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Cafe Gray

Volume XXIII | 2023


Jadey Holcomb

We were out on the fire escape, sitting side by side on the staircase, staring at the stars, the December breeze nipping at our exposed skin.

“I think the moon fell once. A lifetime ago. And it shattered into a million tiny pieces and that’s how stars scattered across the sky.”

Atticus leaned his head back, to look up at the blackness before bringing a homemade joint to his lips.

“Has anyone ever told you that your aura’s moonstone?”

“You tell me that everytime you’re high.” A grin grew across his cheeks, and as it did I saw the years lift from his face as the boy underneath the man rose to the surface. He chuckled, shaking his head as if he didn’t believe me. That he couldn’t possibly relay that fact every time he was high. His laugh grew and soon his shoulders were shaking and he was wiping tears from his face.

“What?” I was grinning now, watching him laugh.

His lips pursed together as if he was keeping a secret before he whispered the truth, grinning like a little kid. “When we met I was high.”

“I know.”

We met one day after I came home from the coffee shop downtown. Cafe Gray. It sat on the corner of Heather and Main until some capitalist company bought it and tore it down in a matter of forty-eight hours. Now it’s a Chick-fil-A. Fucking homophobes.

I used to sit in the back corner at 2:00 everyday after work. Just to people watch.

Mark got a black coffee and a banana muffin every Tuesday and Thursday. He would ask for it to go, but always ended up sitting down for a moment and finishing his food before he picked his briefcase up to head back to work.

Amanda would meet her friends in front of the building to sit under the striped umbrellas and gossip until she got pregnant. Now they meet without her.

Geoffrey is an artist who got free coffee for painting the mural on the back wall. They covered it in all these swirls that are supposedly steam from the espresso machines, but they kinda just look like ghosts coming out of tombstones.

After a few months of people watching was when I met Emory. She came in a few times one week and always sat by the table next to mine. She looked so cool with all her piercings and graphic liner. One day she came in with her previous blonde hair split-dyed black and lime green. Then she sat at my table.

We became pretty good friends. Then we fell in love. That was fun for a while. It was more than fun, actually. It was the happiest I’ve ever been. Then she shattered my heart.

I told her from the beginning I didn’t want sex. She was okay with it, then she wasn’t.

I had spent 22 years alone; convincing myself that I should remain by myself. To love me was a burden because I couldn’t give people what they needed. What they desired. I thought Emory was different. Being with her had awoken something in me; a voice that told me I was lovable, I was beautiful for being unique. If someone like her, someone so kind, someone so pretty, could love me for me, maybe I had been wrong all those years. She had made me feel like the most special person in the universe. I had never known I could feel that much, that love was something so powerful and joyful.

We met up at Cafe Gray like we usually did. We were laughing and talking, then I
watched her face fall. She wasn’t happy. She wasn’t satisfied. I wasn’t giving her what she needed. I tried to explain myself. That we could make things work. All we had to do was talk about this but she wouldn't hear it. And she had to twist the knife by telling me this at the place we met for fucks sake.

I was trying to hold it together. To not make a scene. I ended up in my car, tears streaming down my face as muscle memory guided me back to my apartment.

Back home I needed to distract myself. In a daze, I grabbed my laundry basket and dragged myself to the laundry room in the basement of my apartment. A boy was perched on top of the washing machine, mesmerized by the slap bracelet he hit onto his wrist, just to take it back off and slap it on again. He looked up through shaggy blonde hair, revealing too big pupils in his blue eyes. When he noticed my pained face he introduced himself and showed me the fire escape. Now we sit up there every weekend and I watch him get high and tell him whatever I want because he’ll say something stupid back that actually makes me feel alright.

Atticus offered me weed every time we were out there. Every time I said no, except once. It was probably a month into our friendship; our routine had been established that I would knock on his door, then we’d crawl through his window out onto the fire escape. Being as it was part of our routine, he held the joint out to me, and instead of shaking my head no I took it from him. He didn’t look surprised, he just blew smoke out in rings and stared out at the city in silence.

It was disgusting. I coughed and coughed and then I cried. It was that kind of cry where your shoulders shake and you’re gasping for breath and the tears just keep streaming down your face. He wrapped his arms around me and used his thumb to wipe the tears from my face. I told him what really happened with Emory. That she had confirmed my fears. That I was unlovable. That I was broken because she wanted to sleep with me and I didn’t want her that way. I had told her that I loved her. That I meant it. That this was just how I was, but she didn’t want to hear it. She took her clothes out of my closet and stopped following me on Instagram in less than twenty four hours.

“I’ve been heartbroken too,” Atticus said. His voice was husky and deep, but it sounded so youthful when he talked about love. He told me about a girl he had loved that kissed someone else. A boy who he lived with for a while on the fifth floor of an old Chicago apartment until he overdosed. Atticus had to move out because he couldn’t afford to pay rent.

I was kind of glad that the coffee shop had closed. I was afraid to go back and see Emory. What if she saw me and hated me? What if she said she was wrong, and wanted me back? Was I strong enough to tell her no?

It was a mom-and-pop coffee shop though. And now Amanda’s friends would have to meet somewhere else and Geoffery’s art was nothing but a memory. I wondered what it was like for them, to see their art be punched down and bulldozed like that. Turned into nothing but a pile of bricks splattered with color that was once a vision come to life. I wondered if their heart hurt like mine did with Emory. That kind of paralyzing sadness that makes you wish you couldn’t feel anything. Is that how artists feel when their work is ruined? Is that how Amanda feels now that her friends left her and all she can do is nurse her newborn and stay at home?

That’s kind of how all good things work out. They just become memories.

I told Atticus that between my tears.

“Everything that’s good becomes a memory,” I had said. “Everything that’s good goes away.”

“I’m not going away.”


He was right. He didn’t go away. We fell in love. Not in the way I was in love with
Emory or the way he was in love with the girl who cheated on him or the boy who overdosed. It was a different kind of love. This kind of love was simple. It was easy. I put my towels in a laundry basket and my dishes in boxes and brought them upstairs to his apartment. I gave our landlord a notice two months in advance.

Now we split rent and I feed our cat in the morning and he feeds him in the evening.


It had been six months since Emory. I thought I had gotten over the heartache, and maybe I have, but her words still lingered in my head, stinging just right when I least expected it.

Atticus suggested we have a kid.

“A kid? Are you high again?” He simply showed me a picture of a tiny orange kitten from the animal shelter.

Two hours later we were driving home from Perfect Paws Animal Rescue with a kitten in a box in my lap and that was that. We were parents. Atticus named him Nick after a character from his favorite comic book. I thought Nick was a ridiculous name for a cat but Atticus convinced me it was perfect for him. Maybe a weird name for a kitten was what fit our weird little life.

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