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latte on the terrace

24 Oct

“Oh God, it’s her again.”  Mickey said looking out the glass door to see a familiar woman walking up the path.

For the past two weeks she had been coming by the Java Junction every afternoon, and every afternoon she had caused a ruckus.  The after-work crunch was the second busiest time of the day for the small cafe and customers often had to wait ten to fifteen minutes in line before being served.  Most of the regulars were used to the wait and chatted amongst themselves but the arrival of this woman and her damned dog made Mickey’s job as manager a living hell.

Mickey looked around behind the counter and nodded to Sarah.  “You — go outside and tell her to grab a seat on the terrace and we’ll bring her a latte.  There are fifteen people in line none of us need to listen that mangy little creature barking for the next twenty minutes.”

Sarah looked reluctant but eventually moved around the counter towards the door before the woman had a chance to come in.  As a regular barista Sarah had seen the dog take a nip at more than one customer.  Mickey did not blame her for being cautious but someone had to go.

“Bob,” he barked at the guy beside him. “Make the chick on the terrace a decaf latte with extra foam.  Since I can’t make you smile at any of the other customers I am going to assume that you do better with dogs.”

Bob nodded quietly and started to heat the milk for Emma’s drink.  He may have been chastised for being unfriendly with the regular customers but he was willing to bet that he was the only one on staff who knew the woman’s name.  He had been saying hello to Emma everyday for two weeks while all of his co-workers were too busy sneering t her and her dog.

When he was finished preparing the latte just the way that Emma liked it he grabbed a coffee for himself, a few napkins and headed out to the terrace.  “Hey Mickey,” he shouted over his shoulder.  “I’m going to take my break.”  If Mickey objected he did not hear him over the customers chatting in line.

As the door closed behind him Bob took a deep breath and then walked over to Emma’s table with her drink.  “Here you go Madam,” he said putting the cup on the table with some extra flourish.   “May I join you?”

Emma smiled and pointed to the chair beside her.  “I would love that thanks.”

As he sat down Bob noticed that Emma looked tired.  Usually well put together, he noticed that today her hair seemed a little messy and her eye make-up had smudged into a black smear under her eyes.

“Rough day?”

“It has been hell actually.  My ex just flew across the country unannounced to ask that I return a pair of earrings he gave me on our six month anniversary.  I am not sure if I am more annoyed that he made the request or that he had the nerve to walk into my office as if we were still friends.”

Emma grabbed her purse and started rummaging around for a Kleenex to dab her teary eyes as Bob took a sip of his coffee pretending not to notice.

“Snookie decided that today would be the perfect day to pee on one of the firm’s best client’s shoes then took a nip at one of my best accountants.  As I left today I believe my staff was in the process of voting on what they hated the most:  Snookie, me or any idea that came out of my mouth.”

“Wow,” Bob said with a chuckle.  “And I thought I had it bad trying to juggle my manager Mickey and a cranky art professor.”

“Are you in art school?” Emma asked.  “Please tell me about it.  I wanted to go to art school but my family insisted that I take business instead.  When your last name is Stone your priorities need to be as follows:  the firm, the family then your happiness.  The firm won out and now I am in line to take over Marsters, Stone and Shore whether I like it or not.”

“I hear ya,” Bob said.  “When I went to art school my old man threatened to disown me.  ‘I have not spent the last fifteen years slaving away so that my family can turn their back on my legacy.’  We haven’t talked in five years.  My mom used to ask if I needed cash but I am not taking a cent from them.  I love my mom but I have to do this on my own even if they do have more money than they know what to do with.”

“Wow, I think you are my hero,” Emma said with a smile. “My grandfather took me in after my folks died.  He has been telling me ever since that day how I have been a disappointment to him.  I think he expected me to be taking over his job in the firm by now so he could retire.  Instead he has been forced to hide me away in Chicago trying to forget how I have let him down.  I am sure he has already had his lawyer look for ways to disown me and adopt my ex who is his top sales guy.”

“Well, I don’t know about hero.  Right now my biggest claim to fame is doodling in the foam of my favourite customer’s latte.”

Emma looked down at her cup and smiled.  “Is that Snookie?”

Bob smiled as Emma started to chuckle and shake her head.

“Thanks.  I think the only thing that would make my grandfather happier than adopting Iain,” Emma continued, “is to see Snookie made into a rug.”

“He’ll have to get in line behind Mickey on that one,” Bob said.

“I know he is a pain in the ass,” Emma said as she picked up Snookie and began to finger his long pointed ears.  “But this little dog is all I have left right now.  He may bark up a storm but I love him.”

“I get it,” Bob said.  “He’s a Chinese Crested, right?”

“How did you know?”  Emma asked.  “Usually people just call him a rat dog.  When I was a little girl, we used to visit one of my dad’s business partners.  The guy’s wife was always really nice to me.  Anyway, she had a little dog like Snookie here and I adored it.  Granted, that dog was much better behaved than mine.”

“Oh, you only saw her on her good days.  Mocha could be a pain in the ass too,”  Bob said looking up at Emma.

Emma’s mouth fell open as she looked at Bob.

“I knew you didn’t recognize me.  I’m Bob, but my folks still call me Robert.  Robert Marsters.”

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flourish by ingridfnl

10 Oct
Wet Cappuccino with heart latte art

flourish

Bob was just adding a final leaf to the foam rose for the cappuccino which sat in front of him when his boss, Peter, tapped him on the shoulder. He nodded towards the long line of customers who were standing impatiently in line and said, “Really? Five minutes for a cappuccino? We’re going to lose all of our customers if you don’t speed it up.”

Bob nodded to Peter and looked down flushed, “Sss-sorry sir. I’m just… ”

“Now, I can see that you’re putting some real effort into your creations, but I think you should just give this last one to lady waiting so we can carry on with business.”

Bob looked up quickly meeting the eyes of the waiting customer and handed her the frothy coffee concoction. She looked down at the coffee and then back up at Bob and smiled broadly. “This is beautiful! You’re so talented!” Her face was so lit up with wonder that Bob had to look away.

Peter, still standing behind Bob, said, “Well, what do you say to the lady? She just paid you a mighty fine comment for all of your slow fancy diddling in the milk, so say thank you and work on your other orders…”

Bob was filled with two conflicting emotions. On one hand he was completely flustered by the reaction of the customer that his hands were now shaking and his face flushed but on the other hand… “diddling”. How dare he. How dare he underestimate the work and craftsmanship that Bob had put into designing each individual cup.

But, aware that Peter was still glaring at him, Bob looked up at the girl and said, stiffly, “Your welcome,” then immediately looked away and fulfilled the remaining orders–cappucinos, espressos, mochaccinos and chais, americanos, lattes, frappacinos and macchiatos– creating feather-light foam and limiting himself to a simple clover pattern or a fern. It seemed that today was not the day for his more elaborate brocade decoration he had worked out only the evening before.

Over the next half hour, the woman sat by the seat closest to the counter. Taking small sips of her coffee and looking up wistfully at Bob. From the lip of her large purse, on the seat beside her, her small dog’s head appeared. Now animals were not officially allowed in the cafe but Bob could not see the harm of the small pony-tailed Pomeranian. Bob saw her feed the small dog teaspoonfuls of foamed milk from a teaspoon. She would then grin shyly back up at Bob with still that light and wonder in her eyes.

Bob had never been looked at with wonder before.

His shift was about to end, and she was still there, and by this point, Bob’s heart was pounding in his ears because he knew he had to talk to her, the gentle woman with the now highly-caffeinated small dog who was now running in circles at her feet.

As a finale to his shift, he made a half-caf moccachino special with a shot of carmel-caper coffee enhancer and a dash of cinnamon. He then created an elaborate rendering of her dog in the foam on the top.

Holding the saucer of the cup with both trembling hands Bob walked towards her proudly and her dog ran frantically and territorially towards him, biting Bob’s ankle just as Bob reached her table.

(The lady in question was Emma, who previously appeared in “Dog Coat“.)

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.

prompt: barista bob

4 Oct
Description: Coffee cortado (An latte art exam...

Image via Wikipedia

For this week’s prompt, write about Bob. Bob is a barista and he takes his coffee seriously and as an art student produces amazing latte art. Bob can interact with any of your past characters.

Bob has recently been told by his manager that he needs to be friendly. The problem is that he is shy. One of your past characters manages to get him out of his shell.

Please submit your story by Sunday, October 11th and I’ll publish them around 9 pm CET!

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