Latte Art

by Chawanmushi (茶碗蒸し)


Nori Mendoza needed to pee. After having inhaled a Nutella latte, two crepes, and three pots of tea over the course of a four hour-long LSAT cram session, she finally left the Paris Creperie in search of a bathroom. This unfortunately led her straight into Peet’s Coffee & Tea. Too self-conscious to enter a shop only to use the restroom, Nori, much to her bladder’s dismay, first placed an order for a gingerbread chai latte.

After a guilt-free bathroom run, Nori was waiting for her fifth caffeinated beverage of the day when she noticed an exceedingly hot barista with frizzy curls and the reddest lips. She looked like River Song and Nori couldn’t help but sneak glances at the barista while pretending to read the menu.

“Nori, gingerbread latte!”

Shit, she even had an accent, South American and lovely. Nori, afflicted with, among many other things, a terrible insecurity around attractive people, let out an affirmative mumble and took her chai latte, studiously avoiding eye contact.

Somehow undeterred by Nori’s pathetic “Hrng,” Hot River Song Barista kept talking. “Best one on the menu, excellent taste. Enjoy!”

Nori tried, but failed, to reply like a normal human being. Her first attempt at a simple thanks was inaudible and during the second attempt, her voice cracked. Jesus fucking Christ. Nori decided to cut her losses and leave before she embarrassed herself even more, a frightening thought.

She had walked four blocks before she remembered the drink in her hand. She took off the lid to inhale the spices when she noticed the heart drawn in the foamed milk.

9:17:24 PM Nori Mendoza: kill. me. now.
9:17:30 PM Elena Du: …???
9:17:31 PM Nori Mendoza: there was a really hot barista at peets
9:17:32 PM Elena Du: !!!!!
9:17:42 PM Nori Mendoza: she drew a heart in my latte.
9:17:50 PM Nori Mendoza: DOES THIS MEAN SOMETHING??? or like is this normal coffee shop stuff???
9:18:01 PM Elena Du: oh. my. god!!!!!!
9:18:05 PM Elena Du: OH. MY. GODDDDD!!!!!!
9:18:09 PM Nori Mendoza: ????????????
9:18:15 PM Elena Du: she was flirting with you, you utter MORON.
9:18:16 PM Nori Mendoza: … oh.
9:19:34 PM Elena Du: yeah. did you talk to her? flash some cleavage? what were you wearing oh my god tell me everything!!!!!!
9:20:10 PM Nori Mendoza: … let’s… not… talk about it…
9:20:15 PM Elena Du: oh no.
9:21:29 PM Nori Mendoza: yeah, i uh. made noises.
9:21:30 PM Elena Du: oh sweet lord.
9:25:35 PM Elena Du: well go again, and next time, try not to be such a fail.

It took Nori two weeks to muster up the courage to go back to Peet’s, much to Elena’s disgust. Armed with her favorite red coat and battered green Chucks, she went in, determined to redeem herself and act like a normal human being. With such lofty ambitions, how could anything go wrong?

Well, to start, Nori pissed off the ten people behind her by taking forever to decide on a drink. She accidentally ordered a blueberry mocha and she saw no trace of Hot River Song Barista. It looked to be a shitty day with a shitty drink. However, when Nori went to wait for the coffee by the counter, Hot River Song Barista appeared and she was still extremely hot. Nori tried for a benign smile aimed in her general direction, and ended up with a grimace. The interaction would have been an utter failure, except Nori managed to catch a glimpse of Hot River Song Barista’s name tag–Marisol.

Seeing that her drink was almost done, Nori took a deep breath and prayed to her ancestors for a little help. She opened her mouth to ask if that was her drink, when Hot River, no, Marisol asked, “Nori, right? You were here two weeks ago?”

More than a little surprised, Nori stammered, “Y-yes.” There must have been some Mulan shit going on up there in the afterlife for an actual word to have emerged, in a normal pitch to boot.

“Thought so! It’s a pretty awesome name you have, hard to forget. Like the Japanese snack.”

“Mmm…” Nori would have been more irritated at the comment, except she heard it from everyone. And Marisol was ridiculously attractive.

“Is it short for Noriko?”

The rage was immediate and incendiary. It burned through all of Nori’s self consciousness and the rant streamed out. “No asshole, it’s short for Noricia. What, you think all Asians are the same?”


“No you do not get to fucking speak. You fucking thought I was Japanese. What, you think all Asians are the same? Newsflash, they aren’t. I’m Filipina, fucker and my last name is Mendoza. There’s more to Asia then your precious Japanese, fucking imperialist bastards. Fuck you.” She stormed out and in her shaking fury, Nori failed to see the phone number written in the foamed milk.

11:55:01 PM Elena Du: so… how’d it go???
11:58:12 PM Nori Mendoza: not ok. thought i was japanese. made nori joke.
11:59:04 PM Elena Du: ah.

Nori would have avoided Peet’s and the rest of Coolidge Corner for another month, except Brookline Booksmith was holding an author event with Felix Landauer, to promote his latest novel. Nori didn’t know anything about the new book, but she had ugly-cried over her copy of American Disillusionment, there was no way she was going to miss the event.

After Felix Landauer read a passage from his book, Nostalgia Street, the floor was opened up to questions. While Nori was wrestling with the wording of her question, a familiar lilting voice asked, “So, does Danny have a good time in California?”

Felix Landauer answered, laughing. “I’m tempted to say you’ll have to wait until the sequel–”

There was a mix of cheers and boos from the crowd, as they were torn between the dangled hope of a sequel and the need to know that Danny Perl found joy in California.

“But since that’s going to take a while, I’ll try to answer your question. Does Danny have a good time. Hm. Those who want me to be a more ‘serious’ writer–”

This time, there was a unanimous boo from the audience.

“–would like me to say no. The gravitas of tragedy and all that. But residing beside the various flora and fauna inside my gut is the feeling that yes, Danny had a fun time in California.”

“But. But was he loved again?” Nori couldn’t help it, the question, awkward and incomplete, exploded out of her. To Nori, the tragedy and heartbreak that was Danny Perl resided in the fact that Danny, who had loved many men, lost Andy Hamm, the only one who had loved him back.

Felix Landauer was surprised, and touched, by the quiet desperation in Nori’s question.

He gently replied, “Yes, I think so.”

As Nori was leaving the bookstore with her newly signed copy of American Disillusionment in hand, Marisol stepped in front of her.

“Look, Noricia, right?”

Nori considered ignoring Marisol and walking on, except Marisol kept talking. “Loved your question. Wait. Fuck. What am I saying? What I wanted to say was, I’m really, really sorry about last time.”

Stony silence.

“I was a moron and just. Yeah. Look, can I buy you dinner or something to make up for it?”

Nori wanted to refuse, but she was weak to the offer of free food. They ended up at Hops N Scotch, where Marisol attempted to thaw Nori’s icy demeanor with fried pickles, scotch eggs, and shrimp étouffée. Nori ate, but offered little else during the dinner as she was still pissed, after having encountered one too many asshole Japanophiles with an Asian fetish. (Some had even tried to chat her up using the same fucking Nori snack line, for fuck’s sake.)

Marisol didn’t help matters when she confessed to being an East Asian studies major. Nori was in the middle of a tremendously epic eye roll when Marisol explained, “I watched Sailor Moon. Cousins, my ass.”

Nori couldn’t help it; a snort of laughter forced its way out. Encouraged by the first sign of acknowledgment, Marisol asked which sailor scout was her favorite and Nori grudgingly mumbled, “Sailor Mercury.”

Nori didn’t mean to come back to Peet’s, except the LSATs were next week and she was fucked and in desperate need of some caffeine. She couldn’t even remember what she ordered, except for the part about a million shots, please and thank you. A couple gave her their table after getting a glimpse of her crazy eyes. In the span of seconds, the table was buried under a pile of color coded notes and test-prep books.

She was so immersed in her studying that she didn’t even realize her hazelnut latte had arrived. Sailor Mercury smiled up at her from the cup and Nori found the corners of her mouth helplessly tilting up.

7:17:13 PM Nori Mendoza: she drew me sailor mercury latte art.
7:17:17 PM Elena Du: SCREAMMMMMM
7:18:09 PM Nori Mendoza: and refused to take my money.
7:20:33 PM Elena Du: oh my god why does all the good shit happen to you ugh this is so not fucking fair what the ever loving fuckkkkkkk
7:21:24 PM Nori Mendoza: yeah being a magnet for japanophiles is just so great.
7:22:30 PM Elena Du: girl, shut up. you know you’re just being a hater now.
7:23:46 PM Elena Du: marisol isn’t like that and you know it.
7:24:15 PM Nori Mendoza: well she is an east asian studies major. idk that screams japanophile to me.
7:30:22 PM Elena Du: look asshole.
7:32:01 PM Elena Du: i get that it really fucking sucks when shitheads come up to you and go me love you long time, or like, nori yeah, i’d like to eat some of that. fucking not ok. but liking sailor moon and japanese shit doesn’t make marisol some creep.
7:32:59 PM Elena Du: i mean, for fuck’s sake YOU LOVE SAILOR MOON. and must i remind you OF YOUR STAGGERINGLY LARGE BL COLLECTION????
7:33:01 PM Elena Du: so stop being a hater
7:33:02 PM Elena Du: and shut the fuck up
7:34:20 PM Elena Du: and thank her for the free coffee (ugh all the good shit happens to the UNDESERVING)
7:34:32 PM Elena Du: and ask her out on a date.
7:32:44 PM Elena Du: uh after your LSATs I guess.
7:34:49 PM Elena Du: and wear your sheer button down with the black bra. It’s hot.
7:40:30 PM Elena Du: … are you listening to me???
7:55:18 PM Elena Du: you better do this, you hear me????

Nori decided to mull things over a latte, but Peet’s was bursting at the seams, so she walked over to the Starbucks two doors down. No hot, infuriating barista, but at least there was table space. She was disappointed though, by the sub-standard hazelnut macchiato. It wasn’t as good as the hazelnut latte from Peet’s.

She could still feel the warm rush of pleasure that washed over her when she first saw the drink, and the affection poured into making it. Much like Danny Perl, Nori was unused to being liked. It was not an unpleasant experience.

And Elena did have a point. For all of Nori’s ranting about Japan and otakus, she still had a bookshelf dedicated to Eyeshield 21, Nakamuri Asumiko’s Doukyuusei, and a shitton of Yoshinaga Fumi.

Plus, Marisol did have excellent taste in food. The fried pickles she chose were fucking delicious.

Nori made up her mind and walked back to Peet’s.

“I… uh thanks. Coffee. Would you. Dinner. Allston. Go?” Dear lord, could she be more pathetic? Ears flaming, she tried to make a run for it, except Marisol grabbed her sleeve.

“Yes, just. Wait until I’m done with my shift? I get off at eight, if that’s all right?”

In a horrible flashback to their first encounter, Nori’s voice cracked as she tried to say yes. She fled to the safe haven of Brookline Booksmith, but not before catching a glimpse of Marisol’s incandescent grin.

At eight, Marisol popped into Brookline Booksmith and found Nori sitting in a child’s chair, rereading American Disillusionment.

“Good book, no?”

“One of the best. Oh! Shit, it’s eight. Um. Sorry?”

“S’all good. Want to head out though?”

Nori caressed the spine of the book as she put it back on the shelf. She drew courage from the novel, and during their walk to Allston, they fell into an easy conversation about the book. When Marisol mentioned her love for Ethel Perlman’s fragrance, that spicy angry smell like pencil shavings, Nori knew she’d made the right choice.

When they got to Myungdong 1st Ave, Nori was a little nervous as Korean food wasn’t exactly mainstream, but she had been craving galbi-tang for the past month. She also wanted to see what Marisol would order. To Nori, ordering sushi, bulgogi, or bibimbap at a Korean restaurant was an indication of a serious character defect. Marisol chose to try gopchang bokkeum. She passed.

Nori was laughing when they left the restaurant and Marisol couldn’t help it, she leaned in to press a kiss on Nori’s red, red mouth. The kiss tasted of gochugaru and shikhae and it was impossible not to kiss back.

“Look, ehm. I don’t really know what I’m doing. But. I. Uh. Like you and. Ehm. Just. My place?” For once, the tables had turned and it was Marisol’s turn to flail around the sea of words, fear, and desire.

Nori remembered American Disillusionment and the deep Presbyterian fastness of Andy Hamm’s grip, and she nodded.

They walked back, hand in hand.

Nori stripped slowly, more than a little self-conscious. Marisol was golden and lovely, while Nori had a bad case of keratosis pilaris and nipple hair. But Marisol must have been blind or something, because Marisol swallowed and asked, “Can I?”

Nori blushed, but agreed. Marisol ran her lips over the wide expanse of Nori’s body, lavishing kisses on a shoulder, the curve of her belly, a nipple. Nori shuddered. Eventually, Marisol got to the seam of Nori’s cunt and she let out a low groan. “Fuck, you are so wet.”

Afraid her voice would crack again, Nori wordlessly brought Marisol’s hand to her clit. Marisol began to finger her and Nori moaned. Her nerve endings burned with pleasure as Marisol rubbed her clit, occasionally dipping into the wet heat of her cunt for moisture before coming back to circle the little nub. When Marisol moved down to use her mouth, that was it, Nori came.

After it was finished, she laughed and told Marisol, “That was so much better than my left hand.” She then gave Marisol a kiss and it was hot and dirty and joyous and by the end of it, they were both gasping for breath.

Later, Nori tucked a frizzy curl behind Marisol’s ear and whispered, “Thank you.”

Marisol smiled and the two of them lay there, sweaty and furiously happy as they drifted off to sleep.

Author’s Notes

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