‘A small almond cap, thanks.’ I reach into my bag, fumbling for my wallet around the supplies that clank as I walk.
Sunrays stream through the French windows that run across the front of the café. Plants hang from the ceiling, small adornments of flowers on the centre of each table. Baby’s breath, peonies, dahlias, buttercups, daisies. The rays bringing warmth back to my clammy skin as I take a seat in the centre of the light.
The day is beautiful and bright. The light reflects on the shiny polish of the coffee machine. The flowers tilt towards the sun’s warmth, the leaves running along the counter seem to stretch towards the rays.
I set aside the small vase of flowers and take out my sketchbook, an A3 leather-bound beauty with thick paper, perfect for light sketching, to using watercolours and heavier paints.
Something about this café, contently sized where the feature wall is a pattern of lemon bunches, and the most attention-seeking patrons are the live plants that cover any and every surface that’s not in the way.
And then of course… there’s the barista. He works so fluently, his flow not interrupted even if he looks away, his smile brightening his face and crinkling his eyes as he listens to customers that wait for their order, or laughs with his co-workers at something somebody said. Occasionally there’ll be a break or stall in someone talking, where he’ll look wistful, head inclined towards the sun.
I sigh. I brought a friend here once. ‘Yeah, he’s attractive,’ she’d said, ‘but he’s no Italian shoe.’ A.K.A. her celebrity crush, Timothée Chalamet. To me, he looks like an Italian shoe.
‘Maybe that’s why I like him,’ I’d replied.
Maybe it is. Maybe it’s how the sun seems to illuminate him, and the electric amber of his eyes against his golden skin, the dark brown of his hair turning to bronzes and coppers. Maybe it’s the fact he seems to enjoy what he does, and maybe that’s why I chose this café to keep coming back to. Maybe it’s also because this place is furthest away from the darkness, with all its brightness.
So much of the time when I meet people for coffee, they choose somewhere dull, or somewhere failing to achieve a sunny disposition. Employees attempting to genuinely smile, fake it, or not try at all. The unclean work spaces. The sticky, unbalanced tables.
Le Soleil Brille, French for “The Sun Shines” the barista once explained to me. His dad founded the café, has kept it running for thirteen years.
He laughs lightly at something someone says, before he looks down to put the lid on a takeaway coffee.
Nothing special… everybody is special.
His dad comes to whisper something to him and he flushes. His dad ruffles his hair as he walks away, then the barista looks up again—at me.
My heart lurches into my throat. I find myself frozen, unable to look away. The corners of his lips up turn as he leans across the counter to slide the coffee to a customer, and mouths, ‘Hi’, while looking at me, before he goes back to work, that smile still on his face.
All this time I’ve been coming here, and I still haven’t had the courage to even ask his name, despite being able to hold a conversation with him.
I avert my attention back to the blank page before me and look up again. I see him, I see his work, I see the people standing—waiting—but they’re a blur. I see the plant that sits beside the syrups and sugar. The small twigs branching off into flat paddles with a pink centre that turns to green spikes at the paddle’s end. One of the maws closes around a fly.
With the image engrained in my mind, lighting a fire behind my eyes and in my nerves, I begin to draw, hand sweeping over the page.
I sketch the coffee machine first, the tiled countertop, the outline of what’ll become the blurred patrons, the pot the plant sits in, and the syrups standing beside.
Creating the illusion of shadow is perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of drawing. It’s everywhere, different shapes and shades of monochrome. Depth is what makes a drawing a picture.
Shading is also messy, and the charcoal on my fingers wedges its way into the ridges of my fingerprint and under my nails.
I don’t note the feet padding toward me, until an arm dusted with cocoa powder sets down a coffee in front of me. I gape as I look at the image of a cottage against what could be a field of flowers or bushes, created with cocoa powder in the froth.
‘I know you’re an artist.’ The barista shrugs and nods at the coffee. ‘This is my art.’
My tongue feels loose and stunned at the same time. ‘I’m amazed,’ I breathe, ‘creating something so detailed and intricate with… milk,’ I laugh softly, ‘and cocoa powder.’
‘I know you pay attention to detail.’ He fidgets. ‘Admittedly, I look over your shoulder to see what you’re working on each time you’re here.’ He looks down at the beginning of my sketch, then up at me expectantly.
‘O-oh. I’m—well,’ I blush, covering my mouth, ‘I’m drawing you.’
He looks down at the page again, eyebrows furrowed.
‘I haven’t drawn you yet.’
He smiles again, looking back at me. ‘Let me know when I am.’
He chuckles, leaning down towards me. ‘Hang on a moment.’ He returns behind the counter, only to return a moment later with a damp cloth. He brushes it over my cheek. ‘You have charcoal, there—and here.’ He dabs the cloth around my face and sets it down by the vase of flowers, out of my immediate way.
‘Thanks.’ I blush. ‘But don’t you need it?’ I point to the cloth.
He shrugs. ‘There’s plenty more where that came from.’ He smiles and returns to work, taking over from his co-worker.
I wipe my charcoal fingers on the cloth and blow the steam from my coffee. I don’t want to disturb the serenity of the image he’s created, but I’d feel horrible if I didn’t drink it for that reason. I sip at it, relishing in the warmth spreading through my body.
He’s the only one wearing all black in the café, staff and patrons alike. I wonder if it’s uniform, or whether he just likes the colour. Maybe he’s more susceptible to the cold, so the black absorbing the sun’s heat helps keep him warm, that and working with hot beverages too. Maybe that’s also why he wears black, to convince himself he’s not stained with coffee.
I chuckle at the thought and begin to draw the outline of him. The flex of his arm as he inserts and twists the coffee filter into the machine. I draw him in a picture of joy, laughter, and delight in his stature as he focuses on his work. It’s not a product of my imagination, he’s right in front of me; beautiful.
‘I’m looking good.’ He grins, observing my sketch after I’d waved him over.
I cover my mouth as I smile, and nod slowly. ‘I’m going to take it home to colour it and polish up the lemon wallpaper.’
He looks behind us at the bright feature wall. ‘I love that wall. I love the way it creates a warmth in the café.’
It creates a yellow haze too.
‘Are you sure you’re going to remember it? What you want to draw?’
‘I come here often enough that I see it when I close my eyes.’
He licks his lips. ‘Let me rephrase, are you going to remember me? Do you need a model?’
I chuckle. ‘I see you too, don’t worry. I appreciate the offer, but you’re so photogenic and the image of you in my head is so candid. If you tried to recreate it, it wouldn’t be the same.’
He gazes at me. ‘Maybe I’m just looking for an excuse to spend time with you outside of work.’
My cheeks warm, my chest aching. I don’t know what to say…
‘Another time.’ He straightens and turns to leave but pauses. ‘I see you, too.’
I watch as he walks back, mouth agape. I’m worried I upset him, until our eyes catch several times, even as he continues to work, and he seems to relax with relief. It’s an effort to pull my eyes from him, but I find myself glancing back at that plant by the syrups. Although I can’t remember its name, I remember sticking my finger inside its paddles as a child, giggling when it closed around me, thinking it could pin me down.
Another coffee is set down beside me.
‘I-I didn’t order another one,’ I protest as he straightens, picking up my empty mug.
‘I know.’ He smiles, standing to his full height. ‘This one’s on me.’
‘Oh. Thank you.’ I point with my pencil to the plant with the spikes. ‘What’s the name of that plant again? It’s on the tip of my tongue…’
‘Why would you need the name to draw it?’
I laugh. ‘I don’t, but it’s bothering me that I can’t remember.’
‘Venus flytrap.’ He chuckles.
‘Ah. That’s right.’ I purse my lips and he laughs. ‘They’re quite beautiful.’
‘Not all monsters are ugly.’
‘You think it’s a monster? I’ve seen worse monsters.’
He sets my empty mug back down and considers the flytrap as it snaps up another fly. ‘I think… its doing what it must to survive in its own way, its own grotesque way.”
My heart thumps and I swallow around the lump in my throat. ‘Aren’t we all?’
‘To some extent maybe.’
‘Hm.’ I tilt my head to look at it from a different angle. ‘Venus flytrap. I wonder what made someone decide to call it “Venus.”’
He cocks his head in question.
I give him an obvious look. ‘Venus? The Roman goddess of love? The Greek version of Aphrodite.’
‘Oh.’ He laughs lightly. I note the quick rise and fall of his chest as he gazes at me thoughtfully. ‘How do I not know your name yet? Surely, I would’ve heard it. I read and call out hundreds of names a day.’ The sun illuminates him from behind as it sinks lower into the afternoon, accompanying the wistful look on his face.
I shrug. ‘I don’t know. I don’t know yours either.’
‘I’m Silas.’ He holds out a hand.
I grip it. ‘Antoinette. But I get Anti or Ant.’
‘Ant!?’ He grins. ‘You better stay away from Venus then.’ He nods his head to the flytrap. ‘Not that you’re a bug,’ he clarifies.
‘I’m glad you can tell.’
He covers his face with his hands. ‘Oh god. Forget I said anything.’
I laugh. ‘You’re so photogenic,’ I note again, resting my chin on my hand.
He grips the table and gulps. ‘Wait for me.’
‘I finish my shift in ten. I don’t know what we’d do, I just know,’ he lets out a puff of air, ‘I just know I want to see more of you and spend time with you outside of work.’
‘Okay,’ I say softly, smiling at him. ‘I’ll pack up and finish my complimentary coffee.’
He grins. ‘Perfect.’
We both look back at the plant, and back at each other with a shared smile.
Plant. Venus… love…
Abbey Lawrey is a lover of fantasy and romance, writing worlds spurred from her imaginings. She gladly drowns in her extensive collection of novel ideas and WIPs that range from contemporary love stories, to dark, knife-against-the-throat, mythical fantasy worlds inspired by Ancient Greek mythology.