"The Perfect Cup of Coffee" by Linda Lenhoff
I met Dave over coffee. I don’t mean that we met somewhere for coffee, like on a first date. We were standing over dribbles of spilled coffee, at one of those coffee bars down on Main Street. We both stood behind the marble counter dotted with sugar, waiting for our custom blends. I watched as his thin, almost elegant fingers brushed the sugar away. It moved me. The girl behind the counter had just poured my free-wage labor Brazilian Roast into the small green paper cup that had recyclable printed all over it. Dave’s extra tall cup taunted me with its mocha latte (with free-range goat’s milk). The combination of sweet and bitter aromas rose to our nostrils, and our eyes met. I should have given up coffee years ago.
It’s funny I should think about that now, as I stand here in the Pinesol-fresh kitchen (Dave’s), making him the perfect cup of coffee. And I mean perfect, too. It’s important to him. Like the time I missed the crumbs on the table cleaning up after dinner one night. Dave made me realize how important that was. I came to see his point—if you were going to clean up, clean up right. Still, no one had ever gotten so upset over a few lousy crumbs before. Personality quirk, I figured.
It took weeks, no, months, into this relationship before Dave even let me touch the coffee maker, the grinder, all his fancy equipment. Dave’s coffee maker has more buttons on it than anything I’ve ever seen. Two timers, two pots. It’s top of the line. And the grinder is fast: seven point three seconds. Dave times it once a week.
But finally, one Saturday, Dave spent the whole afternoon showing me how to use everything properly—how to measure, how to grind it (not too fine), how to time it. We went over it all slowly, methodically. I really felt close to Dave that day.
This will be the last cup of coffee I make for Dave. After breakfast, I have to leave. We talked about it last night. He won’t change his mind. He swears there’s nobody else, but I suspect Dave lies. My friend Janis saw Dave at the stadium with that red-haired girl from his office. Sounded like her, anyway. He denies it, though. Of course there’ve been other rumors. I hear things. Friends have mentioned they thought they saw Dave with some girl, a thin girl, at one of those restaurants on the beach. But Dave hates the beach. Sand, you know.
Before I learned how to use this stuff, Dave would wake me with the smell of coffee. He’d leave the bedroom door open, once he started letting me stay over, and that smell would just waft right in. Sometimes he’d bring a cup to bed and we’d share it from his special Italian cups. Naked, nothing between us but smooth Kona blend.
I’m using this gorgeous sterling silver measuring spoon to get just the right amount. Dave bought it in Europe, and it’s very shiny. I can see my reflection, and really, I don’t look too bad, maybe a little upside down, a little off-kilter. All this measuring, this grinding—it gives me something to focus on. And I need to concentrate because this just has to be right. I keep thinking I might cry any second, then I tell myself that it won’t help. I cried last night, but it only made Dave mad. I don’t want him mad. He said it’s just over with us, he doesn’t love me the way he wants to love someone. And he says I’ll find someone better for me. He said he’s glad he had the chance to share so much with me, to teach me. I miss this measuring spoon already.
Dave comes to the table and waits for it. He’s eyeing me like maybe I’m still upset and I’m going to start again, but I’m pleasant, I’m in control. I’m making coffee.
I pour some for Dave, who’s eating the English muffin I toasted for him, with two spoonfuls of room-temperature raspberry preserves on it. I took the jam out of the fridge an hour ago, so I know it’s just right. Dave tastes the coffee. He smiles at me.
“It’s good, Jane. It’s perfect, sweetie.”
“Thanks. I tried.”
“I know, and don’t think I don’t appreciate it.” He takes an extra-large sip. “You have to be going though, right?”
I just look at him. He takes another sip. He really likes it. I refill his cup. I don’t know how to feel. Ready? Compete?
“We agreed you’d be going,” Dave says.
“There’s a whole pot,” I say.
He picks up the Sunday paper, the car ads, and starts to read. His car is worth exactly sixty-seven five. He likes to watch its value increase.
“Bye, Jane,” he says, coffee cup beneath his perfect lips.
I pick up my purse to leave. I can make my hands so steady when I want to. He takes a big sip. He really does like it, I can tell. I go out to my trashy old car. I have to turn the key four times to get the engine to catch.
I pull away from the driveway and make it all the way to the stop sign before I have to reach into my purse. I take out the silver measuring spoon and run it against my cheek—its cool smoothness a real comfort right now. I love this spoon. It’s solid and heavy, something strong and real. It’ll drive him crazy, not being able to find it, and maybe he’ll figure it out, but that won’t mean it won’t bother him. Every single day. Every morning while he makes his own damn coffee. I put the spoon in my lap and place my hands back on the wheel. I could really use a cup of coffee right now.
About the Author: Linda Lenhoff is a writer and editor in the Bay Area, focusing on travel, lifestyle, and the little things that get you through the day. Her first two novels, Life a la Mode and Latte Lessons, were published by Kensington and are available as ebooks on Amazon. Her third book, *Your Actual Life May Vary, is looking for its forever home with an indie publisher. See more about Linda at https://lindalattelessons.wordpress.com/, and follow her on Twitter @LindaLatte.