Coffee Stains on a Blue Morning | Teen Ink

Coffee Stains on a Blue Morning

March 9, 2014
By thepaperinventory PLATINUM, Saratoga, California
thepaperinventory PLATINUM, Saratoga, California
22 articles 0 photos 8 comments

He woke with sinking eyes.
White noise hung in the background, a combination of TV static and falling rain. Were his eyes actually damp? He blinked. Couldn’t tell.
He sat himself up in bed and let the noise wash over his disheveled hair. Pricking his tea skin were goose bumps and cold sweat, fresh from the dream he’d woken from. It had been about his father. For the third time that week. He was awake but could still feel his body throbbing.
He glanced at the clock just above the doorframe—it was 4:20 in the morning, black and cozy and warm, so unlike the simmering worms on his back from when he dreamed.
He tapped off his alarm and peeled himself from bed. Swam towards the buttery light behind the door.
Warren was sprawled across the couch, a remote in his left hand, mouth hanging open, a trickle of saliva on his chin. He opened an eye as Kai walked by him.
“A young girl is coming over today,” Kai told him. “She’s coming early, so I’m leaving now. See you in the office?”
Warren replied with a snore. Kai chuckled, swung open the door, and stepped out.
He got into his car and drove.
His office was a shabby, two-story building surrounded by other abandoned shops. Warren owned it. He was a counselor there, along with some other guys Warren had hired. He met Warren in high school—bumped into him while he was cursing the teachers and the school and the fact that Mr. Williams had only given an A twice in the history of his teaching career.
When Warren cursed his father too, Kai knew that they would be friends.
He pulled up beside the building. The rain had stopped, but the sky was still the same blue slice of shadow. He grasped his laptop case, unlocked the office door, and staggered up the creaky steps.
A small envelope stopped him—an envelope that had undoubtedly been slipped in from underneath the door. He picked it up. There was a postage stamp with a smiley face, along with his name and the office address scrawled in choppy, angular letters. There was no return address. No name either.
He shrugged and continued up the steps.
On the second floor, he tore it open. Slowly, like he was afraid he’d wrinkle the inside contents with his touch.
Inside was a hand-written letter:

It’s been a while. Sorry about the coffee stains on the paper. You never left me your new phone number. How have you been? We never had the chance to catch up after you went to college—should we do that sometime? I’ll be at the local coffee shop on the fourth Wednesday of this month, 7-9 PM.

Kai stood there for a second, still caressing the letter in his hands. Then he let out a hoarse cackle and slashed it in half. He wanted to hit something. Anything. His new office desk. The cement walls.
Breathe in, he told himself. Breathe in, breathe out. He took ten unsteady breaths and felt the fire extinguish a bit. Then he realized it was his father who had taught him the calming trick in the first place.
He heard a car pull up right then, and he knew he had to forget about this before they came in. He closed his eyes and counted slowly to ten. Then he opened his eyes and counted to ten again.
One, two, three, four, five, six—
A door knock.
“Come in!” he called in a cheery voice.
In stepped a frowning girl and her fake-smile parents.
“Hello,” he said to the girl. “You must be Maisie.”
Maisie was silent. The mom slapped her back and hissed, “Answer him!”
The girl glared at the other side of the room. The mom smiled apologetically, looking horrified.
Hey, don’t do that, Kai wanted to say. “I’d like to talk to Maisie alone. Could you two exit for fifteen minutes or so?”
The parents exchanged glances and began a hushed and frantic debate, in which the word stupid was used six times, before glancing back and smiling again. “I suppose,” said the mother. “Fifteen minutes.” They left the room, the mother not removing her gaze from Maisie, and the father not removing his gaze from Kai.
The door shut.
“How are you?” asked Kai.
Maisie stared out the window behind him and didn’t reply.
He leaned back in his chair. These cases came often—where the child ignored him and refused to cooperate. But he could always get them talking by the end. He tried again.
“Alright. Well, what school do you go to?”
No reply.
“Nothing, huh?”
Nope. He tried a different approach.
“I’ll talk about myself, then. I’m Kai. I graduated from UC Berkeley. I’ve always liked to talk to people, new people especially. I like dogs—my housemate and I are planning on adopting a dog next month.”
Her eyes lit up.
“Do you like dogs?”
The light disappeared. She looked away again.
For the rest of the fifteen minutes, Maisie said nothing. Her parents barged in at fifteen minutes precise to the second and shot him numerous questions he couldn’t answer.
“How’d it go?” Warren asked an hour later, setting down his computer bag.
Kai lounged back and closed his eyes.

He was incredulous when Maisie’s mother called him the next morning and requested a second session. A week later, Maisie was back in his office.
“How are you?”
She shrugged. Then, after a pause, she told him, “Fine.”
He could’ve leapt with joy.
“Any luck?” asked Warren when he got back home.
Kai let out a wild laugh. “She spoke today!”
“Told you it’d happen. How much did she speak?”
“One word!” he cried, as if he had just won the lottery.
In the evening, Kai threw his father’s torn letter in the trash. But he didn’t take out the trash that week. Or the week after that.
He saw Warren walk into the room one day. Warren picked up a piece of the letter, froze, and put it back in the trash.
He didn’t take out the trash either.

The sessions went on. Maisie spoke more and more each session.
“So how are you?” asked Kai as usual. He could feel the parents pressing their ears to the door.
“I’m fine,” she said.
“How so?”
She blinked. “What do you mean?”
“What’s fine?”
She stared at him. “Uh, I don’t know. School is fine? My grades are fine?”
“Just a second,” he said. He stood up and opened the door. The mom stumbled forward when he opened the door.
Kai laughed. “That doesn't count as being outside.”
“Oh, of course, we're very sorry. We'll wait downstairs.”
“Thank you,” he said and shut the door. He waited until the footsteps were gone.
“Sorry about that,” muttered Maisie. “They're always so...ugh.”
“It's completely fine, Maisie,” he said. “Don’t apologize. Anyways, what's fine?”
She narrowed her eyes. “What kind of question is that?”
He shrugged. “You said school was fine? What's fine about it?”
“Well...I have friends? Teachers don't hate me? I really don't know how to answer this.”
“Is your life at home fine?”
“Yeah,” she said.
“Yeah? What about it is good?”
Kai hated this part of his job, to fit that cold, prodding image. The first time he tried this attitude, he couldn't help but apologize time after time for his aloofness. As he talked to more and more students, however, he learned that it was the best way to get to the problems quicker. He learned to ignore his discomfort.
Maisie blinked again. “I don't know.”
He hated saying this part. “Do you fight with your parents?”
“Doesn't everyone?”
“Does it affect your happiness?”
“I don't know! I don’t know! Stop asking me questions!”
Kai inhaled. He was glad she had broken already—it meant no more coldness on his part. “I'm sorry,” he said and waited.
Two drops formed at her eyes.
He handed her a tissue. She didn’t take it. Two minutes passed.
“Dammit,” she said. “I don’t know. Nothing’s wrong, but it feels wrong.”
She took the tissue.
“I want to forget,” she said after a pause. “But whenever I look at her face, I…I remember it. She doesn’t do it anymore either, but…ugh…I don’t know.”
He listened.
“I mean, it doesn’t hurt or anything, but in a way…ugh…I really don’t know.”
He nodded. Two more minutes passed before she began again.
He listened as she went on about how she knew her mom wanted to change. How she had practically changed already, but she couldn’t believe it no matter how much she wanted to. How she wanted to love her mom, but didn’t know how to remove the image she had of her.
When the sun came up, he thanked her for sharing the things with him. He gave her instruction on how to improve her relationship with her mom, and she left with her parents. Meet with Maisie for an hour again, he wrote on his planner for the next week.
He sat there and thought.
The dream was drifting back to him—he remembered the contact of his own fists against a young girl. He remembered the guilt, the pain. He remembered looking in the mirror and seeing not himself, but the face of his father. It was not the livid face he was used to seeing. It was a face with wrinkles that looked like scars, and baggy, humbled eyes.
Kai reached in his trashcan and picked up the crumpled pieces of his father's letter. He noticed that he had signed it with “Father” instead of “Dad.” He noticed that he had spilled coffee just to apologize for it. He noticed that he hadn’t apologized for what was most painful. He noticed that he had used a smiley face stamp, one that he clearly bought just to mail the letter.
He noticed his angular handwriting. Handwriting as gaunt as his elbows, handwriting as gaunt as his own elbows.
The coffee shop, huh? he wondered. The coffee shop.
Outside, rain was falling.
Kai opened his planner.

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