TWO CUPS OF COFFEE • by Helena Gifford

The old woman encountered her younger self at a café. It was a classic Seattle café, a favorite haunt that they’d loved and would continue to love for years. The ever-present golden aroma of warm coffee and cinnamon and cream drew them in like nothing else. When their name was called, both women went up to claim the same cup of coffee. Recognizing each other as the same person and having little else to do that afternoon, they sat down together at the counter by the window.

“It feels a little silly to ask such a big question like this, but how’ve you been?” the young version asked.

The old woman laughed a bit. “It’s not silly at all,” she said. “I’ve been better, but I suppose I’m happy.”

The young woman fingered her wedding ring, a nervous habit she’d only recently developed. The ring was a simple silver band engraved with intertwining vines, still polished to a bright shine. Her gaze flicked towards the old woman’s fingers, which she found unadorned. She quickly looked away.

“I know that face,” the old woman said, smiling. “Don’t worry, it’s not what you think.”

She pulled a necklace from under her sweater. The ring that hung on the chain did not shine and the engraving was distorted from many past resizings, but it was undoubtedly the same.

“Oh.” The young woman took a long sip from her coffee.

“How long?” the young woman asked.

“I probably shouldn’t say.”

“Oh… I guess you’re right.”

They both sipped from their mugs. One an iced mocha, the other a hot black coffee. The two (or perhaps one) women stared out the window, people watching, each not quite meeting the other’s eyes.

After a silence, they broached conversation again, but only about little things, the weather and the news and so on. Only about the things that didn’t matter.

The old woman was hunched over, bracing her elbows on the counter. Her hands were bony and tangled in veins and shook a little. Her eyes had a harder glint to them, and never seemed to focus on anything in particular, but they had deep crow’s feet and the space between her brows was uncreased.

The young woman sat uncomfortably at the edge of the stool, back straight and hands laid awkwardly in her lap. Her eyes seemed stuck to her cup of coffee, but she was quick to laugh and smiled with her whole face.

The old woman finished her coffee, then got up painfully and with a bracing hand from her young self. The younger woman smiled at the older, who had so little mystery left in her life. The older woman smiled at the younger, who had too much of the world before her.

The old woman left slowly, looking back and waving at the younger often. A while later, the young woman followed her out the door.

Helena Gifford is an undergraduate student at Johns Hopkins University, studying Writing Seminars and Behavioral Biology. She grew up on Long Island but now lives in Princeton, New Jersey. When not sleeping or studying, she enjoys watching youtube, reading fantasy novels, and drinking copious amounts of green tea.

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