Cheesecake

Like the Prose: Challenge #12 – Write a story in third person omniscient tense with stream of consciousness in it.

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Claudia heard the bell over the door and looked up to see who had entered. It was ten at night, the last hour she was typically open on weeknights, but there was one customer who always came in at this hour on a Thursday, and when she glanced around the mostly-empty tables she saw him.

He was probably twice her thirty years old, and he dressed as if he’d come out of a 1950’s movie, with a black fedora and a proper suit and tie, not just a sweater and jeans (or dockers, she supposed most men his age actually wore dockers). His suit was scruffy, though, the sleeves were worn at the cuffs and the elbows were shiny, while the hems of his pants were starting to fray slightly.

Claudia often wondered if he simply didn’t realize his clothes were wearing out, or if he didn’t care, and yet, at the same time, his slightly out-of-time look suited him, though if pressed, she’d confess to being curious about his profession. Was he retired, or still working? A professor at the university down the block, perhaps? Or maybe he’d been a spy in his younger days, and hadn’t quite shed the last remnants of his cold war habits.

If truth be told, what really loved was watching the graceful way his hands moved as he picked up his cappuccino cup and lifted it to his lips. How he managed to drink the stuff without ever getting foam on his salt-and-pepper mustache she never knew.

With a start, Claudia realized her customer was starting at her, even as she’d been watching him, and she blushed. “Hello, Viktor,” she called softly across the space between them. “Your usual?”

“Yes, please?” he answered her in softly accented English.

She smiled at him and moved to pull the shots and steam the milk for his drink.

* * *

At his usual table, the one that allowed him decent views of the front and back entrances of the café as well as the bar area, Viktor allowed himself a long moment to observe the young woman who owned the establishment.

He had been coming here once a week in the two years since his Sophie had died, as much for the organic fair-trade coffee as for the young barista herself. Something about her reminded him of a woman he’d known in Paris decades before – not so much in the way she looked, for that woman had been a brittle blonde and Claudia the café owner had vibrant red hair – but in the way she carried herself confidence, and treated all of her patrons as if they were family.

Just when he was certain she’d noticed him staring at her, Claudia called his name. “Hello Viktor. Your usual?”

He’d confirmed his regular order and then turned his attention to the buttons of his overcoat, undoing each one, slowly, and then shrugging his shoulders out of the thing. He knew there was a stain on the right lapel, and if Sophie were alive, she’d never have let him wear the thing out of the house, but he liked the way he felt in it: as though he were a man of substance.

Perhaps, he thought, this would be the night he invited Claudia to sit with him while he sipped his coffee. And perhaps the younger woman would accept. He would look into her warm brown eyes and find the spark of connection he longed for, and they would begin a conversation. Conversation would lead to an invitation to dinner and dinner would turn into… he didn’t know what. It had been too many years since he had courted a woman. Hell, he was pretty certain that ‘courting’ wasn’t even done any more. Kids today ‘dated’ or ‘hung out’ or ‘hooked up,’ none of which sounded appealing to him, and none of which seemed appropriate for a woman like Claudia.

* * *

“Cappuccino for your thoughts?” the woman in question appeared at his side and set his drink on the table. “It’s a nice night tonight. Probably be warm enough to open the patio this weekend.”

“It always feels festive, drinking coffee in the starlight, of an evening.”

“I think so, too,” Claudia said, smiling. “Mind if I sit down?” She hoped he wouldn’t object. He’d been a mystery for two years and it was time to change that.

Viktor returned her smile with one of his own, his blue eyes dancing. “I had finally worked up the nerve to ask you to join me. Can you afford the time?”

Claudia looked around. “You’re my last customer,” she said. “Wait a moment.” She left his side and went to lock the doors and flip the signs from OPEN to CLOSED. Then she went behind the bar and made her own drink, and also served a slice of cheesecake, returning to his table with drink, dessert, and two forks. “Share this with me?” she invited settling into the chair opposite his.

“Did you bake it?” Viktor asked. He knew that Claudia made many of the pastries she sold at the café, as well as the soups and pastas, but that others on her staff also cooked.

Claudia nodded, offering him a fork. “Family recipe. The key is to use real lemon. Try it.”

Viktor accepted the fork and sectioned off some of the cake. It was perfectly crumbly, and there were none of those too-sweet fruit sauces on top. He tasted it and his eyes went wide. “But, this is lovely. It… it tastes like home.”

“I’m glad you like it,” Claudia said. “I’m a cheesecake purist. Most people these days want all this stuff on top, but I think if you can’t do a perfect plain cheesecake, you can’t do anything.”

“Have you always wanted to be a baker?” Viktor wanted to know everything about this woman but it was their first real conversation, so he was restricting himself to safe topics.

“No, when I was little I wanted to be Mata Hari.”

“The spy?”

“Yes. I wanted to be the femme fatale who seduced secrets from handsome men.” She laughed to show that she was joking, and let her eyes go wide. Would he find her too audacious? Claudia hoped not. “For the longest time I’ve wondered if you might be a spy,” she confessed.

Viktor laughed. “Me! A spy! No… oh… oh, no. Not at all. I teach at the university.”

“That was my second guess. What subject?”

“History.”

“Tell me more?”

Viktor took a sip of his cappuccino, noticing that the woman across from him paid close attention to his hands when he lifted his cup. Smiling softly, he said. “Well, I’ve always liked to know the stories of how things came to be…”

Claudia put her elbows on the table and her chin on her hands. This man was all she’d hoped he’d be. Charming, funny, smart. She could listen to him for hours. To think that she’d been watching and wondering about him for two years, when all it took to get him to open up was cheesecake.

CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 Cheesecake by Melissa Bartell is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.