What follows is a short story I wrote in college, for an assignment that focused on dialogue. The Java House is an Iowa City coffeehouse chain with so-called “Java Perks” that function as a digital punch card when you make purchases. I rarely received any Java Perks commensurate with my purchases.
The people stood in line, shifting from foot to foot. They fingered wallets, purse straps, bookbags, while inching ever closer to the cash register. A woman behind the counter dashed from one end to the other, refilling the filters with hot water, careful to prevent the mugs from overflowing. The bitter scent of coffee filled the air, and the people inhaled with anticipation.
“Next?” called out the barista, and a lanky creature with a bluish tint to its skin stepped forward.
“Yes, I’d like a Sumatran Dark Roast. To go, please.” The creature’s voice was high-pitched and reedy, and the stocky man behind it raised his eyes nervously. What on earth is this dude? the man wondered.
The tall creature swiveled its narrow head and looked down at the stocky man, whose name was Jonathan. “I’m a Piapo,” the creature said. “You won’t recognize me. I haven’t been on CNN.”
Jonathan stepped back slightly. His upper lip filmed with sweat. “Oh, of course,” he stammered. “I’m s-sorry. D-didn’t mean to-to offend.”
“No offense taken,” replied the Piapo. “I too am a little on edge before my morning joe.” It smiled slightly and turned back to the barista. “I’d like a cranberry orange scone as well, please.”
The barista gave it a bored glance. After the hordes of dreadlocked, pierced, and tattooed college students, the Piapo was hardly a novelty. “Java Perks number?” she asked automatically.
“What’s that?” said the Piapo. Its hairless brow creased, and the line behind it sighed with a knowing exasperation.
“It’s like your phone number. You get a free coffee after so many perks points.”
“Oh, no thanks. Just the coffee and scone.”
“That’ll be $4.16.”
The Piapo fumbled for a five-dollar bill in its pocket. It wore slim gabardine pants and a bulky woolen sweater, so in addition to its blue skin, it looked distinctly out of place in the hot July weather.
Jonathan took this rare opportunity to be bold and spoke up. “I’ve never gotten any perks from my Java Perks account,” he said to the Piapo as it waited for change.
The Piapo glanced down and stepped aside, so that Jonathan could order his grande mocha latte with extra foam.
“Really? Why is that?” asked the Piapo disinterestedly. The barista slid a bag with the scone across the counter, and the Piapo plucked a morsel out of the bag, placing the cranberry-sprinkled dough on its delicate purple tongue. As Jonathan paid for his mocha latte, the barista sneered. Although Jonathan calmly gave his phone number, which was also his Java Perks number, the barista punched in her boyfriend’s digits instead. She usually did this, unless the customer was particularly attractive and her boyfriend had been less than attentive of late.
Jonathan gazed at the surly barista and shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know,” he said, “but I give them the number every time anyway. Optimistic, I guess.”
Jonathan and the Piapo moved down the counter, away from the impatient line of caffeine addicts.
“What are the rewards for these Java Perks?” asked the Piapo as it crumbled another morsel of the scone in its mouth. The concept began to intrigue the Piapo.
“A free coffee drink, I suppose. They ask for your name when you sign up, and I’ve always thought it might be a kind of dating service for the baristas.”
“Hmm. Could be. Well, good luck. Maybe someday you’ll find your reward,” the Piapo said as it headed toward the line of coffees, eager to sip the dark blend that awaited it.
“Thanks. You too,” said Jonathan. Idiot! he thought. What kind of reward is that blue thing looking for anyway? Not a freaking Java Perk.
The Piapo picked up its Sumatran Dark Roast and gingerly placed a cardboard lid on top. Weaving through the throng of customers, it inhaled the strong aroma and sipped the first miraculous taste. Without coffee, the Piapo would not survive the morning – its very life force depended on it. The Piapo thought of the silly, overweight man and his Java Perks. It narrowly avoided a young girl in a spaghetti strap tank top walking a dachshund and paused for another sip. The coffee alone was reward enough. The scone, though – that was a real perk.