This excerpt is from “Decaf For The Dead” which will be released 9/3/2019. Pre-Order on Amazon: https://amzn.to/2LHLzjy
There is a season for everything. A season for change, and a season for rebirth. A season to live, and even a season to die. For me, fall is that season. There is no rebirth anymore, just death. Several years ago, on a breezy October Sunday morning, I lost everything when my wife, Margaux, passed away. The worst part is she died alone. I was off being a romantic, sneaking out early to grab her coffee from her favorite café. Oh how she loved her coffee! Strong, black, and decaf. No one understood her taste for coffee—sans caffeine on top of it!
Margaux Lumière, oh, how she lit up the world… Fitting, considering the meaning of her last name. I was a vibrant, bright bulb because of her … because of that smile of hers. It was demure, content, always as if she knew a secret the rest of us did not. My Margaux. I’d never met a woman like her before, or since she passed.
“Whatcha up to today, Dilly?”
I smile over at the barista, who’s cleaning the sugar off of the condiment bar. He glances up at the watercolor on the wall, his gaze lingering on it for a few moments. I painted it when I first started working at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, which is located down the street. I met Margaux right here at Café Conquistador, but I swore it was as if I knew her from somewhere before.
The barista nods me, and walks back to the counter. He’s an interesting lad with an odd name for this day and age: Zeke. Thin and lanky, he’s full of conspiracy theories and too many worries for such a young man. Zeke is one of the many colorful characters at the Conquistador.
I always reminisce on what brought me to this particular coffee shop all of those years ago. I wasn’t even much of a coffee drinker then. The name said something to me, though. I was a soldier; a reluctant one. I had joined the army because my father wanted me to. I still don’t understand war, but I did my civil duty and made my father proud—for whatever that was worth.
I wasn’t in combat long, but it was enough to change me. After Iraq, I was searching for something … anything to help me feel alive, to make me feel like there was good in the world. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was searching for Margaux.
There she was, practically sitting in the doorway of Café Conquistador that life-changing day. Her -blonde hair kept blowing into her mouth as she tried to sip her coffee. She’d furrow her eyebrows, yank the long curl away from her mouth, and attempt to take another sip.
“Merde!” she hissed.
I chuckled, and her eyes met mine for the first time. Those gorgeous, big, brown eyes that were full of life. She smirked at me, and took a sip of her coffee, keeping her eyes on me. She knew I was hers from that moment on. I stared as if I wished I were that coffee touching her thin, puckered lips.
Snapping out of the memory, I feel Zeke’s eyes are on me from behind the bar, as if waiting for a response to his question.
I shrug my shoulders. “Just up to my usual, Zeke. People watching.”
Zeke’s smile is sad, as is mine. There’s no more joy at Café Conquistador. It all left with Margaux. Just then, Travis walks in. He’s tall and mixed race, with caramel-colored skin and blue eyes. Travis makes all of the young girls swoon … and some of the guys, too. He acts as if he doesn’t know the effect he has on the high school girls who come in every afternoon for their frappes. But he knows, how can he not? The tip jar is always overflowing when Travis is working.
I always saw great potential in Travis. Unfortunately, he did not see it within himself. He didn’t plan to attend college, which I could understand. College isn’t for everyone; it certainly wasn’t for me. However, Margaux loved school. In fact, she worked as a barista at the Conquistador to help pay her way through Rogue Valley Community College. Her long-time dream had been to open her own coffee shop, with beignets, and crepes, and the “best café au lait in America”.
She was born in Marseilles, but grew up in a French community in Vancouver, B.C. I always told her she’d love New Orleans, but she was skeptical of opening a French café in an already oversaturated, cultured city. After all, she would have the famous Café Du Monde to compete with. In small but quaint Ashland, Oregon, she thought she’d stand a chance.
I was actually born and raised in New Orleans, and moved to Ashland for my job, unlike Margaux, who wandered in on a traveling spree of the Northwest. She was supposed to work her way down to Southern California, but never made it past Ashland. She fell in love with Café Conquistador and extended her stay in Oregon for a couple of extra days before we had met.
How thankful I am that fate stepped in and brought us together! Not long after, we fell in love and took a road trip to San Francisco before she came back with me to Ashland, deciding to settle here for a while and go to college. Who knew fate would be so cruel by taking Margaux from me just a few years after we had married?
Travis appears apathetic as he steps up to the counter. He’s barely holding onto his supervisor position at Conquistador. He took over for Margaux after her passing. While she was alive, Travis had been a diligent worker, but that all changed after her accident.
Travis is always late, sometimes hung over, or noticeably high. His laid-back personality only makes it more obvious how little pride he has in his work. I witness him breaking the rules on many occasions. Pre-grinding coffee, instead of grinding per cup—which is the owner’s standards; clearing out the pastry case early in the night, and telling customers how they’re “all out”.
His co-workers love him, nonetheless, and so do customers. Even the owner, Lousvette, can’t help but love Travis. Her patience is wearing thin, however. Sales have been decreasing, making Travis’ nonexistent food transactions at night more obvious, along with the free frappes he offered to increase tips from customers.
“Is she mad?” Travis asks Zeke.
“Man, she’s awfully quiet in the backroom, and she’s looking through sales reports. She might be serious about firing you this time.”
Sighing, Travis runs a hand over his mostly-shaven head. He looks over in my direction with a sad expression on his face. I walk over to him and place a comforting hand on his shoulder.
“It’s time to step up, Trav. Be a better man,” I whisper.
I can see tears in his eyes, which surprises me. Something is wrong. This is more than fear of being fired. He has been on the chopping block several times before and I’ve never seen him look destroyed over it.
“Heather is pregnant,” Travis heaves out, and quickly walks to the backroom.
Zeke’s mouth drops open in shock as he stares at the door Travis walked through.
Just then, we both turn toward the café entrance to see a breathtaking young woman walk into the shop. The sunlight, on this unusually warm October morning, shines on her and seems to follow her into the café.
She’s tall, with short, light brown hair, and big, brown eyes. It’s her eyes that strikes me most. It’s like looking into Margaux’s. There’s something about a woman’s eyes that can tell you what kind of person she is.
This young woman is pulled together, and intense—nothing at all like my free-spirited Margaux though. However, something in the way her eyes absorb her surroundings captivates me. She takes a full survey of the place like I do before I’m about to paint or sketch something. I try to notice every detail, the tiny ones most people don’t bother to see.
“Hello,” she speaks, and I think Zeke is frozen by the sound of her voice. Her smile is bright, almost as blinding as the sun that spotlighted her when she entered.
“H-Hi,” he stutters.
“My name is Jocelyn Capilano. I have a meeting with Lousvette.”
“Oh, I’ll let her know you’re here,” Zeke says, nodding his head exuberantly.
Jocelyn returns to inspecting the coffee shop. She tucks a piece of hair behind her ear before noticing me staring at her.
“Hello.” She smiles in surprise.
“Hi.” I smile in return, finding her voice comforting. It’s the kind of voice that would be great for reading aloud or answering the phone, or maybe even for radio.
“Do you come here often?” she asks, before blushing. “That sounds like a cheesy pick-up line.”
I laugh at how it did in fact sound like a pick-up line, and at her timidity about it.
“Yes, I do come here often. I’m Patrick,” I say, offering her my hand.
She went to take my hand, but Lousvette comes out of the back room and her presence distracts us, preventing our fingers from ever touching.
“Jocelyn.” Lousvette smiles, while a somber Travis steps up to the espresso bar and begins cleaning it diligently. “Why don’t we have a seat over here?”
I watch Lousvette and Jocelyn sit down before turning my attention to Travis. He tries to play off his emotions as if they don’t exist. I can understand that because I’ve been doing that for five years.
A customer walks in, and Zeke immediately greets him. He’s a businessman, who always comes at this time, during his lunch break. He gets his usual; a double shot of espresso, and a protein plate, consisting of a hard-boiled egg, peanut butter, celery, apples, and brie. There was never much interaction between him and the baristas. He usually had a blue-tooth in his ear, and chatted business on the phone while he paid.
I despise these types of people. Workaholics who treat the rest of the world like they were robots put on this Earth to serve them. I frequently imagine the type of clientele that would have come into Margaux’s French Corner. She had never named her aspiration, but I did.
Margaux’s customers asked for her every time they came in. They would sit and sip their coffee, reading the newspaper, Whitman or Vonnegut, while munching on a croissant, not being able to help the little “mmms” that escaped their lips. They’d apologize to Margaux for the flakes left on the table and the floor. She’d laugh, her delightful, angelic, airy chuckle, and wave her hand at them.
“Pas d’excuses,” she’d say, with her small, puckered smirk.
My heart hurt. I glance at Travis, and I can see his does, too. I remember when he first began working at Conquistador. He was only fourteen, just kicked out of his mother’s house, and living in a shelter. He was a good kid but didn’t have the best upbringing.
“I’m sorry, Dilly.” He’s looking at my watercolor in a daze while he speaks. As he blinks, I catch sight of a single tear trickling down his face.
I’m not sure why he’s apologizing to me. He must think he let me down. We used to talk on his breaks, but he doesn’t talk all that much anymore to anyone. Margaux always had an affinity for him, and so do I, but he’s been distant since she’s been gone.
I knock on top of the espresso machine that Travis is trying unsuccessfully to hide his six-foot body behind. He seems startled by my attempt to pull his attention toward me.
“Pas d’excuses,” I whisper to him before walking out of the shop, not knowing where to go, but no longer wanting to stay there to watch the sadness sweeping throughout the Conquistador.
As I pass by the window Jocelyn is facing as she speaks to Lousvette, she waves. I can see vibrancy in her eyes … something resembling hope. I’m not sure what I feel when I look at her—this beautiful creature, who both reminds me of my wife, and of a woman who has her whole life ahead of her, and probably no idea how to live it.
More importantly, I feel guilty when I look at Jocelyn. For the first time since Margaux’s passing, I feel drawn to another woman—a much younger woman at that. Travis’ heartbreak, and I imagine Margaux’s, was too much for me to take in one day. Tomorrow will be different.
Jocelyn Capilano will be gone, no longer looking at me with those big, brown eyes without sorrow, unlike everyone else I know, and Travis will be fine—embracing fatherhood and turning his life around.