“Peach coffee and hazelnut tea?” The words slurred listlessly out of the orange-hued lips of the barista, whose eyes were heavy with sleep and mascara. Morgan smiled and said thank you, both actions that went unacknowledged, although Morgan liked to think that her actions were both charming and meaningful, and would slightly brighten the barista’s day, or at least change the world. She picked up the steaming mugs, and took them to a small table by the window out of which her companion Anna was staring intently.
“Here is your disgusting beverage,” Morgan said cheerfully, the harshness of her adjective belied by the gentleness used to set down the drink. “Although it’s possible it’s coffee.”
Anna looked at her, right eyebrow quizzically raised.
“I’m assuming the barista misspoke,” Morgan said. “But maybe the universe decided to save you from yourself; specifically, your cafe decisions.”
“But I can’t drink coffee!” Anna laughed, rubbing her stomach gently.
“The kid’s not even born yet, and you’re going to let him just walk all over you! First, it starts with what you can eat and drink, then it’s going to be what clothes you can wear… what next? What hairstyle you have? Where will the madness end? You need to take a stance, Anna, and I think that stance should start with coffee.”
“She is a bit of a monster, but what can I do? She takes after me,” Anna replied, taking a small sip of her drink, and then a large gulp. “And if I was going to ‘take a stance,’ as you put it, it would not be with peach coffee, which I sincerely hope is not a thing, because it sounds disgusting.”
“True,” Morgan said. “Almost as gross as peach tea.”
“What do you have against tea? It’s good for you, especially when it’s not caffeinated, and it’s delicious. Try it.” The diamond solitaire on Anna’s left hand flashed as she nudged her mug across the table.
Morgan’s nose wrinkled in distaste. “I will not try it. I am a true American; tea is for wankers who try to make me pay taxes.”
“I think the people trying to make you pay taxes – and succeeding, I might add, since they’re automatically deducted from your paycheck – are also coffee-drinking, ‘true’ Americans.”
“Anna – must we really discuss politics? I thought I was in polite society. Such poor taste.” Morgan clucked her tongue and shook her head.
“I hardly think you would meet with me if you wanted polite society. And you started it!”
“Get your mind out of the gutter,” Morgan faux-chided. “I was merely discussing history, with no political intentions whatsoever.”
“Mm-hm. And what’s the historical significance of your hazelnut latte, exactly?”
“I have had them to drink before, and I like them,” Morgan replied.
Anna laughed. “Fair enough. And I like my baby-healthy, fruit-flavored tea.”
“… do you? Really?”
“I mean… not as much as coffee. But yes.”
“Ugh, I’m sorry. I forgot you couldn’t have caffeine when I suggested meeting here, to be honest.” Morgan had not forgotten. The small, bitter seeds within her heart had overtaken her intellect and social consciousness. She knew that she should be more kind, if anything, to her friend, but it was difficult to be kind, sometimes, to someone for whom everything came so easily.
“I’ve always liked Julie’s,” Anna replied, “even when I’m not drinking her caffeinated ambrosia. If nothing else, the view is great.”
“These turquoise chairs are trendy,” Morgan agreed.
“I was thinking more of the view out of the window,” Anna corrected. “I was looking outside at the trees while you waited for our drinks.”
Morgan looked out of the window, but failed to find much of interest. Maybe pregnancy hormones made the three trees outside appear more beautiful, or created the optical illusion that three trees made a forest or something.
“Do you think the trunk of a tree ever gets jealous?” Anna asked.
“The roots do important work, and obtain the nutrients that the entire tree will use to survive. The foliage, flowers, and fruit draw the eye of those who behold it, providing beauty and sometimes even food to others. And while the trunk has an important function, keeping the roots and the leaves connected, it is not a very difficult function, and at the end of the day, it’s really just a hollow husk.”
“… I’m going to be honest with you, Anna. I have no idea what you’re talking about, but I’m pretty sure the hallucinogens causing you to spout this nonsense are not good for the baby.”
Anna smiled, the pointed tips of her small canine teeth flashing for a second before disappearing beneath her upper lip. “Did you know, that night when we met Ben for the first time, I actually thought he was interested in you?”
… The bright sunshine streaming in through the window morphed into the hazy, sweat and smoke-filled air of the Lazy Star, the dark dive bar where most of Morgan’s nights ended. She was holding two flavored vodka shots, and was in the midst of passing one to the tipsy-but-not-yet-inebriated-enough Anna when he walked up.
“Oh em gee, look at that hawt guy coming over!” Anna trilled, seeming excited for the first time in days about something other than wallowing over her failed relationship with Craig, whom Morgan had always thought was kind of a dick, but had underestimated the impact his “I thought I loved you… but I don’t” would have on her friend. Morgan had been secretly worried that not even a night out with potentiality for alcohol poisoning seemed to be ameliorative, and felt her muscles relax as she was suffused with relief.
“Hello, my name is Ben,” he said, hand on his chest as he talked in a host-like manner, which Morgan had thought was funny until she later learned that he was one of the owners of the bar. “And I would love to buy you ladies a drink.” He tried to catch Morgan’s eye, but she was here for her friend tonight, and shut-down any bedtime vibes his dark blue eyes would have prompted in ordinary circumstances.
“Hi Ben! I’m Anna,” her friend said, smile too wide, tone too loud and perky. “And my friend only got me one shot of vodka.” Her lower lip pouted out in a manner intended to be cute.
“Hi Anna,” Ben said. “We’ll have to fix that. More shots? Or would you or… ” He looked at Morgan briefly. “… your friend… like something else?”
Anna looked at Morgan, who could see her company was no longer desired. “Actually,” she said. “I just realized, I have to head out. So sorry to do this, Anna, but I just remembered that I have this meeting for work tomorrow that I forgot to do my slide deck for.”
“You have a meeting on a Saturday?” Ben had asked, clearly not wanting her to leave.
“Yep,” Morgan lied. “The joys of being an accountant. Every day is a long day at the beginning of the year.”
“Oh no! You’re leaving?!” Anna faux-protested. “And I was having such a good time…” She looked over at Ben, batted her eyelashes.
He behaved like a gentleman, reading the signals and giving the desired response. Morgan handed over the shots, and walked out. She had assumed it would be a healthy, consensual one-night stand; instead, her friend had hopped into a new relationship…
The light in the cafe suddenly seems glaringly bright. “Me?!”she laughed. “Who would find me interesting when you’re around, Anna?” She meant the words more than she wished.
“Well, I mean, not as marriage material,” Anna replied. “Obviously.” She laughed at Morgan’s quizzical expression. “I mean, you didn’t even know who he was!”
“… you did?” Morgan asked, remembering how her friend had suddenly seemed so much more inebriated. She had assumed Anna simply hadn’t eaten; that the liquor had quickly gone to her head (and libido).
“Ben Wellesley?! Of course I did. He’s been on the hottest 30 under 30 list since he was of legal age. When he walked up to us, I frankly thought I didn’t stand a chance. Historically, he hadn’t gone for my type. But I lucked out; he was ready to settle down.”
“Your marriage is much more calculated than I realized,” Morgan said, stunned. “Do you really love him at all, then? Do you really want to have his baby?”
Anna’s blonde hair glistened in the sunlight, bright as her diamond ring, which glittered where it rested on her stomach. “Of course I do. This is how I lock him in… And he can’t tell me to get rid of it; he has to pretend to be excited.”
Morgan was slightly impressed and simultaneously horrified.
“But,” Anna continued. “This baby will become the new trunk holding us together. Ben is the roots, providing our sustenance. I am the beauty, obviously, taking my daily pilates and spin classes to stay slim and appear delicate. Which means… the old trunk is no longer needed.”
“… I don’t know what you mean.” Although, of course, she did.
“The old trunk has to go away. Find a new set of roots.”
… She came upon Ben standing outside of Tiffany’s, coveted small blue box in his hand.
“Is that the ring?” she asked, coming up to him. “How exciting! Can I see it? How are you going to propose?”
He looked over at her, eyes slightly glazed. Wordlessly, he handed over the box.
It was so delicate. Morgan had never received or purchased jewelry from Tiffany’s, but now that she was peeling off the ribbon, gently lifting the lid of the box, and peeking into the satin-encased future of her friend – she got it. She felt delicate and special just getting to hold the damn thing; just imagine if it was for her. The sunlight caught the diamond, causing it to shine bright enough to hurt her eyes. It was considerable in size, and nearly colorless; Anna would love it. Any girl would love it. “It’s beautiful,” she breathed, closing the box and handing it back to her friend’s near-fiance.
“It is,” he murmured. It was strange to see him this way; Ben was always so confident, and occasionally even witty, when Morgan encountered him in social situations. But right now, he was so pale it was as though the sunlight shining in full force upon everything else had muted its ultraviolet rays just for him.
“C’mon, let’s go grab a coffee,” Morgan said, grabbing his arm and dragging him towards the nearest Starbucks. “I’m jonesing for some caffeine, and want to help you plan your proposal.”
She selected and purchased his coffee for him (caramel macchiato, because she had no clue what he liked but was fairly certain nearly everyone liked that one), along with two warm chocolate chip cookies (because everything’s better with chocolate chip cookies, even when they’re not mom’s).
“Just what I needed,” Morgan purred, luxuriating in her first sip. She had been working too many hours; she tried to keep on a happy face, but it was a miracle she was even functioning at this point. She had begun having very vivid, detailed, boring dreams about spreadsheets that caused her to startle awake in a panic, only to realize that despite knowing how ridiculous she was being, she still couldn’t go back to sleep.
Ben laughed. “You’re always enjoying life, aren’t you?”
“You have to,” Morgan replied. “We only get one.
“With pressure like that, how can you be certain you’ve met ‘the one?'” He asked, his right hand straying to the pocket holding the little blue box.
“Don’t go all nineties rom-com on me, Wellesley. Anna’s the one. You’ve been dating her for 2.5 years now, and I’ve never even seen you guys get in an argument.”
“Exactly! Don’t real couples argue?”
“Who the fuck cares what other couples do?! Besides, Anna’s just a lovely person; how can you argue with her? I’ve never managed to, and I get in foul, want-to-fight-everyone moods. That woman’s magic.”
“She is. It’s just a big commitment.”
“Pssht. You can always get a divorce.”
It took Ben several moments to realize she was joking.
“People in my family don’t get divorced,” he said.
“Catholic?” Morgan guessed.
“Fiscally conservative,” was the response. “We don’t do things for silly reasons like zealous belief in an imaginary friend; our decisions are made based on money, that most powerful of all the gods.”
Morgan chuckled. “You are occasionally funny, Wellesley.”
After several sips of coffee, he asked her: “Is that why you weren’t interested in me, the night we first met? I wasn’t funny enough?”
“I can tell you get turned down a lot,” Morgan joked.
“I’ve just always wondered.”
“Really? Strange thing to ponder when you’re fucking my friend.” He just looked at her. “Okay, fine. If you’re going to be such a girl about it, I’ll satiate your curiosity.”
“Sexist. I think I’m behaving more feline than feminine.”
Morgan graced that with a smile. Then shrugged. “I just wasn’t open to meeting anyone that night. Anna had recently had her heart broken, and my sole purpose in being at that bar was to be there for my friend.”
“So if I had met you pretty much any other night, you would not have shut me down?”
“I likely would have done the exact opposite. I mean, look at you! With those dark blue eyes that don’t occur very often in nature, I think most girls would be interested.” After a beat of uncomfortable silence, she said, “But thank god I did shut you down! Because now you’re with Anna, and about to propose. Just imagine if you had gone home with me; I’m a disaster!”
He laughed, took a sip of his coffee. “I do think about that, you know. What might be different if I had taken you home, instead. You’re not a mess; though you may be more of a mess than Anna. Most people are.”
“Maybe,” Anna continued, her voice gentle, “find a set of roots who likes, or even loves her.”
How that afternoon coffee had morphed into an afternoon romp was beyond Morgan. She didn’t ordinarily do that sort of thing, given that she was ordinarily working too much during the day to enjoy bedroom activities often when the sun was still out, and she liked her friends and didn’t want to hurt them. “You’re amazing,” he had breathed, when they were done. “How can I marry Anna now?”
“Because Ben doesn’t,” Anna continued. At Morgan’s questioning look, she clarified: “Love you.”
But Anna knew that her friend was wrong. Ben had held her close lovingly, and sparred with her verbally, and stroked her hair lovingly, and bought her the mystery novels she loved to read without being asked. He had told her she was beautiful – and meant it – when she was wearing sweats, her hair thrown up in a ponytail, sans make-up. His loving her, loving both of them, really, was the reason she had continued the illicit affair even when it became clear that Ben was going to marry Anna. He had made the trip with her to Planned Parenthood when, despite their cautiousness, she had become pregnant anyway, and had secretly wanted to keep it but wouldn’t let herself because she thought she deserved the pain and anguish that comes with losing something so precious and she also secretly thought she would be a terrible mother.
Ben did love her. But sometimes, love isn’t enough. Particularly when it is being shared between three people and the wife is tired of sharing.
“Well, I’m still not following your crazy metaphor, Anna. You must be tired; I heard hosting a parasite can do that to you…”
“I appreciate your sympathy,” Anna said dryly.
“… but on a completely unrelated note, I’ve been feeling a little lonely lately. My friend has been all wrapped up in being married and pregnant, and I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind putting out some feelers, and letting me know if there are any viable, interested male friends of yours who wouldn’t mind buying me a drink, or at least fucking my brains out?”
“Morgan!” Anna reprimanded, although she was smiling. “I’m a mother now; you can’t talk that way around me anymore!”
“And why not?!” Morgan demanded. “Didn’t we just talk about this, Anna? You can’t let that little one make all of your decisions for you…”
The hazelnut coffee was warm and delicious, and when it was gone, Morgan missed it, but knew it was for the better, She would drink a new cup of hazelnut coffee soon enough, and she might even like her new cup even better. Who knew? It might even give her a Tiffany’s box.