Disclaimer: No Emily Dickinson poetry for me because I'm not a dead, hermit-ish poet-lady.

A/N: Another story from my writing class; this is the revised version, so yay for you guys. Once I get the accompanying illustration uploaded, I'll have a link to my deviantART page in my author's profile. This is NOT in chronological order, so don't assume that...'cause you'd be majorly confused. Anyway, hope you enjoy, and remember, reviews really are a Godsend, sweet nectar and ambrosia (that'll make more sense once you've read the second paragraph!). Enjoy!


black coffee

i.

She didn't understand coffee. All it consisted of was some strained bean-juice that had to be one of the most repulsive concoctions on the face of the planet. Whose idea had it been to take small, dark beans, grind them up, filter water through them, and then drink the resulting gritty liquid? Honestly.

And they liked coffee. Cooper and James, they chugged the stuff morning, noon, and night like it was some sort of Godsend, sweet nectar and ambrosia condensed into the collective term coffee. A gift from above and all that whatnot. The sacred and percolated bean-juice.

Cheers.

She frowned at the murky liquid in her own mug. It hardly looked edible. Flicking a pink pack of Sweet'n'Low—although the reason behind the ritual flicking rather escaped her—she emptied the snowy contents into the coffee and furiously stirred the lot with a spoon.

It splashed and spun and settled, and it didn't look any more edible. She wrinkled her nose. It just wasn't fair that it smelled so good, like best friends and pancakes and poetry readings, and undoubtedly tasted awful. Like turpentine or something.

For good measure, another two packs of Sweet'n'Low. And some cream: what the hell.

She took a sip.

And spat it back into the mug as discreetly as she could.

Apparently time had neither improved its taste nor her tolerance for it.

She scraped her tongue against her teeth as if she could forcibly remove the flavor of hot, bitter bean-juice, but it didn't work. Now she was stuck with a lovely aftertaste. Acrid, almost, and probably very similar to turpentine.

She left the full cup of tainted coffee on the table.


ii.

"Coop, where're we going?"

The boy laughed, his amber eyes bright, and skipped on ahead of them. "To the best café in the world, that's where!"

James rolled his eyes, one of his few expressions. "Do you hear yourself?"

"Yes, I do," Cooper replied, sounding somewhat petulant, or as petulant as any seventh-grade boy could. "You like coffee, Jamey. You'll enjoy this place."

The other boy scowled, as if the prospect of him enjoying anything was ludicrous. He grumbled in a threatening sort of way, "James. My name is James."

"Aw, but Jamey is so cute," the girl walking with them cooed.

"Nothing about me is cute," James retorted, spitting the last word as if it were poison.

The girl huffed and Cooper interrupted. "Forget Mr. Serious, Faye. C'mon, we can have fun at the café all by ourselves."

Faye allowed him to drag her off by the arm, making sure to stick her tongue out at James before they traveled too far away. "Yeah, alright, but Coop, I don't like coffee."

He looked scandalized at the mere suggestion. "Don't like coffee!" he repeated incredulously.

She quirked an eyebrow at him. "You knew that. You've known that forever. It's one of those simple facts of Faye."

"Eh," Cooper acknowledged, shrugging his shoulders. "So I've known you since Day One. That doesn't mean I remember everything about you! Too much pressure."

"You do too remember everything," she protested teasingly. "Come on. My favorite color?"

"Easy," Cooper promptly replied. "Blue."

"How original," James muttered, his icy blue eyes narrowing mockingly as he rejoined them.

Faye ignored him. "My birthday?"

"June twenty-second. But what's all this trying to prove?" Cooper asked, sticking out his bottom lip in what he deemed was an adorable pout.

"That you do remember everything and you should've remembered that I don't like coffee."

"But why not? It's amazing!" the blond boy exclaimed, throwing up his hands for emphasis.

"What he means to say is that he finds the caffeine amazing," James remarked, smirking. "And the sugar. As if you weren't hyperactive enough already."

Faye frowned thoughtfully. "Isn't it bad to drink coffee at this age, though? Doesn't it somehow mess with growth or something?"

Both Cooper and James gave her a look that suggested, What was that about growth, Shorty?

"I am not that short!" she protested vehemently, her cheeks coloring.

Cooper patted her on the top of the head, despite the fact that he only had an inch or two on her.

Faye was about to hit him when James pointed out in a falsely excited tone, "Oh, look. The café."

The three twelve-year-olds paused and stared up at the place and its sign.

"The Good Mug?" Faye read, and then she laughed. "Yeah, that sounds creative!"

"Not," James snorted, and the two of them snickered while Cooper shouted its praises to the skies, the clear and blue summer skies.


iii.

She hurried into a Starbucks, brushing the snow from her coat sleeves and stomping the slush from her shoes. She belatedly thought that she should've invested in boots of some sort, but such ideas were often far from her mind with the avalanche of papers and labs that came with majoring in pre-med. So she sneezed instead and vaguely wondered if today would finally be the day that she actually drank the coffee she ordered.

Given the fact that she hadn't for the past two years, she wasn't betting heavily on that possibility.

She went to the counter and smiled at the same barista who always seemed to work there. "One tall black coffee, please," she said.

Cooper had always ordered fancy coffee. He had liked his latte-mocha-half-caf-double-whip-with-foam-and-two-shots-of-espresso-and-can-I-get-that-in-venti-please. The thick, colorful straws delighted him, and he always ordered something with it, a little snack like a muffin or a brownie or biscotti. Well, never biscotti because that was too sophisticated, but a brownie more often than not.

James had always ordered a small coffee to go. Black. No sugar, no cream, no half-whip double-foam. Straightforward, serious, practical.

Her fingers caressed the styrofoam cup. It held steaming hot black coffee. His coffee.

She headed back into the snow, her right hand warm and her left hand cold and shoved into a coat pocket. She shouldn't waste money on coffee she would never drink when she would be drowning in loans and debt the instant she finally graduated medical school.

She shouldn't, she really shouldn't.

But she did anyway.


iv.

They strolled across a soccer field, lazily making their way around the subdivision they had grown up in and would be leaving in a few short weeks. The prospect of college loomed, no longer a mere distant possibility.

They walked side by side, Faye with her strawberry-mango smoothie and James with his black coffee. It wasn't even iced coffee, despite the heat of July.

"Are you ever not going to drink that?" she asked, her smile as lazy as their walk.

"No," he replied, and he took a sip to spite her.

Minutes passed in comfortable silence, the only sound the occasional slurping of smoothie. Faye tilted her head to one side and studied him sidelong. His profile was relaxed but stoic as always: lips uncurved, eyebrows unfurrowed, ice-blue eyes staring at the ground a dozen paces away and half masked by his long lashes. It didn't seem fair that a boy could have such beautiful eyes.

Unfair like coffee smelling delicious but tasting abysmal.

She glanced away, taking a distracting slurp. "So…are you nervous?"

Another sip of bitter liquid and he looked at her, his eyebrows lifting briefly.

Faye laughed; she had nearly forgotten he considered that communication. Perhaps it was more laughable because she knew what he meant. "Nervous about college, life, that whole deal," she clarified obligingly.

He shrugged, one hand casually slipping into his jeans pocket, the other's fingers tapping on his styrofoam cup. "Not really."

She swirled the remnants of her smoothie, trying to get the straw positioned right. "Not at all? But we'll be going away. The gang's getting split up. That doesn't bother you, even a little?"

"It's just college, Faye. It's no big deal." His gaze followed a bird across the sky.

"Right. Of course," she said, forcing nonchalance into her tone. A couple more steps. "But I'll be on the East Coast and you'll be in Chicago!" she burst, as if she could not possibly contain herself any longer. "That's so…distant. We'll never see each other anymore, except on breaks, and even then it won't be the same." They reached the edge of the soccer field, and she rather violently threw her empty cup into a trash can. "I can't believe you, James! Don't you care about us at all?"

James didn't flinch and merely swallowed more coffee. "I wasn't aware we were an us, Faye. Unless you were including Cooper in that group and conveniently forgot to mention that he'll be in California and just as gone."

Faye bit the inside of her lip, feeling hopelessly transparent as those beautiful eyes gazed levelly at her. She swallowed with difficulty and summoned up a wisp of courage. "So that's it, then? You feel nothing at all?" She hadn't meant it to be a question, but her voice cracked and betrayed her.

"For you or in general? I wish you'd be more specific," he said calmly, one corner of his mouth flickering into a smirk before smoothing once more: a misguided attempt to return normalcy.

"I'll take that as a no," she whispered, unable to keep facing him. She did not want him to see the tears that welled inexorably in her eyes.

He gave her a long, probing look, his brow furrowed. "I never thought I encouraged…" he began but trailed off. His voice became gentler, caught somewhere between sadness and guilt. "Did you expect me to love you?"

"No," she muttered, her tone hurt but defensively edged. "I didn't expect. But I half-hoped."

His eyes softened and he opened his mouth to speak, but she was already walking away.


v.

There were ceiling-high shelves along one wall of the Good Mug. Hard-backed books crammed into the limited space, smashed cover to cover with a few unfortunate nomads lying haphazardly on the uneven tops. Some were large and impressive, but most were slim and small with thick, off-white pages and slightly uneven typescript. Their common denominator was their contents: poetry. Every single volume boasted an impressive anthology with authors like Dickinson or Frost or Bishop or Poe or less famous poets whose works proved just as rich.

Faye liked the books. She liked to imagine that on Thursday nights when the Good Mug hosted poetry readings that slender, fantastically dressed people would slink over to the bookshelves and peruse for a minute or two before selecting a book and a passage to deliver. These people always had stooped shoulders and European-style scarves wrapped about their thin throats; the males sported modest blazers and the females…well, she never determined what the women wore, but it was especially artsy.

She knew these characters were pure stereotypes, but still, she was fond of entertaining them when they wandered into her thoughts and scanned the bookcase with its shelves bowing from the weight of metaphor and meaning. She also wondered why the poetry readings were held on Thursday and not some more popular day like Friday, but then she supposed that even artsy people had lives to attend to on the weekends, lives beyond yellowing pages and fading black letters.

She strolled into the coffee shop one blustery day in November of her sophomore year and, to her surprise, discovered one of her best friends. James's mere presence itself invited no curiosity, but he usually stopped in, ordered his coffee to go, and then drifted back into the real world—because the café seemed removed somehow. That particular day, though, she found him lounging in a chair by the window, one hand loosely cradling a steaming mug and the other supporting a small, scarlet, hard-backed book.

He didn't notice her until she collapsed into the chair on the other side of the little circular table, and then he jerked into action. His hands fumbled the book and almost before she could blink, it had disappeared onto the shelves as if he'd never been holding it at all. Those hands proceeded to fully preoccupy themselves with the coffee cup.

Faye couldn't hold in a half-disbelieving, half-amused laugh, and she grinned at him. "Didn't peg you as a poetry lover, Jamey."

He grunted and sipped his coffee and stared out the window at a floating, twirling autumn leaf.

Her grin faded away, and she settled more comfortably into the low armchair and watched the same leaf dance on the air currents. It possessed a singular ability to defy gravity, dipping low before swooping high again on an updraft, and neither of them spoke for the long minutes it took the leaf to anchor on the cold concrete sidewalk.

"Aren't you going to order something?" he asked at length, his winter-blue eyes flickering to her before straying back to the perfectly smooth overcast skies.

"You know I don't like coffee," she replied, feeling pleasantly drowsy in the café, even though it was only four o'clock in the afternoon.

"I know," he acknowledged, and he swallowed more of the bitter black liquid.

She watched the coffee ripple as he replaced the cup in its saucer, and she smiled contently.


vi.

"Faye! Wake up already! C'mon, Faye-Faye!"

She groaned and pulled the blankets over her head. "'S too early…and don't call me Faye-Faye."

Cooper yanked the pillow from beneath her cheek and enthusiastically belabored her with it. "No, it's not too early! It's time for breakfast, you silly, lazy girl, and I will not wait for you!"

"I'd listen, Faye. He'll probably drag you downstairs himself if you don't move fast," James warned from the doorway.

"Breakfast!" Cooper crowed, and the pillow smacked her again. "Up, up, up, Faye-Faye!"

"I'm up, I'm up!" she cried, protecting her head with her arms. "Jeez, Coop, how are you awake already?"

James snorted, and she glanced at him leaning against the door frame, his dark hair completely mussed from sleep. "Some genius decided he'd try coffee today," he informed her with a smirk and a shake of his head.

The blond nine-year-old literally hopped to the door and James. "Move! Now! Pancakes!" He gave his friend a healthy shove into the hallway.

Faye rubbed her cobalt eyes and yawned and followed her two best friends downstairs. The wooden floor chilled her bare feet, but since she wasn't at home, there were no socks or slippers available. Shuffling along slowly, she stifled another yawn and entered the kitchen sleepy-eyed, nearly walking into a chair.

"Someone's not a morning person," Cooper's mother said kindly from her position by the counter and, more importantly, the griddle.

"Meh," Faye mumbled, sliding into the chair and leaning her forehead on the table, her sunstreaked strands spilling onto the shiny wooden surface.

"I think Faye needs some coffee!" Cooper exclaimed giddily, and James's discouraging groan was easily audible.

"Honey, I don't think…" his mother began, but Cooper would hear nothing of the sort.

"It'll wake her up in a flash!" he declared, and before Faye had even registered the conversation, she found herself staring at a half-full mug of black liquid.

She turned a quirked eyebrow on him, silently questioning the drink.

"Coffee," he said in an explanatory fashion, waving at the cup. "Drink it and you'll wake right up!"

Faye eyed the mug dubiously, but she would prefer being fully awake as opposed to in this half-stupor. So she carefully wrapped her small hands around the warm ceramic and took a tentative sip and promptly gagged.

"Ew, Coop, that's gross! What'd ya give me that for?" She dragged the back of her hand across her lips, as if that would somehow banish the bitter taste.

"No, it's delicious!" he protested, snatching the mug and gulping a fair quantity, emerging all smiles. "See? Tasty!"

She shook her head vehemently. "No, gross. I'm never drinking coffee again. Ever," she vowed.

Cooper frowned but acted aloof. "Fine. Suit yourself."

"You're missing out," James commented as he stole the cup and sampled the liquid.

"Jamey! Not you, too!" Faye wailed, and her distress was only interrupted by the arrival of the pancakes.


vii.

Cooper and Faye skipped arm in arm down the sidewalk, laughing brightly and ignoring the strange glances they received from passersby. They rounded the corner of Dartmoor and Maple and slowed to a walk as they closed in on their final destination, the Good Mug coffeehouse.

Faye frowned thoughtfully. "Where did James say he was tonight?"

Cooper shrugged carelessly. "Eh, I dunno. He said something about being busy, but he was all very hazy on the details. Which isn't too odd considering polysyllabic phrases don't pour out of the guy."

She laughed at that. "Too true! Yeah, he's not too good with words."

"Grunts and glares, though, he's mastered," Cooper reminded her, breaking into laughter again.

"Wait, wait," she shushed him. She lost all expression, and then she significantly raised her eyebrows. "Quick—what did I just say in James-speak?"

The blond pretended to give the matter a great deal of thought. "Did you…just recite the Gettysburg Address?"

"Yes!" she exclaimed, dissolving into giggles once more before composing herself. "Ah, we're horrible people. You realize that, don't you? Making fun of our absent best friend!"

"Better than making fun of your present best friend," he pointed out, nudging her shoulder with his.

She nodded, accepting that logic, and pulled him to a halt. "Hey…what's happening at the café? It's all…well, crowded."

Cooper peered through the windows, past the various posted flyers. "I don't know, but there's a mic set up in the back corner with a light on it."

"Is it Thursday? It is!" Faye said, answering her own question. "This must be the poetry reading."

The eighteen-year-old wrinkled his nose in distaste. "Blech, poetry. Now we can't get our coffee without getting mobbed by…well, by poets."

She rolled her eyes. "That sounds incredibly dangerous. They won't mind, I'm sure, if we just stop in for a cup. And then we can go back to your place and watch rugby," she consoled him.

"Cafés I can deal with, but poetry…" he mumbled and shuddered, although not from the crisp March air.

Faye dragged him in, and they hovered unobtrusively in the back for a few moments. People occupied all the chairs and tables, and there were even some loners standing around the edges. To her delight, a few sported scarves and one of them even perused the bookcase, searching for a volume. A thin young man stood behind the microphone, his hands sweeping about in dramatic gestures as he recited a poem in equally dramatic tones.

"Coffee coffee coffee," Cooper whispered, tugging on her hand.

"Shh, wait until he's finished," she reprimanded, sending him a warning glance. He huffed rebelliously but obeyed, shifting closer to her as someone exited the café.

"We're blocking the door," he informed her, and she quietly pushed him a few paces to the left. "Okay, nevermind," he remarked.

The young man concluded his recitation, and the listeners snapped their fingers in appreciation; Cooper merely quirked his eyebrow in confusion and tugged her hand again. "C'mon, he's done. Caffeine. Now."

They began sidling over to the counter when a portly woman with a cheery face stepped up to the microphone, and they would have continued if the woman had not introduced the next person.

"Next we have James Redford reading an original composition entitled 'Silence'."

Faye and Cooper froze mid-step, both of their heads turning slowly towards the makeshift stage, and their mouths dropped open as they watched the third member of their trio step into the spotlight. James looked as stoic as always with his hands casually placed in his jeans pockets (Faye couldn't help but notice that he wore a modest blazer over his hooded jacket). He began to speak in clear tones, and their jaws sagged further, as if they had not expected him to actually say anything.

"Good lord," Cooper breathed, "he's a closet poet. I guess he is good with words, after all."

Faye nodded dumbly, transfixed by his unknown talent and entranced by the gentle lull of his voice articulating more words more eloquently than ever before. Shadows from his hair shifted across his eyes as he glanced around the darkened café, and a faint smile crept onto her face.

Cooper hunched into his coat and sullenly watched her watch James. When their friend finished, he pulled rather hard on her sleeve, his words harsher than usual. "C'mon, let's go before he sees us. He obviously doesn't want us to know."

She flinched, snatched from her reverie, and it took her a moment to register Cooper's suggestion. "Leave? Why? He's so good!"

He frowned uncharacteristically and simply led her to the door, practically shoving her through the exit. He checked over his shoulder and saw that James had resumed his seat unaware of them.

"Oh, you didn't get your coffee," Faye said in false sympathy, an irritated glint in her blue eyes.

Cooper's frown deepened and his hand tightened on her arm as he continued away briskly. He grumbled resentfully, "I didn't want it that bad anyway."


viii.

"You know what's funny?" Cooper more declared than asked.

"That someone gave you a driver's license?" James suggested dryly.

"And on your sixteenth birthday, no less," Faye added, faking astonishment.

Cooper pouted for a moment before recovering, although he had chattered nonstop about the precious piece of plastic for the past week. "No," he corrected, rather louder than necessary. "It's funny that now we've known each other for half our lives. That everything after this will be more than half. Isn't that crazy?"

James and Faye exchanged brief glances. "I hadn't thought about it like that," she mused, gazing into the depths of her hot chocolate, her preferred cold-weather beverage.

James smirked. "Here's to another half-life of fun," he said, raising his coffee cup.

Cooper and Faye both laughed as they clinked their mugs against his, and they proceeded to wile away the October afternoon.


ix.

Faye walked down the sidewalk, her scarf wound thickly around her neck and her wool coat pulled close against the December chill. Her purse bumped against her hip, reminding her of its precious contents: her acceptance letter to Harvard Medical School, the most prestigious in the country. That letter would carry her back to the East Coast following commencement, and she would most likely rent an apartment and put down roots. She would probably end up doing her residency in New England, far away from here.

No more quiet Illinois suburbs, then, and no more trips to the Good Mug. There was no reason this particular trip had to be her last, since she would be returning during the spring and summer breaks. Somehow, though, it seemed fitting to quit while it was cold, while the coffee still had a purpose.

The little bell attached to the door jangled when she entered, and she tugged her gloves off as she ordered a small coffee, for here this time. The barista handed her the steaming mug, and she paid him and headed over to the corner table, the one with the low armchairs next to the bookcase where she and James had sat once and watched a leaf fall.

She sank gratefully into the squishy seat, holding the warm mug close to her face and inhaling the steam and the aroma—it smelled like best friends and pancakes and poetry readings. She glanced to the side, gazing out at the night-dark streets covered in a light dusting of snow; the sky beyond the streetlamps was clear and perfectly black save the stars which resembled snowflakes themselves.

Setting the coffee on the table, she wondered if James and Cooper were back for the winter holidays yet, if she would happen to bump into them. It didn't seem likely, though; they had drifted apart during college, each preoccupied with their own futures and seemingly trying to forget their collective past. She and James had not spoken since that fateful July day—but what would she have said to him? Apologized for loving him more than she should? Begged for things to return to the way they had been?

And ever since she and James had grown silent, Cooper's interactions with both of them had decreased sharply until they ceased to exist as well: he didn't seem to know how to act around them anymore, her especially. Their conversations had been awkward and infrequent, and when the conversations had stopped altogether, it had taken them too long to notice.

Faye sighed into her untouched coffee. She missed Cooper as much as she missed James, but she found that she missed them more collectively as her pair of best friends—her boys. They were hers, in some strange way, just as she and James were Cooper's and she and Cooper were James's. They belonged to each other, held together by an ancient if faded bond, a bond of shared days, shared laughter, shared secrets, and a shared coffeehouse in the Chicago suburbs.

She studied the ceramic mug and its dark contents. All this time, she had just been searching for a way to feel like they were still inseparable, tied to one another by a common drink: an exercise in futility she had long pursued.

Choking down a sigh, she looked away from the tormenting coffee and scanned the spines of the hard-backed books. Her eyes caught on a small scarlet volume, and it seemed familiar somehow. Had she read it before? She didn't think so. Regardless, she plucked it from its resting spot, her fingers tracing the imprinted letters on its worn cover. Complete Poems 1924, and a little further down, Emily Dickinson. She had never fully understood the allure of Dickinson poetry, but she was in pre-med and not creative writing for a reason.

Wanting the distraction from her bittersweet thoughts, she opened the book and flipped through a few pages. The original verse was printed in aged typescript, but now and again there would some penned-in comment in varied hands, a notation on this or that metaphor or simply a declaration of favoritism. By and by, she noticed that one of the pages was dog-eared, and she turned to it curiously.

It read:

HEART, we will forget him!
You and I, to-night!
You may forget the warmth he gave,
I will forget the light.

When you have done, pray tell me,
That I my thoughts may dim;
Haste! lest while you're lagging,
I may remember him!

And written beneath that in an unmistakable, at once both precise and sloppy hand:

I'm sorry.

"James," she breathed, and a familiar hollow ache settled in her chest where her heart was supposed to be. Was her vision blurring? She blinked rapidly and looked away from the page, her mind suddenly full of thoughts. How long ago had he written that and tucked it away on the shelf in the hopes that she would find it and forgive him? If only she had found it sooner, then maybe she could have spent the past four years searching for someone else instead of dwelling on crushed hopes and a broken heart. She reluctantly accepted that it was time to heal and move on, and she could only think of one way to begin.

Her gaze fell upon the innocent coffee cup, and she stared at it for an immeasurable span before she grabbed the handle. Cradling it in both her hands, she slowly brought it to her lips. It smelled so good. It would taste so bad. Coffee, she reflected, was cruelly unfair.

"Heart, we will forget him," she murmured as a toast.

She tilted the mug, and the hot liquid poured in, more bitter than she remembered. It burned all the way down to her stomach, searing the taste buds off her tongue and the lining from her throat, but she stubbornly kept drinking, determined to finish this. It hurt far more than she thought it would. For a fleeting moment, though, she felt intimately connected to her boys as if they were sitting right there.

But then the moment passed, and she was only staring at an empty mug.

Her eyes watered, but perhaps that had been from the heat and the bitterness of black coffee. Her tongue felt thick and useless, and she pressed it against her teeth, wondering if the flavor would ever entirely disappear.

She didn't think so.

Her mind made up, she pulled a pen from her purse and scrawled several words onto the same dog-eared page, directly beneath his apology. She still didn't know why he had apologized; it was a comfort, but it wasn't his fault that he didn't love her. Releasing a low sigh, she slid the book onto the shelf and disappeared into the cold and clear December air, her boots crunching on the snow.


x.

One late afternoon in February, James pushed open the door of the Good Mug, the tiny bell heralding his arrival as it always had. He paused in the entrance, glancing around the place. The interior hadn't changed: the bookcase still overflowed; the black and white photographs still decorated the opposite wall; the coffeemakers still whirred and growled. Nothing had changed, not even in six years.

Curious and apprehensive, he strode to the shelves and selected a book with ease: small, scarlet, hardcover. He slowly thumbed through the thin pages, stopping as he reached the dog-eared one. He skimmed the poem and his own message, and his eyebrows furrowed as he read hers.

I drank black coffee today. It's bitter.

He gazed at those few words for long minutes, and with a sigh, he reached up and unfolded the corner of the page, his fingers smoothing out the crease. He considered slipping the tiny volume into his coat pocket, but he finally replaced it on the shelf and put his hands in his pockets instead. It seemed fitting that this place that had seen so many of their memories should bear one more.

The twenty-eight-year-old moved toward the counter but was distracted by the photos; he'd known they were there forever, but he had never bothered looking at them. He scanned them, recognizing some of the subjects and realizing that these were the loyal customers, all of them happily smiling over their cups of coffee.

One picture in particular caught his eye, and he experienced a strange rush as he looked at him and his friends, caught in a moment long ago. He sat on the left, coffee cup in hand and smirk in place; Faye was in the middle as usual, smiling and leaning her crossed arms on the table; and Cooper lounged on the right, grinning broadly and trying unsuccessfully to give them both bunny ears. They could be no older than fourteen, young and naïve to their separate futures.

Bitter, indeed, he thought with a grimace.

The bell jingled again, and his fiancée walked in, already speaking. "James, we have to get going if we want to make our dinner reservations with your parents."

His gaze lingered on the photograph for a final moment before he spoke. "Let me get my drink. It'll only take a minute," he informed her, and he walked over to the counter and placed his order.

"Small black coffee to go."

fin