A Million Little Futures - Short Story
J. J. Hanna © 2021
It was a beautiful day. The sun peeked out from behind fluffy gray clouds every once in a while, an autumn breeze tugged at the brim of my hat, and I was wearing one of my favorite outfits—a black sleeveless dress with a white Peter Pan collar, gray knit tights, converse, and a black fedora, topped off with a lighter gray knit cardigan sweater.
Days like today made it easy to see the paths life would take. For example, I knew I would be heading down to the campus coffee shop at some point today to indulge in a pumpkin spice latte, complete with nutmeg and whipped cream on top. After all, cloudy fall days in college begged for coffee shop study sessions, and if I was lucky, maybe I’d meet my husband.
Everyone knows the pressure of “ring by Spring.” I was no different. I’d come to college to get my BA degree, but that wasn’t to say I wasn’t also interested in my MRS degree. After all, my options after college were going to significantly dwindle in number while also significantly increasing in creepiness. No thank you. I’d find someone on campus if it was the last thing I did, and if I was lucky, maybe I’d find him today.
As I crossed the still-green lawns toward the Student Center, I kept my eye out for my potential soulmate.
I had to pass the business building to get to the Student Center, and as I did I almost ran face first into one of the guys leaving the building in a rush—he was probably trying to get to his next class first and get the best seat. He was definitely a business major. I could tell by the way he dressed. No other college students wore suits to class. And his suit fit him well.
My heart skipped a beat as he ran past me, and although I hadn’t really seen his face, our future passed before my eyes as well.
He’d be successful, making it to President of the company within the first ten years of his service there. He’d make enough money that I could stay home and paint, and I could attend his fancy work events and he could come to my gallery openings. We’d have three beautiful kids and live in a decent sized house, content in the life we made. After our kids were grown we’d travel the world and help pay for our grandkid’s colleges. He’d die first from the stress of his job, after living a good long life, and I’d be left as the successful artistic widow everyone in the art world gossiped about.
It would be a good life, but he was long gone before I could even catch his name.
So I moved on, heading down the path toward the Science building. Going through was a shortcut, and I could get relief from having to hold my hat to my head as desperately from the wind.
As I passed through, I noticed a guy sleeping on one of the hallway benches, and I had to laugh for a moment. Was there really anywhere besides colleges and airports where it was socially acceptable to sleep wherever you found a quiet spot? Not that this guy had found a particularly quiet spot . . . He wore a crumpled T shirt and if I hadn’t known the building closed at 2 am, I’d have thought he’d been here all night. My prospects with him weren’t that great, since he was asleep and because from the look of it, he’d recently been the Parent’s Basement Dweller books and movies joked about.
I tried to imagine a life with him that didn’t involve me also raising him and fighting his video games for attention, and I failed horribly. The image of me holding three crying children, trying to make dinner, in a messy house while he sat on the couch seared itself into my mind. I rushed past him.
Back outside, the wind was blocked on this side of the building and I could relax a little into my stroll without worrying about losing my hat. I should know better than to wear hats on days like this, but with curly hair, once you commit in the morning to any hair style, it’s game over for the rest of the day. You’re stuck with whatever you chose. And today, I chose a hat. I was almost to the coffee shop, just two more long paths.
I had to walk one of the paths because it was the only route back to any main paths after the Science Building short cut. But the other path was an intentional choice, because it crossed right next to one of the guys dorms, and on days when I looked this good, I needed them to have the chance to see me.
After all, I was never going to get a ring by Spring if I never let the guys see me.
So I walked confidently by, but none of them were out, and the windows I saw had their blinds drawn.
That’s alright, perhaps they were all just in the Student Center with the same idea I had. I fought the wind to open the door and stepped inside, carefully adjusting my hat again once the wind couldn’t steal it, and made my way to the coffee shop’s little alcove.
There were plenty of people here, but it didn’t take me long to snag a table and spread the contents of my backpack out across the chairs so people knew it was taken. Then I texted my friends, grabbed my wallet, and headed to the counter.
There was a new barista working today. Or maybe he’d been a barista before and was just continuing his work here during the school year. Regardless, he was one of the most handsome men I’d seen yet today.
He had a charming smile and short, blond curls spilling out around his head. In our future, he’d own his own shop, a coffee shop where my art displayed prominently on the walls. It would be the place the locals came to hang out, avoiding the crowds and prices of the big chains in exchange for the quiet coziness of our little space. Maybe we’d have the apartment above the shop, and we’d be in walking distance to a great park where our two kids and our dog could play. He’d bring me flowers and take me on picnics, and after closing he’d play romantic jazz music, take me in his arms, and we’d dance until I went up to make dinner.
I blinked. He was staring at me, waiting for me to approach the counter to order.
I glanced at his name tag. Matt. He was a golden retriever in human form.
“That kind of day?” he asked.
I snapped out of it and walked up. “Yeah. I have a big paper due tomorrow . . . Art history, and all that . . . My name is Penny.”
He smiled. “Nice to meet you, Penny. I’m Matt, but I guess I’m also wearing a name tag . . . What can we get you today?”
Just order. You know what you want. Just order. “I—” His smile didn’t waver. I swallowed hard. “Can I have a large Pumpkin Spice Latte?”
He typed it in. “Need an extra shot?”
“No, just the way it comes. How long have you worked here?”
“Yesterday was my first day,” he said, flipping the iPad around toward me so I could finish paying. “But I worked at Starbucks through high school.”
I typed everything in. “You must like coffee, then.”
“Yeah. I do. Not as much as some people, but I do like it.”
I took my card out of the reader and tried not to drown in his eyes.
“We’ll call your name when it’s ready,” Matt said.
Snap out of it! “Great!” I stepped off to the side and busied myself with my phone. One of my friends had texted that she was on her way. Everyone else must have still been in class.
A few moments later, the other barista called my name and I grabbed my drink, trying once more not to get too distracted by Matt to remember what I was here for, and returned to my table.
Perhaps I hadn’t found my husband yet, but I would definitely be coming back to the coffee shop as often as I could. After all, if I was going to get that ring by Spring, I had to be where he could see me.
This story, segments of this story, and ideas from this story are not to be duplicated or replicated in any way. This content belongs to J. J. Hanna alone.
Please note: This is a work of fiction. Any similarity to real events is unintended by the author.
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J. J. Hanna is a writer and reader from Colorado. She loves suspense stories above all else, and is currently working on a debut novel of her own. When she's not writing, you can find her making YouTube videos and Online Courses about the publishing industry. Go find her on social media @authorjjhanna to keep track of her most recent reads, current adventures, and to get the most up to date news on all things publishing.