How to Fall in Love in Chardon: at Beans
That he’d come north in the winter - this had been their first clue. Though in retrospect they’d decide it wasn’t so much a clue as a sign, an indication of things to come; Dobie being not so much a man of mystery as boyishly off-beat. He’s the kind of guy girls wonder about (married ones especially) - and the Coffee Girls often did - new in town, single, and by all appearances a gentleman. The kind of good-natured young man a wife can discuss openly with her husband - standing over a warmed oven, layering a lasagna while cogitating on the names and faces of the town’s eligible young ladies - yet her preoccupation with thought of him never keeping her husband up at night.
There was, of course, the question of his age. Pam guessed early thirties though Kim thought perhaps younger, his appearance being one of eternal youth. Dobie. Even his name sounds young. To visualize him is to picture a Boy Scout all grown up leading one to believe him the embodiment of all they stand for - trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent. This would serve him well in later years though they’d imagined it a principal source of his life’s rebellion. Case in point: a discreet, palm leaf tattoo just below his left wrist which Karen noted last week upon delivery of her everything bagel. This, too, they interpreted as charming, akin to a young girl clomping around the house in her mother’s high-heeled shoes.
His glasses - round, wire, tortoiseshell - are among his defining features lending Dobie a sort of Clark Kent appeal. Conceivably he’ll one day save the city; us from ourselves or us from the aliens whose arrival, according to Curt, remains imminent. While possibly outlandish this seemed fitting because, when the Coffee Girls thought about it what did they know about him, really? With certainty, only that he’s a barista at Beans inside which two abutted blonde-wood, lacquered tables had formed their their Tuesday morning gathering spot for the last fifteen years. That he’d recently taken up bartending evenings at Chardon Tavern was a rumor they found plausible, though more so if at a speakeasy while wearing a white collared shirt and suspenders.
Those glasses - there was just something about them; another clue but one frustratingly vague without context. Like the interchangeable facades of a custom home, Dobie could just as easily be the Southern Charmer dressed in pressed khakis, a gingham collared shirt, an expensive leather belt, sipping an Old Fashioned from a lowball glass at a Lowcountry garden party, as he could be the French Country Cottage dressed in cream corduroy trousers, a matching cashmere sweater, a printed silk bandana, smoking Gauloises at a provincial garden party. Regardless, had he arrived in Chardon speaking either vernacular he’d likely be settled already - her character clarifying his in the way that couples help make sense of each other - and the Coffee Girls would be free to move on to other subjects. The fact that Dobie wasn’t settled was a puzzle piece they just couldn’t place; the placing of puzzle pieces being one of life’s greatest pleasures.
One could, if one dared, simply ask Dobie about himself and being the sort of upright guy they imagined him to be he’d likely provide honest answers. Soon they’d learn what to expect of him in the same way they’ve come to know the descending order of Spooky’s favorite cookie flavors, the precise preparation of Curt’s oatmeal. Soon Dobie would become a regular - just like everyone else.
It’s thoughts like these that roll through minds and off tongues between sips of light roast above the gentle whir of an espresso machine and a faintly rendered melody on an unremarkable Tuesday morning in April. And, as Mother Nature draws her thick white blanket over the center of Chardon, inside Beans, the Coffee Girls are thick in conversation drawing straws.
* * *
In a small stainless steel pitcher the rising pressure of steam results in a dense white froth and the simultaneous fogging of Dobie’s glasses. Pouring the rich liquid into a porcelain mug he absentmindedly frets the chords of a song piping softly through the coffee-shop sound system; the perfect brand of melancholy for a quiet, sunless morning. As he puts the finishing touches on his concoction, a seasonal latte created on spec for Beans’ owner, Sylvia, he registers in his periphery a sudden flash. Perhaps, he thinks, lightning.
Dobie delivers the mug to a two-top near the front of the room where Sylvia sits in deep concentration in a wooden chair facing the picture window. The table top is layered with papers whose contents she’s organizing into next week’s orders. She pauses briefly from her work complimenting his artistic presentation and follows his gaze through the window to the empty Square beyond where a heavy rain has begun to fall.
“You know what they say about April showers,” Sylvia remarks tapping the mug’s edge with the tip of her pen then returning to her paperwork.
Dobie’s thoughts are soon interrupted by the sight of an immense bright-purple umbrella passing just beyond the shop’s window. He observes, riveted, as the umbrella stops in Beans’ covered alcove and resists collapse at the hands of a young woman whose lean, petite figure reminds him of a dancer if slightly less graceful. Colorful language as profuse and electric as its subject penetrates the heavy, gray morning. Then, under the captivated stare of all assembled, the umbrella itself is forcibly thrust, open, through the door’s threshold with a loud thwap and a high velocity spray of water, to the violent ringing of a brass bell. Steadying herself the woman gasps upon sight of Dobie covered head to toe in a fine mist.
“Oh no! I’m so sorry!” She tries not to laugh but the words tumble out. Frantically she begins swatting at beaded droplets on his shirt, patting wet spots using the towel slung over his shoulder sending bits of egg and bread crumbs in all directions.
Dobie removes his glasses, dries them on a hidden patch of cotton and when he replaces them their eyes meet. Her hand, still clutching the dish towel, lingers at his chest as her laughter dissolves.
She clears her throat. “Sorry about that.”
As she presses the towel into his hand Dobie considers her smooth, mocha skin, her wild tangle of dark espresso waves, her deep brown eyes flecked with gold, her dimpled chin. Mid-twenties, he guesses. She carries a guitar case in her free hand, uses the other to tuck her hair behind her ear before extending it toward him.
“I’m Sunny.” Her fingernails, too, are violet. Her skin soft, warm.
“Dobie. I like that. You know, you remind me of someone. Who?” She taps a finger on her chin. ”It’ll come to me.”
If she says Harry Potter I’m going to walk straight into oncoming traffic.
“Haven’t seen you around here before.” He grabs the umbrella’s handle, surveys its jammed trigger and deposits it near the pastry case. Sunny follows.
“Nope. Cute though,” she smiles, full lips parting to reveal a mouthful of milky white teeth, “the park.” She motions out the window.
I’m pretty sure she’s flirting.
“So, what’ll it be?”
“Small latte, please. To go.” To go.
Dobie watches the milk steam as Curt approaches to pay for his standing oatmeal and coffee order.
“Hey, Curt. I’ll bring your coffee out in just a minute.” Dobie nods to the guitar case leaning against the counter. “So, Sunny, you’re a musician?”
Curt takes his cue, walks a few paces to an open seat with the Coffee Girls. “What are we looking at?” he whispers and is immediately, unanimously shushed. When Sunny glances over all eyes avert.
“Something like that.” Sunny replies. “You too?” He looks up at her. “Barista, vintage t-shirt, you know.”
I never liked this shirt. “One small latte.”
“Well, I’d better go. I’m auditioning for a role at the theater.”
“Maybe I’ll see you again soon then.” He pretends to wipe down the counter as he watches her go.
Sunny stops at the door. “Oh, Dobie! I figured it out.”
“Who you remind me of. John Lennon. It’s the glasses.” The door’s bell chimes and she exits.
John Lennon - not bad, considering.
“Oh. Wait!” Dobie rushes to the entry grabbing the umbrella along the way. He opens the door, leans out from the stoop as far as his extended arm and the umbrella’s open canopy will allow. Shielding his eyes from the glaring sun he’s oddly reminiscent of a figurehead mounted off a ship’s bow, Gene Kelly from Singin’ in the Rain.
“Sunny, you forgot your umbrella!”
Inside Beans a chorus of wood chair legs scrape wood floors as everyone stands in concert angling to see around the massive purple bloom.
Returning to Dobie, Sunny throws her arm around his neck, stands on tiptoe, kisses him. “For luck!” she says and bounds off calling over her shoulder, “Hold on to the umbrella for me?”
I always knew this shirt was lucky.
On his way back to the counter Dobie passes two abutted blonde-wood tables whose occupants attempt the appearance of normal conversation.
* * *
In trying to construct a box around him they’d found it elementally lacking, having no solid floor from which to create its foundation. And though the mind seeks resolution - the period at the end of a complete sentence - in their hearts, what the Coffee Girls truly desired was…
Dobie’s Violet White Chocolate Latte:
1oz White Chocolate Sauce
1/2oz Violet Syrup
2 Shots Espresso
Stir while filling with steamed milk
Garnish with whipped cream & bloom of violet