A few years ago I took a short story class. I hadn’t written short stories in a while, I find my voice to be too descriptive to sum up everything in shorter fiction. But I really enjoyed working on shorter pieces and testing my wit and candor more concisely. My instructor used a new writing prompt each week, stretching our range in our own creativity. My favorite of these prompts was simply called Three Favorite Things.
See if you can do this prompt too. Think of things that you like, that are your favorite in one way or the other. Don’t spend too much time thinking about it. Make a quick list. Now circle just three things, the first three things maybe that you think of or struck you as the most fun. You take these things and you make a story. That’s it! Shouldn’t be too hard, right?
For my three things I picked: hot cocoa, sweaters, and people with accents.
I think anyone that knows me can see my three things very apparently – you can see what my favorite seasons are too through my favorite things. Sweaters and hot cocoa have always been a thing.
People with accents is something I’m just a silly fangirl about. When I studied acting a gazillion years ago, I paid a lot of attention to accents. I would often slip into stupid accents and pretend I was from Ireland or England or Australia. I doubt I fooled anyone. I studied movies like Strictly Ballroom and Four Wedding and a Funeral. I also love languages too. I’m not a stranger to Spanish, but when I was in Spain the continental accent was so breathtakingly beautiful to listen to, it was like poetry wrapped in lace. I still dream of that beautiful accent.
So, I had my three things.
When I got this writing prompt, I had very little idea of where it would go. So I thought very swiftly about a barista in a sweater making cocoa for some guy with an accent. A stupid, silly, fun idea where I could work on my awkward flirtatious voice and comedic timing. For the accent, I picked Australian, being the one I was most used to (being an editor for an Australian writer) and one I think is swoonworthy.
I first tried to write the accent phonetically, forcing anyone that read it into an Aussie accent, but this became very problematic. Several of my schoolmates struggled reading it and it threw them out of the story. In revisions, I lessened the stain on the eyes and ears, but I didn’t want to lose it all, it would defeat the poetic charm of having the accent as a character in the story.
It’s a brief, six-page charmer.
So here it is…. a quick little seasonal short for your hot cocoa taste buds and sweater blanket sleeves.
Leah stared transfixed at the man across the counter, completely forgetting everything but the sound of his voice. “Sorry. Could you just repeat your order for me?”
The heavily scarfed man smirked under the layers. He must get that a lot.
“Yeah. I’d like a dawk chocolate mocha with ahmond milk. Grande.”
“Right, right.” Leah punched the order into the register, breathing in deep hoping to wash the embarrassment from her cheeks. She took his card and swiped it through. “So, are you from England?” she asked handing back his card.
A charmed smile hung around his face, flashing whiter teeth than she expected. “Australian, actually.”
“Oh, geez.” Leah’s hand went to her neck, pulling on her old sweater uncomfortably, a nervous habit grown from years of insecurity. “I’m so sorry. That’s like, the other part of the world.”
“Nah problem. I get it a lot.”
“Can I ask your name?” Leah fumbled with her cup. “I mean, for the order. On the cup, you know.”
“Ahh, it’s Charlie.” He looked behind him to the empty coffee house. “Hope ya don’t get it mixed up with the otha’ Charlie here.”
Leah blinked at him before understanding the joke. She laughed uncomfortably. “Chaw. . . lie.” She wrote it near the top. “Dark chocolate mocha with almond milk.”
“You Americans say it wrong.”
Leah looked up from the cup, her eyebrow raised. “Say what wrong?”
“Yeah, all-mond.” He pressed his tongue to the roof of his mouth to emphasize the L. “What’s an all-mond?”
Leah grabbed the little cardboard stand next to her and pointed at the word. “I’m sorry, but I see the ‘L’. Right there. It’s always been almond.”
Charlie made a small chuckle.
“Oh.” Small prickles of heat returned to her face. “Geez. I’ll remember that. Do you tease all coffee shop girls like this?”
Charlie’s head moved slightly back and forth. “Actually, no.”
“Okay,” escaped her lips without properly processing what he meant. “Well, Chaw-lee,” she teased him back, “give me a few minutes and I’ll get this ready for you.”
Charlie nodded and walked backward toward the tables.
Leah felt the tug on the back of her sweater. “Gurl . . .” she heard the whisper.
“Sam.” Leah nudged her co-worker. “Shh.”
“Oh my sweet Beavis, that accent.”
Leah turned her head slightly to see the bundled Australian stranger. “He could hear you, ya know.”
Sam cocked her head. “Probably.”
Leah crouched down to the fridge under the counter and out of sight. “Is he still looking over here?”
“Yeah.” Sam rested against the counter, her fingers drumming the edge. “Why would he come to Nowheresville? Australia’s warm, right? Might be nice to live somewhere warm.”
“It’s not like it’s Mars.” Leah continued rummaging through the fridge.
“For all I know it could be.”
Leah shook the almond milk carton and found it nearly empty. “Could you grab me some almond milk from the back?”
“He kinda looks like a Hemsworth. Do you think all guys look like that in Australia?”
Leah stood holding out the empty carton. “I seriously hope so. Here.”
Sam glared but took the container and walked to the back room.
Leah sidled to the corner to check on the coffee. The earthy aroma instantly calmed her nerves. She pushed up her sleeves to her elbow. The heavy cable knit felt like a clunky decision now as she worked, but it was a perfect decision in the ten-degree morning. The homemade thing made for her grandfather hung around her like a blanket warming from the inside out. Gray and gold with trims of red, in many eyes hideously ugly, but the uniqueness made it her favorite to wear on cold mornings.
Leah continued methodically preparing the coffee in the machine when the uncomfortable sensation crept in her peripheral of someone approaching the counter. The flash of embarrassment grew clammy, even sweaty around her. She took a deep breath before turning toward the counter.
“Hey. Is there something else?” she asked.
Charlie’s lips pressed together like he wanted to say something, but nothing came out.
Leah thumbed toward the back. “My co-worker just went to the back to get more almond milk.”
Silence. “I think she must have ran over to the store or something to get it. The fridge really isn’t that far.”
“Or went and milked the ah-monds.”
Leah found herself again staring at the joke. “Umm, yeah. Maybe. She thinks everyone in Australia looks like a Hemsworth.”
Charlie’s expression brightened as he chuckled. “Nah. Not even close. It’s not all crocodile hunting or whateva’. That’s only what Hollywood wants you to believe. Though, the whole country is trying to kill you. Everything’s poisonous. Snakes and spiders are truly terrifying.”
Leah’s shoulders tightened at the mention of spiders. “No thanks. Wisconsin isn’t perfect, but we have normal-sized spiders.”
“Not a spider person, eh?”
Leah unconsciously pulled on an unraveling string from her sweater, a habit she developed when she didn’t know what else to do with her hands. “Umm. Wisconsin is kinda far from Australia.”
Charlie leaned on the counter at her question. “Yeah. I’ve been in the states for a few years. Came with my mum. Just transferred to the university here.”
The silence returned around them again.
Leah started as the carton of almond milk appeared before her eyes.
Sam stood next to her, all smiles.
“Thanks.” Leah opened it and went back to preparing his coffee. She tried making a design with the milk, like the leaf she had been practicing with the cappuccinos, but it turned out murky and flat. She quickly blended it away before carefully placing a lid on the cup. “Here you go, Charlie.”
“Thanks.” He took a small sip. A yummy sound hummed in his month. “Nice.”
Awkward silence. “Well, hope you come again, Chaw-lie.”
He nodded, taking another sip as he walked back toward the exit.
“What,” Sam called out. “You’re not even gonna tip her?”
Leah stared her down in a what the hell are you doing look.
“Oh.” Charlie fumbles in his pocket. “I don’t carry much change.”
Leah burned pink. “It’s okay. Don’t listen to her.”
Charlie pulls out a piece of paper, possibly an old receipt absentmindedly shoved in a pocket and forgotten about. “Here,” and grabs a pen from the counter. A few scribbles later he dropped the old receipt in the tip jar.
Charlie raised his coffee in farewell and left, the bell jingling as it closed.
Sam quickly snatched the crumpled piece of paper before Leah had the chance to grab it. “Sheesh.” She tossed the paper in the air.
Leah nabbed it from the air as it floated down and pressed open the crinkles. “I like your sweater.” She turned it over in her hand checking the back. “That’s it? No number or anything?”
Sam wiped down the counters. “I guess Australian guys are just as clueless as American guys.”
Leah went to throw the piece of paper in the trash, took another glace at the horrible scribbling and her eyes brightened. He liked her ugly sweater. She slipped the piece of paper in the back pocket of her jeans.