The Coffee Man
Having worked at the coffee shop for over a year, I could distinguish who was a regular and who was a passerby from the moment they walked in. For example, the couple that just walked in were passing by and decided to take a chance with this coffee shop. Their curious eyes gave them away. The three girls sitting by the window came in monthly and the sweet, old couple seated against the left wall came in twice a week and would stay in their spot for hours, playing scrabble and chess.
The customer standing in front of me was also a regular. He came in once a week on Friday and would always order a small cup of coffee to go. He never ordered anything else. He was always dressed in a black suit but the color of his ties would vary. Somehow, out of all the other customers, he was the only one I found fascinating.
It must have been because he was attractive. Just look at those broad shoulders, long legs, delicate cheekbones, and smooth lips. He had a youthful but mature appearance. He was probably two years older than me, at most. Then again, I was sure there was more to him than his looks that captivated me. The coffee shop wasn't a magnet for hot men—it would be nice if it was-but I have seen people that were much more attractive than he was. But he was the only one that caught my attention and still had it.
Maybe it was because of how his dark brown hair was constantly in a mess, contrasting the seriousness of his outfit. Maybe it was because of how he always placed money in the tip jar...which meant extra pocket money. Maybe it was because of the fact that if we stood side my side, my head would meet his shoulder which wouldn't make me feel awkwardly tall or short. Maybe it was because of how he smiled wholeheartedly as he pointed out where the restroom was to a confused child. Maybe it was because of the way he would hold the door open for anyone that was leaving or entering the same time he was planning on walking through the door.
I have yet to learn his name. He always paid in cash, which, unlike credit cards, didn't display people's name on them. I settled for naming him Mr. Black Suit. I wondered if he knew my name. He probably didn't. I had a name tag but I doubt he ever paid attention to it. If he did, I would have reacted as I did with any other customer that read my name tag.
"Stop staring at my breasts," I would command.
I would've received a response on the lines of, "I was just looking at your name tag."
My cheeks would then turn red like a tomato and I would slowly descend downwards to hide myself behind the counter.
"A small coffee," Mr. Black Suit said, bring my attention back to reality.
As he fetched for his wallet in his back pocket, I quickly went to get his cup of coffee. Usually, one person would make the drink while another would take the orders. However, all of my co-workers were aware of my little crush on him so they allowed me to take his order and retrieve his drink whenever he came. Actually, it was more like they didn't give me a choice. The second he would step in, I would be shoved to the counter and suddenly, my co-workers would forget how to make the drinks...especially if it had to do with filling a cup with already-made coffee.
"Here you go," I said, sliding the cup over to him with the lid loosely on it. He would head over to, what I like to call, the do it yourself counter, and place a few packets of sugar in it. "That will be one seventy five."
Mr. Black Suit handed me two dollars. After I handed him the change, he dropped it in the tip jar and then left.
"Oh! He's here!" Rhonda whispered to me.
My heart skipped a beat but I stayed calm. "Great. Go take his order."
"No! This is your guy," Rhonda smirked.
I didn't respond and continued working, hoping that she'll just leave me alone. She didn't. She grabbed my arm and started tugging me away from my work. My eyes widened in fear when the drink I had been diligently making was on the verge of spilling. I placed the cup in the middle of the counter to prevent it from tipping over the edge.
"I'm kind of doing something," I said, gesturing to the three drinks I was making for a group of preteens.
"I'll finish it," Rhonda assured. She shoved my entire body towards the counter.
I sighed. I cheerfully took the orders of two people before Mr. Black Suit stepped up to the counter. As always, he ordered coffee. I told Rhonda to get it but she said she was busy finishing up the drinks I had started. So, I got it for him. I placed the cup of coffee on the counter before charging him.
I noted that he was wearing a golden pastel colored tied today.
It made me think of bumblebees.
I didn't like bumblebees.
"Why don't you like bumblebees?" Mr. Black Suit asked. He seemed genuinely curious.
My eyes widened. Had I said that out loud?
"One stung me when I was five," I said and then my motor mouth went into overdrive. "It was probably peeved at me for trying to touch it. It just looked so...soft. Well, maybe, I like them a little. They pollinated flowers and I like flowers. Though, I don't like receiving flowers because I don't like the idea of someone shortening their lives for them to become a gift. I prefer them to be in the wild or a part of some lovely painting. I am talking way too much. I didn't even really answer your question." I took a deep breath. "Sorry for torturing you with my babbling."
"That's fine," Mr. Black Suit responded as he handed me a ten. When I gave him the change, he dropped it all in the tip jar.
"You could have used that money to pay for four more cups of coffee," I blurted out.
I had noticed that he always placed his part of his change in the tip jar but I never said a word about it. However, eight twenty five was a massive tip. It was usually a dollar or something along those lines. Giving away that much money after only purchasing a coffee to go was outrageous.
For the first time, he smiled at me. It was only half a smile but still.
After throwing out that half smile, Mr. Black Suit shrugged and walked away.
"A soy milk latte please."
"That will be two fifty. Credit or cash?"
The lady handed me some crumpled money and loose change. I wanted to roll my eyes, sigh, and groan in annoyance. I had to smooth out each bill and then recount the money to make sure she gave me enough to cover the latte. You wouldn't believe the number of customers that would give me balled up money or pay for their drinks in coins. Mr. Black Suit was one of the few exceptions. The bills he always gave me were crisp and flat.
From the corner of my eye, I spotted Ruth making her way to the espresso machine to begin making the drink.
"Here's your change," I said, dropping it into the lady's hand. "Thank you."
She didn't respond and headed over to the right where she waited for her drink to come out.
Mr. Black Suit stepped forward. "The first item on your menu."
I quirked an eyebrow at his response. "You mean a coffee?"
His dark blue eyes were focused on me. "It was becoming tiresome to say that."
"Even though you called it a different name, it will still be one seventy five," I said with a slight smile. I pressed the 'cash' button on the monitor to open up the register.
He held out his card. "You never ask me 'credit or cash'."
"Ooh," I stared at his credit card in awe. "That's a first. You always pay with cash. I just assumed you would this time too. Sadly, assuming made an ass out of me. Just me, not you. So, I'm not calling you an ass or anything."
I pressed a few buttons on the register to void the order. I plugged in the order again and this time, I pressed the 'credit' button. He slid his credit card across the counter. I glanced at his name—Landon Stiles—before charging it. I filled up a cup with coffee. I poured three packets of sugar inside the cup, like he always did, and handed cup to him with the lid properly sealed on it.
"I already added the sugar," I informed him.
He gave me a curt nod, took the cup, and left.
"There you are, Ms. Wilters," I grinned as I placed the cup of coffee she ordered on the table.
At that moment, Landon walked in. He spotted me and gave me a small wave. My heart nearly skipped a beat and I had the urge to run over to the counter, ready to take his orders. Instead, I calmly smiled back in response and directed my attention to the old couple. I wanted to spend just a little more time with them.
"Oh, you didn't have to," Ms. Wilters responded. She placed a hand on my arm. "I know we're suppose to get our own drinks. I could've gotten up on my own to get it myself."
I tucked a loose piece of her hair behind her ear. She was like a grandma to me. She was thin and delicate like but she had a brilliant mind and she once told me that when she was young, she could beat men to a pulp with her strength. I didn't doubt it. She was a sweet but fierce woman. Every time she won a game against her husband, she would shout 'boo yeah!'- loud enough for the entire restaurant to hear and when she was extremely peeved at a move her husband made in a game of chess, she would curse like a sailor.
"If you did that, you'll have to pause your intense game of scrabble," I said, placing my hands on my hips. "I couldn't allow that. You would loose your concentration and you know I want you to beat that old man to smithereens!"
Mr. Wilters cleared his throat to get my attention. "I'm right here, y'know?"
"I can you see you clearly," I promised. "I still want Mrs. Wilters to kick your ass in scrabble."
"As if she can," Mr. Wilters scoffed as he adjusted his large, golden rimmed glasses. He gave his wife a warm smile. "I love you, honey, and I admire your intelligence but I will be the winner at this game."
Mr. Wilters was wonderful. He displayed a tough demeanor that he probably picked up from his days as a marine. Deep down, however, he was just a large teddy bear that everyone wanted to hug and 'awwww' at. Unlike his wife, he didn't gloat when he would win. He would comfort his wife and tell her how beautiful she was and how he was so proud of her for giving it her all.
I stood upright. "I'll leave you two alone now."
The moment I turned to head back towards the counter, I saw Landon's head rapidly turn away. A light blush crept on my face at the thought that Landon had been possibly staring at me. That hopefulness was crushed when I spotted a gorgeous brunette seated at the table near the Wilters'. I wasn't hideous but compared to that woman, I would be completely overshadowed.
I puffed out my chest to make myself appear more feminine.
A nearby kid shot me a horrified look.
That put a dent in my self-esteem.
Balloons. I'll get balloons. Wait. Why would I want balloons? They're plastic tied to a piece of string!
After floating around in my apartment for a while, they'll just end up meeting the trashcan. Hmm...there's that thirty dollar blouse I have been eying for some time now. No. I can only get one thing-and I want that dress I saw in the mall last week. The strapless, casual dress. It was so flattering. The price tag of fifty dollars was not.
I blinked, noticing that Landon was standing in front of me. And he had said my name. My name. I had to contain myself from leaping in joy and screaming 'he knows my name!' repeatedly. My feet did a little tapping and dancing though.
I tucked a piece of hair behind my ear. "Sorry. My friends are too stingy with money to get me a gift and my parents believe that celebrating my birth when I exited my mom's you-know-what was enough so I was thinking about what to buy myself for my birthday."
I snapped my mouth shut after saying that. My cheeks were sure to have a tinge of pink in them. I wasn't even entirely sure why I had admitted that to him. Though I was slightly embarrassed, Landon seemed amused. The corners of his lips were slightly twitching as if he was trying to prevent himself from smiling...or laughing.
I smoothed my apron. "So, coffee?"
"Yes." He didn't wait for me to tell him the total before sliding a five dollar bill.
He turned to leave but in the middle of his step, he stopped, and turned to face me.
"When's your birthday?" Landon asked in a nonchalant manner.
I tilted my head to the side, wondering why he wanted to know. "Exactly two weeks from now."
He smiled at me. A full blown smile. "Happy early birthday."
Caught off guard and a bit mesmerized by his smile, I froze. By the time I realized that I should have responded with a 'thank you' like a normal person would, he had already walked out of the door, into the winter air.
Five minutes before closing, the chimes above the door rang as it opened. I sighed, mumbling about how the person was an asshole for coming in so late. My co-workers were already clocking out while I was placing the leftover food (free for the workers after closing) into a bag. Everything was cleaned and put away—except for the coffee in the air-pot. When I glanced up, however, I took back every insult my mind came up with to throw at him.
It was Landon.
He appeared stressed. His dark green tie was loosen, his jacket was unbutton, and there were a few prominent wrinkles on his dress shirt. There were dark circles under his eyes and his eyebrows were furrowed in concentration. Without even bothering to look up, he placed his order by saying one word: "Coffee."
"Got it. It might be a bit cold though."
"I don't mind."
"I feel the strange need to apologize to you so...sorry."
He raised his eyebrows as he stepped up to the counter. "For what?"
"I was mentally bashing you for coming in right before closing. I called you an inconsiderate asshole in my mind," I confessed. His eyes widened slightly. "But that was unnecessary since you're getting a coffee which is the only thing that wouldn't trouble us or make us have to clean extra. Thank you, for that, I guess."
I hopped over to retrieve a paper cup. I hummed to the melody of the rock song that was playing in the shop as I made his drink. After about a month of adding the sugar in for him, it had become a habit.
He lightly chuckled—and what a nice chuckle it was; my heart was already swooning and my stomach was already fluttering—and his stressful appearance disappeared. "Do you usually admit to mentally insulting your customers?"
I thought about it for a moment. "No."
He took the coffee out of my hands and gave me a salute with two fingers.
I waved at his back. Once he was gone, I threw a few napkins into the bag before tying it.
"Ruth!" I called out to the break room.
"Clock out for me."
I removed my apron and shoved it into my purse. I slipped on my oversized grey sweater and exited the shop. I walked down two blocks before I spotted the homeless man leaning against the corner of a building. A thin layer of dirt was covering his light skin. His hair was nearly white and his body was thin. I smiled at him and handed him the plastic bag filled with leftover brownies, sandwiches, and muffins. Inside, there was also a list of homeless shelters, job openings, and soup kitchens nearby. He stared at me with glistened eyes and gently took the bag from my hands.
"Thank you, thank you."
I straightened myself. As I started walking forward, I spotted Landon about to get in his sleek, black car. He was staring at me—an unreadable expression on his face. I gave him a small smile as I walked past him.
"Happy twenty-first birthday, Anne!" I said to myself.
I was beginning to feel pathetic. Nonetheless, I retrieved a piece of carrot cake from the pastry case. Even though I wasn't on my break, I grabbed a plastic fork and started eating my delicious cake. My manager wouldn't mind that I was eating. Whenever it was someone's birthday, she would give them a whole cake. She seems to have forgotten that today was my birthday though.
I ate the cake as fast as I could. I needed to stuff that sweetness in my mouth before my co-workers returned. They were in the break room, checking their schedule. If they had seen me eating, they would've stolen a piece of my paradise and shoved it ungracefully into their mouths.
I heard the sound of the door opening and I immediately hid my cake. My manager didn't approve of eating in front of the customers. We had to be sneaky about it. I stood up straight and covered half of my face with my mouth so that I could finish chewing.
"Hey," Landon greeted.
I wasn't done chewing though. Wanting to respond, I swallowed. That resulted in a violent coughing fit from the ever so gracious moi. Landon shot me a concerned look and was about to retrieve a cup of water for me when I held up my hand to stop him.
"I'm fine, just fine," I said, coughing once more. "Hey."
His eyes crinkled in amusement. "Hey."
"That's my favorite tie of yours-" I quickly backtracked. "I mean, that's my favorite color. Navy blue, that is."
He chuckled. "I'll take that as a compliment for my tie."
I cleared my throat. "Coffee?" He nodded and I quickly went to get it. I bounced back to the counter and handed him his coffee. "That will be one seventy five," I redundantly informed him. By now, I was sure he knew the price of his coffee.
He nodded once and reached for his wallet.
I closed my eyes and sighed in disappointment. For a moment, I thought he remembered my birthday.
I heard footsteps, prompting me to open my eyes. Laying on the counter was a white card with a red background sitting on top of the money for the coffee. It took a few seconds to realize that my name was written in cursive on the card, in the middle of the cover. My head raised to look at him but only saw his back as he exited the coffee shop. I cautiously opened the card to see what was inside.
The left side was blank while the right side contained a doodling of a bouquet of roses. Above the flowers, there were words written neatly in cursive.
Happy Birthday Anne
You are incredibly sweet and beautiful. I remember you telling me that you did not enjoy receiving real flowers so I hope that drawn flowers will be fine with you. I also hope to have the opportunity to get to know you better.