If Only

by Christine Cheng
Art by Katherine S. Li
Issue: Aphelion (Spring 2016)

Bells chime as she walks through the door. A warm, sweet and nutty scent permeates the coffee shop like always. The cashiers and customers are deep into their familiar conversation. The hustle and bustle during lunch hour floods the store; many of the buyers leave right after picking up their order. Thanks to that, she snags the same table for two and drapes her wet jacket over the chair, setting her umbrella down as well.

She gets in line and fishes for her wallet, then looks out the blurred window until

“Excuse me?”

She jumps, surprised. The man behind her coughs. She’s somehow at the front of the line, with the young cashier expectantly awaiting her order. “Here again? What would you like, miss? The Americano with a blueberry scone?”

“Sorry. Uh, this time two coffees,” she replies.

The cashier jostles around, poking buttons and grabbing a pen and notepad to write down the order. “And the same number of shots for both.”

“Yes, please.”

“Two today? Hmmm…. It is a special day.” The cashier looks around and whispers in her ear, despite the amount of people waiting in line. “I bet he’s a looker. Since you’re a regular, It’ll be only $2.01.” She notes that the cashier’s freshly ironed shirt is also rolled and cuffed to her elbows. The two may have been called twins if people had seen them together a year ago. However, now, no one would ever make the connection. She hands her damp bill to the cashier, who swiftly calculates the total and drops the change with a smile in her unsuspecting hand.

“Your number is 21.”

Her footsteps slightly muffle the barista instantly folding the paper with her order on it.

Unlike the rest of the customers at the tables, she sits straight up, her gaze piercing through the glass windows. Her slight frame, poised and picturesque, seems to gradually fall as time passes. Forever seems to trickle by until a waiter appears with a tray. The waiter delicately sets one coffee and scone on the table one by one, careful not to spill a single drop or crumb.

When the waiter leaves, she slowly settles down at the table, lacing her numb palms around the warm porcelain, her eyes fixated on the street outside.

Her frozen state is interrupted by a gentle tap on her shoulder. A lean and young man stands before her, his attitude and attire seemingly unaffected by the weather. The man smiles politely and asks, “Is this seat taken?”

She looks down at her cooling coffee. Only a second passes before she quietly replies, “Yes.”

She receives an eyebrow raise but is left alone.

It is only a few minutes before the barista comes up to her table as well. He latches onto her wrist, his eyes dead serious. “Listen. He’s not coming.”

She peels his fingers away one by one.

“Maybe he will,” she mumbles.

The coffee and scone remain untouched for 2 hours, left to cool and harden.

She places her head on her arms, staying still for the longest time.

Then she pulls herself together, gathers her coat and black umbrella, and leaves.


The flow of the store has slowed to a murmur. He settles down at the other side of the table. He slowly sips at her cold, weak coffee and picks apart the stiffening scone, the taste taking his attention away from his throbbing ankle.

His watch reads 3:11, 14.2.16.