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Something Other Than Coffee - Robin Hughes

7th Place

Something Other Than Coffee - Robin Hughes

Ding! Ding! Ding!
 
When the door swung open, jingling bells clanged together in a harmonious symphony that bounced off of the café walls. They were a voice as soft as feathers, announcing the entrance of a caramel-haired girl and a tangerine cat nestled in her indigo backpack. After replying to the friendly greetings of the beige-uniformed baristas with a polite nod of acknowledgment and thin lips curled into the ghost of a smile, the girl's dark eyes wandered the ocean of tables and stools standing before her. Her attention took no time to lock onto a lone table and stool next to the glass walls; it was a front-row seat to the city baking under the golden sun that was begging to be taken. After leaving her backpack to lean on the stool, the girl's eyes moved from her table to the bustling alleys and cobblestone pathways. If it weren't for her cat stepping out of her backpack and rubbing against her leg, the warmness of children playing without a care in the world and birds gliding through the soft blue skies would have been enough to hypnotize her. Maybe letting the breathtaking view sink in was her main interest for the few seconds that she was entranced by urban beauty, but the girl's heart was quick to settle back to its main priority: coffee.
 
Lengthy study sessions that stretched from the crack of dawn to the dead of night were nothing short of mentally taxing; it didn't take a rocket scientist to recognize that the girl showed it in her sluggish and disoriented movement as she shuffled in line for a drink. But if there was anything to help ease the mind from its restlessness, it was music; she knew that fact by heart, so much so that it was as if instinct had usurped control to clasp snow-white headphones over her ears. As if it were magic, the tension in the girl's shoulders had melted away as her eyes found the strength within them to focus on the menu chalkboard bolted to the walls. Yet simultaneously, it seemed that she had entered a world of her own; her consciousness separated itself not only from reality's anxieties but also from awareness of her surroundings. But while the carrot-orange feline companion at her side could pull her owner's head out of the clouds when it came to her amazement of the city, it seemed that it was practically impossible to rip away her focus when the headphones came on.
 
The striped cat's eyes narrowed as they rubbed against their owner for a pat, only for their attempt at attention burst into flames upon the discovery of the headphones. Their glare spoke disappointment that words could only fathom to describe, telling thoughts of ripping the headphones off of their owner's head if it was in their ability to; but of course, those ideas would be nothing more than thoughts. The dilemma posed the question: was there any way to get the girl's attention when they had their headphones on? The cat glanced between its owner and the counter; at that moment, the cat's eyes sparkled as if a lightbulb had gone off in their head. After slipping away from the line and making their way to the front, the cat leaped onto the counter with mischief glimmering in their eyes. Taking haste in their actions, the cat lunged at the shelves behind the baristas.
 
THUD! CRASH! CLANK! THUMP!
 
In the blink of an eye, the serene scene of a quaint coffee shop at high noon quickly devolved into madness as the contents of the shelves fell to the ground; in wake of the destruction, shattered glass littered the ground as screams erupted. Hands of distressed baristas shot in direction of the cat's trail, fingers desperate to grasp even a strand of fur as the cat continued to run through the café and leave unbridled chaos in their path. Yet as puddles of spilled coffee sprawled throughout the wooden flooring, pets chased each other, and distressed people scrambled to find the comfort of safety amid the mayhem unfolding, the chestnut-haired girl's gaze remained locked on the menu, uncertainty anchoring her attention between the options of a macchiato and a cappuccino. Only when her mind finally settled on an order that her dark-honeyed irises met the aftermath of the turmoil, the abrupt change warranting her to take off her headphones as she stepped up to the counter with a hint of curiosity shining in her eye.
 
But before a panicked worker could lay the girl's confusion to rest or the girl could open her mouth to voice her bewilderment, the apricot-hued cat leaped onto the shoulders of its owner. In a split second, glares of fury locked onto the girl; if the eyes of burning hatred persisted any longer, she could've started to feel the heat. But at the moment that a crowd closed in on the girl and her pet, the girl could feel the adrenaline begin to kick through her veins. As if survival instinct had completely pushed aside the girl's restless state, the girl broke through the ocean of people encircling her. Without time to think or question the spotlight being placed on her, the girl rushed back to her seat. Fumbling hands clumsily ripped her cat off of her shoulder, stuffing them back into their backpack before breaking out into a sprint of the café with her bag in her hands.
 
To this day, the girl will never understand why there's a ban on pets and why she in particular has been blacklisted from ever setting foot into the building ever again. With her worries leaving her body in a sigh of relief as she turned around a corner and slumped against the walls, she shook her head in disbelief and shock.
 
After this experience, maybe it was best that she learned to drink something other than coffee.
 
(Voiceover by Johann Wic)

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