Jessica Stiehm

Beatrice & Vidalia 

    “Beatrice Beulah Holloway, is that you?” said a sugary voice coming from behind.

Beatrice turned from her place in line in time to see Mrs. Jefferson headed straight for her. The woman was dressed in her typical red Sunday dress that Beatrice had seen many times in the preceding years. It dipped low in the front and hugged all areas garishly. Red is for whores, her mother had said every time in church when they saw it. Beatrice covered her smile.

    “Hi Mrs. Jefferson,” she said, stepping up a few feet as the line moved. Mrs. Jefferson followed and stuck herself right next to Beatrice like she had been waiting there all along. The two customers behind them glared but remained silent.

    “Did you graduate already?” The woman placed a hand on her breast in mock-awe. Beatrice’s ears burned in response, and she wondered if she already knew the truth.

    “...No. I’m spending some time home for a bit.” She didn’t have to imagine the several eyes and ears pointed in her direction that were taking in this new information. Beulah Holloway’s drop-out daughter, can you imagine? 

    “Oh well, that’s nice.” the older woman’s smile didn’t break for a second as she simpered over the new information.

    “And how are you, Mrs. Jefferson?” she asked when the woman didn’t return to whatever corner she had come from. 

    “Oh, I’m just fine, dear.” the woman waved her hand around like she was swatting at invisible flies. “Just got Clarissa through her last year and she’s starting her apprenticeship in the fall.”

    “Apprenticeship?” 

    “Her apprenticeship at Great Clippers,” she said, rolling her eyes like it was a great faux pas that Beatrice didn’t know her daughter was a hairdresser. Although, if Beatrice had to guess, most people around town probably considered the subject worth several renditions. “And did you know Cliffy just got his...”

    Beatrice nodded along, trying to read the coffee shop’s menu behind Mrs. Jefferson’s head, while also appearing attentive. Clarrisa was part of the younger crowd, so she couldn’t picture her face. Cliff Jefferson Jr. had been in her civics class if she remembered correctly, but he had spent more time cutting class than being in it. She could vaguely recall his mousy brown hair and rat-stache. A smell came attached with the memory, something fermented and rotting.

    “Mhmm.” she wrinkled her nose, considering the daily special, a macchiato blend.

    “....love to reconnect,” said Mrs. Jefferson obliviously. She pointed with her purse at a table very close to where Beatrice had dropped her own bag when she came in a few minutes earlier. A lanky man in a collared button-down gave a half-hearted wave. His pockmarked mug stood out like a topographic map. Underneath she could see hints of his prepubescent face that had to have existed, but the man was a near stranger. 

    “Uh, I’m sure that would be nice.”

    “Next!” 

    Beatrice swung around fast and stepped up to the counter. The menu board swam before her eyes, fancy drinks and various baked goods that she would probably never order. The seconds ticked by, and she looked down at the barista before deciding to default to an iced coffee.

    Vidalia Levesque was tired. It was only ten in the morning and a man had already told her how lovely her skin was. She would have gone for a baggier flannel if summer hadn’t come so early this year, bringing its irritating humidity and testing the shop's shitty AC unit. There was sticky mocha syrup staining the inside of her arm from, where the pump had spurted unexpectedly, and the church rush wasn’t slowing down anytime soon.

    “Uh, hi.” said the next customer, staring at her doelike and dumb. 

    “What can I get for you?” said Vi, her sharpie in one hand and fingers dancing on the register's various drink buttons. 

    “Um. Caramel Macchiato?”

    “What size?” 

    She really was cute in a bug-eyed sort of way. And definitely new in town, which was a refreshing change from the normal clientele.

    “Small?”

    Vi looked at her for a second when the customer didn’t move, and held up the small cup to show her the size. It wasn’t even 12 ounces. As she expected, the customer shook her head and pointed at the next size up.

    “Oh, no not that. Bigger.”

    Vi smiled and plucked the standard 20-ounce coffee cup from the stack and scrawled a ‘CM’ on it. 

    “What’s your name?” she asked, attempting to make the question sound fresh and not like she had said it several hundred times already. 

    The woman smiled. “Beatrice. What’s yours?”

    Vi was halfway through writing B-E-A on the cup’s lid. She glanced up and then down at her name tag with a cursive V-I. Beatrice flushed. 

    “I'm just gonna go wait at the end,” she said, taking a step towards the end of the counter.

    “Wait, you have to pay.” Vi stifled a laugh as the girl turned even redder and handed her a folded five that crinkled when their hands touched. 

    Beatrice felt like her heart had come out of her chest and was steadily inching up her throat. She wished she had actually worn something besides acid-washed jeans.

    “Keep it,” she mumbled, definitely not wanting to stick around for the girl to make change.

    As she made her way down to the end of the counter, she glanced back at Vi who had abandoned the register in order to make her drink. Her pale heart-shaped face furrowed as she streamed the milk and poured it into a cup. And her dark striking eyes would glance back to the waiting line, even though she couldn’t make the espresso machine work any quicker. Her hair was prettier than most people’s; the reddish-brown looked good even under the fluorescent lights. Beatrice played with her own hair while she waited and wondered what it would look like in the sun.

    “Big Caramel Macchiato!” Vi called out, eyes meeting Beatrice’s. But she didn’t set it down on the counter. Beatrice made her way over, fighting the flush sneaking back onto her face.

    “Here you go,” said Vi, pressing the heated cup into her hands. And then she was gone, back to the register, and Beatrice headed back to her seat. Cliff Jefferson smiled at her, but she kept her eyes down on her drink. ‘Beatrice <3’ was scrawled in purple sharpie, the ‘B’ extra large and the rest in beautiful curling loops. 

    Vidalia kept a steady eye on the table nearest to Beatrice. She knew what Cliff Jefferson was, and it was obvious the pretty customer didn’t. He had been in the coffee shop enough lately for her to catch onto him. He looked hellbent on talking to the girl, so Vi figured she better act quickly. She’d swap breaks or skip out early or something; the manager owed her for staying late last night. 

    Cliff met her shrewd gaze and warped a smile.

Jessica Stiehm is an emerging Asheville writer. You can find her work so far in Headwaters Creative Arts Journal. She graduated during a pandemic and her dream is to write a queer fantasy novel and edit books. If you want to see the occasional cat picture, or offer her a luxurious book deal, then follow her Instagram @tardigradebabe