Sunday, January 29, 2017

Short Story Based on a Picture

The following story was inspired by this photograph:




I hope you enjoy!

Megan stood frozen in line, not yet realizing that her time had come to order, as her mind had been on a journey elsewhere. Absent mindedly she gripped her hands in front of her, toying with her fingers as butterflies took flight in her stomach, causing an ongoing sinking sensation.
    “Can I take your order? Miss?” The barista was giving a slightly quizzical look when Megan snapped back into reality.
    “Oh! Yes I am so sorry,” She paused for a moment, taking in the menu. Part of her wondered if feeding caffeine to the butterflies was a good idea, but another part of her knew she wouldn’t survive the day without coffee.
“I’ll have an eight ounce coffee please,” She swung her backpack around to find her wallet.
“And a cinnamon doughnut.” she added as an afterthought.
“That’s all?”
“Yes.”
“Five eighty three is your total,” the barista watched patiently as Megan, after unhooking the zipper handle from the spine of one of her new notebooks, finally pulled her wallet from the very bottom of her backpack where it had sunk.
The barista smiled when he took the credit card she handed him.
“It’s back to school, I see.”
“Yeah,” Megan laughed a little embarrassed.
“Well, good luck,” he said kindly, handing her back her card and a little paper bag containing her doughnut. She really didn’t have much of an appetite, however she knew it would be unwise to drink coffee on an empty stomach.
She squirmed a little to get out of the busy line, which was already beginning to go out the door. As she stood off to the side waiting for her coffee, she realized just how many people in line seemed to be about her age, probably with the same idea of getting coffee before class begun. Maybe they’d end up in the same class. Megan wondered if she could use that as a conversation starter… Hey I saw you at Sawada Coffee. I’m Megan. Hm. Maybe.
Since as long as she could remember, Megan had always gone to school with friends and had known at least one person before starting at a new school, whether that be elementary, middle, or high school. Star Hills was a small town in Connecticut, where she grew up, yet she always said she wanted to explore more, to go somewhere bigger. So, she ended up in Chicago for her first year of college. It was indeed much bigger, yet she never anticipated this uneasy nervous feeling of beginning something she wasn’t sure what to expect. No one she knew would be at University of Illinois at Chicago.
“One eight ounce coffee!”  
This time alert, Megan took her coffee and turned around to find where cream would be. She assumed it was somewhere behind the pack of people swarming around a window on the right, bumping shoulders as they carelessly reached across others to get what they wanted. With a sniff, Megan carefully tipped the hot liquid in her cup, through the rectangular mouthpiece and into her mouth. The coffee made the tip of her tongue a little sore, but after a few seconds of contemplation, she decided she could drink it black, and slipped out the door.



As her day progressed, Megan did not converse with many people. For the first time in her life, she felt shy and awkward. Normally she would be the one to greet newcomers to town in Star Hills, but here she felt lucky if she got the chance to smile and say a quick hello to someone who passed her in the hallway, or sat next to her in class. In between classes, Megan retreated to her dorm room, and chatted with her high school friends on Snapchat. Even with them all encouraging her to get out of her room and make new friends, she felt content with talking to people she already knew. She did hope to make friends at UIC, but she’d never had to try before. The front office told her that roommate was going to arrive later that day, and Megan was hopeful to make friends with her. The room seemed big at the moment, but Megan felt sure that when another person was moved in, it would feel drastically smaller.
When six o’clock hit, Megan decided to go to the cafeteria for dinner and stay out for a while, maybe catch a movie or get supplies to decorate her side of the room. After all, it might be awkward for her roommate to arrive to see Megan zoned out on her bed, or making ugly faces at her phone to send to her friends.
Dinner consisted of mashed potatoes, meatloaf, and cooked carrots. Megan sat alone at a table near the window, looking out on the campus. A bird swooped down to the ground to pick up a piece of what looked like an abandoned fast food burger tossed in the grass just off to the right of the sidewalk. He was soon joined by another and another, and soon at least half a dozen birds surrounded the hamburger all picking at it and poking each other with their beaks. Megan gazed at them mesmerized, as she recalled the crowd around the coffee supplies back at Sawada Coffee. She was in such a trance that she didn’t immediately notice when someone sat across from her.
“You going to eat that?” Asked a guy with untidy, dirty blonde hair, which was cascading past his forehead and into his blue eyes. He was sitting, his arms folded and a friendly smile lighting up his face.
Megan realized he was referring to the carrot she had been absently suspending on her fork while she observed the outdoor show.
“Oh, right. I was just watching the birds outside. Someone left a burger on the grass and it’s attracting a lot of attention.”
The guy chuckled and shook his head. “Doesn’t surprise me. Are you a freshman?”
“Yeah,” Megan replied, relieved she was actually having a conversation with a potential friend. “What about you?”
“Sophomore. I think I saw you at Sawada Coffee.”
Ugh. He stole my line… At least now I know it was a good one. “Yeah, that’d’ve been me. I’m Megan, by the way.”
“Arthur. You looked a little lonely over here, so I wanted you to be able to meet someone. I know what it’s like, I didn’t know anybody here when I first started.”
Megan smiled. “Well I’m glad you came over.”
“Oh!” Arthur put his hand in his pocket and produced a quarter. “These tables are the best for spinning coins. Here, watch.”
He stood the edge of the coin up on the table and held the edge of each side lightly between his forefinger on his right hand and thumb on his left. In one swift motion, the coin was a spinning blur of silver.
“It’ll stay spinning the longest on these tables. I think it may have something to do with the finish, but I don’t really know. I’m majoring in humanities.”
The change of topic was sudden, yet seemed very casual. Arthur seemed to have a very excitable energy about him, that Megan loved in a friend. She drew her eyes away from the still spinning coin.
“I’m just majoring in liberal arts for now. I need some time to decide what I want to do.”
Arthur nodded. “That’s fair.”
“I mean, I really love art, but I’m not sure it’s practical.”
“Man, art is great!” Arthur replied enthusiastically, “I wish I was artistic, but no such luck.”
Megan smiled. “I like to explore different cultures and emotions, and see how I can express each uniquely in my work.”
Their attention was brought back to the coin by the unmistakable sound of it sinking to the table. When it was finally lying still, Arthur picked it up and tossed it to Megan, who amazed herself by catching it with ease.
“Well maybe I can see some art by Megan one day.” He said, still wearing his friendly smile, as he stood and picked up his empty tray. Megan followed suit, feeling herself smiling as well.
“Maybe you will.”



At a quarter to nine, Megan arrived back at her dorm, bags full with supplies for decorating her wall. After meeting someone she felt much better and the prospect of meeting her roommate excited her even more. She opened the door cautiously, almost as though she was afraid her roommate was a rabid dog who would attack her. She tiptoed in and saw her roommate for the first time.
She was hanging up posters on the wall above her bed and hadn’t seemed to hear anyone enter, but turned when Megan closed the door.
“Hi,” She smiled nervously. “I’m Keshia.”
Keshia was small and dark, with thick black curls which fell just below her shoulder. She looked at Megan a little awkwardly, her eyes darting about as though she wasn’t sure what to do.
“I’m Megan. When did you get in?”
“Oh about an hour and a half ago,” Keshia resumed decorating her wall and Megan moved to her side to do the same. “I may have taken an impromptu trip to Japan with some friends a couple weeks ago, and well…”
“That’s so cool! I really want to travel to different parts around the world,” Megan mused.
“It was pretty great.” Keshia smiled. “It seems unreal that I’m back now and starting college.”
“I bet. What’s your major?”
“Medicine. I want to be a doctor. Pediatrician to be exact.”  
“Cool!”
“Thanks.”
The girls were silent for a while, each focused on their own tasks of decorating. Megan felt very happy that it seemed for now that her and Keshia would get along fine.
“Hey do you like coffee?” Megan asked Keshia.
“Dude I live on coffee!” Keshia replied in a way that reminded Megan of one of her high school friends.
“Good! I do too. Anyway if you want to join me, I’m going to go to Sawada Coffee before class tomorrow. I went this morning and it was pretty good. It’s only twenty minutes by bus.”
“Alright!” Keshia said happily, before yawning. “Do you mind if we turn the lights out a little early today? I’m pretty jet lagged.”
“No problem.” With one last push of her thumb, Megan was finished hanging her wall art.
“Wow,” Keshia propped herself on her side with her elbow. “Did you do those? They’re amazing!”
“Thanks,” Megan laughed a little awkwardly. She looked at her abstracts and wondered what each person saw. The way they were designed intentionally left them open to interpretation. With that in mind, she flopped onto her bed and turned off her light, submerging them into a serene darkness.


The next morning Megan and Keshia stood in line together at Sawada Coffee. They’d been able to find things to talk about in relation to music, movies and food, all of which were favorites for both girls. Megan saw Arthur a few people in front of them and they smiled and waved at each other. She noticed the butterflies in her stomach had gone and in the back of her mind wondered when yesterday they had made their exit. Chicago still wasn’t completely used to by her, but it was more comfortable than it had been previously. When her turn came to order, Megan recognized her barista and had her wallet already out of her backpack, ready to pay.
The barista grinned. “Made it through day one, I see.”
“All thanks to your coffee, Dave,” She replied amiably, noticing his name tag.
“Why thank you, I do try my best,” Dave joked, handing her her things.
“Keep it up!”
Once again Megan debated with herself whether or not to try to get cream from the flock of people surrounding the station. Keshia soon appeared by her side, clearly wondering the same thing.
“Should we do it?” Keshia asked, seeming rather terrified at the thought. Then she repeated Megan’s actions of yesterday, sipping the coffee. “I can take it black. You?”
Megan sniffed. “Same.” She turned to follow Keshia out the door, coffee in hand. As she exited, she sipped the bold coffee.
Here’s to new beginnings. She thought as the hot liquid slid delicately down her throat.

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