“They’re here again,” I heard Keli mutter from her spot behind the register. And then she started muttering their orders, because this group was nothing if not predictable. “Oh look, it’s Cappuccino Extra Cinnamon Are You Sure You Don’t Do The Art On Top, first.”
I glanced up from the clipboard that was my constant companion on Wednesdays in the coffee shop I managed. Inventory coupled with ordering, always enjoyable, I thought. I caught sight of the very buff guy who would awkwardly try to flirt with whichever barista took his order, since the group only seemed to come in when the staff was entirely female, then shuffle off to a corner with his laptop. The others, an older guy always wearing a black jacket and white button down, which he didn’t completely button, the young lithe woman whose ethnicity I wouldn’t want to even try to fathom, and the other two, a happy black man who looked as comfortable in the shop as any of my other customers and a Hispanic man who looked like he’d rather be perched somewhere unseen, didn’t come in together. In fact, if we weren’t a small shop, we might not have figured out they were together at all. Ones and twos, that’s how this group maneuvered, but our lack of wifi cap (I’m looking at you Starbucks and you Panera with your 30 minutes or whatever bullshit) and I want to believe the higher quality of our pastries and coffees seemed to entice them back regularly.
“As long as their money is good, they can come in every single fucking-” Sighing and rolling my eyes, I tried again. More flies with sugar, right? “Maybe if you tried to learn our regulars’ names, instead of just their orders, you’d have a better reaction.” She was staring at me like I’d lost my mind. “Customer service? You know, necessary for a job in-” I stopped because he’d made his way to the counter. “Welcome to The Little Drip, what can Keli get for you today?” I could feel the irritation rolling off of Keli and it made my smile grow.
He seemed taken aback that I’d offered up my greeting before he could stumble through his first go at flirting with poor Keli. I wondered if I should toss him a bone and let him know that out of all the baristas he could flirt with, Keli was a lost cause, he didn’t exactly meet her physical requirements, if you know what I mean? His eyes locked on mine and I bit my lip. If he could ditch the awkward, he’d be a hell of a draw with those eyes and that smile alone.
“Uh, sure,” he looked down and I had to hold back a giggle. “Let me see, I’ll have-” He told Keli his order, and I had to hold back a laugh when he asked for EXACTLY the same thing she’d muttered. I guess I should have been impressed that she remembered it so well, but once she rang him up, got the cash, she bumped my hip to start his order and I started losing my urge to compliment the little shit. Instead I thought I’d use the time to show her how real customer service worked.
“You seem to be becoming a bit of a regular,” I offered, setting my clipboard down and leaning against the counter, causing myself to inadvertently get closer to him. “I’m Charlotte,” I held out my hand and watched without laughing as he wiped the sweat off his own before taking mine.
“Um, I’m, uh-” I raised an eyebrow, his name shouldn’t be as anxiety inducing as a pop quiz. “JJ. I’m JJ.” His hand, though a tad clammy, was strong and I smiled up at him as I shook it.
“You sure about that, JJ?” I asked, squinting up. “Seemed like it was touch or go there for a second.” He smiled and I felt a little lurch in my stomach. Shit, seriously, get past the awkward weirdness and he was hot as hell. I pulled my hand away, but my smile stayed as Keli handed over his order. “Your table awaits.” I gestured to the table he had taken every single time that he’d come in and I saw him pale slightly. “Sorry, that sounded like I’m a creepy stalker. I should get back to-” I picked up my clipboard and tried to ignore Keli’s snickering. “Have a good day.”
I went back to ordering, and making sure that the numbers of what should be available matched what was available. Keli waited on the other parts of the group, though the black man and the Hispanic man didn’t make an appearance. I wondered if it was something I’d said to JJ?
I heard the guy who constantly seemed dressed in his own personal uniform approach the counter and also heard Keli mutter his order under her breath. “Ah, yes, Mr. I’ll Take Coffee, Black, But Hit Me With A Double Shot of Espresso,” and I almost could see her eyes roll even from behind her back.
I listened as he gave his order in the deepest damn voice I think I’ve ever heard outside of a bedroom, and had to look up from my clipboard. The woman, young and thin, had her eyes locked on him from where she’d taken a seat after she’d gotten her own order (Latte Soy Milk No Foam) and I shook off whatever thought had errantly crossed my mind at the sound of his voice, but then he stepped into my line of sight and I felt my mouth go dry. Shit.
“Hi, I’m Clay.” His hand was outstretched and I blinked. What? “I keep coming in here and it seems rude to not introduce myself.” More blinking and his hand was still in front of him in a holding pattern. “Or, not.” He started to pull his hand back, but I shook my head and reminded myself that I was technically the face of this fucking store.
“I’m sorry, numbers and tallying must have made my brain numb.” I took his hand and had to swallow down the twist of lust that his fucking hand against mine caused. Taken, dumbass, TAKEN. “I’m Charlotte, the manager of this ‘fine’ establishment.” I hoped I was smiling because honest to God I had no fucking clue what my face was doing. “Welcome to The Little Drip, enjoy your visit?” Shit, fuck, shit. Why had it come out as a question? Why had my voice squeaked at the end? He was smiling down at me, dimples peeking out from his carefully maintained scruff and I wanted the floor to swallow me whole.
“Oh I plan to,” that fucking voice, shit.