Andrew aimed for the bin next to Nicky’s desk and sighed when his coffee cup clattered to the floor next to it, the logo facing towards him as if to mock his failure. Bee would probably tell him that it was just a piece of cardboard, but he was refusing to talk to her at the moment because she’d told Nicky in his session with Erik that Andrew actually cared about him; which, he steadfastly retained, was not true in the slightest.
It definitely was the cup’s fault, and not Neil Josten’s. Because there was no way Andrew was getting this distracted by a boy with pretty cheekbones, so it was clearly just the vast amounts of caffeine he was consuming, and not the fact that he was spending every lunch break at Beanie’s and drinking their shitty coffee just to watch the way Neil scowled at every customer except him.
Maybe he’d go and get more coffee after he’d turned in these reports.
Andrew was shaken out of his reverie by Wymack’s gruff voice from across the cubicle.
He didn’t display his distaste, because he had a reputation to uphold and that involved presenting his carefully cultivated blank mask at all times, but he sighed internally when Wymack continued.
“So, I was trying to print something, and I think I might have sent it to your printer.”
Andrew reached down and pulled up the offending documents, handing them over silently. Internally, he was repeating the very simple fact that his own printer was an HP Inkjet, and that Wymack’s was an HP Laserjet, but he decided that if the man was stupid enough to have done this three times in the last week, then it was a lost cause.
If he was honest with himself, Wymack wasn’t bad as colleagues went. He put up with Andrew’s shit and let him steal his alcohol, and he kept quiet, unlike Nicky. His kid was really fucking annoying, but Andrew had owed Wymack a favour, so he’d turned up at the custody battle for Kevin, and given a character witness. He wasn’t quite sure how Kevin had ever managed to get himself a girlfriend, because surely no eighteen-year-old was this focused on obscure historical facts and his high school lacrosse team. There was no accounting for taste, he supposed.
So yeah, Wymack was alright. But Matthew Boyd, with his too-white teeth and knowing smirks whenever they ended up at Beanie’s at the same time, was not. Not only was Matt always there to witness Andrew fumble around Neil while he visited his girlfriend, he had also not given up on this fucking softball league.
“Hi Andrew!” There was another reason- the man was too damned happy, it was unnatural. He had a photo of Dan on his desk and a ring on his finger, and never shut up about either of them.
“Hey, so were you going to sign up for the company softball league?”
Andrew refused to look up at him and highlight the slightly ridiculous height difference between them, so he stared directly at his screen as he answered.
“Oh.” Matt’s smile faltered slightly, and Andrew felt a slight rush of satisfaction that dissipated as soon as he plastered back on an even bigger grin than before.
“It might be fun! You could invite that barista-“
Matt stopped abruptly, probably because of the knife to his thigh.
“Oooooh!” That was Nicky, who was unfortunately out of stabbing range. “The ginger one? The ‘Latte Hahtay’? Oh my god, if he didn’t glare at me every time I walked into Beanie’s, I would invite him to me and Erik’s-“
Andrew thankfully didn’t have to listen to the rest of that sentence, because Nicky’s phone rang.
“CCRP Technical, this is Nicky, how can I help?” There was a pause, then Nicky smiled. “Oh, hi, Erik! How are things down at the precinct? Oh, I’m sorry to hear that, well my day’s been gr-“ He cut himself off, then grimaced slightly. “Oh, how late? Yeah, I know you’re busy. I’ll see you tonight, don’t work too hard, alright, baby? We’ve got a session with Bee on the weekend, okay? Alright, love you.”
Andrew had tuned him out, but looked at him when he finished the latest line of incessantly dull text on his Word document. “I’m going to go get some coffee from Beanie’s, anyone want to come? Wymack?”
Wymack looked up, slightly startled. “Oh, I can’t, I have to keep refreshing this webpage. I’ve got Kevin for one more night before he goes back to Clivesdale, and his uncle, just to make me look small, too him all the way to New York to see Hamilton,”
Andrew wrinkled his nose slightly. God, if there was one thing he disliked more than Matthew Boyd, it was musicals. He didn’t hate them- to hate something you had to invest a certain amount of emotional energy into it, so he reserved his hatred for the likes of Neil Josten.
Wymack continued, a slight note of surprise in his voice. “And he loved it!”
Well, Andrew supposed Hamilton was close enough to historical accuracy to pique Kevin’s interest, even though it was vaguely surprising that Kevin had managed to watch anything for two hours without snide comments. Like he said, the kid was annoying.
“So, to prove that two can play at that game, I’m on HotTix right now, and the moment more become available, I’m getting two tickets for tonight. The touring production of Mamma Mia, at the old Starlight theatre in downtown! Hey, you want to tag along?”
Andrew didn’t have to think about it. “No.”
Wymack pretended he hadn’t heard him. “Kevin would get a kick out of it. Remember when you looked after him that one time, while I had to get an operation?”
Andrew remembered everything. Kevin had been bad enough at fifteen, and he’d only got worse. “No.”
“You got other plans, Minyard?”
Andrew looked directly into his eyes. “Nope.” He popped the ‘p’, because at heart, he was an asshole.
Wymack looked vaguely offended, but not surprised. “I’m trying to reconnect with my teenage kid, and you’re just going to leave me hanging?”
Andrew started walking towards the exit. “Yeah.”
Wymack yelled after him. “Get me a caramel frappe, at least, you dickhead!”
Andrew smirked slightly, until he almost walked into Riko, who was skulking around the reception desk as usual. The man looked up, then saw Andrew putting his wallet into his back pocket and sneered. “You going to Beanie’s to eye up the barista again?”
Andrew had to focus on Bee’s voice in his head and the last warning note tucked into his drawer telling him that if he pulled one more knife on a colleague he was going to be escorted out by security.
“See, Andrew, I’d come along, but I don’t want to ‘show you up’, you know what I mean?”
Andrew kept his blank face firmly in place, but Riko decided not to take this as the obvious conversation-ender that it was.
“Andrew, come on. I know why you walk that extra block, instead of just going to Starbucks across the street.” His tone was full of thinly-veiled disgust. “You know, the ginger one that Nicky calls the “Latte Hottie”?”
Andrew had always hated the nickname, but somehow it sounded even worse in Riko’s pompous and overly-enunciated voice. He shouldered out of the building, ignoring Riko’s shout after him to ‘get him a chai iced tea’. Fuck Riko.
Neil wiped down the counter for the twentieth time as a guy he vaguely recognised sauntered up to the counter, not even looking up from his phone as he texted.
“Can I get a grande caramel frappe in a venti cup, with ten pumps of hazelnut, three shots of espresso, no caramel drizzle with whip on top?”
It was Seth, he realised, Allison’s asshole boyfriend who’d picked her up last week, but more importantly, what kind of tooth-rotting bullshit was that order? But he had a job to do, and this was one of the better jobs he’d found in the last two years, even with Dan and Allison cooing over him, so he gritted his teeth and smiled blandly.
“Sure. That’ll be five dollars fifty.” If he’d added a tiny bit to the price tag in payment for Seth’s disgusting taste in coffee, then no-one had to know.
Seth scowled. “Jesus, fine.”
Neil realised his plan might have backfired slightly when Seth eyed the new sign on the tip jar and got a malicious glint in his eyes. He stuffed a wrinkled dollar into the jar, then leaned against the counter and smirked. When Neil pretended he hadn’t noticed, Seth drew his attention loudly.
“Hey, short-stuff, I just tipped you.”
Neil replied with his customer service smile firmly in place. “Oh, well thank you.”
“Aren’t you supposed to sing? The sign says to tip for a song.”
Neil’s cheeks were hurting with the force of this smile. “Yeah, that’s like a new thing- the owner, Hernandez, went to Cold Stone Creamery over the weekend and brought back the whole singing thing, but, you know, there’s a line and people are working, so I don’t want to disturb anyone, so-“
Seth puffed out his chest. He seemed to be taking this pathetic effort to undermine Neil’s masculinity quite seriously. “Hah, yeah, I don’t care. I just tipped you, come on.”
Neil let the customer service smile drop. “Okay, well did you do that to be nice or did you do it to be an asshole?”
“Fine, I’ll take it back then!” True to his word, Seth fished the dollar out of the jar, and Neil sneered mockingly at him, gasping dramatically.
“Oh no! What am I gonna do without that DOLLAR I have to split with five other people?”
Not to mention, Allison got a share of those tips too. But he counted it as a win, because apparently he’d pissed Seth off enough to get him to wait until Allison’s shift was over outside, grumbling as he went and slamming the door rather loudly.
Neil held up his middle finger as Seth left, and was interrupted by Dan’s rather pointed cough from behind him. Shit.
“Neil, what’s the deal over here?”
“Uh, Seth just flipped out for practically no reason.”
A girl in the line to pick up her drink stepped forward, flashing Neil a glare. “He wouldn’t sing for him.” Neil cursed as he realised it was the girl that had asked for his number a week ago. He hadn’t even realised that Marissa or whatever her name was had been flirting with him, until Allison had informed him, seeming delighted. He’d politely declined when she next spoke to him, but apparently she hadn’t taken it well, because she hammered the nail home with a toss of her hair and a snooty look towards Dan.
“And I still haven’t gotten my hot chocolate.”
“Sorry, we’ll get right on that,” Dan assured her, then turned to Neil as Marissa retreated to the line with a mutter that she had ‘very low blood sugar’.
“Jesus, Neil, I already warned you twice! We have to be nice to the customers, even if Allison does have shit taste in men. I know you don’t want to sing, so Allison’s got you covered-“
“Where is Allison, anyway?”
“She says she’s on ‘vocal rest’? I’m not sure, but she’s out back drinking a tea with honey. You’re lucky she majored in musical theatre, because Hernandez wants us to learn this dance for tomorrow- yes, you have to do that one, honey.” She ruffled his hair fondly, and Neil tried not to flinch. “Now move your ass, you’ve got a line.”
Dan retreated into the back room, and Neil turned back to the coffee machine, throwing his towel over his shoulder. He shouldn’t have stayed this long- it wasn’t god that Dan and Allison were fond of him, that they knew his coffee order and that he’d never watched a Disney movie. Allison had been inviting him over for weeks; if his mother was here they’d be out of the country with new identities faster than he could blink.
But Neil couldn’t quite bring himself to leave the easy familiarity of Hatchetfield- sure, he’d picked it because it was so empty, houses standing empty in the endless rows of old people’s homes, because the average age of the town was about ninety. It was easy to find somewhere relatively comfortable downtown to squat in, an empty two-bedroom bungalow that still had hot water running to it. Hatchetfield only had one exit, the island connecting to Clivesdale by a bridge that was up for the winter season, but he reasoned that meant there was only one exit he had to keep an eye on for intruders. There was a strong small town mentality here- everyone knew everyone, and he’d been relying on local gossip to warn him if his father’s people showed up, but he should have known that the inherent friendliness of the Hatchetfield residents meant they were just as keen to gossip about him too.
Well, apart from one. Neil let himself give Andrew a small smile when he walked in, and didn’t mind the way Andrew stared blankly back at him. That was basically joy for Andrew, and besides, his indifference was a hell of a lot better than Matt’s exuberance and faint aura of golden-retriever.
Andrew’s order was just as ridiculous as Seth’s had been, if he was honest, but somehow he didn't mind. Although, Neil couldn’t help his slight grimace as he handed over a concoction of caramel, whipped cream, sugar, and far more milk than actual coffee.
“Jesus, Andrew, how do you drink that?”
Andrew looked him dead in the eyes and slurped half the cup down. Neil was intimidated and slightly impressed. He dropped a five-dollar bill into the tip jar, and Neil grinned.
“Want me to serenade you, then?” Neil cleared his throat, and dramatically opened his mouth before Andrew slammed his hand on the counter.
Neil pulled out the fiver from the jar. “Yeah, well, if I have to sing for it, it’s not really a tip, right? It’s just like I have another shitty-paying job on top of my already shitty-paying job. Cause, I mean, most of my tips are less than a buck? So after the split, I’m making, what, not even 25 cents a song.” He jabbed a finger. “That, my friend, is less than a fucking jukebox. Only a jukebox doesn’t also have to make coffee for these assholes!”
He paused. “Not that you’re an asshole. Well, maybe you are- you gonna snitch on me if I keep this?”
Andrew nodded. “That’s for you. I don’t give a shit about your coworkers.”
Neil’s face split into a grin. “Yeah, Allison’s nice, but Sheena and all her little theatre friends that she hired will not shut the fuck up about some shitty production of Godspell they did last summer.”
“Nicky made me go watch that. I didn’t like it.”
“God, I’m glad I only started here in September, otherwise Dan would have made me see it in the name of ‘company spirit’.”
Andrew took a long sip from his hellish concoction. “I don’t like musicals.”
Neil leaned forward, elbows resting on the counter, and didn’t miss the way Andrew’s eyes flicked down to his mouth. “So why’d you come to the singing coffee shop? You know, there’s a Starbucks across the street.”
Andrew considered him for a moment, taking another sip. “You are a problem.”
Neil didn’t have time to work out what that meant, because Marissa’s annoyingly shrill voice piped up again. “Excuse me! I have been waiting a very long time!”
With his customer service smile plastered back on, Neil looked away from Andrew in annoyance. “Sorry, I’ll get right on that.”
By the time he’d handed over the offending hot chocolate, Andrew was gone.
Ah shit, Andrew thought. He’d forgotten Wymack’s caramel frappe.