Chapter 4:

Tuesday Evening- The Barista is For an Instant

Cafe Abri

Hal locked the door to the cafe and, tired enough from work, waited at the intersection for the light to turn red before crossing. It was a short walk from work to home, but Hal still found herself sweating by the time she reached her apartment complex. Internally, she would blame the summer heat, but Hal still decided to take the stairs up to her apartment instead of the elevator. Hal unlocked the door to her apartment and pushed it open. Despite the many clothes and cans strewn across the floor, the sight was gentle on her eyes following such a long day at Abri. All the same, Hal told herself that she would clean the next week she had off of work. Like she said she would last week. And the week before then. Hal cut off her inner monologue before she thought too hard about it and walked inside. While Hal’s apartment was reasonably small and looked ‘well lived in’, as Hal would describe it to her parents, it had a very comfortable bed, which was really all that mattered to her. Hal was extremely tempted to rest on the bed for a little bit, but knew if she laid down on it, she would never get back up. Instead, Hal put her belongings away and moved to the kitchen to make dinner. First, she checked the fridge for leftovers. Nothing. Then, for anything she could cook. The fridge was pretty barren in general. Then, the cupboard for cup noodles. The cupboard was fully stocked with enough cup noodles to survive the apocalypse for a month. Hal grinned at her own genius, then took out one with chicken flavouring.

Before cooking her cup noodles, Hal decided to stop by a supermarket to spice up her meal. As genius as it was to have this many cup noodles, Hal wasn’t in university anymore and cup noodles alone wouldn’t be quite satisfying enough. Hal also needed groceries for the rest of the week, noting down everything she needed on a notepad on her phone. Hal took a loose grocery bag from the kitchen counter and locked the door, walking to and waiting at a nearby bus stop for a couple of minutes before boarding a newly arrived bus. She navigated her way to a seat in the back, avoiding the swathes of people hanging onto the bus straps and side handles. She also nearly fell over as the bus jolted to life the moment she sat down, berating the bus driver in her head. Hal stayed especially silent on the ride there, only looking out the windows at the people and houses whizzing by. She had never gotten her driver’s licence and hadn’t been in a car since she moved from her parent’s house, so the sight was something Hal only enjoyed at times like this. Hal looked as the bus passed neighbourhoods and stores that looked all too unfamiliar for someone who had lived here as long as herself. She had remembered exploring these places the month she moved to her apartment, then getting busy with work and never visiting again. Hal half-heartedly considered exploring them again, but those thoughts were quickly eaten up by the bus stopping near the entrance of Marvelous Mart. Quickly getting up from her seat, Hal thanked the bus driver and exited the bus. The bus lurched forward as soon as she stepped off the bus and Hal contemplated whether the bus driver was extremely efficient or a safety concern. Nevertheless, Hal continued on with her very boring and mundane mission, stepping through the supermarket doors with a very boring and mundane purpose. It was only when Hal had stepped inside, however, that she completely forgot her mission and was overcome by pure and utter bliss.
Finally… Air conditioning.

Hal grabbed a plastic basket near the entrance of Marvelous Mart and began walking through aisles upon aisles of food to get to the eggs section. She swiftly avoided potential distractions to her mission, like the carbonated drinks aisle and the baked goods section, but somehow found herself stuck in the chips aisle. Her hand gravitated towards bags of chips like a mother reaching for her newborn child: urgently, but with grace.
We can’t! It’s not in the budget!! Dammit, why won’t my body listen to me?!
Hal soon left the chips aisle with a party sized bag of salt and vinegar chips and a wounded pride. Continuing on with absolutely no distractions, Hal finally made her way to the eggs section. She grabbed a carton before realizing her basket was already filled with vegetables, milk, and a very large bag of chips. Hal tried shuffling things around to no avail. There was no space for a carton of eggs, unless Hal wanted to risk balancing the eggs on top of everything else. She thought about her options. She thought of the distance from the egg section to the checkout, the risk/gain factor, but most importantly, Hal thought about the fact that she had always sucked at balancing things. Hal slowly walked to the checkout with an egg carton awkwardly under her arm, deciding that she would get a shopping cart next time no matter what.

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Hal returned to her apartment with two grocery bags in hand, one reusable, one plastic. Plopping both bags down on the kitchen counter and putting the unneeded groceries away, Hal got to work immediately. She pulled out a small pot, filled it with tap water, and set it on the stove to boil. She opened her chosen cup noodles, emptying the flavour packets into the paper container. She quickly washed and cut her vegetables before shifting her attention to the now boiling water on the stove. Hal carefully poured the water into the cup noodles, cringing when a small drop of boiling water bounced onto her hand. She put the pot back on the stove and threw in her vegetables, along with a single egg. Finally, Hal set a timer. The only thing left to do for Hal was to wait.
3… 2… 1…
Hal reached for the timer right before it went off, an act that Hal considered marginally cooler than reaching for a timer after it goes off. She ripped off the cup noodle lid and ladled in her vegetables. She shelled her egg with some struggle, then sliced the egg in two with a fork, putting both halves into her cup noodles. She stirred her noodles and, finally, took a bite.
Yep… Those sure are cup noodles. Just slightly healthier, I guess.
The artificial taste was more than familiar, but it was also comforting. It was a taste that invoked memories within Hal, akin to eating her own mother’s cooking. Memories of simpler times, when mealtimes were her only break from studying in university. When, on days she didn’t want to starve herself, Hal would put down her textbook for once in her life and soak in the smell of MSG. The smell and taste were comforting, but the end of the meal still marked the return of stress and studying in Hal’s mind, despite being a long, long way from those university days. University Hal would always make sure to drink the cup noodle liquid to make the meal last longer and delay her workaholic side from immediately kicking back in. Hal remembered this fact, realizing that the habit still carried over to the present day. The moment Hal had completely finished her meal, her stomach dropped, like a dog trained to drool at the sound of a bell. It only lasted for a moment, but it was long enough for Hal to feel melancholic over those days. Hal did not miss being in university; what she missed was how good meals tasted back then. In university, every meal tasted like a drop of water in a long drought and to this day, the only thing that tasted as good as it did in Hal’s university days was a cup of coffee made by a certain ex-barista. The coffee, preserved perfectly in Hal’s memory, was everything Hal aspired to brew. Even just the thought of the coffee took Hal back to that day, when it came pouring down and all Hal needed was any shelter from the rain. A cup of coffee, a malfunctioning laptop, a few weeks visits, and a job opportunity. Whenever she brewed coffee for Hal, it still tasted like the warmth and comfort Hal had felt on that fateful day. Hal thought about this as she soaked in a warm, bubbly bath. She had always wondered what might have been if she didn’t wait the rain out at Abri. If she was never given a job there and continued her studies instead, where would Hal be now? This thought brought Mae to mind, but Hal pushed those thoughts back, remembering Lilac’s words.
She’ll find her own way. Whether I help her or not…
Thoughts washed off of Hal like water as she lifted herself out of the tub and got ready for bed. Hal got changed, dried her hair, and brushed her teeth. She turned out the lights and slid into bed, before quickly shoving off her covers with the intervention of summer heat. Hal laid on top of her bed for a long time, eyes half-closed, but feeling unfulfilled with the day’s activities. She lazily fumbled for her phone with the intent to watch cute animal videos to complete the day.
This won’t be like yesterday… I’ll just watch one and go to sleep. Just one video…
In truth, Hal lay there with her phone clutched to her chest, fast asleep before she could even unlock it. The night was short for the barista, tired but calm.