Coffee House Blues

"Crap!" Jake Melbourne, a youthful but ruggedly stubbled redhead curses as his phone slips from the pocket of his black, slim-cut blazer.

He nudges the car door of his moderate but sporty, black sedan closed, rubbing his rough chin in contemplation and fear for the screen. He soon gives up and bends to his knees, to pick up the thin, black device a size bigger than his palm. He sighs in relief for the phone screen hadn't cracked, which reminds him of the sturdy case protecting it. Smiling as if he'd won the lottery, he shoves the gadget into the left side-pocket of his jeans, taking caution where it was placed this time. Jake's pale, almost flawless skin, graces his cheekbones, wrought by the genes of whatever two magnificent creatures created him, coupled with the lustrous, red hair he sports with a simple taper and fade around his crown. His hairline frames his face like a portrait, allowing his marvelous green eyes to pop at any angle he stood, in the most generous of ways.

Jake then straightens his blue t-shirt under his blazer, thankful the evening was warm enough to permit wearing one. It was late afternoon, when the sun still burns high in the sky, preparing to make its descent behind the mountains. School was hell, even after an ordeal only he alone could discern if it ever was that fathomable.

Jake steps away from his car and saunters off towards the entrance of the famed Coffeehouse Blues, a favorite amongst Chelsea High and Bradbury College alumni. The smell of coffee, cream, and all things sweet fills Jake's nostrils as he pushes the front door open, swathing him in the familiar scent of the place he'd spent too many of his evenings. The antique, cushioned chairs that felt like sitting atop clouds, down to the intimate, much bigger spaces that gave the feel of a modern-day diner. It all collides with the diverse, welcoming atmosphere of the spotless, well-maintained cafe and well-dressed staff.

The ambiance inside is warm and inviting, with clean floors, smiling baristas and— "Karl Saunders?!" Jake whisper shouts to himself, clasping the smooth, oblong designed door handle. Taken aback when he spots a conspicuous stain, in the one place he was never seen before. Jake swallows, releasing the door, only to hear someone grunting in pain, once glass door connects with an exposed forehead.

Alarmed, Jake swivels on his heels, then comes face to face with the only other redhead at Chelsea High, Tanner Joseph. To the discernible eye, Tanner rubs his forehead, mumbling inaudible curse words but he was indeed scolding himself. Once again, he'd managed to embarrass himself in front of the only other redhead around town. And though they were the most popular boys in school, they were not the most popular friends. Their circles were different, they ate at separate tables and be darned if they actually had a conversation any at all.

"Dammit, nerd! Watch where you swing that thing, will you?" Tanner scowls, visibly frustrated which immediately worries Jake the second he makes sense of the look in the boy's emerald eyes.

"I'm not surprised you walked into a glass door, Joseph." Jake quips, a smile gracing his handsome mug. It fades the moment he sees the distress on Tanner's face but feeling that empathetic was Jake Melbourne's curse.

"Yeah, because I'm just some dumb football player, right?" Tanner steps closer, almost threateningly, yet it didn't draw a reaction from Jake even as the taller guy towers over him with ease.

"No, but if that's how you feel about yourself." Jake raises both palms, shrugging, skulking at the easily infuriated ginger.

"You're a fucking dick sometimes, Melbourne." Before Jake can reply, the bulkier young man shoves past him, rocking his smaller frame, giving Jake no time to rethink his attitude.

He could hear Tanner muttering as he walks away, but Jake's attention goes back to Karl, who hands a customer their order, smiling the familiar smoldering smirk he went around wielding. For a second, Jake stands there to make sure that his vision was clear, yet he knew he had to fix his composure to not appear too star-struck.

Karl Saunders was a stranger, who could be found anywhere, if not in classes at Chelsea High. He was new, and mysteriously omnipresent after recent run-ins with Jake. He had natural, black dreadlocks cascading maybe four inches down his back. His gray eyes, like the color of obsidian, dance and glimmer as his infectious smile lights up the room. His attire, much more semi-formal than his usual dress-up of jeans, boots, and jackets too hot for the weather, had vanished. A fairly noticeable change was the black barista fit of dress pants and white long sleeved, button downs that highlight his cool, caramel complexion. Jake wasn't the only one who noticed Karl, the dapper transfer. He also wasn't the only one who noticed nobody knew where the guy lived or came from, except a mutual friend of theirs who in good fortune, Jake didn't feel correct enough to ask.

With slow, counted steps Jake walks to the counter, where only two customers stand before him. Each second more intense than the other, but it worsens when he and Karl make eye contact. He’s surprised, if not more than Jake himself, who tries his best to keep his cool by plastering on a stoic expression. Serving two people had never been done quicker in Jake's lifetime. If he hadn't been grabbing his father's coffee for the past seven months he would've easily left with grace. Though it would be difficult to explain the reason he couldn't get it was because the barista made him nervous. For Jake, meeting someone as intriguing as Karl, was never an issue even if their personalities differed, but hormones had a hand in the twitchy feelings.

"Good afternoon, sir. What can I get you?" Karl asks hastily, cursing himself for being so formal, so chirpy.

To Jake, Karl Saunders was more than the eye could tell, but even with their frivolous banter, nothing of substance came about. The young man was hard to read and very hard to open up to, for his charm only permitted a certain dynamic. Underneath that idea, Jake makes Karl just as nervous as he made him. The Chelsea High royalty, was known, even when he didn't go about flaunting his popularity. Jake was a subject of intrigue, a person of extreme delight, and a vision himself to behold, so Karl basks in that feeling.

"Uhm, decaf Border House brew, with just three non-fat creams, five coconut sugars, substitute the extra espresso shot with nutmeg. And no whipped cream, I have to travel with it." Jake knew his order sounded odd since everyone liked a good one or two espresso shots instead with their brew. Karl's left eyebrow raises and Jake's cheeks flush, but he manages to avert his eyes to avoid Karl's look of judgement.

"Is this what all the kids are drinking these days?" Karl suddenly asks Jake, who peers at him, confused for the fraction of a second that their eyes meet.

He smiles, sizing Karl up, just like he'd done countless times. "Don't tell me this is the weirdest order you've gotten what, all evening?" Jake queries, and the young barista grins as he rings up the order on the register.

"As far as nutmeg and coconut sugar goes?" Karl admits, sucking in a heavy breath. "Not even remotely weird, at all." He finishes, and a breathy sigh escapes his parted lips.

Jake shakes his head whilst attempting to not smile. "It's for my dad. Not really a fan of coffee." Jake shrugs with a marginal frown and Karl raises both his eyebrows, yet there was amusement in his eyes more than judgment.

"Let me guess. Hot cocoa?" Jake ignores Karl for a second, sticking his card into the chip reader. He waits for the commands and has them entered as swiftly as his fingers could allow.

"Maybe I'm a tea guy," Jake counters, then pulls his card from the machine as well as his copy of the receipt. His gaze follows Karl's, but the young man shakes it off with a sheepish grin.

"Tea?" He asks, and Jake hesitates to averts his gaze for a second. "Chai?"

Scoffing, he rolls his eyes then says. "I'm offended," he feigns disappointment, enjoying the exchange a little more than he could dare admit. "What do you drink? Oh, let me guess..." Jake peers at Karl, interrupting him before an answer could be given. "Coffee." He gestures to the cafe, with the rich scent of roasted beans that permeate the parlor.

"You wound me." It was Karl's turn to pretend that he had taken offense, which makes Jake laugh this time without any effort of hiding it.

"You'll live." He grins, revealing the small but discernible dimples in his flushed, freckled cheeks.

If not for the sake of agitated customers, Karl would have prolonged the conversation between him and Jake. He even delays making the order, hoping that he could spend a little more time to engage in an unassuming challenge with his schoolmate. The party had too many people in disarray, but Karl didn't know what it was about Jake Melbourne that made him so nervous and drawn. Maybe it was the fear that Jake could figure him out. Perhaps it was because he hid behind some facade to not pull attention to himself, after the last school. There was an astounding fear of heights for most people, and Karl wasn't one of them. What petrified him, was something entirely different from the typical teenager.

"Decaf Border House brew, non-fat cream, coconut sugar, and a dash of nutmeg." Karl announces as he hands Jake a neatly wrapped, brown paper cup with an animated coffee bean, the establishment's logo printed all over the heat-guard.

"How many times did you practice that in your head?" Jake jokes, and Karl laughs a genuinely amused chortle that floats about Jake's eardrum. It causes a ripple effect, that rumbles from his ears to his chest, even after Karl's gritty guffaw ends.

"I may be handsome, but there's some brain up there," Karl says with a gesture of his head, wiping a stray tear from his right eye.

"See you around, Karl." Jake announces with a warm look on his face, then turns to leave.

Arriving home makes Jake sigh in content as he shuts his car door and securely locks the vehicle. He clutches his backpack over his right shoulder while still balancing his father's warm cup of coffee in his left hand.

For a moment, the striking red color of an unfamiliar car parked in his home's circular driveway, captures Jake's attention. The vintage looking Camaro, was sleek, modest, which tells Jake that his father either found some odd love of red, classic rides or was entertaining a guest of the female sorts. Granted it excites Jake just a little, because the man had sworn off trying to find anyone new after his mother, despite Jake's countless interferences. It however made him wonder why a woman would visit his father and stay long enough to meet the children. Micah, his younger brother, was sure to already be home from school. The evidence was the boy's skateboard thrown upside down on the lush, watered lawn surrounding the spacious driveway.

He could understand why his father was wary about going back on the market, even at his age where the era of dad-bods reigned. After Jake and Micah's mother fled, George Melbourne threw himself into his work and avoided dating. For years, he hadn't even entertained the thought of pursuing another romance, even if it pursued him first. He remained focused on raising his two sons while coping with a tiresome but beneficial career path.

Wasting no time in pondering unanswerable questions, Jake grows anxious to go inside and investigate. He then climbs the stairs of the modern porch that leads house built with grey stones and white pinewood illustrations that grace its design. Tall, large windows add to the retro visage and asymmetrical pattern, making it stand out amongst the fairly modern houses of the surrounding suburbia. One small chimney pokes out the center of the roof and a few large windows let in just enough light to the rooms below the protruded second-floor decks.

"Dad, I'm home, and I got your coffee." Jake announces as he pushes open the front door, walking into a sparse, but lavishly decorated living room. He then shuts the door behind him, still balancing the coffee expertly in his left hand. "The party didn't do much to keep my curfew-less nights but it did bear some fruit. Xander Jameson agreed to do the interview and spread so I have tons of work to do, which means I can't cook tonight." Jake speaks loudly, anxious to pridefully gloat to the man.

As he makes it across the luxurious, leather seated, chandelier-lit living room, he hears his father's voice calling. He smiles, remembering that eight months before involved walking into the house in silence. A strained relationship between father and son, that mended its fences after Jake's first heartbreak. George Melbourne stuck around, comforting Jake in a way that coaxed peace and civility between them. Eight months later, the truce still held its bonds even with rocky roads, thorny ravines, and paved riverbeds beneath pillars of endurance.

"I'll be out in a second, bud."

He ducks into the kitchen with just enough time to place the coffee atop the granite island countertop before his father walks into the kitchen. Jake then turns to face a fairly handsome man with brunette hair once he emerges from the hallway that leads to the back rooms. He wears comfy clothes, sky blue denim, a plain white t-shirt, and socks no doubt an accident hazard at his age.

"Xander Jameson. That's Julius James' kid, right?" George asks, distracted by an unsaid thought.

"Yes, dad, the son of the man who owns your favorite chain of coffeehouses across the LA shores. What's wrong, you look a little paler than usual and you aren't doing that embarrassing dad shimmy you do when I do something amazing." Jake points out, leaning against the counter to reward his father's anxiousness with a look of concern.

"I'm actually fine, Jake, and t-that's... great news," fidgeting, George forces a smile that was easily noticed if not for Jake's hurry to get a handle on things.

"Ok," he drags his voice and pushes away from the counter. "I'm sure you'll deal with it once you've had your coffee... so, go nuts." Jake gestures to his father, making a quick turn to leave as soon as the man takes up the cup. "I need to go finish the edits for the new Chelsea Eye website update." He flashes behind him, making a beeline for the entrance of the dining room adjacent to the lavish kitchen.

"Jake, slow down, buddy, we need to talk." George's voice is gravelly, thick with anxiety and although Jake would rather avoid a talk, he stops short and turns to face his father.

"What's up, dad?"

"Son." The man pleads with Jake, who keeps his back turned to him for just a moment longer. "Sit down for a second?" George pleads, and Jake's eyes narrow at his father intensely.

"I hope to god you don't plan on talking about Claudia." Jake brandishes a heavy, pain-filled voice, loathing his mind for dredging up their previous talk about the woman in question.

"A week ago, you were drunk and sleeping naked in somebody's bed, Jake, it is time." The man says as he beckons Jake to face him, his frown stern and the reminder of his authority formidable.

"Maybe I needed to let go, be free for a moment in my life." Jake speaks with a huskiness that borders on impatient and bitter. "I admit I got a little too messed up, dad, but it doesn't mean I'm becoming her. Ok? You have to trust me."

"I agree, so calm down, Jake, this is not about you becoming your mother," George assures him, still uncertain of the outcome of the forthcoming chain of events. Jake would no doubt be appalled, and what could come from that was either favorable or could jeopardize their truce.

Jake notices that his father's gaze is not focused on him, but at the looming presence he feels abaft him. He spins around but the look of confusion he held falls and his bottom lip hits the floor. For the one person, he didn't want to or expect to see, was standing there with the most pathetic smile on her face. A beautiful, vicious face framed by fiery red hair, coiffed in messy curls, plucked eyebrows, and emerald eyes that glisten with a hint of tears. Her dress was gaudy, but admittedly stunning in a less than modest way, just like it had years prior.

"My baby." The red-haired woman gushes, tears spilling from her eyes as she walks up to him, her expensive pumps clicking on the wooden floor of the living room. "Hmm. Eighteen with a five-o-clock shadow at three in the afternoon. You're really your father's son." Her voice funnels through the haunting echoes that suddenly become Jake's mental soundtrack.

"But-," Jake begins, quickly running out of air as she hugs him tightly, both arms softly constricting his chest as it pushes against her bosom.

She radiated so much warmth, but all Jake could do was flinch under her touch and the smell of her familiar cologne. The one she wore everyday before she left them under cover of night as if they didn't exist. As if she hadn't told him and Micah time and time again that they were her world.

"You've gotten so big." Claudia sniffles, pulling away to rest her hands atop his shaky shoulders. "So handsome," Her right hand reaches up and touches his sharp cheek, but instead of welcoming it, Jake rears back.

"Mom?" Jake whispers—heart twisting in his chest as emotions he thought he banished, came rushing back with the full force of a tsunami. His head rattles from side to side as the word nobody expected, forms from his lips. "No," Jake murmurs quaking the very floor with its abrupt arrival. Claudia Melbourne, the woman scorned gasps—shocked at the rejection, hurt that she wasn't welcomed.

Even his father was taken aback by it, because it hadn't occurred to him, that thrusting something so painful, so suddenly on Jake could have serious consequences. The boy was old enough when she had left to know that she didn't want anything to do with him or his brother. He was the one thing that kept their family afloat and prevented his father from giving up on life altogether after she left. That was the bane of Jake Melbourne's existence that he tried to forget everyday. He'd accepted it quicker than anyone else and moved on with his life, though shallow times had left dark memories in his path.

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