Aspen Roark used to hate her name. She had no idea why her parents would hang such a pretentious albatross around her neck, but her theory was that it had something to do with trying to ensure future popularity.
Someone named Aspen would inevitably have perfect hair, sit with the cool kids in the cafeteria, become a cheerleader, and date a jock who would go on to run a hedge fund.
Aspen had chosen an entirely different path. She dyed her hair a spectrum of enchanting colors (it was currently jet black with streaks of purple and red). She was the introvert who always sat alone in the cafeteria if she ever dared venture in there at all (who needed gross cafeteria food when the perfection of the peanut butter and jelly sandwich existed?). She preferred coffee shops to pep rallies, and was drawn to musicians who rarely had twenty dollars to their name, let alone a bank account.
On the day that an angst ridden high school version of Aspen had finally confronted her parent about her name, she’d discovered she’d been way off base.
Her parents had once seen pictures of Aspen, Colorado and declared it the most beautiful place they’d ever seen. When their only child was born, they still hadn’t settled on a name. Upon seeing her, however, and declaring her to be the most beautiful baby they’d ever seen, they knew that Aspen would be the perfect name.
After that, Aspen realized that her parents were pretty damn cool. They encouraged her to walk her own path. They totally supported her dream to be an artist. They went to gigs to cheer on the musician boyfriend of the moment.
When Aspen told them she didn’t want to go to college because true artists needed real life experience, they responded that she could use her college fund however she wanted.
Aspen eventually went to community college and took a few business courses so she’d better understand how to promote herself and her art. The remainder of the college fund was set aside for when she better knew how it should be spent.
Aspen loved to walk. There were many reasons for this among them: her hatred of cars (driving scared her, cars were bad for the environment, and did you ever try parking one in the city?), her refusal to ride public transportation (don’t even get her started on the germs and the fellow passenger creepiness factor!), and her love of being out in the fresh air.
She took various routes to work, often walking far out of her way just to explore a new section of the city. Aspen saw every moment of her life as potential inspiration for her art, so she tried to see as much of the world around her as possible to expand her horizons.
This particular morning’s walk took her past a street performer. He played guitar and sang a Foo Fighters classic quite well. There wasn’t much money in the beat up guitar case he’d set out on the sidewalk in front of him, but Aspen immediately decided that this had nothing to do with the guy’s talent, and was all about the lack of foot traffic on a January morning.
“That was beautiful,” she told him with a warm smile once the song was done. “I admire your tenacity to hit the streets in this weather.”
The singer shrugged and returned the smile. “It’s not that bad today. At least it’s not snowing. Besides, I do this for me. I love to play. It’s an added bonus if it attracts a crowd.
“I’m Aspen,” she introduced herself.
“Nice to meet you, Aspen,” he replied shyly. “Cool name.”
“I know,” she replied with a wink.
“This is the point where you’re supposed to tell me your name,” she explained with a mischievous grin.
The singer’s cheeks blushed. “So sorry about that. I’m Tex.”
“That would explained the hat,” she quipped as she pointed at his cowboy hat.
Tex touch the brim as if to make sure it was actually there. “It’s just something to keep my head warm. It’s not like I’m some cowboy trying to chase his dreams in the big city.”
Aspen chuckled. She considered herself to be an excellent judge of people, and she liked Tex.
“Well, if you ever want to play someplace with a roof over your head and some heat, I work at a cafe a few blocks down,” she nodded in that general direction as she searched through her bag. “The owner is always looking for live music. You should talk to her. I can definitely put in a good word for you.”
She finally found what she was looking for, and pulled it out of her bag. It was a yellow sheet of paper with black lettering and a drawing across the top. She handed it to him.
“Infinite Sheep Cafe,” Tex read aloud. “That’s a unique name for a coffee shop.”
Aspen nodded her agreement. “The owner is a bit eccentric.”
“Let me guess. She has insomnia?” Tex asked as he held up the flyer and pointing at the drawing.
It depicted a line of sheep waiting to jump over a fence and into an enormous infinity symbol that was surrounded by a rainbow aura.
“Gold star for the cowboy for correctly interpreting the name and the logo,” Aspen congratulated him with a quiet round of applause. “Something about counting sheep to infinity and still not being able to fall asleep. Like I said, she’s eccentric.”
“Cool logo,” Tex observed.
Now it was Aspen’s turn to blush. “Thanks. I designed it. Art’s kind of my thing when I’m not hustling coffee. But you should totally come by and talk to the owner about playing…”
Aspen’s inner alarm clock told her it was time to get moving. More so because she didn’t want to be so drawn to this total stranger, than because she was worried about being late for work.”
“I will for sure,” Tex promised. “What time is good?”
“What time is it now?” she asked. “I don’t wear a watch. Can’t deal with the constraints of time.”
She proved her point by holding out her wrists to reveal a slew of bracelets, ribbons, and beads, but no timepiece.
“A quarter to noon,” he provided a time check.
“Stop by a little after two,” she advised. “That’s after the lunch rush, but before the after school rush.”
“Will I see you there?” he asked and flashed his most hopeful smile.
Aspen simply shrugged and winked. Then she turned and headed off towards the cafe.
Tex played her off with the familiar opening notes of Pretty Woman.
Aspen giggled and waved, but did not look back because she didn’t want Tex to see that she was blushing again.
TO BE CONTINUED…