Khadijah AbdulHaqq is a mother of five. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her work is forthcoming and has appeared in HerStry, Believers Bailout, Haute Hijab, and elsewhere. She is the author of, Nanni’s Hijab, a children’s book on empathy and awareness. Khadijah is currently seeking an agent, and working on her unlinked short story collection. When Khadijah isn’t writing or mothering, she is binging on Netflix and Hulu. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.
“Things You Get at Starbucks”
Things you can get at Starbucks:
A mocha macchiato with almond milk
A frozen tomato and pesto sandwich half-warmed in the microwave
To get a baby you don’t go into the drive-thru. Your husband is running late. So, you volunteer to go inside and get his coffee. You stand behind a man in a Brooks Brothers suit and wait for him to order.
“A mocha macchiato with soy and three sugars," he says. You always get a mocha macchiato and three sugars. Three sugars are just right. Not too sweet. Too much sugar spoils the coffee.
“Good taste,” you say. You think your voice is low but it’s not. He can hear you. He looks over his shoulder and says, “Thank you.”
You’re stunned for a moment but you collect yourself and say, “That’s my drink. The mocha macchiato with three sugars. Except, instead of soy, I take mine with almond milk.”
He looks you up and down. His eyes are so wide and dark like onyx. His eyelashes look better than yours. He has the face of a gazelle-- a cross between Shamar Moore and Morris Chestnut. It doesn’t matter because they’re both fine as hell. Then you remember the fuzzy grey slippers on your feet. Your hair looks like you've been hit by a lightning bolt. And your breath is warm, not hot but it could use some freshening up. Your face fills with blood and the pressure causes your eyes to bulge. Your gut begins to bubble and need to leave before you crap all over the Starbucks lobby’s floor. You leave without ordering.
Your husband asks where’s his coffee? You say the line was long and you have to get home.
The next day, you do your makeup and hair before going to Starbucks. And even though your husband isn’t late, you volunteer to go inside and get coffee.
“I’ll go,” he says. “You went yesterday.”
“No, that’s okay. I can do it,” you say. But you know if you protest too much it will make him suspicious, and then he’ll want to go inside to see what has you so intrigued.
No Brooks Brothers.
For the next two weeks, you go to Starbucks every day at the same time to look for Brooks Brothers. Each time, you do your hair and cake on layers of foundation, concealer, and primer to hide all your flaws and highlight your best features. You even purchased magnetic lashes to match his. Despite your efforts, there is no Brooks Brothers. Two weeks go by before you see him again. He rides past you one morning in his Tesla. The same white Tesla you drive. We have so much in common, you think. You give him a half smile and crack the Mulan rouge matte color number six on your lips. He doesn’t acknowledge you and rides right past you.
Another two weeks go by. You have all but given up on ever seeing him again. You buy bags of Starbucks Pike’s Place at the grocery store. You get a pint of almond milk creamer. And when your husband asks you why you haven’t gone to Starbucks for your usual. You say, “I can make my own damn coffee.” But it’s a lie. You’re a horrible coffee maker. Your coffee tastes like burnt cigarettes. No amount of creamer can fix it.
After a few morning cups of your cigarette bath water coffee, your husband begs you to stop making coffee and to please go to Starbucks. Reluctantly, you do. This time you don’t wear makeup. You don’t curl your hair or brush your teeth. You wear clown-printed flannel pajamas and your fuzzy grey slippers.
“I like this better,” a voice says, from behind you.
You look back. It’s Brooks Brothers. He is even finer than you remember. Maybe get his number this time, you think. But Brooks Brothers wants something. You’re not sure what it is but you go with it.
He takes you by the hand to the bathroom. You don't resist even though your breath is still hot from a long night’s restless sleep. And you haven’t showered yet. You don’t know him from a can of spray paint but you don’t ask what he’s doing or why he’s doing it. You just go.
You've been thinking of him night and day for two and a half weeks and you want nothing more than to bury your face in his neck. You want to rub his sculpted chest that begs for your attention underneath his button-up. You want to feel his hands on you. You know you shouldn’t. You know just thinking about Brooks Brothers (and you still call him that because you haven’t asked him his name) is breaking a secret covenant of being a faithful wife.
Still, you go.
In the bathroom, Brooks Brothers tells you he’s been watching you for weeks. “You’re married,” he says.
You wonder when did he first come to know this? How long has he known? How long has he been watching you?
“Yes,” you say. “I’m aware.”
You want to be the faithful, dutiful wife. You want to save yourself for your husband. Guard your body. Have babies together. Give your mother-in-law the grandbabies she’s been nagging for.
“When are you going to have a grandbaby for me?” she said, after your husband’s cousin Aliza’s baby shower. Then again when your sister-in-law announced her pregnancy. She tells you that she has a doctor friend that can help you with hormones to fix your little problem. She doesn't know that you've spent thousands of dollars on fertility testing. She has no idea that your husband has a low sperm count. And erectile dysfunction. And it is him with the little baby-making problem. And that you two haven’t had sex in two years after the diagnosis. She doesn’t know that there won’t be any grandbabies. So, when Brooks Brothers grabs you by the hands and takes you into Starbucks bathroom and pulls your pants down and asks you “Is this what you want?” you say yes, softly like a child, who’s begging for his favorite candy. And when he presses himself inside of you, you’re not angry or scared. You like it. You welcome it. You need it. You open for it.
In between the pauses of your heavy breathing, you beg him not to stop.
Afterward, he tears two sheets of brown paper towel off-- one for you and one for him. He uses his towel to wipe off the front of his pants. You clean yourself up as much as you can with a brown paper towel and the low-flow water coming out of the sink. Brooks Brothers grab you by the hand again and guides you into the lobby.
Your husband is standing at the door. He's been waiting for you. He heard people were screwing in the bathroom. He laughed at how ridiculous the thought of that was. “That’s crazy,” he said. He almost pisses his pants when he sees you and Brooks Brothers coming out of the bathroom.
I see why you were so pressed to get dolled up for coffee,” he says. “I just want to look good,” he says, mimicking you. “Self-esteem, my ass.”
He rushes home and packs his clothes in a duffle bag, including his Brooks Brothers suits. “I’m going to my mother’s,” he says.
You don’t care anymore because you’re tired of his drama. And you are certain that you can get more action from Brooks Brothers.
“Maybe next time we’ll do it in his Tesla,” you say.
It’s been a month since you’ve seen or heard from Brooks Brothers. You go to Starbucks and sit in the parking lot. You're still a little embarrassed from the scene you two made in the bathroom. Something is going on with your body. Your breasts are sore. Your period is late. The smell of mocha macchiato with three sugars makes you want to vomit. During her last visit, your mother said you look different:
“I can’t quite put my finger on it. But your face is glowing,” she said.
After a while, getting out of bed becomes difficult. When you tell your doctor how you’ve been feeling, she tells you "I think you're pregnant. You need a pregnancy test.”
“Pregnant,” you say. “Impossible.”
But you know it’s totally possible. You try to convince yourself that you only did it once and you can’t get pregnant standing up. "Don't be silly", you tell yourself. "You know better."
You pee on a stick. Two faint pink lines appear. It’s true: you’re pregnant. And you know Brooks Brothers is the father.
Your spouse calls. He leaves a message:
“I want to come home,” he says.
You miss him too. Under any other circumstance, it would be nice to share the news with him. You'd have him massage your pregnant belly. Bring you tea to calm the nausea. Rub your swollen feet. You almost tell him about the baby. You pause and catch yourself. You think you’re not ready for the backlash. The tears. The crying. The arguing. It’s too soon, you reason as you rub your hand over your not yet protruding belly.
A baby is all that you’ve ever wanted. All that any of you have ever wanted especially your mother-in-law. When the time is right, if it's ever right, you’ll tell him. You ignore the messages.
You consider informing Brooks Brothers. Maybe he should know that he put a baby in you. Would he want to know? What if he thinks you’re crazy for even thinking of keeping the baby? For telling him? You run a thousand scenarios through your mind of how things can go wrong. And despite the possible outcomes, you’ve decided. You’re telling him.
You go to Starbucks to look for Brooks Brothers again. This time you go inside. The barista remembers you. “Ahh! The bathroom,” she says.
You’re embarrassed but you need to find Brooks Brothers to tell him about the baby. So, you accept her brazen remarks and think the next time she says something slick you’ll pop her in the mouth. You smile politely and ask for Brooks Brothers. She tells you that she hasn’t seen him since the night in the bathroom. But his wife comes in around eight in the morning.
“She gets his regular and hers too,” she says. “One mocha macchiato, three sugars and almond milk and sugar, and one matcha tea latte, iced.”
She giggles like she knows a secret. She smiles and looks over her shoulder to see if anyone is standing within an earshot and says, “Maybe that’s what gets him off-- women who drink macchiatos.”
You knock over the green straws and storm out the door.
“Bitch,” you say.
You’re upset that Brooks Brothers is married but not too much. You want the baby. You want the baby more than anything. Even if Brooks Brothers never knows about it. Even if your husband abandons you.
You don’t want to hide.
You don’t want to lie.
After the news of the baby settles in your heart, you tell your husband that you're pregnant. And of course, he tells his mother. But he doesn’t tell her about you and Brooks Brothers. That’s too much to share. She would be devastated to find out the baby that you’re carrying isn’t her son’s. You can already hear her planning the baby shower. “We’ll have it at Aliza’s house, and have it catered,” she’ll say. “Maybe have chicken and mushroom fritters, roasted peppers, and stuffed salmon.” Instead of letting you dress yourself, she’ll bring you maternity clothing that she has been collecting since you two got married. Oversized baby doll shirts plastered with pink daisies and yellow butterflies. She’ll bring you food to eat. She’ll tell you how much sleep you should get per night. Her excitement jumps through the phone.
“I knew it would happen sooner or later.”
Your husband isn’t so happy. You two have been through difficulties. You have battle scars. He’s cheated—multiple times. Women have shown up on your doorstep claiming they were pregnant. A year ago, one arrived in the middle of the night. She wanted to catch him off guard. See the shock on your face. She said they were planting seeds. They were going to raise babies together. She told you with a cunning smirk plastered on her caked-up face your husband said you were a lousy wife who wears nothing but pajamas all day. That you don’t do your hair. That you never wear make-up. And he's no longer attracted to you and avoids having sex with you at all costs. She said he told her you wanted a baby and that his mother wanted a baby. And he never planned to have a baby with you. With the woman standing there, in your living room, he began to beg and plead for your forgiveness. He had gone too far. There was pity on his face.
Sorrow. Now when he looks at your beaming face, he wishes he could take it all back. Start anew and put everything behind him. He would make it right. Take more vitamins. Buy more sperm-producing drug treatments. Exercise more. Even wear those cooling drawers you bought him. Anything to be the father of your baby.
It's been three months, two weeks, and two days since you saw Brooks Brothers. You dream about him. You wonder if the baby will have his eyes. His moist chocolate skin. The doctor says in less than sixty days you’ll be able to know the gender. You dream about having a girl. You want to dress her in matching pink dresses and shoes. You’ll put matching bows in your hair. People will gush over the two of you when you take your daily walk in the park and say: “Aren’t you two just the cat’s meow.” You’ll blush and say, “Thank you!” It's just the reaction you were going for.
Your husband comes back home. He wants to help you through this.
“I know it’s not my baby. And I know it will be a struggle but we can do this,” he says.
He holds your hair when you throw up. He holds your hand and rubs your belly to calm your nausea. You cry when you can’t make it to the bathroom and hurl vomit all over your shirt. “I’ll wash it for you,” he says. He makes every doctor’s appointment. Calls off work, if he has to. And when the tech tells you “It’s a boy!” you’re disappointed but he shouts so loudly the other techs run into the room to see what's going on. No pink hair bows.
At five months, your mother-in-law goes with the two of you. She tells you she just wants to be there if you need her. But actually, she wants to be involved like she is with everything. You ask the doctor if you are allowed to have coffee. She says, “Just a little. No more than an eight-ounce cup at the most.”
“Coffee isn’t good for the baby,” Your husband says.
“A little won’t hurt,” the doctor says.
The first thing you do is a B-line for Starbucks. You go at least twice a week now. You get the usual: a mocha macchiato with three sugars and almond milk. You never drink the full cup. You just want a little taste. You never see Brooks Brothers. You’re not even sure you’re looking for him anymore. You have all you need.
At seven months, you start to have contractions. The doctor says “They’re just Braxton Hicks--false contractions. Lay off the coffee and drink more water.”
Your mother-in-law tells you to put your feet up. Three weeks later, you see blood in the toilet and go straight to the hospital. You beg the doctor to save the baby.
“I’ll do my best,” she says. “But he may have to stay in the NICU for a while.”
You kind of wish you could tell Brooks Brothers. Maybe it’s better if you don’t, you think.
Ten hours and twenty-four minutes later, you have a bouncing baby girl. She slid perfectly into your husband’s hands. Tears run down his face. The baby’s wails echo throughout the hospital.
“Her lungs are strong,” he says. He whispers into your ear, "I'll look for him if you want."
You shake your head no.
“She’s right where she belongs,” you say.
He calls his mother and tells her the tech was wrong, and you gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. Her creamy yellow skin looks like yours. Her bright brown eyes look like yours. And she has thick curly hair like yours. Not Brooks Brothers.
She stays in the hospital for four weeks. The day finally comes for you to take her home. You dress her in a pink dress, pink booties, and a pink hat.
“We’ll take pictures when we get home,” you say.
At home, everyone is there waiting for you and your baby girl: Cousin Aliza, your mother, your sister-in-law, and a few close friends. Your mother-in-law called them. They each have gifts. Most are for the baby. Some are for you. You open one from your husband. It’s a coffee mug from Starbucks with a note that reads:
“For our morning coffee at home.”
You lean over and kiss him on the cheek and whisper in his ear,
“From now on, you make the coffee.”
Torch Literary Arts is a 501(c)3 nonprofit established to publish and promote creative writing by Black women. We publish contemporary writing by experienced and emerging writers alike. TORCH has featured work by Toi Derricotte, Tayari Jones, Sharon Bridgforth, Crystal Wilkinson, Patricia Smith, Natasha Trethewey, Elizabeth Alexander, and others. Programs include the Wildfire Reading Series, writing workshops, and retreats.