Kassandra loved her job at the coffee shop. Her bosses were generous, her customers were patient and funny, her co-workers were the same. Although she studied hard for her economics degree at the university, secretly she wondered if she’d already found her professional calling.
Barista in a small town had no ring of glamor to it. The coffee shop was not a part of a huge national chain, and there was no possibility that it would start serving wine and beer, or generating its own hip music collections, at least not in Kassandra’s lifetime. Age twenty-one was too young to commit to a boyfriend, and probably to a job, too. Kassandra knew her parents would be aghast if all the money they’d contributed toward her tuition led to a career in food service. They had visions of her becoming a professor, leading a think tank, like her father, or heading up projects for a vast non-profit, like her mother.
But with every pull of the steamer and clamp of the espresso grounds, Kassandra grew more certain that she was already doing exactly what she wanted to do.
One of her favorite customers was an older art professor who painted giant squids on outdoor walls. Kassandra had introduced her parents to this professor the last time they visited. They’d come to pick her up from work to take Kassandra and her roommate to dinner, and the art professor had just finished her usual double shot Americano with room for cream. Kassandra could not understand how anyone could sleep at night after a double shot Americano at five pm, but the art professor thrived. With her short cropped gray hair and fashionable red glasses, the art professor seemed to Kassandra like the kind of person who would impress her parents. The giant squids might puzzle them, but also introduce the idea that there were hidden depths of artistic expression in this small town.
The introduction did not go as Kassandra hoped, however. Both her mother and father seemed reluctant to even shake the art professor’s hand, and they were strangely unable to understand the phrase “paintings of giant squids.” Kassandra’s father repeatedly asked the professor about her kids, and her mother thought, she reported later, that the professor was addicted to offering too much for paintings on EBay. “Giant bids?” Kassandra’s mother pondered over their dinner, with a pitying shake of her head. “How much does an art professor make, anyway? I hope she gets some help.”
That sort of miscommunication occurred often between Kassandra and her parents, as if her words had to go through Google translate to another language and then back again, so that her sentences were hopelessly garbled by the time they reached their intended audience. After saying good bye to her parents that night, Kassandra went for a long walk, all the way from one end of Pine Street to the other and back.