Jaws dropped. My next words stammered from my lips. “I don’t drink coffee.” Several dumb-founded faces stared back at me, generating vibes of discomfort. I reached behind me, feeling for the edge of the counter and stumbled back until I found it. Might as well be an alien, I thought as America Runs On Dunkin chanted through my mind.
Bettina strolled in, waving her hand through the stale air. Smoke trailed from her fingers, and a faint glow emanated from the tip of her cigarette. “This is all wrong,” she said, settling into her routine pace of panic.
I huddled near the corner. “Um…” I cleared my scratchy voice and spoke a bit louder. “W-what’s all wrong?”
“This!” Bettina carried on with her gestural sign-language, as if the answer couldn’t be clearer. “Writers, coffee. Coffee, writers. They go hand-in-hand, darling. God sent out the memo years ago.”
I lifted a brow. “God,” I spoke with heavy emphasis, “insists that writers drink coffee?”
Bettina guffawed. “Insists? No.” She uncrossed one leg from the other and splayed her arms on the conference table. Her hand dropped to the marble surface with a tap. “Honey, it’s top priority in the Writers’ Commandments.”
I lowered myself in the seat next to her and bit at my bottom lip. A sigh passed over my teeth. Writers’ Commandments. “Bumped ahead of what?”
“Oh, the usual. Punctuation. Style. Routines.” Bettina counted off on her fingers, listing anything and everything related to writing. I felt a yawn stretch out and peeked at my watch. 23:47.
A fist pounded down in front of me. My chair wheeled back as I jerked. “You know,” I said, pulling back to the table, “most people are tucked in warm blankets by now. Heads supported by soft, welcoming pillows.” Speech slurred at the thought of sleep. Dreams awaited my unconscious to fill them with adventure. Eyelids drooped. I tried to lift them, but someone had stuck cement inside, topped with a layer of bricks. I tossed my head, but even that failed to open my eyes.
“Most people have normal jobs. Writing consumes you, rots your organs when you disobey. That’s why we invented coffee, see. It’s the only poison weapon strong enough to penetrate your bones, meld with your bloodstream for a rush that’s just long enough to MEET YOUR QUOTA!” Bettina pressed a megaphone against my ear.
I leapt to attention, too scared to risk the chair again.
“So what are we going to do now?”
“Plug in a coffee IV, sir!”
“Good girl. Now: one more thing before you go.” Bettina tucked the megaphone under her armpit. “Arms up, like so.” She grabbed my arms and extended them out until they were parallel with the floor, zombie-style. She pulled back and clasped her hands together, admiring her artwork. “Perfect.” A huge grin curled across her lips, reminiscent of the Grinch after his decision to rob Christmas from the Who-villes. Then, in a calm, quiet tone, she whispered: “Dismissed.”
“Must. Have. Coffee,” I stated, staggering away in search of motivation.