Mocha’s sat on the edge of the city of Tempe. Slender palm trees towered overhead, blocking a few warm rays of the Arizona sun. Soon after opening, Mocha’s became a haven for college students, morning commuters, and night owls looking for free internet and a good cup of coffee.
Shiloh, a woman in her early thirties with hazelnut skin, stood behind the counter. Jade-green eyes peered out from behind a curtain of long, ebony hair. Distracted from counting snacks for sale near the register, she leaned over a notepad, doodling a sketch of a little girl in a field of flowers. Charity, her manager and friend, passed behind her. “Wow, Shiloh, pretty good for a doodle! Would be great if it had something to do with coffee.” Charity laughed.
“Oh, sorry, Charity,” Shiloh laughed back and returned to counting stacks of protein bars.
Shiloh and Charity shared a house east of Tempe. After repeated admissions for depression and suicide attempts, Shiloh had found herself out of work and homeless. Charity offered her a job and a place to stay. Shiloh never expected to work for someone like Charity. She was more than a boss. She was the first real friend she’d ever had.
Near the entrance to Mocha’s, where the aroma of freshly ground coffee greeted visitors, a bald man wearing scrubs sat reading a newspaper beneath the sprawling branches of a potted palm tree. A policeman in his thirties held the door open for a tall woman in shades of blue. The woman thanked him, and he followed her inside. A middle-aged woman with blonde highlights sat in a chair near a large window, phone in one hand, a cup of tea in the other. Wisps of steam drifted above a pair of coffee cups at the corner booth where a young couple exchanged flirting glances between sips.
The woman in blue stepped to the counter and studied the menu. “Good morning,” Shiloh said. “You look dazzling today! Can I get a drink started for you?”
“Oh, good morning! Thank you!” The woman glanced down at her caftan, moving her hand to arrange the waterfall of silk draped around her body. She wore a ring of raw stone wrapped in gold wire, the kind Shiloh had only seen in museum gift shops. “I’d like a small Americano, to go,” she said.
“Hot, or iced?”
Shiloh turned to a middle-aged woman stationed at the espresso machine. “Tina, I need a small, hot Americano, to go!”
“You got it, hon!” Tina called back, a bustling barista in a cappuccino-colored apron.
“That’ll be two twenty-five. Do you need a receipt?”
“No, thank you.” The woman handed Shiloh her credit card. She swiped it and handed it back.
“Tina will have that for you at the other end of the counter in a minute.” The woman dropped two dollars in the tip jar.
The policeman stepped forward. “Hi. Can I get a medium, iced, vanilla latte, to go?”
“Of course.” Shiloh’s sweater didn’t quite cover the length of her arms. From time to time, scars on her wrists could be seen. The officer saw them and glanced away. Shiloh tugged on her sleeves. “That’ll be three ninety-five. Do you need a receipt?”
Shiloh turned to a young, blonde man who wore a perpetual smile. “Tom, I need a medium, iced, vanilla latte, to go!”
“A medium, Robert Van Winkle latte, for the road!”
The man chuckled at the Vanilla Ice reference and handed her a ten-dollar bill. She smiled, made change, and handed it back. He tossed a dollar in the tip jar.
A young man with a crew cut wearing blue jeans and a teal short-sleeved shirt stepped forward. “Good morning, Jack.” Shiloh said. “What can I get for you?”
“Large, black coffee, please.”
“Room for cream?”
“That would be great.”
“Tom, I need a large, black coffee, with room for cream.”
“Large, black coffee, with an upstairs apartment for Ginger Baker, Jack Bruce, and Eric Clapton, coming up!”
Shiloh turned her head slowly and stared at Tom. She did her best to keep from laughing, then looked back at Jack. “Major Tom will have that for you in a minute.”
“I love this place,” Jack said as he walked to the pickup area.
Charity walked past Shiloh on her way to the little office behind the kitchen. “You’re doing great today, Shiloh,” Charity said quietly, with a smile.
Shiloh smiled back, “Thanks,” she said, “I feel good today. Really good.” She watched Charity walk away and pondered something she’d said recently. Something about gates. She still wasn’t sure she understood. They had been talking about Shiloh’s past, her diagnosis, and Shiloh’s hopes for a better life.
And then Charity mentioned gates—something about the human soul, trauma, and gates that needed repair.
Charity saw things in the invisible world. For her, life was like one long vision. Shiloh loved listening to her, even though she didn’t understand most of what she said. Charity talked about heaven like she had been there. She talked about angels like she knew them. She described things inside Shiloh’s mind that were difficult for Shiloh herself to explain, as if Charity could see them with her own eyes.
Shiloh knew of hidden places inside herself where the others lived. Over the years, people had assured her that the world she described was imaginary, but she couldn’t believe it was an illusion. It was a very real place with roads, rivers, bridges, homes, and yes, even some old gates. And Charity seemed to think those gates held the key to her happiness. Charity could be a little strange, Shiloh thought. But as strange as she was, no one had ever been as loyal a friend to her. Not even her boyfriend, Frank.
Frank was good-looking and he treated Shiloh well. He was the first man she had let herself think about in a long time. He paid for dinner and let her stay at his place. She’d always had problems with men, but Frank seemed different.
The sound of a motorcycle revving outside turned Shiloh’s thoughts away from Frank. She glanced out the glass doors at the entrance where a man in a black helmet and leather jacket rumbled by on a black Harley Davidson.
Gates. Really, Charity? Shiloh shook her head and went back to counting protein bars. The little girl in the sketch on her notepad looked up at her with a peaceful smile. Shiloh started sketching again and watched as a gate appeared behind the field of flowers.
This is an excerpt from my latest book, The Gates of Shiloh, available at the links below.