John likes mysteries. He spends all day at work solving them, diagnosing illnesses, adding two and two and getting cystitis (not personally), saving the world in his own small way. He goes home and reads twisting thrilling books, turns on the TV and watches crime solving programmes, switches over to a detective movie and saves the world all over again. And every morning he dips into the local independent coffee bar with his newspaper and ponders another mystery.
He has been making John’s coffee for him for almost six months now, ever since John accidentally discovered the warm, sweet-smelling haven crammed full of the softness of overly plump sofas and the hardness of chunky wooden barstools. Division. So the hand-painted sign across the door told him.
In an odd way, almost mysterious, the world had conspired to introduce him to the world of Division. He had been running late that Monday; a mid-night power cut had reset his alarm, not allowing him time for breakfast, let alone his coffee. The spring breeze had been keen, buffeting the commuters, tugging at the slack of John’s trousers as he walked, tantalising his nostrils with the aroma of freshly ground coffee beans as he passed a shop he had never before had reason to notice. He dipped inside on a whim, ordered a double macchiato to take out. The guy on the till was friendly and warm, giving him a smile with his change. John moved along to the other end of the bar to wait for his drink.
Sherlock had made it. He has made it almost every day since then. Not a young guy, probably not much younger than John, standing out amongst the students that make up the majority of the staff. Divided, like everything else in that place. Nothing matches at all, nothing fits together, but everything fits around each other. The bitterness of coffee and the sweetness of the freshly baked pastry, the white-lit front bar and the dim seating to the rear, the scruffy old man eating chocolate cake in the corner and the bright young suited thing sitting on a stool in the window.
Sherlock is tall, dark and silent. He has never spoken to John. Not once. Not one word. Mind you, John doesn’t take it personally, he doesn’t speak to any of the other customers. And hardly to his colleagues either. He just stands at his machine and crafts his own liquid art while the buyers look on.
It’s not that he ignores John. Far from it, in fact.
That first day he hadn’t even looked away from his machine. His capable hands had steamed the milk. Had ground and tamped and pulled and poured the coffee, frothed the rested milk, banging and swirling it out. Had marked John’s coffee with a somehow efficient flourish, setting the dark curls on his head bobbing with the movement, before clipping the plastic lid over the top and sliding it across the counter. All without him once looking up.
The second day Greg on the till had announced the order (‘macchiato, double, foam dash, take out’) and Sherlock had glanced over, as if noting John’s repeated presence, but the creative process was the same.
John had returned on the Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, but it wasn’t until the next Monday that anything changed. John left his flat twenty minutes earlier. Greg called over the order (‘macchiato, double, foam dash, in’) and Sherlock had hesitated for a split second, the hand that had stretched automatically towards the cardboard cups above his head pausing in mid-air as he registered the end of the order, and the modification. John’s coffee was served in a small white cup with a saucer and spoon, and instead of sliding it absently across the counter, Sherlock had turned, leaning over the wooden worktop to place it carefully on the edge near John.
His eyes were pale blue, long lashed and incredibly un-shy as they flicked up curiously from the dotted foam on the surface of the coffee. John had flashed a grateful smile and taken his drink, trying not to feel unnerved by the silent observation that burned his back as he strolled to an empty table, scooping up an abandoned newspaper on the way.
Six months later the routine is the same. John leaves his flat at the same time every day and pushes his way through the surprisingly stiff door to the coffee bar five minutes later. Greg doesn’t even bother to ask anymore. The two of them have gotten to know each other a little in the time John has been drinking there. Just the odd chat in the quiet moments. Greg owns the place, and he likes to know his regulars. John wants to ask him about Sherlock. But what would he ask?
There is one thing of which John is certain. Sherlock’s mouth may not do much, but his eyes do. John has never seen eyes so hungry. In the two seconds it takes him to lean over the counter and hand John his coffee, Sherlock’s gaze sweeps over him, drinking in every tiny detail, focussing on the spot he missed when shaving, or the scab healing on his finger, the tiny ink blot on his jacket sleeve. Sherlock passes his seat sometimes, carrying trays of glasses and mugs into the backroom, or bottles of milk, his forearms vein-lined under the weight. And always, if John looks up, Sherlock is watching. Occasionally John offers him a smile, a tightening of lips, a creasing of eyelids, a nod or tip of the chin. But receives nothing in return.
It’s Monday. Autumn is chilling the air, the resultant twinge in John’s shoulder makes him grumpy. The damp cold air brings with it stiffness, pain, old war wounds returning to taunt him. The mist in the air turns unexpectedly to rain two minutes after he leaves, which helps his mood very little.
Division is quiet, only a handful of other regulars that John knows well enough now to nod at in the street. He walked past once, later in the day and was surprised at how busy the place got. One of the benefits of having to be at work so early is that he gets a quiet coffee, in the same comfy armchair every day.
Greg greets him easily, leaning over the counter and sketching out a rota. John makes a concerted effort to straighten and even his gait, stretching through a tightness in his hip. They participate in the general inane pleasantries while he pays. He knows his coffee will be ready before he even gets over to the other end of the bar; Sherlock started on it as soon as John came in the door.
When he gets there, however, the counter is empty, his miniature mug still cradled in the long fingers curled around it. Sherlock is stood still, his hungry eyes devouring. John says nothing. For five seconds Sherlock looks, gaze darting over John, finally resting on his face. He places the cup down. There is no saucer. There hasn’t been for months now, he realises. Good, he hates saucers.
“Afghanistan or Iraq?”