Ashbury's Coffeehouse is hipster fodder: secondhand furniture, soy milk, and ersatz antiques occupy every corner, the clutter reminiscent of my grandmother's apartment. The air is perfumed by fresh-old coffee and musk, an overall dank quality comforting when I sink into one of the many mismatched armchairs. I was never fond of the occupants or the service; everyone has a laptop and a thick layer of pretension. They're art students, mostly; I catch snippets of their conversation, their discussions of religion and politics and fashion. They laugh, cite bullshit statistics, and smile with teeth they never bothered to fix. Hollywood wants them to be beautiful, but they are instead quaint. They look and act like figurines the same grandmother keeps in tall cabinets: stiff-jointed, dressed to the nines, and performing in a pattern, wound-up and replayed.
My loathing is tempered by curiosity. The espresso is subpar, nothing a Starbucks couldn't provide me. It's a bit cheaper but set remotely; the price of gas more than compensates for the cash I would have wasted in front of a perky barista in a green apron. I am instead drawn by the passion; I may not care for their opinions, but college students speak with certainty I have never owned. They know the world now as they will never know it again, breathing in black and white, even if the smoke from their hand-rolled cigarettes is gray; agnostic in theory but when dissected, they are parts of a concrete philosophy with every answer precise.
They are Christian. They are the idols my parents worshipped. They are a product of society and refuse to believe it so adamantly, that they melt in fervent heat and seep into molds crafted by their predecessors' hands: the anti-culture.
Liz, a short woman with clothes like an adolescent, sways her hips to unheard music, approaching with two steaming, environmentally friendly drinks. She had them spiked with amaretto. The cheap kind the manager picks up at Jewel and sells as if it was imported from Italy. It doesn't matter because I'm not paying, and in honesty, it almost tastes the same. I sip, stir in sugar, sip, stir in sugar, and then sip, sip, sip. It cools slowly, and I speak around the rim of recycled material, "Is Caitlin coming?"
"Yeah, if Jake and Michele are."
I frown, broken from thought entirely. There's emptiness where my judgment sat, and in parallel with the astronomical musings to my left, a big bang occurs on a smaller scale-
I am fourteen, five years prior to the location of my body. I drift into the eyes of my past and gaze at my reflection: always too thin, with a big nose and dark circles. I have been binge eating but gaining no weight because I vomit. Caffeine jitters possess my fingers, and I haven't showered in three days. My hair is greasy and recently dyed black, matted against my forehead with sweat. My clothes are decent and detergent scented, and I am wearing a silver rosary. It sits on my chest, staring at me. Jesus, nailed through his palms, accuses me of no sin.
The hall is unnaturally dark and the sound pouring from the living room unnaturally loud. I am not in my own home. My steps echo, my father's boots loose on my feet. There's a party, but there's only Jake. He's sitting alone, leaning against a stack of pillows, so drunk. He has pale blue eyes and acne. It covers his chin and nose and forehead, but he has beautiful cheekbones and platinum blond hair. His eyebrows are lost in his milky skin, his lips the color of these baby pink flowers my mother grows in her garden.
His head lulls to the side, and he gestures broadly, "Jorge, the fuck? I thought you left, man."
"Puked," I answer, feeling far more sober than I am. I sit beside him, and he puts an arm around me, over-friendly. I'm uncomfortable.
"Purpose or drunk?"
He accepts this with a nod. His whole body is clumsy, as if on strings pulled by a blind puppeteer; he shifts with too much of his weight and almost crushes me into the cushions. I laugh and push both his shoulders and silence ensues when we resettle. My back is arched, his hand is close to my waist, and he tells me, "You have a mouth like a girl. I'd let you suck me off."
It isn't cruel, but I want to punch him. I clench my fist, and Liz reminds me in real time, "Jorge! Jorge, hey, Earth to Jorge. You're spacing, dude."
I finish my lukewarm latte and stare off at the doorway. The bells ring the same for every customer, and I start to count each, vaguely registering that the conversation to my left has turned to politics. The short-haired lesbian is anti-abortion, and I almost smile. Jake will come, with his vegan girlfriend, and she'll be disgusted when I tell her.