The aroma of coffee, the hum of Dixieland jazz and the babel of conversations washed over the devil as he opened the door. It took him a moment to focus.
“What’s your darkest blend?”
“We have a single origin, special drip…”
“No,” he rejected the complicated connoisseur daily special. “Just a large cup of a dark roast — black.”
“That would be our dark velvet. Are you staying or taking out?”
“To stay, yes, to stay.” He sighed. The throb of heartbeats rolled like thunder vibrating under his toes.
She gave him a large, white ceramic mug of dark roast as he scanned the room for a seat. A table, crowded with tablets, laptops and phones, was occupied by a study group of first year law students. They sipped coffee, flirted and complained. Greed, ambition and lust —they were a table of clichés and he wanted to spend his precious coffee break with a more intriguing corner of humanity.
“As you can see from my resume, I’d be perfect for…”
“We’re a start-up looking for just one more investor…”
“Shooting will start as soon as the lead actress finishes…”
“The indie cred of this project …”
“Do you think Dad would pay for yoga teacher training? It’s less than tuition for a semester and college seems useless anyway…”
“It’s rent stabilized!”
“But it’s the size of a closet. We’ll have to leave the city and…”
“I don’t know what I did wrong. I did everything he wanted. First he stopped calling me and now he won’t even reply to my texts.”
“Let it go, Andrea, let it go. Sometimes things just weren’t meant to happen.”
“That’s easy for you to say. You’re so beautiful and…”
Jealousy smelled good! Mixed with a soupcon of violence it had spawned some of his best adventures. Still he was on the hunt for a more substantial meal. The waves of conversation rolled. The playlist switched to a vintage blues song full of loss and heartache. Perhaps a little schadenfreude would satisfy his appetite. It always left a tingling feeling in his throat.
But then he spotted her. She was sitting in the window staring out into space. Two piles of paper were on the counter in front of her. The pile on the right started with page 53 and, the devil estimated, it ended at 300 or 310. The smaller pile on the left was face down and peppered with tiny pieces of sticky notepaper and handwritten scribbles.
She stopped staring out the window and returned to scrutinizing the top page in the pile on her right. She crossed out a paragraph and then wrote STET. Changed a word in one sentence and crossed out a comma. Then she placed a pink sticky note on the page and put it, facedown, on top of the pile to her left.
The devil caught the scent he desired most HOPE. It was intoxicating. More than love, desire or ambition, more than anything that humans experienced, hope was the finest trapdoor into his clutches. He slid into the seat next to the writer’s, nodded and smiled at the two piles of paper.
“Again and again…” She replied, turning to face him. “I thought I’d gotten it right this time, but…”
“Rejection is a difficult thing.”
“It’s worst when you know you’ve deluded yourself. When you’ve told yourself it’s worth the time and effort. I put up a brave front, but this time it hurt. I shouldn’t have let it hurt.”
“But maybe that’s useful —that pain— maybe it’s a message?”
“To give up?”
The aroma of her wavering hope was delicious. He imagined devouring the particular brand of despair that follows artistic failure. Hope and dreams scuttled on the rocky shore of reality, made a tasty meal.
And then she laughed.
“At least I’m not an actress.”
The devil downed the last of his coffee and headed outside to find a sad and simple soul —preferably a crooked bookkeeper or a corrupt politician.
“Artists!” He muttered as he wondered down the street.