The steamer hisses like a defensive cat, spitting froth up the sides of the metal pitcher. I pull the nozzle up gently and the foaming milk eases. For my third shift, the froth isn’t too shabby. I tap the espresso scoop to loosen the old grounds, refill and tamp the fine powder, crank the scoop and watch the filmy stream of coffee gurgle into the cup.

It’s still a little surreal to be on this side of the counter. I was always the girl with the book bag, studying at the corner table, watching the baristas steam milk and drizzle chocolate, wearing plaid shirts and sipping coffee from ceramic mugs they probably molded themselves. It seemed so romantic. Probably too romantic to be true, I thought, and lowered my eyes to my book.

I tap the froth with a knife and pour milk into the espresso, topping it with two swaths of the white fluff; cap it and embrace with a Christmas paper sleeve, and relinquish the creation to its owner. Someone wants a soy latte, so I have to use the other steamer, which is fickle and likes to screech like a toddler who doesn’t know what she wants.

It’s a lot like me, actually. For many years my heart felt like gasket about to blow. It bubbled and churned with unpredictable undercurrents, until the pressure pitched at a too-high temperature and issued a shriek of frustration. Anyone standing nearby became the collateral of the spewed, scalding contents. My heart’s fickle mechanism made me flighty, flitting from one job to alight on another. One relationship to another. I didn’t know how to fix it, so I ignored it, and continued sitting at the corner table.

It was probably too romantic to be true, anyway.

The door opens, ushering in a gust of cold air and a familiar face. It’s Eli, a friend from church, here to get a cup of coffee from the new barista. Do I really get to call myself that? That privileged title claimed only by trendy, pottery-making, espresso-sipping college students in plaid shirts? I am grateful to him for coming. It’s physical evidence that I’m starting to belong. In the same way Dena asks when my shift is, and my writing friends meet at the corner table. In the same way Beth asks me to help her make sandwiches, and Han and I fill the backroom with laughter when I mess up counting tills.

Each one a safe nest for my flighty heart to rest.

Snow drifts outside the window and I shake candy cane bits onto drifts of whipped cream. In my typical impulsiveness I applied for this job and had my interview the next day. But before applying, I asked God what he thought. I think you will love it, he replied. It’s truly romantic, having a place to rest and hearts to belong to. Especially when the place smells like coffee and baked goodness, and God has fixed your fickle mechanism, and the hearts you belong to are teaching you how to froth correctly.


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