Burnt Bean Juice
Christmas music is playing throughout the shop, ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside’ is giving the feeling of lonely solitude to the only people in the shop. The male barista sits by a TV playing the video of a fireplace and sipping a hot chocolate overflowing with whipped cream. His stubble beard carrying a small dollop of whipped cream, his long, brown hair tied up in a ponytail, and hazel eyes drawing me in with every glance. I look away, my cheeks burning red, my extra thick hot chocolate is keeping my hands warm while my heart is freezing on this lonesome Christmas day. Other people are spending time with their families, couples are going on romantic walks and children are having snowball fights with their friends. Meanwhile, I’m here, alone. How did I end up here? I used to be busy every year, but because of the pandemic, I can’t spend time with anyone I love.
The scent of a freshly brewed pot of coffee sends me into a trance. I stare out the window, watching the snow coming down, the teenagers are pushing each other into the huge banks that children usually slide down. A family walks by, two women, a dog, and a little boy. The women are walking hand-in-hand, smiling lovingly at each other, and the boy hugs his dog. A little bit of snow falls onto the dog’s snout, causing it to sneeze, the child squeals from laughter, his smile adding a little bit of joy to my emptiness.
My eyes adjust and I’m now looking into my reflection, my half-up half-down golden blond hair is frozen at the tips, my cheeks bright and rosy, my skin is pale from the lack of sun. Other than my sad gaze, you’d think I was ready for a photo shoot.
A timer dings and the barista heads over to the oven, putting on some gloves, he opens it up and pulls out a batch of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. The scent is absolutely phenomenal, it reminds me of when I was six and my mother and I spent all day baking while my father set up a snow fort outside for me. My favourite gift that Christmas would definitely be the laughter and joy, or the puppy, I loved that puppy.
“Want some?” A voice asks over my shoulder. I jump, sent out of my trance. The barista smiles at me kindly, his voice is deep and manly like he’s about to order an army of troops.
I stutter, “Y-yes, thank you.” I take a warm cookie off of the plate and bite down into it. A hot chunk of chocolate pours into my mouth, causing me to salivate. It’s even more delicious than I thought.
The man places the plate down and then places his hand on the seat next to me, asking with his kind yet deep voice, “May I join you?”
I struggle to speak for a moment but manage an, “Of course.” I gesture to the seat and he joins me. “Why are you working on Christmas day?”
“Long story,” He grunts as he sits down and chomps down onto a cookie, a chunk of cookie falls onto his lap and he wipes it off.
“Well, it’s not like I’m busy,” I joke taking a sip of my hot chocolate.
“Well, my little brother thought it would be an amazing idea to bring his pet rat into the shop and let him try some of his food,” the barista started. I try to act amazed and serious but I accidentally blurt out a giggle. He chuckles, “Yeah, I laughed first as well. So a Karen ended up coming in at the time, and she saw the rat.”
I perk up and twist my entire body towards him, showing complete interest, “This should be good.”
He smiles, “She saw the rat and started smacking it with her purse, and when the rat fell off the counter and started running around the shop she was screaming, ‘It bit me! It bit me!’”
I roll my eyes, “And what happened next.”
“Surprisingly my boss took my brother’s side and told the Karen to get out because of how she was treating a living creature,” the man nodded in amusement. “But since I didn’t tell my brother to leave or not let his rat run around, so I was forced to work overtime for the entire time that my boss tries to fix the cafe’s reputation.”
“Is the rat alright?” I ask him, concerned.
“Oh yeah, the rat is better than ever, it landed on the floor like a cat,” the man reassured me. “Oh, by the way, my name’s Matt, what’s yours?”
“Sahri,” I respond.
“That’s such a beautiful name, does it mean anything?” He asks me, dipping a bit of his cookie into his hot chocolate.
“It’s Arabic,” I answer. I let out a bright laugh when a chunk of his cookie falls into his hot chocolate. “It means magical.” We both laugh, “I know, I know, it’s silly.”
Matt beams, “No, it’s beautiful” We both blush and avoid eye contact for a minute. I, only then, started paying attention to every detail of the cafe. A large blackboard is on the wall just above the coffee machines, it’s tinted from the several different colours of chalk, it’s certainly due for a wash. A painting of a majestic forest is nailed onto the brick wall, it looks brand new, it must’ve been freshly dusted. The coffee machine sends off the mixed feeling of pulling an all-nighter to work on a project and relaxing by a fireplace and reading a novel. We gaze back towards each other, our eyes twinkling from the light of the fake fireplace, “What are you doing here on Christmas day? You were here all day.”
“Pandemic,” I respond nonchalantly. “Literally everyone in my family is vulnerable except for me, so I’m all alone.”
“What about friends?” Matt asks me curiously, furrowing his brow. His handsome face, looking serious, intimidating, yet also caring and concerned.
“They’re all either busy, in a different country, or spending time with family and their boyfriend or girlfriend,” I exclaim, trying to not look as lonely as I am.
“What kind of stuff do you usually do on Christmas?” He asks me, sliding the plate over to me, it only has one cookie left. I break it in half and eat mine, sliding the other half over to him.
“My parents would wake up at five and start blasting my favourite Christmas songs. Then at six, they would come up to my room and start singing and dancing right next to my bed until I wake up. Once I finally wake up, my dad would get a snowball and throw it at me, after that he would run out of my room and I’d chase after him. He would run into his room then turn around and throw me onto his bed and start tickling me. After a few minutes, he would throw me over his shoulder and carry me downstairs where the entire house looks like something out of a dream. Seriously, it would look like the North Pole. There would be an army of nutcrackers, sweets set out on the coffee table, elves in every corner of the house, and the entire house would be covered in tinsel and other tree decorations. Then, my mother would put on a Christmas movie and we would all sit down and open Christmas gifts,” I explain, feeling like I was reliving the moments as I was talking. “What about you?”
“Mine certainly is not as magical as yours,” Matt laughs, squinting with his smile.
“I’m sure it will still be interesting,” I hype him up.
“Well, my parents usually sleep until two in the afternoon, so my siblings and I would open our gifts together,” he starts. I continue to gaze into his eyes, showing him every bit of interest I can. “So we would all wake up at like five and run downstairs, I would hand out the gifts while everyone else sips their hot chocolate and play fight. I always love seeing their faces light up after they open their gifts, they may be my siblings but I feel like a proud parent every time.”
“How many siblings do you have?” I ask, expecting the range to be between three and twenty.
“Seven,” he responds, chuckling at my astonished face.
“That must be a lot of gifts!” I shout, grinning from ear-to-ear.
“Actually my family doesn’t make that much money, so it’s only one gift per person, and I stopped getting gifts when I was fourteen,” Matt responds, trying to not make it sound sad. “Decorations are a minimum as well, only the little lights and whatever everyone has made at school.”
“I guess that does help keep you humble,” I nod, trying to stay focused on the positives. “What do you guys do after your parents wake up?”
“I would make everyone an early dinner, and we would all make our parents a homemade gift,” Matt notices my confusion and explains. “For instance, one year we made them a giant picture frame. So we all decided on a shape, which was a star. I would get the wood, shape it and everything, then the younger kids would paint and decorate it and everyone else would plan out an elaborate location and costumes and that for us to take the picture at.”
“That is just adorable,” I blush.
His face begins to turn red, and his smile looks genuinely happy and he laughs, “Our lives are so different.”
“I bet your siblings love you deeply,” I gaze into his eyes and smile lovingly.
“You should’ve seen my parent’s reaction when my little sister used me as her role model for a school project,” he grins from thinking about it. “They sat me down and asked me how I’m so amazing and then thanked me for being there for them.”
“Did they feel bad?” I smiled at him with a hint of remorse in my eyes. His are glistening, he might be holding back tears but even so, the shining causes him to look even more beautiful with every passing second.
“No, they were grateful,” he looked down, smiling into his mug. His jawline looks like it could slice steel. “They only apologized for causing me to become independent at such a young age.”
“Same here,” I lower my head, staring even more deeply into his eyes. He looks over like I’d just cheered him up from a heartbreak, smiling gratefully. “My parents are almost always busy, so I spent most of my time alone and raising myself.”
“What was your childhood like?” He asks me curiously. I lose myself in his eyes and allow myself to go into autopilot.
“Well I moved a lot growing up, so I never got the chance to get a best friend and all of my friends were temporary,” I start. Amazement causes my jaw to drop because his smile didn’t lessen despite me telling him that I didn’t have friends growing up. Something ticks in me, my heart begins to race, and my breathing becomes deep and heavy. I look back into his eyes and a feeling of lightning erupts from my chest, it feels like a bolt of electricity is sparking between us. I lose my breath. What is happening to me? What is going on? I don’t know and I don’t care, I love this feeling, I never want this moment to end. “Um, I- I lost my train of thought. How about you?”
He smiles, dimples form in his cheeks and it feels like my heart is about to explode. “I’ve had the same friends my entire life, my grades were always average, I was never the top of anything, and I never did any extracurriculars because I was too busy with my siblings. I never minded it though, I love my siblings, sometimes they can even be far more interesting than any of the drama at school.”
I start to howl from laughter, “That is amazingly true.”
“Do you have any siblings?” He asks me, turning his head slightly to the side. “Or are you an only child?”
I twist my head a bit, “It’s a bit complicated.”
His smile makes me want to tell him about my entire life, he makes me want to never leave his side. Where has he been my entire life? “Feel free to explain, not like I have people to serve.” He gestures to the empty yet comfortable cafe, the TV and music turned off at some point and I never noticed. I may have only just met him, but it feels like I’ve known him my entire life.
I giggle, “Well my parents adopted a lot of children, well, teenagers. They wanted to give them a good life and believed that the teenagers took priority since they may have gone through much more.”
“That is so amazing of them!” Matt’s face lights up, he looks proud of my parents despite never knowing them. “So why did they have a biological baby then? How many people did they adopt?”
“They adopted around twelve I think,” I squint trying to remember the exact number but drawing a blank. His smile makes him look like an excited child that just met their hero or a superhero. “I’m not completely sure why they had me though, maybe they ran out of teenagers to adopt,” I joke.
He chuckles, his smile makes my heart pound out of my chest. I bet if he looked close enough he would be able to see an outline of my heart just bumping. “You’re parents sound like amazing people, how did all of the kids turn out?”
“One is working to become an actor, two are doctors, three are still in university, and the rest I’m not sure about,” I respond, feeling proud of my parents as well. I guess his fiery joy must be contagious, even more than the Coronavirus. “Although, one is also working to follow in their footsteps and adopt children just like they did.”
“Damn, they certainly know how to raise a child,” Matt looks surprised.
“Are you the oldest out of all of your siblings?” I ask him. We both finish our hot chocolates and he goes behind the counter to make us some more.
From the other side of the room he shouts, “Second oldest, the oldest is ten years older than me.”
“How?” I ask in amazement.
“My mother got pregnant when she was seventeen I think,” he says, spraying extra whipped cream onto my hot chocolate and sprinkling some cinnamon on top. “They decided to keep it, my father’s parents allowed my mother to move in with him since her parents kicked her out.”
“What’s he doing today?” I ask as he sets down my hot chocolate and sits back down.
“For work, I’m not sure, but I do know that he is living with his boyfriend somewhere,” he shrugs. “The best memory I have of him was when he came home from school one day. He got suspended for getting into a fight after protecting a girl from getting picked on.”
“What happened?” I ask, sipping my drink.
“It was a bad school, there were stuff like gangs and that,” he mentions. “There was some guy hitting on her and she decided to ignore him and walk away. So the guy followed her, at that point my brother noticed the guy being suspicious and started following him. So, when the girl was exiting the school he cornered her. That’s when my brother came in, grabbed the dude by the throat and threw him to the ground.”
“How did your parents react?” I ask him, wiping some whipped cream over off of my hair. “Is the girl okay?”
“They were proud of him, told him to never change,” Matt responded, a little bit of his smile disappeared but that makes sense. “Him in the girl ended up becoming friends and he ended up dating her brother, and they’re still together to this day.”
“Like any love story,” I joke, trying to lighten up the tension.
He smiles, good my joke didn’t upset him, “The love story they don’t want you to know about.”
“What’s your opinion on a rowdy Christmas?” He suddenly asks me, checking his watch.
“It sounds interesting,” I respond, trying to act like I don’t already know what he’s going to ask me. “Why do you ask?”
Matt shifts his entire body towards me, gazing lovingly into my eyes like his heart is in his hands, “I have had a pleasant time with you today, and I love talking to you.”
I lose my breath for a second, my mouth becomes dry and I can feel my heart leave my chest and crawl into my hands, offering itself to him. “I- I feel the same way about you.”
He takes a deep breath, his eyes twinkle in the moonlight, like they’re about to transport me into a whole ’nother world. “Would you maybe like to spend the rest of Christmas with my family and I?” He checks his watch again, “I finish work soon, and well-”
“Yes,” I respond. My racing heart is making it difficult to piece together an entire sentence, but I know what I want, and what I want is to spend more time with him.
His face lights up, brighter than the artificial fire that once was playing on the TV. He jumps up, full of joy, “My siblings are going to love you!” He’s dancing and skipping all around the cafe, his joy bursting at the seams. “Just wait till my parents hear about how amazing you and your family is!”
He grabs my hand and pulls me into his arms and we start dancing to the sound of our footsteps and deep breaths. His heart is racing and in the heat of the moment I muster out an, “I love you.”
He takes a deep breath and whispers into my ear, “I love you too.”