The Extra Cup
Julie’s right hand made its way to her belly and she slowly rubbed it as she took in the view and the memories. But she managed to pull herself from the thoughts she knew would only end in tears and moved her eyes to the newspaper that sat across from her on the table. It had been opened to the weekly crossword puzzle. Every week for years Julie would grab a pencil and time herself completing the word game. She loved it, and promised Andrew that their son would love it too, much to the chagrin of the man who never took much interest in it.
Just as she grabbed the newspaper the young man working the shop came over and set down a steaming hot drink in front of her. “Your mocha,” he said with a smile.
“Thank you,” Julie replied. She was hoping that he would see the confusion on her face and explain how he knew exactly what she wanted and how he knew her name. But instead he kept his smile and pulled a pencil from his pocket.
“Good luck on that,” he said, gesturing to the newspaper. “It’s a hard one this week.” And with that he walked back to the counter and through a door to where she assumed the coffee was made.
Julie tried to not give it much thought, although her anxiety rarely let that happen. Instead she dove into the crossword puzzle trying to enjoy the first time she had been out of the house in years.
Before she knew it, Julie had filled in half of the puzzle. The words and the game came back to her without needing to knock much rust off. She grabbed the cup in front of her and gave it a quick sip before taking her eyes right back to the paper.
Down: 19. Van Gogh, Dali, Da Vinci.
The clue told her painter. But there were only six letters. The first letter was an “A”. The fourth an “I”.
“Artist” she mumbled to herself under a smile.
As she filled in the answer, and lauded her dominant return to the game she had forgotten she enjoyed so much, the word struck something in her mind. Wasn’t there a piece of art here, she thought to herself. Among the white walls and dark wood paneling she remembered a single frame hanging somewhere in the shop.
The art, if it could be called that, was simple. On a single piece of plain white paper was a drawing of a small home, three people, and a rainbow. Julie had seen this type of art years ago when she taught the second grade, but never on the wall of a cafe.
She had taught second grade for five years before leaving the classroom for good. She loved the children, and that never stopped. But having to look at their smiling faces and hear their sweet voices became too much after her pregnancy. She believed she would be fine. That lasted for one week after returning from maternity leave. Her principal understood completely. As did her husband.
But when things didn’t get better, and the melancholy was there to stay her husband had had enough. Andrew was nice about it. And Julie hardly blamed him. She couldn’t. She had seen him try and try. Worried conversations, motivational words, soft touches. The man had tried all that he could. He recommended therapy. She declined. He brought in her friends, but soon even they were hard to reach or unwilling to continue. Again, she understood.
She turned to look at the cup, and the tears welled in her eyes. The little piece of her heart that stung when she viewed the crayon drawing burst with anguish. The name written on the cup cleared her mind beside anything but pain and sorrow.
Julie was able to hold the tears at bay with a few uneven breaths and clearing of her throat. But those did little to calm her. She turned away, unable to face whatever sick prank was being played at her expense. But she saw it there too. On the wall, inside the wooden frame, on the bottom of the colorful but poorly drawn family portrait in misshapen red crayon was the name Julie hated hearing more than any other.
Julie could no longer hold the tears in. The lump in her throat was as large and as sharp as a dagger. And it cut at her with every half taken breath.
All it took was the first tear to roll down her cheek and hit the tile floor. In that moment, something changed. Julie did not know what it was. Not until she heard the words come from the other side of the table.