Coffee, and a Greenhouse

The summer after sophomore year of college, Christa and I made a pact to explore different coffee shops on the island. We hopped from Sweetie Pies on Main, with its red-and-white checkered tables, to Urban Coffee, where we hid away in the corner, murmuring about the secondhand books we had just bought from the nearby library. But no matter how many coffee places we tried, we always found ourselves drifting back to Southdown. It was our spot in high school, a couple shopping centers away from the bustle of the village, and we felt sure that we’d never run into anyone we knew there. It’s a hub for young mothers longing for a latte, wearing their vegan leather jackets, their well-behaved, bundled-up dogs at their heels. There’s the group of middle-aged couples laughing over egg sandwiches, the student chatting with the barista about his most recent novel purchase. Mid-winter afternoons at Southdown are always my favorite – it’s busy enough that it’s never silent, but the grumpy, cold customers get their coffee to-go. That leaves Christa, Michelle and I, sitting at the marble table closest to the windows, where the white winter light falls onto our laps. Now, it’s the place we go to catch up after long periods without seeing one another. There, we talk about our families and weekend plans, about unwanted texts and unread ones. We talk about the things we forgot to say in phone calls, or couldn’t elaborate on in letters. We share song recommendations and complain about men, discuss articles read and movies watched, recount embarrassing moments or moments that reminded us of each other. I bring up some new hobby I want to get into, a trend I’ve tried to hop on. They always smile and support me, but they know, in the end, there’s no way I’m going to start embroidering my own jeans when I still haven’t stitched up the hole in my peacoat’s left pocket.

Southdown opened up a new location in Oyster Bay a while back. We would remind each other periodically that we had to visit it, but we’d always end up forgetting. This time, Christa made plans to bring me there. It was strange, entering a Southdown that wasn’t our narrow, four-tabled place. This one had designated ENTER and EXIT doors, and shelves lined with their beans, and those fluorescent lights in clear bulbs that make you dizzy if you look at them too long. This time, we sat at the table farthest from the window. I brought up Christa’s December graduation. She was officially done with college, and had a job lined up in Connecticut.

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“It’s just weird,” she said. “This is the last break I’ll be back here, really.”

“That’s nuts.” I sipped some of my maple latte, an order I haven’t changed since the 12th grade. I wasn’t worried, about her or about me, and all this growing up. In fact, I felt a warmth crawl up my chest, the kind that comes when you see beyond the harbor and into the bay, and you remember the vastness of it all. The possibility.

On finishing our coffee, we strolled down the streets, the sun achingly bright in our eyes. Christa mentioned how all the stores were awfully niche. A printery, a furniture shop, a juice bar. The Coin Galleries. Most places were decorated with wreaths and red ribbons, but it was eerily quiet there for a Saturday morning, and we hadn’t even crossed a street when deciding to turn back. As we walked to the parking lot, I couldn’t help but smile at the houses, all in a row, all with front porches, but with their own color and their own quirky decorations. A true Long Island town, the street eventually met the water. Not quite a port, but not quite a beach either. The silence of the place was met by the wind from off the water, and bits of our voices got lost in it, like sugar in coffee.

“Want to go to the Planting Fields?” Christa asked, turning up the heat in her car. “They’ll have the poinsettias out for Christmas.”

And so, we drove off to another typical hometown spot for us, maybe to make up for our change in scenery for coffee. The three of us go to the Planting Fields Arboretum on breezy summer days, so that we can look at flowers while we talk. There was more to see there than at Caumsett, which was reserved for days spent at Cold Spring Harbor and when we secretly hoped to see horses. Sometimes, Michelle would pick up egg sandwiches for us, and we’d eat lunch on the wooden tables and benches before heading deep into the arboretum. The sandwiches were great, but watching the crows eye them was less than ideal.

Walking into a greenhouse in the middle of December was like entering some kind of foreign land, and the heat moved from my feet to my heart. We laughed at strangely shaped cacti and talked about how bad we were at following the rules, stretching out our fingers to touch the plants gingerly, as if rails were guarding them. After exploring all the little rooms with their house plants and orchids, we entered the hall, which was filled with red and yellow poinsettias that from far away looked like tapestries. Palm trees fanned out against the ceiling, and a balsam stood in the center of all the bloom, decorated in lights and ribbons. I dragged my finger across one of the poinsettias, and it felt like satin.

Once we finished admiring the tree, we walked around a bend we hadn’t seen. I followed Christa and her orange checkered jacket, the vintage one she’d bought only a week before. From a corner in my mind, I recognized a strange new uncertainty –  I didn’t know when we’d be together at the Planting Fields after this.

We noticed a few oranges dangling from a tree. I imagined where they’d be if they weren’t in the greenhouse. Thought about the hands that would reach up and pick them. Where they’d go. The possibility.

by Danielle Fusaro

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