“Okay, okay, okay, okay, okay,” Andrew tried to calm his pounding heart as he panted outside of Beanie’s coffee shop. He was standing hunched over, angled away from the glass window on the off chance that Neil was watching, because he’d never live it down if that annoyance saw him gasping for breath like a fish out of water.
“Okay, alright. This isn’t happening. Get a grip, Andrew, you’re hallucinating. Better yet, you’re still dreaming. You just told need to wake up, you need some coffee. That’s it. Just a nice cup of sugar and cream, make Neil cringe as he hands it over. Okay.”
He took a final deep breath, then tried and failed to pull himself together, straightening his tie and checking his hair in the mirrored surface of a car window before going in, because despite the fact that the world might be ending, Neil was working today, and he was pathetic like that.
The bell chimed as he walked in, and Andrew gritted his teeth at the musical sound. Neil was probably behind the wall, making coffee, so he pounded his fist against the counter and shouted, ignoring the old woman glaring at him and Matt’s evident confusion from where he was texting, probably waiting for Dan to come out.
“HELLO?!” There was no answer. “HELLO? Come on, God, I just want some fucking coffee!”
A piano played the opening to an upbeat tune, and Andrew stumbled back in horror as Neil swept in, coffee pot in the air and customer-service smile beaming.
And then, he began to sing.
“Black coffee, I’m your coffee guy-“. “NO!!!”
Neil paused, registering Andrew’s presence and obvious distress, and the smile dropped from his face as Andrew babbled. “No, not you too, Neil, for the love of God stop singing!”
Neil raised his hands in surrender, looking more than a little concerned. “Okay, okay, I’ll stop. Jesus, Andrew, when you said last month that you didn’t like musicals I didn’t expect you to go batshit crazy!”
Relief washed over him. “Neil. You’re... talking to me, like a normal person.”
Neil grinned as he swirled some milk into a mug. “Uh, yeah, and if my boss catches me, I’ll get canned. Uh, new company policy, not only do we have to sing when people tip, but when they enter, when they order, all the time apparently!” He gestured wildly, waving his hand around as he stirred a pot with no small amount of enthusiasm.
Andrew swallowed down the relief coursing through him that Neil was okay. If he mentioned it in one of their sessions, bee would tell him it was unhealthy to clamp down on his emotions, especially when they were good ones, but he was not going to admit how scared he’d been about a junkie who obsessed over lacrosse and drank coffee black like a heathen.
“Neil, I think there’s something terribly wrong with the world today.” He knew he sounded morbid, but Neil just sighed as he poured drinks.
“Yeah, fucking tell me about it. I spent the entire morning learning some dumb ass new tip song, I’m exhausted. Do you-?”
He stopped, because Andrew reached out a hand to pull Neil round the counter.
“Neil? Neil, Neil, come here.” Andrew manoeuvred them into the corner of the room, next to an old vinyl record player and a bookcase that were clearly only there for aesthetic appeal. Neil was looking up at him, utterly confused, and Andrew hated the soft trust in his eyes even when he was sure his own were wide and crazed.
“I feel like there’s something... sinister, infecting Hatchetfield, and I know this is gonna sound crazy... and not very scary... but it is scary if you think about the implications.” Andrew was getting very odd looks from the customers filling the shop, including Matt, who was trying not to stare as he took a long sip from his coffee.
Neil, though, looked terrified. He was breathing hard, as if he was about to have a panic attack, and his eyes were darting towards the duffel bag he always kept behind the counter. Andrew didn’t know what was in it, but Neil was primed to run. Which, if he was honest, surprised Andrew.
This rabbit only seemed to get even more interesting with every new thing Andrew learned about him. But whatever Neil was scared of, he doubted it was as much of an immediate threat as this, so he grabbed Neil’s shoulders and stopped him from running.
“Promise me you’ll think about the implications?” Neil dragged his eyes back to Andrew, and seemed to come back to the present, seemingly vaguely startled but not worried to find Andrew holding him.
“Uh, okay, okay, I promise.”
Andrew stepped back a bit, rubbing his face as he considered how to say this without making Neil think he was hallucinating. God, maybe he was. What were the side effects of his meds?
“Okay, Neil, I think the world is becoming...” He grimaced, face twisting as he spat out the next words. “A musical.”
The panic cleared from Neil’s eyes, and he seemed to breathe a little easier. Whatever reaction Andrew had been expecting, this was not it. Neil seemed to look again at his face, at the sweat beading on his forehead from running here, and the concern settled in again.
“Um, I’m going to get you some water-“
Andrew reached out, not touching him as he turned away but making him stop and turn to face Andrew again. “Don’t say anything. Let it sink in.”
Neil backed away reassuringly, holding his hands out to placate him as if Andrew was some kind of wild animal. “Okay, okay.”
Andrew could feel himself cracking. “Alright, now...” He reached out again, hands hovering near Neil’s face as his voice cracked. “Are you frightened?”
The idiot backed off even more. “Uh, yeah, I think I am starting to get a little frightened. Andrew, what’s going on with you? I think you should sit down-“ Andrew let Neil gently push him into one of the seats, just as Matt dropped a few dollars into the tip jar.
Immediately, Neil’s blonde coworker, Allison, he thought it was, called out loudly, seemingly summoned by money being stuffed into a jar. “Neil! Tip!”
Neil looked over his shoulder and grimaced. “Sorry, Andrew, I’ll be back in a minute okay, I’ll bring you a coffee, I gotta do this stupid tip song.”
He rushed back to the centre of the room to stand next to Allison and Matt’s girlfriend, Dan, joining them just as a jazzy song filled the room. They danced in a line, choreographed movements hat looked vaguely like an old-times chorus line.
“Get your cup of roasted coffee, your morning cuppa joe-y. We’ll make a jamming cup of java, mocha latte with the froth for you jack.”
Neil clapped his hands to the beat, doing the stupid dance in his stupid apron, with his stupidly perfect legs and his stupidly good singing voice, because of course this idiot was good at singing. Andrew had always known Neil would be the death of him, ever since he’d first seen him behind the counter six months ago, and the music coming out of his mouth only proved it.
“Frappuccino with the freshly-roasted mung beans, it’s a caramel drizzle mod in a cup!” Neil winked cheekily at Andrew as he sung ‘caramel’. Andrew wanted to kill him.
Even more so when the trio huddled together to smile at the customers as they pretended to pour coffee into a cup.
“With a drip, drip, drip drip, drip, and we’ll bring it right up!”
Neil and Allison danced backwards, humming, as Dan faced Matt, who was trying not to gawk at her legs as she sung to him.
“Hey, Mr Business, how do you do? Can we get a triple for you?”
Neil didn’t look particularly enthused to be dancing, dragging his feet slightly as he rushed back and rolling his eyes at the over-the-top shocked gestures they were making, but he sung along anyway.
“Decaf? Whaaaat? Decaf? Whaaaat?”
They swung their arms, harmonising in a way Andrew might have appreciated if he hadn’t harboured such resentment to both musicals, and running for his life.
“Dit dit, Dee de dit, Dee de dit, Dee de dit. And we’ll bring it right up!”
They danced around the room, handing drinks to charmed customers and Neil giving Andrew a glass of water he didn’t touch. Neil looked like he was about to say something, but Dan and Allison called his name, chiming out in harmony.
“Hold on, Andrew-“
He ran to the middle, and they did some kind of elaborate dance break, involving waving their arms and shaking their hips, and then most of the customers in the shop stood up as one, taking long sips of their drinks and letting out a satisfied “Ahh!”
Neil and his coworkers harmonised as they spun from one way to the other. “And we’ll bring it, and we’ll bring it, right, right, riiiight! And we’ll bring it right up!
Neil finished with his hands in the air, pausing when Allison and Dan danced backward, in what Andrew could now see was perfect synchronisation. Neil looked around at them, confused.
“Wait, hey! What’s this! There’s more to the dance?” He waved a hand in front of Dan’s smiling face. “Dan? Hey! You know what?”
His voice was slightly angry as he turned the music off. “Alright, alright, stop it!
Dan and Allison came to a stop, holding identical poses and wearing matching smiles as Neil gestured in confusion.
“What is that? A whole other A section? God, when did you learn that? You know what?” He threw his arms up, tossing down his apron.
“When I got this job, I signed up to serve coffee and cold, shitty pastries. If I wanted to be in a musical, I’d be in a damn musical! Yeah, that’s right, Allison. I know you like to think I’m some kind of child, or some sort of puppy you can play with and dress up, but I was in Brigadoon in high school and I fuckin’ killed it!”
He’d always had an explosive temper, Neil had. Andrew remembered him vaguely mentioning something about doing his junior year in Germany. Now, Neil gestured wildly, waving a hand at Dan.
“But now, I’m just trying to make ends meet so I can afford to move back to France, and I can do that just as easily, without anyone ruffling my hair like I’m their pet, down the street at Starbucks! I quit!”
Neil grabbed his duffel bag, moving back towards Andrew and the door, but Allison moved forward and Dan blocked his path. When they spoke, it was synchronised perfectly, with matching smiles wide.
“You can’t quit, Neil!”
Neil looked taken aback, his earlier explosion reeled in. He clutched his duffel bag, hunching in on himself as he looked between the two of them. “Yeah, I sure as hell can.”
The girls advanced slowly. “The song is so simple! We’ll teach it to you! Why, everyone here will be singing it soon!”
Neil and Andrew shared twin looks of horror before turning to watch every patron in the coffee shop cough and choke. Matt spluttered, eyes filling with panic as he tried to bang on his chest. he fell to the floor, gasping, then stopped very suddenly. He, and the 8 other customers, slowly stood up, matching expressions making them look eerie. Andrew had never seen the man so blank-faced, without his customary trademarked grin.
Neil’s voice was bordering on hysterical as he backed towards Andrew. “What are you talking about? Allison, what’s going on?”
The girls’ weren’t singing, but their speech sounded musical as they spoke as one. “They’ve all had their coffee. Their apotheosis will be upon them at any moment!”
Neil grabbed the coffee pot from the counter, flipping it open. “What did you do to their coffee?” He reached in and pulled out a handful of something gelatinous and blue, panicked eyes meeting Andrew’s even as he recoiled from the blue stuff.
The piano started back up, and Dan and Allison danced towards him menacingly as Neil ducked under their arms.
“Getcha cup of poisoned coffee! Your toxic cup of joe-y! We’ll make a twisted cup of java mocha latte with the goo for you jack, jack, jack, jack!” They advanced, clapping to the beat, and Neil let out a cry as he clutched Andrew’s arm.
“Hey, Mr Business, how do ya, how do ya, how do ya doooooo?”
Neil looked at him, and the panic in his eyes matched Andrew’s own. “They’re singing! Why are they singing?”
“We need to run, Neil. Don’t hold back, just run!”
“Hey Mr Business! And we’ll bring it right up!”