Six white illuminated letters glared back at Jay. Next to the last letter was an image of a coffee cup with three curved horizontal lines illustrated right above the brim of the cup.
rew To n
Part of the ‘n’ was chipped away, while the ‘w’ wasn’t lit up.
Jay stood on the pavement, squinting at the scruffy sign as he blocked an incoming yawn. He blinked slowly a few times just in case he was misreading the name of the shop but the same six letters stared back at him.
For a moment, he felt sympathetic toward the business and its unfortunate placement in the same block as Starbucks. Given the state of the sign, it seemed fair to assume that their budget wasn’t excessive.
Starbucks, however, closed up at 10 pm.
Jay assumed that it caused despair to those who had caffeine cravings in the middle of the night, and forced them to go to rew To n instead. Jay, however, was hardly bothered by the aesthetic of the shop or the nightly closure of Starbucks. He was not a coffee fanatic. Only in the last two weeks had he grown accustomed to the taste given that he had had to consume more of it than ever before. Which was why the coffee shop next to the Starbucks with the weird name worked just as well.
Of course, there was a certain eeriness toward it at two in the morning, but Jay concluded that any coffee shop felt creepy at that hour.
It was with that thought that Jay opened the cafe door.
The usual smell of coffee beans and, for some reason, wet paint was the first thing to greet Jay.
The second was the barista who had been sitting on the countertop when the door had opened. She was dressed in a white shirt and a dark brown apron and had been looking down on her phone, a few strands of her dark hair falling across her face. As soon as Jay walked in, she jumped up in a frenzy, her lips tugging upward to form a wide grin. “Hi! Welcome to Brew Town! What can I get you?”
Ah, so the B and the W probably fell off. I should’ve guessed that.
Jay looked around at the tiny cafe, which could not fit more than ten people, and arched his eyebrows. “Don’t you think it’s too small to be called a town? Brew Room seems more apt.”
His weak attempt to make a joke earned him a disgruntled stare from the barista, who seemed too exhausted to humor him.
She ran her hand over her face and sighed. “It’s two in the morning. I’m not debating the name of the cafe with you right now. What do you want?”
“Well, aren’t you a delight,” he commented, folding his arms to his chest and giving her a teasing smile. His eyes briefly swept over the menu before he said, “I’ll have an iced latte with four shots of espresso, please.”
This time, she raised her eyebrows while entering something into the computer.
“Someone’s been trying to pull all-nighters the entire week,” she commented as the receipt printed out, her fingers softly tapping the wooden countertop.
Just as quickly as it had appeared, Jay’s lightheartedness disappeared, and he shrugged defiantly, squaring his shoulders.
“I don’t see how that’s any of your business. How much is it?” he asked, indicating toward the empty cup she was holding.
The barista’s hazel eyes sparkled with delight. She jutted her chin and squared her shoulder. “Well, aren’t you a delight,” she said, before telling him the price of his drink.
Jay’s eyes fixated at her for a moment longer. He averted his eyes abruptly when she looked at him focusing on taking out money from his wallet instead.
“Keep the change,” he muttered, biting back another yawn.
The barista didn’t touch the money, staring at it suspiciously.
“That’s ten dollars,” she uttered, her eyebrows pinched together. “The drink was three dollars.”
“So you do know how to read,” he said, laughing at her expression of utter disbelief— eyebrows pinched together, lip parted apart, eyes narrowed. “That’s called a tip. Figured you don’t get a lot of that when you’re working the night shift.”
He held it toward her and after a moment of hesitation, she took it. She then smiled and extended her hand forward.
For a moment, Jay thought that she was asking for more money before realizing that she wanted to shake his hand. The tip seemed to have seemingly obliterated her dislike toward him. He forwarded his hand too.
“I’m Jamie. Jamie Smith.”
He shook her hand, nodding. “Nice to meet you, Jamie. I’m Jayanth Sengupta.” He paused before smiling. “We have the same initials. JS.”
Jamie eyed him as she hummed along, a very slight smile on her face. “So we do. Maybe that’s why we get along so well.”
“I mean, we did get snappy with each other within a minute of talking,” he began before stopping when he saw Jamie giving him a stern look. He concluded with a weak smile instead.
Before Jay could comment about the shabby exterior or the unique name of the cafe, a woman walked through the door.
Immediately, Jamie gave her the same robotic smile. “Welcome to Brew Town! What can I get you?”
As the woman recited her order, Jay took a seat in the corner.
He gazed outside the window taking in the silence and quietness in the view. It was something he hadn’t witnessed too often in Livermoore. Livermoore fit somewhere between a big city, and a small town. The excitement that San Diego, the biggest city near his residence, had wasn’t present in Livermoore, but it wasn’t small enough that Jay knew every single person in his city. Like big cities, though, Livermore was overcrowded with too many people who treasured the suburban utopia Livermoore glorified. And thus Jay found himself constantly fighting his annoyance with the non-stop traffic always present there, and craving for a moment of stillness in the crowd.
He looked away from the window, his eyes wandering at Jamie. He thought of how fascinating Jamie’s eyes were. How the light brown and green in it seemed to keep changing. He thought about how she challenged him more than anyone had in less than ten minutes. Before he could dwell on anything else, Jamie spoke up.
“Jayanth? Your drink?”
“Right, thanks.” He walked up to her and took his drink.
Tipping the cup back, he took a small sip, before letting out a pleased sigh as the warm liquid went down his throat. Leaning against the counter, he closed his eyes for a moment. The drink almost made up for the crappy day he had endured. Almost.
His eyes shot open when he heard Jamie’s voice again.
“Tough day?” She was sitting on the counter, which said ‘pick up here’ and looking directly at him.
“I went to my brother’s funeral today. Just emotionally drained.”
The truth had tumbled out of his lips before Jay could think of a more appropriate response. He could’ve easily lied with a “yes,” and then proceeded with some excuse about homework or high school. He didn’t have to unleash the “dead brother” narrative, a heavy topic to bring up with a barista in a coffee shop at night.
Besides, it wasn’t even a funeral. It was just the process in the Hindu ceremony where the family deposited the ashes of the dead into a water body. But it was easier to go with funeral. But this was the first time he had even said it aloud. It was after he said it, that Jay froze and wondered why he just did so.
Even Jamie looked surprised, her jaw dropping at his offhand comment. But she recovered relatively quickly and offered him a tight-lipped smile.
“Oh. Uh- I’m sorry.”
It was the same smile and the same two words that he had heard all week from people who he hadn’t even known knew his older brother, Adi. And every time, Jay responded the same way he did right then.
He gave her the same tight-lipped smile and a stiff nod. “It’s fine.”
There was a small silence as Jamie stared intently at her shoes and searched for something to say. Her ability to sass someone seemed to have reached its limits after his sudden announcement.
After a moment, she looked up again with a tight smile on her face. “Well, how about I give you a free Brew Town special cookie? It has extra chocolate chips and is a free ticket to getting diabetes.”
Yes, that fixes everything.
He forced a laugh, trying to shake off the bitterness he felt at her offer. He knew she meant well but at the same time, the sting of trying to fix his brother’s death with cookies was severe.
“It’s technically not free as I paid you like seven extra dollars for the coffee.”
In response, she chuckled and showed him the finger before hopping off the counter. “Stop ruining the moment. It’s the thought that counts.”
He chuckled, straightening his back before nodding. “Thanks, but I have to go. I enjoy not having diabetes. Also, my parents will lose their shit if they realize that I’m not at home.”
Jamie nodded back at him, a small smile on her face. “Okay then, bye, Jayanth.”
It had been a while since someone had called him Jayanth. Almost everyone he knew called him Jay, ever since Drew had called his name ‘funny’ in elementary school. Although, the reason made him uncomfortable now, “Jay” had stuck on. Jayanth didn’t seem to suit him anymore.
“My friends call me Jay,” he told her, “You might as well call me that, too.”
Her eyes brightened at that, and Jay felt obligated to smile back at her.
She twirled a strand of her hair and flashed him a smile. “Well, I doubt we’ll meet often enough for me to call you by your name, but okay, Jay.”
He smiled back, gave her a quick nod, and then left. The smile remained on his face as he walked toward the car.
This was the first time he hadn’t felt drained while talking to someone. This was the first time the conversation hadn’t seemed to revolve around his dead brother. This was the first time he had been his usual sarcastic and obnoxious self whilst conversing.
And it felt nice, Jay decided, to be normal.
It felt nice to have the weight of his brother’s death off him, even if it was just for fifteen minutes. As he unlocked his car, Jay knew that this wouldn’t be his last visit to Brew Town.
Despite its questionable aesthetic, rew To n seemed to have at least something that attracted him.
As Jay drove home, for once, his mind wasn’t wondering about Adi, his brother, who was four years older to him. His mind was instead going over Jamie. There was something in their conversation that made him want to go back and spend the night in the cafe talking to her.
That is until he reached home.
Lying on his bed, Jay’s mind couldn’t help but go back to his brother and how it was his fault.
He knew that it hadn’t been his motive, but it had happened because of him at the end of the day. He had killed his brother, and nothing anyone else could say would make that untrue.
Not that Jay had mentioned this to anyone. His friends were already worried about him enough as it was. To appease them, he tried acting like he was fine. Like nothing had happened. Like Adi wasn’t the person he looked up to the most in the entire world.
In fact, until Dave McLaren, his best friend, found him shaking inside his car at their school’s parking lot, Jay had acted as though he hadn’t lost a family member.
But every night when he had no one to assure about his well-being, Jay fell apart. He stayed up, dwelling about Adi. Most nights, all he did was stare at the rotating blades of the ceiling fan. Some nights he streamed something on Netflix.
That night he decided to continue watching something. He didn’t even know what. Jay just stared at the blue light until his eyes grew heavy. He didn’t know when he dozed off, but when he woke up, his neck hurt from the strange position he had fallen asleep on. Even with the few hours of sleep he received, his eyes burnt.
Wondering what had woken him up, a knock answered his question.
“Jay, you’ll be late for school!” He heard his mother’s voice before her footsteps faded away.
Jay sat up, blinking for a few minutes. It took him a few seconds to recall Brew Town, Jamie, and their brief conversation.
He got up and threw the plastic cup in the trash can, not wanting to hear the bunch of questions he predicted his mother would have.
By the time he had made it to the dining table, there was a key missing in the hook, and his father’s work shoe wasn’t in the shoe rack.
He sat down on the chair, just in time to see his mother, Sangeeta Sengupta, enter the kitchen. She was dressed in her usual formal work attire, her hair pulled back. Both Jay and Adi looked exactly like her. They had the same large eyes, and thick, wavy black hair. But while Adi was on the shorter side like their father, Jay towered over all three of them at five foot twelve.
“Good morning!” She gave him a broad smile before planting a kiss on top of his head, her hand rested on his shoulder. “There is rice and daal for lunch. And there are some of the Panda Express leftovers we got yesterday for dinner. Or lunch. You can switch.” She cleaned the kitchen slab and fixed a few things out of place as she spoke.
Jay frowned. “Where will you be?” he asked as he took a bite of his banana.
As a Business Consultant, a massive part of his mother’s work involved traveling. He and Adi had grown up seeing their father more often on weekends than their mother. He would be the primary cook and caretaker of the house, while his mother would be busy in whichever city she had a presentation or conference in.
Her eyebrows furrowed. “Oh, I have my meeting in Chicago this week, remember? I told you three weeks ago?”
He did not.
But then again, a lot had happened in three weeks. His brother had died, and his mother’s travel plans were the last thing on his mind.
But his parents seemed to act like everything was normal and hadn’t even acknowledged Adi’s lack of phone call on Sunday. Jay shouldn’t have been surprised. Although he had a good relationship with his parents, they weren’t a family in which feelings were discussed often. Most of their conversations had minimum vulnerability in them, revolving around things like food, work, or school. But he had still figured that someone’s demise might change that.
“...Baba will be home so that you won’t be all alone. I’ll also be back by Friday, so it’s not a long time,” his mother was saying, after which she ruffled his hair.
Jay nodded, looking down at his food. His mother gave him a long look before sighing.
She took his left hand and pressed it gently.
“Jay.” She paused after saying his name. “I know this has been a hard few weeks for you. I’m so sorry that I’m not here. I—”
“Well, yeah, Adi died.”
He regretted saying so when he saw her flinch, but he stood up, the chair dragging along the way. When he looked at his mother, he saw her part her lips as though she was about to say something. He beat her to it.
“Dave’s here. I’ll see you on Saturday then,” he told her, before grabbing his keys and heading out.
The door banged behind him, but it was only when Dave started his car that he realized he had tears brimming in his eyes.