Got Your Back
By Lauren Weisberg & Lucy Carson
Mary is a broke grad student whose only excitement is her online relationship with the mysterious “Clay,” but Mary has other admirers.
Mary walked into her favorite coffee shop and breathed in the familiarity of it. She’d struggled through her undergraduate years by drinking an absurd amount of espressos, so it seemed only fitting that she should do the same with grad school. Approaching the front register, she nearly cringed at the sight of her least favorite barista.
“Mary,” he smiled, though it disappeared behind his overly gelled handlebar mustache. “What can I get for you?”
“Double espresso,” she said.
He nodded quickly.
Her phone dinged, causing butterflies to stir in her stomach. She’d been talking with a new guy, Clay, an engineer from upstate, so different from these city guys. Even though they’d only talked for a short time, she was convinced they were kindred spirits. Sure, she still didn’t have a clear photo of him—all the selfies he had texted were dimly lit, with unusual, artistic angles—but two months of texting and late-night phone calls made her feel more known than she had in years. And each time her phone lit up with his name, a tiny shiver of anticipation danced up her spine.
She pulled out the phone only to see the notification “PAYMENT DUE” through her cracked screen. Her heart sank.
“New guy?” the barista asked, holding out a large cup.
She ignored him and pressed the coffee cup onto her lips, tasting a milky latte.
“I thought I asked for espresso,” she said sourly.
“Of course, I must have gotten your order mixed up with someone else’s…” he said, sheepishly retreating to his coffee-making station. He was always getting her order wrong, but she decided to forgive him because she still couldn’t remember his name.
She was relieved to see that her favorite spot in the corner against the window was free, despite her late arrival. But by the time she plugged in her laptop and opened the first student paper to grade, her phone dinged yet again.
Dreading another payment reminder, she relaxed immediately when she saw Clay’s name.
C: I see you’ve added a new song to our playlist? Didn’t think Blondie was your style…
C: Something going on?
M: Just got a text from financial aid, I think I’ve run out of ideas
C: Aha, “one way or another!”
M: Where there’s a will there’s a way
M: And on that note…
M: When are we going to meet?
C: I know, I’m sorry
C: I’ve been so busy at work
Mary’s stomach began to groan in protest of the espresso. She got up from her chair and walked over to the bathroom.
When she finished, the barista was hovering near her laptop. Is he smiling? Smirking? She couldn’t decide.
“You come here so often, maybe you’d be down to try a few shifts?”
He was fidgeting with a paper flyer, and she saw its block letters: WE’RE HIRING! Her face felt suddenly much too warm, and almost as if it was muscle memory from every family holiday, she muttered something about grad school’s demands on her time. Clay’s texts filled her computer window.
C: But never too busy for you! 🙂
C: You still there? Are my jokes that corny?
C: …you ok?
M: Sorry, you know how much espresso hurts my stomach
C: Which is why you need to stop drinking them!
M: I know I’m my own worst enemy
C: That’s why you have me 😉
M: Well I also have an incompetent barista who always gets my order wrong
M: I’m starting to think it’s on purpose
C: Maybe he’s just got your back lol
M: lol that’s a scary thought
Mary turned off notifications and set out to finish grading her psychology papers. A few hours passed, and then she spotted the barista approaching her table. Her stomach lurched and she tried to keep her eyes glued to her screen.
C: Must be getting late over there—you out?
M: Wrapping up I guess. Call you tonight, though?
C: What if I come by to tuck you in 🙂
C: Or at least, sing you a bedtime song…
“Unless you’re planning on sleeping here, we’re closing soon,” the barista said with a soft chuckle that caused Mary’s shoulders to seize up.
Didn’t they usually close at 8PM? It was already 8:30PM.
She watched him disappear into the mess of coffee machines and then into the back of the cafe. The cafe music grew louder. It was a little too fast-paced for her cafe, because she’d only ever heard lo-fi beats. He must be cleaning. It’s normal, she tried to assure herself and turned back to her computer.
M: I’m getting the creeps
M: I think I’m the only one left in the cafe
She said think, but really, she knew. The song began to be more than just a fast beat. A woman sang, “One way or another.” She typed and waited with her fingers on the keyboard for those little loading dots to disappear.
M: You won’t believe what song just came on
Mary heard, “I’m going to getcha getcha getcha,” and the lights dimmed.
We brainstormed different ideas all involving some way in which technology and stalking could combine in a short story. We landed on a concept and then we outlined. When it came time to draft, the text message component made it easy to take turns contributing content as a pair.
Lauren Weisberg is a Freshman in the Hunter College Muse Scholar program and returning mentee. She was born and raised on Staten Island and is passionate about activism, creative writing and crocheting. She loves anything spooky and is intimidated by her cat.
Lucy Carson has been a literary agent at The Friedrich Agency since 2008, where she works with such authors as Terry McMillan, Elizabeth Strout, Ruth Ozeki and many others. She is a first-year writing mentor in the Girls Write Now 360 program.