(or How to Share Coffee with a Stranger)
Freelance writing gigs are hard to come by – the lucrative ones even more so. But ten thousand word stories about some dewy-eyed blonde falling for a vampire/werebear/dragon lord are always in demand and easy to churn out. It keeps him fed while he works on other stuff. It means he can call himself a writer even though none of the stories have ever appeared under his name.
He goes to his usual coffee spot every morning, a cosy joint in a hidden corner of Canberra, where the caffeine is strong and free flowing, and the walls are covered in hessian sacks instead of paint. Paul would usually set up his laptop on one of the rickety, paint-chipped tables and type for hours. That Monday he walks in to find Artisan Roast overflowing with people.
Paul pushes his way to the counter.
‘Bit busy today,’ the barista, Greg, says from behind the safety of the cash register.
A tuft of hair falls into Paul’s eyes and he tries to blow it away. ‘A bit, yeah,’ he replies. A woman in a moomoo bumps him on her way past him with a frothy frappuccino in each fist.
‘Ah – yeah, sure.’ Paul stares around, but he still can’t see any free tables. He chews the inside of his cheek as he glares around at the people invading his favourite space, laughing and chatting, swilling their ridiculous drinks.
An Indian man with a Macbook and a large iced coffee sits in the corner, his glasses skewed, typing rapidly. There is an empty seat opposite of him. The man looks up and meets Paul’s eyes. Paul holds up his own laptop – a beat-up PC covered in stickers – and throws a questioning look at the empty seat.
Macbook shrugs. Paul takes that as consent. When Greg hands over Paul’s flat white, Paul manoeuvres around the many people lingering near the counter and takes the seat. He nods his thanks to Macbook, who nods back before turning his bright amber eyes back to the screen in front of him. He types as though Paul isn’t there. Paul appreciates that.
Opening his own laptop, Paul boots up his freelance account and checks his messages. One of his clients wants him to write ten thousand words about a girl falling in love with an alien prince. It sounds awful but he accepts the job. Then he opens a new document and starts typing up the outline of a dream he had the night before, which he hopes will make a good horror story.
When he glances up, he sees Macbook’s eyes are fixed on the back of Paul’s laptop. Paul’s niece had heroically donated some of her My Little Pony stickers to pimp out her uncle’s laptop. Those stickers had probably done more to keep Paul single than his hectic work schedule ever could.
Macbook meets Paul’s eye. He looks back at his own screen, apparently embarrassed that he’d been caught staring.
Paul wanted to point out that if Macbook really wanted to laugh he could read The Werelion’s Lover, which had taken Paul five hours to write – five hours of his life that he would never get back again. Five hours of awkward, unnecessarily lyrical prose that had inexplicably risen in the Kindle charts.
But he doesn’t. He just sips his coffee and turns his attention to his laptop. He closes the horror outline and opens another document. Maybe if he gets that awful alien prince romance out of the way early, he can get down to drafting the horror story before he goes to bed tonight.