved to the next table over, and was clearing away the leave-behinds of the previous patrons. “But then I went camping -“

“Oh,” I interrupted “and you had to!”

Her eyes were focused on another time while her hands moved in the present. “Yes, exactly. No cream, no sugar. But I couldn’t go without coffee. So I learned to associate the good feelings of being in the woods with the black coffee. It’s just so” her hands left her task in the present and folded themselves around an imaginary mug while she leaned her face over it and took in the scent “rich and dark and strong.”

“That’s awesome,” I said. My mouth twisted into a smirk. “But that’s not gonna work for me. I hate camping.”