coffee confessions by phoenix.writing

10 Oct

Bob marched back out to the front and slipped behind the counter, feeling suddenly bereft and a little bit lost in what should have been perfect routine.  Emily shot him a commiserating glance, but he ignored her.

He wasn’t about to tell anyone that he had got told off by the manager for not being friendly enough, though he supposed that Emily was actually one of the people he was supposed to emulate; she was always bubbly and chatted with anyone.

The thought of Bob doing the same was laughable, and he didn’t understand why Jody didn’t see that.

She was right as far as she went, he supposed.  No, he didn’t know the names of the customers, but he remembered them, and he made sure that they got their beverage of choice.  Was that not enough?

According to Jody, apparently not.  He needed to do more, needed to be properly friendly, dammit.

Bob could think of nothing he’d like to do less than try to chat up people he didn’t know.

But if he wanted to keep his job, never mind that he was shy and they were now straying into territory that more closely resembled the ninth level of hell for him.

Friendly.  He would try to be friendly.

He very conscientiously asked the next 24 different people how they were–and managed to get flustered enough when they started asking about his life that he tried to give someone fifty-three dollars in change.

Emily took pity on him and shifted him off the cash.  Making the coffee at least involved less vocal interaction with people, and mindful of Jody’s admonishment, Bob made sure that he made eye contact and smiled at every person he gave coffee to.

He was pretty sure that it shouldn’t feel this stressful.

It helped a little when it was one of his regulars.  They already knew he didn’t talk much, and they were happy enough to engage Emily in conversation and just let him give them their coffee.

There was non-fat, half-caf latte with a drizzling of caramel, and after her came extra wet cappuccino with chocolate sprinkled on top, and then the vanilla frappaccino with extra whipped cream.

These were the business people who were reliable.  They didn’t vary their routine much and always seeming appreciative of Bob’s efforts–even if he didn’t engage them in a whole lot of conversation.

The caramel was always drizzled into a sun or flower or something nature-related.  The chocolate sprinkles were done geometrically–definitely a numbers man, that one–and the whipped cream was generally shaped into a small castle.  Bob enjoyed doing it.  The customers enjoyed receiving it.  Why did he have to be more friendly?

He sighed.  Because the manager said so.

He tried not to answer monosyllabically if they asked him how he was, tried to be extra specially polite and to come up with some sort of question to ask at least every other customer so that it looked as though he were making an effort.

Overall, though, he thought that dismal failure about summed his effort up; he didn’t sound casual and interested like Emily did, he sounded forced and awkward.

And then 2:07 latte man showed up at 2:12pm, and there was nothing premeditated in Bob’s, “Are you all right?”

Clearly, the man was not.  He looked positively haggard, and Bob found himself genuinely concerned.  This was the man who’d told them with a crooked smile and a wink that he was here to get their excellent coffee and not on his honeymoon because the bride had eloped with another man on the day of the ceremony; Bob couldn’t imagine what had happened now to make him look like this.

2:07 looked at him a little blindly, as though he couldn’t work out what he was doing here.

“Are you all right?” Bob repeated.

“I made the worst mistake of my life.”

Bob was surprised when he heard himself saying, “Do you want to talk about it?”

2:07’s blue eyes were anguished as they locked onto Bob.  “Yes.”

Bob made a latte in a mug with a chaotic swirl of foam and coffee on top, fat harsh lines that seemed to fit the mood.

He went to tell Emily that he was going on break.  She raised an eyebrow but thankfully didn’t protest the strange action; Bob didn’t take breaks normally, certainly not with customers.

Bob found himself a few moments later perched on a chair at a back table with 2:07 sitting across from him, cradling the latte and staring down at it as though it held all the answers to the universe.

“You made a mistake?” Bob prompted, half of his mind still wondering what the hell he thought he was doing.

2:07’s fingers were clenched so hard around the porcelain that the skin had gone white from the pressure.

“I destroyed a friendship I’ve had since I was a kid.”

Bob considered.  “Sounds like a lot of years to mess up with one mistake.”

2:07 was still staring into his mug.  “Some things are unforgivable.”

“What happened?”

“There was an accident.  Stacey was pregnant.  We weren’t sure if she and the baby were going to make it.”

“Did you cause the accident?” Bob asked when no more information was forthcoming.

“No, no, some idiot of a drunk driver caused the accident. I told the hospital that it was my baby.”

“And it wasn’t your baby?”

“It is, but I was just the donor so that Stacey and Linda could have a baby.”

This still wasn’t making enough sense for Bob to follow.  “And you weren’t supposed to say?”

“No, that was fine.”

There was a reason Bob didn’t try to strike up conversations with people he didn’t know.

2:07 kept going on his own this time.  “Stacey had to be operated on, ended up in intensive care.  I said I was the family.”

Finally, a glimmering of understanding. “They wouldn’t let Linda in.”

The other man nodded, staring down at his coffee again.  “We were such a mess, all frantic, I didn’t think about it.  I didn’t even notice that Linda was told she couldn’t come in.  She said she had to go, I didn’t really think about it, you know, I was so worried about Stacey, and I didn’t realise until the next day what I’d done.  I tried to call, but by then it was too late.  She won’t even speak to me, and I can’t blame her.   I met Aeshan before she did.”

“He’s your son too,” Bob pointed out.

2:07 frowned at him.  “I contributed some genetic material.  That doesn’t give me any rights.”

“There are lots of ways to get anonymous donations.  If she asked her best friend, I assume that’s because she wanted you in their life.”

“Not anymore.  I screwed everything up.”

Bob spoke with more authority than he felt.  “It sounds to me like you need to sit down and discuss this.  Anyone can see how upset you are, and I’m sure if you explain yourself she’ll realise that you were inadvertently thoughtless, not malicious.”

“There’s a baby in the house, and Stacey is still recovering from the accident.  Linda won’t even open the door, and I can’t hound them.”

“Then you need to give her a reason to open the door.  A peace offering.”

“I can’t undo time.”

Bob smiled.  “I was thinking a little smaller than that.  Coffee.  Something caffeine-free for Stacey.  I’ll make them especially.”

The man met his eyes again.  “Would you?”

“Of course.  I’m sure it’s fixable.”

Bob hoped it was fixable, but he hated seeing the man like this.  2:07 was always patient and friendly and had a smile for Bob and everyone who worked here.

“What if it’s not?  What if she just throws the coffee in my face?”

“Do you think she’s less likely to throw coffee in a stranger’s face?  I could come with you, if you want.”

Bob had no idea where the words had come from.  It was a completely nonsensical notion, completely insane, and–

“Would you?”

–and Bob was completely screwed because 2:07 was looking at him like they were in a life preserver/drowning man scenario.

“Of course.  Clearly, this is a noble cause.”

And there was a snort of reluctant laughter and a glimmer of the demeanour Bob remembered.

Bob held out his hand.  “I’m Bob, by the way.”

The other man clasped his hand, and Bob could feel the fine tremor in it.  “David.”

Bob rose to his feet.  “Come on, David, let’s go fix this.”

It was Jody who had told him to be friendlier, after all, and there were some things that were more important than making coffee.


David, Stacey, and Linda have shown up previously in Cold Feet, Peacekeeping, and Looking and Listening.


One Response to “coffee confessions by phoenix.writing”

  1. ingridfnl October 12, 2010 at 8:34 pm #

    This made me teary. I loved it. I got lost in the story and forgot about the writing. Thank you. x

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