The store above the love-themed café sold hats. It took Cheyenne a year of drinking red-tinged coffee almost every day before she ventured upstairs to check out the hats.
Hats were something extra. Unnecessary. So was drinking coffee the color of bloodied mud in a café surrounded by red cardboard hearts and photos of dreamy celebrities and multiple gilded prints of Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss.
No, hats were worse than unnecessary, because Cheyenne hated them. She thought they made a face look like an intentional portrait against a canvas’ complementary background. She made the trip upstairs at the request of Jake, who owned the café. He had a wife upstairs who sold hats, and after a year of drinking Jake’s coffee, she felt loyal to his brand.
It was a Saturday morning, and Cheyenne was enjoying a steaming love coffee and still-warm love breakfast cookie. She dipped the cookie, which was heart-shaped and covered with electric red sprinkles, into her sweet cup, and she wished that this comfort and containment would endure.
“It’s early,” Jake said as he sat down at her table, which really was her table, which was always free for her, which was under a row of black-and-white posters featuring Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, and Doris Day with their eyes scribbled over with red marker, the pupils replaced by hearts.
“I’m your only customer,” she said with a hint of apology. “Do you want to close down for a while and go back to bed?”
“No. That would be lazy,” he said. He pulled the dishrag from his lap and wiped his brow. “More people will come once the rain stops.”
“I’m sure,” she said.
The windows were covered with thick black shades, and the loudspeakers played sultry French songs at a high volume, so there was no way to tell what the weather was doing. But when they had both arrived at 6 am, the rain had been cold and merciless.
“Maybe you can lure your roommates out for some coffee,” said Jake, wriggling his eyebrows seductively.
“Maybe…” she said. “But when it’s cold, they don’t like to leave the house.”
“It’s warm in here, though,” he said.
“But you’ll grow weak and cold without more snacks. Perhaps a piece of love quiche?”
“At lunch,” she assured him.
He checked his watch.
“It’s okay if I sit here until then?” she said.
“Of course,” he said. “That’s what cafés are for.”
He returned to his counter and waited, used love cookies as drumsticks to keep time with the French jazz.
Sometimes she brought something to pretend to do—a book or laptop to hide behind. Today she just sat and looked at Marilyn, Audrey, and Doris. Admired their eyes. Swirled the last quarter cup of coffee around and around her giant red mug. It was easier to contemplate her love for Jake when she wasn’t looking at him. She had fallen in love with him the first time she visited the love café, inspired by the taste of love coffee and love cake and love paninis and by hearing Jake talk about his wife Louise. The hat artist. The ethereal queen. The woman whose dreams inspired him to follow his dreams, whose dreams were just upstairs from his own.
Cheyenne thought she was inspirational, too. Or she could be. She enjoyed her job as a librarian, and she was passionate about books just like Louise was passionate about hats. True, she didn’t own her own business, but why was that so essential for being inspirational? Maybe she could open up a bookstore. Sometimes while she sat at her table, she considered how much money it would take to open her own business. What would it take to make her bookstore more successful than Louise’s hat store? Would Jake choose who made the most money as the most inspirational, or who had the biggest heart for the business?
Cheyenne had never crossed paths with Louise. She avoided visiting the hat store, and Louise never descended to make an appearance at the love café.