The first time I had coffee, I thought someone had laced it with a hallucinogenic drug. It happened like this…
I walked into the little café with my schoolbooks and a handful of change. After being teased for never having coffee before—not my fault, my parents just never had it around—I decided it was about time to consume some of the famous beverage. So I ordered a twelve-ounce mocha and sat in the corner, sipping it like a teenager with whiskey.
As I neared the bottom of the cup, my knees started bouncing with no instruction to do so, and I felt much like I had when the dentist gassed me with nitrous oxide. I finished the drink with a crooked smile and burped. Plus ten life experience for me.
I stood up and headed for the bathroom with my purse, dodging around an immense dude with long hair, a beard, and a black leather coat. He glanced at me and I heard his voice—but his mouth didn’t move.
“She looks a lot like Ash…”
“Who?” I asked.
The dude frowned. “What?”
“Who looks like Ash?”
He gave me the strangest look, and my hyperactive brain finally registered that his mouth hadn’t moved.
“Oh my gosh,” I said.
“I didn’t say anything about Ash,” he said.
“I know. Hang on, I gotta pee.”
I dashed into the bathroom and took care of the pressing issue, and then I stood at the sink and stared into the mirror. What were the signs of LSD intoxication? I had no idea. Maybe that spot on my cheek…no, just a zit. I applied some zit cream to it and licked my finger and then stared at my reflection, wondering why I’d licked my finger. It didn’t taste good.
I found the huge dude sitting at the table beside mine, playing a word game on his iPhone. I sat down at my table for about 0.85 seconds and then got up again and slid into the chair across from him. He glanced at me.
“Hi,” I said.
“Hi,” he said.
“I think I’m either drugged or going insane.”
I bounced in place while he finished making his move in the word game.
Finally he set his phone down, took a long drink of his coffee, and looked at me. “This is strange, somebody is talking to me.”
My mouth dropped open because his hadn’t. “Did you just think something?”
“Uh, yeah…is that surprising?”
“Did you just think this is strange, somebody is talking to me?”
“Oh my gosh.”
“Do you have to pee again?”
“No, I don’t say that every time I have to pee.”
I leaned forward, probably looking a bit deranged. “The weird thing is that I’m hearing your thoughts.”
Suddenly a flood of voices filled my head and I clamped my hands over my ears. The barista, the couple in the corner, the emo skater kid who just walked in, they were all thinking, and I could hear it.
“Make it stop!” I cried.
A moment later the din of voices quieted a bit and I noticed the huge dude was waving his hand in front of my face. “Hello?” he said.
I uncovered my ears and gave a half smile. “Sorry, I got distracted. The couple in the corner is going to get engaged tonight and the barista has a sick cat at home and that emo kid has an abusive mother.”
“You mean…you can read people’s minds?”
I laughed, a high, slightly maniacal laugh that probably should’ve stayed in my head. “I never have before!”
“Before I came here and drank the first coffee I’ve ever tasted. I think there was something in my coffee. LSD or crack or whatever it is that makes you psychic.”
“There are no drugs that make you psychic…”
“Oh right.” I chewed on my lip and stared out the window. An elderly man climbed out of his car, shut the door, and shuffled toward the café.
I jumped and looked back at my large companion. “Oh yeah, I forgot about you. I was watching that old guy.”
He looked out the window. “What old guy?”
I pointed, and looked, and stopped. “Not visual hallucinations too!”
But as I looked, the old man’s car drove up and he climbed out, taking those same small, dragging steps across the parking lot.
“You saw him before he got here?”
“So you’re telepathic and clairvoyant. What else?”
I cocked my head and squinted at him. “You’re remarkably calm about this whole thing.”
“So are you.”
“Haha no. My brain feels like a Mexican jumping bean. It’s like all my innards are doing the boogie while my brain sits up there…just…flinging itself violently against the walls of its prison…”
I slumped over the table, overwhelmed with sudden exhaustion. “Ohhhh…why am I so sleepy.” I let out a long moan, and then sat up and blew strands of hair out of my face.
The dude stared at me, stroking his beard. I stared back, probably doing a pretty good impression of a zombie. A blob of drool fell from my lip.
“You hear anything?” he finally asked.
I shook my head slowly.
“I’m thinking things very deliberately in your direction.”
“I got nothing on the brainwave radar, Beardy.”
He took another drink of his coffee, looked at it, and then pushed it across the table to me.
“Ew no thanks.” I grabbed the cup. “On second thought, I’m really sleepy and apparently coffee helps with that.”
I drained the rest of his drink, hiccupped, and blinked twice. The voices came back, quiet at first, but growing in volume until I had to cover my ears again. The lights seemed to flicker and get brighter so I squeezed my eyes shut and rocked back and forth.
A hand touched my bare forearm, searing hot, and the weight of another mind flooded into my own. In an instant I knew everything about him. I jerked away with a gasp and fell out of my chair.
“Sorry,” he said, helping me up. “You were like that for several minutes, and beginning to get strange looks and whispers from the gawkers in the corner booth.”
I sat in my chair, a bit dazed from having his entire consciousness downloaded into mine. All I managed to say was “Uhhhhh…”
“Coffee seems to affect you strongly. Perhaps it would be better if you didn’t drink it.”
He peered at my face. “You okay? Should I call a doctor? Maybe you’re allergic?”
“Uhhhhhhhh…no, I don’t think allergies ever manifest as psychic powers.”
“Did you discover another one? Maybe you can move things by looking at them. That would be cool.”
I looked up at him. “Dude, this is serious. Can you imagine what would happen if anyone found out that coffee makes me psychic?”
I glanced around at the other café patrons. “Oh, right. Anyway, can you imagine? The government would take me to one of those top secret labs and run experiments to replicate my ability, so they could create coffee-powered supersoldiers…”
“I think you’re confusing reality with conspiracy thriller movies.”
“Um yes, dude, a lot of confusion going on here, with the telepathy and all that. This shouldn’t be happening. I wonder if this is why my parents never had coffee in the house and never let me get any. Maybe they knew! Oh my gosh I need to go home.”
I jumped up from my chair, tripped over it, and stumbled against the wall. After grabbing my books I ran for the door, and out onto the sidewalk, and then I stopped. The bus that was supposed to take me home wouldn’t be running the route for another hour. Dangit.
My new friend came out and stood beside me, hands in his jacket pockets. He flapped the corners of his unzipped coat while standing there quietly.
“The bus won’t be here for another hour,” I said.
“I could drive you.”
I looked at him, the gentle giant whose shoulder was almost as high as the top of my head. Why not? I knew everything about him, after all. It was like riding with a brother…who I’d met for the first time ten minutes ago despite knowing all his life. Weird.
“So I should tell you…” I said while climbing into his car, but I didn’t go on because I wasn’t sure how to say it.
“Well obviously I trust you because I’m getting in your car and those people in the café are giving us really worried looks, probably because you’re so big and hairy and I’m a girl and…hahaha…”
“And you trust me because of the telepathy?”
“Sort of. Is it telepathy when someone touches you and suddenly their brain gets squashed into yours, so you know everything about them?”
He didn’t say anything. My psychic powers had worn off by then so I couldn’t read his mind anymore, which proved a surprising lack of foresight, for a clairvoyant. What if he suddenly turned evil and kidnapped me—
“Well,” he said. “That’s awkward.”
“You knowing everything about me.”
“Oh yeah. Sorry. Couldn’t help it. You touched me and it triggered this mind-meld sort of thing.”
“If it’s any consolation, I understand. It’s hard being the weird one who doesn’t fit in. I didn’t fit in at college because I’d never had coffee before, so that’s why I came here and had some today.”
I thought about that for a moment.
“Wow that sounded really petty. I’m weird because I never had coffee so I can totally understand being an outcast all your life! Sorry.”
He grinned. “It’s fine.”
“But really, I’ve got your brain downloaded into mine so I don’t just know what happened to you, I also know how it felt. That makes a big difference.”
I gave him directions for a few minutes, and then my mind started wandering through his memories. At first I felt really awkward and bad about it, like you do when you open someone else’s mail or use their toothbrush on accident. But it was fascinating to explore a totally new mind.
I glanced at my silent chauffer. “You know when you discover something new and it’s really cool but at the same time it’s terrifying? Oh hey, turn here. I almost forgot I live here.”
The dude hit the brakes and swung around the corner onto the neighborhood street. “Which house?” he asked.
“The one with fake ducks in the yard. I think we’re the only people in the city with fake ducks. When people ask where I live I can just tell them the house with fake ducks and about ninety percent of the time, they know exactly where that is.”
We stopped in front of my house and I jumped out of the car and ran to the door. I burst into the living room yelling “Moooooom!”
She came rushing out of her office with a pen in one hand and a clipboard in the other. “What? Are you okay? Why are you home so early?”
“I had coffee.”
“Is there a specific reason you and Dad never let me have coffee?”
“Uh…no? We just don’t think it’s very healthy.”
“Oh. Okay. I wanted to try it so I did, but it made me feel really weird.”
“Are you all right?”
I bounced up and down, nodding vigorously. “Yep yep. Just fine. Hey, you should meet this nice hairy dude I found at the coffee shop. He drove me home.”
On second thought I probably shouldn’t have introduced my new friend like that. Mom was super suspicious of him so I stretched the account of how I got to know him by saying that he helped me out during some really tough times and I knew him really well ‘cause he was such a nice guy.
So then Mom felt better and invited him to stay for dinner but he said he had to leave because of stuff, so he said goodbye and left.
I lay awake for a long time that night, pondering my newfound abilities and the ramifications of them. Of course, the main thing that had me preoccupied was how in the world it happened. Did I have a rare genetic mutation that caused my cells to react with caffeine and develop superpowers? Would I be growing blades between my knuckles or shooting spiderweb from my wrists a few days later?
Whatever the case, I knew I had to keep it a secret. I dreaded the thought of being experimented on by the government. Which meant I needed a superhero name for my alter ego…but Coffee Woman was the only thing my tired brain could think of.
I fell asleep dreaming about a giant hairy guy going back to his lonely little house.
“So I was thinking, if I carry around one of those weird backpacks with the bladder thing full of water, only I fill it up with super strong coffee, then whenever I’m in a situation that could benefit from the use of my psychic powers I could take a sip and do my little brain-Hulk thing.”
My large friend leaned back and the entire deck creaked. On the other side of the yard, my Dad had a burnt sacrifice going on his grill. It smelled marvelous but if I tried to eat steak, I would bloat up like a dead pig in the sun and have gas for a week, so I had to be content with just smelling the barbecue.
“Are you sure you want to keep triggering it? The side effects look pretty intense.”
I grinned. “It’s kind of fun, though.”
“Exactly my point. Addiction could be a problem.”
“Psh, I’m psychic, who cares about addiction? Think of all the people I could help. I can just see it now…I’m walking home along the street, sipping coffee to keep my clairvoyance alert for possible threats—and also the extra bonus of making me walk about ten times faster than normal. Then I see a white van drive up and a couple men grab a kid who’s playing in front of his house. Only it hasn’t happened yet, so when I see the kid I run up to him and tell him to go inside, and the white van just drives by and I get the license number and call the police—”
“Hang on. You’re not a superhero.”
“Yes I am! I mean, the only other options are being a supervillain, or living in pointless apathy. Wouldn’t I be a bad person if I didn’t use my gifts for good?”
“Well…you have to be sure it’s actually a gift.”
“Look where you are.”
He looked around. “I’m in the backyard of a white middle-class American household.”
“You’re in my backyard, silly.”
“Oh, that detail.”
“You’re a good friend, Beardy.”
Then the day came when I realized the problem with being a caffeinated psychic. I could figure out everyone else, but they couldn’t figure me out nearly as well. After that first mind-meld, I avoided touching anyone, because I wasn’t sure if I’d have enough storage space for several more complete minds in my head. But I could still read thoughts when I was high on coffee, and I gained much, much deeper insights about the mysterious complexities of people.
I had secrets, though, and I didn’t think about how the keeping of those secrets might affect someone who didn’t know me nearly as intimately as I knew them.
My giant friend met me at the café one day, and he seemed more nervous than usual. I had a smoothie—no caffeine because he’d been worried that I would turn into Roadrunner or some sort of perpetually hyperactive cartoon character.
We sat down at the usual table and I pulled out my schoolbooks and started working through math. He was a math genius, so my grades rocketed after I absorbed his mind. My teachers suspected cheating but I wasn’t sure if using my psychic abilities to instantly learn math counted as cheating or not.
“So hey,” he said. “I’ve been thinking.”
He laughed. “I really enjoy hanging out with you.”
“Likewise, my large hirsute friend.”
“I was wondering if you’d like to be anything more than friends.”
I stared at him and slurped my smoothie. “You mean the type of more than friends involving fancy restaurants and face-battling under the stars and other gross stuff?”
He laughed. “Well, sort of. No need to stick to the stereotypes though.”
What he was saying struck me then, like a brain freeze from drinking a smoothie too fast. “Oh.”
“Is something wrong?”
“I’m not a mind-reader…”
I shook my head and slurped up the rest of my smoothie. “I’m sorry, I have to go.”
I grabbed my books and fled the café. He didn’t follow, and I thought for a moment how bad he must have felt, but I couldn’t turn back. Why didn’t I tell him right away? Why, with all my telepathy and clairvoyance and mind-melding, did I never see this coming?
I spent most of that afternoon sitting on a park bench and staring at a tree. There was no profound wisdom in the tree; I just stared at it because it was there. Eventually I caught the bus home and hid in my room with my journal and wrote a lot of words that didn’t make much sense.
Night fell and I sat by my window, with my chin on the sill, staring up at the stars. The rest of the house went silent as my parents and little sister went to bed.
Then I spotted movement in the yard and got up on my knees, smiling. I opened the window, while the figure climbed on the fence, to the roof, and then up the slope to my window.
The head and tank-topped shoulders of my lanky classmate leaned in and she kissed me before tumbling through the window and closing it behind her. She stood up straight and ran her fingers through her short hair.
“I have a problem,” I said.
“What sort, love?”
“A boy. I mean, he’s a great, great friend.”
“Ah. They always go for that more than friends thing, don’t they?”
I sat on the bed and she plopped down beside me and started twisting my hair into a braid.
“I’m living a triple life,” I blurted out.
“What?” She laughed. “Like a double life, but with another secret layer?”
“Yeah. I’ve got you. I’ve got the nice proper life I’m supposed to have, with my parents and college and all the normal stuff. And I’ve got this condition where drinking coffee makes me psychic.”
She gently slapped my shoulder. “You’re hilarious.”
“No really. I can prove it to you.”
So I proved it to her; I got out my stash of super-concentrated coffee and drank some and repeated her thoughts. She ended up sitting in a chair in the corner of my room, staring at me while I fidgeted on the bed.
“Well?” I asked.
“Wow,” she said.
“I know. It’s crazy. I thought maybe my parents had never given me coffee because they knew, like maybe it ran in the family, but they have no idea.”
“Are you afraid of me? Are you going to turn me in to the government so they can experiment on me and make supersoldiers?”
She laughed and sat beside me again. “No, dear. Not at all. I’m just stunned. This is incredible.” She laid her hand on my arm.
My vision flashed white and her mind roared into mine. I pulled away and curled up, moaning.
“Hey, I’m sorry, did I do something?”
I rolled onto the floor and lay flat on my back, gasping. After a minute I relaxed and looked up at her worried frown. “It’s okay,” I said.
“A mind-meld. If your bare skin touches mine while I’m high on coffee, your mind gets, er, downloaded into mine.”
“And that means…my whole mind? Everything?”
“All your memories, with thoughts and feelings included. It’s really quite freaky.”
“Oh my goodness.”
I got up and crawled into bed. “Actually I think I like having you in my head.”
She leaned over and kissed me again, and at that moment someone rapped on my door while simultaneously opening it. I squealed and yanked a blanket over me. My classmate jumped up but it was too late. I burrowed deeper into the bedding.
Mom said, “What?”
My girlfriend said, “Hi.”
I just stayed under the sheets.
The rough wooden door made a dull thunk when I knocked, and it felt like it dented my knuckles. A minute of fidgeting later, the door opened and my big hairy dude stood there. He looked at me, at my companion, and back at me.
“Hi,” he said.
“Hey, I’m sorry, I kind of freaked out back there at the café.”
“It’s not a problem. I understand.”
He means it, even though he really doesn’t know what’s up.
“I wasn’t sure you did, so that’s why I’m here. Well there’s other reasons too. One thing at a time. As explanation for my hasty retreat yesterday…this is my girlfriend.”
“Hi,” the girlfriend said.
He nodded at her. And then he understood. “Ah…”
“Yeah, well, that’s the other thing. Mom barged in last night and to make a long screaming match very short, I don’t have a place to live anymore.”
He stepped back and opened the door wide. “Sure you do. I’ve got an extra room upstairs, complete with a private bathroom.”
“Oh my gosh really?”
“Rent free, too.”
I hugged him. “Thank you. A lot. So much thanks. Of course when I get a job I’ll help with rent.”
He chuckled. “No problem. And what happened at the café isn’t a big deal. I totally understand.”
We went in and sat on his nice poofy couches and I listened to his thoughts and he really was okay. Such relief.
I leaned back and laughed with my hairy dude and the girlfriend, and we talked and ate pizza and brainstormed wild schemes to make good use of my caffeinated psychic abilities.