Brenda shrugged off her coat as she entered the small, homely cafe called Eighty Eight which she co-owned and ran. The other co-owner was Olive and by the smell of coffee and low music, it appeared her lifelong friend had already started preparing the place for opening time. Brenda smiled as she hummed along to the music, beginning to help Olive like always.
"Morning Ol," was Brenda's cheerful greeting.
"Morning," she replied as she passed over a cup of tea.
"Thanks, Ol. Good way to start the day and you can never go wrong with a cup o' tea!"
Darren would have found it weird if it was anyone but Alex, his best friend, who asked to meet at Eighty Eight. Yes, it was a popular cafe in their little village, run by two friendly and portly women but he only ever really bothered with the place when he was younger and with his mother. Or when he had a massive hangover that nothing but a greasy fry up could solve. But, because it was his best friend Alex who he had known since Infant school and had learnt had odd tendencies, he'd agreed to meet him.
Darren was running late. He'd agreed to meet up and have some breakfast at half ten, an hour after opening time and long enough so that he could have some sort of a Saturday lie in. The sixteen year old was speed walking down the high street, hands in his pockets with his head lowered. The cold, December wind would hit his acne covered face, otherwise. Finally, on the corner of the high street, a sign saying 'Eighty Eight' that sported two number eights with hair buns and smiles came into view. He made his way in, the chime tinkling as he did. The warm coffee smell hit him and his head immediately lifted up whilst his blue eyes searched for Alex.
Whilst Darren wore tracksuit bottoms, a hoodie, trainers and had a severe case of acne that he refused to get treated, Alex was almost the opposite. He supposed they wouldn't be friends if they were to have just met but because they had grown up together, become friends when differences didn't matter, that they would always be friends. Alex's face was clean, his hair long and styled with blue streaks whilst he wore skinny jeans, boots and colourful shirts. He gave a weak smile when he had heard the chimes and looked up to see Darren.
Darren smiled, sitting lazily in the chair opposite. "Alright, mate."
"I ordered you a cup of tea," Alex said, not looking up from the cup of tea that he was nursing. Sure enough, a second later, and Brenda came over with a cup of tea and beaming grin on her face. She asked Darren about his mother before she disappeared behind the counter.
"That's a bit gay of you," he said bluntly before chuckling. He didn't actually mean anything by it; it was just his way of chatting. Though the chuckle died on his lips as he saw Alex paling. He cocked a dark eyebrow. "Everything alright?"
"I am gay," the boy stuttered nervously. He then took a deep breath and gulped down his tea in an attempt to calm his nerves, still not meeting his friend's eyes.
Silence fell over the pair of them. The cafe was almost empty, all that could be heard was cutlery being moved, and the sound of quiet music. To Alex, every second seemed to weigh heavy as he waited for his best friend to digest the news. He wished he'd never said it but he knew that he had to, even if it scared him.
Darren laughed, startling Alex who looked up. He then took a swig of his own drink. "Mate, you think I didn't know?" Darren wasn't daft and wondered if Alex was for thinking he hadn't come to realise his friend was gay or that it might change their friendship. Alex looked surprised by Darren's reaction but then he was relieved and grinning.
An hour later and the cafe had filled up some more. Brenda and Olive were busy, now starting on the lunch time rush. One pair of customers was a couple who had ordered nothing more than a couple of teas. The girl, Eliza, was staring at the table whilst gnawing at her lower lip and listening to the conversations around her. She was doing her best not to look up at her other half, trying her best to postpone the inevitable.
Miles seemed to be glaring at his tea, as if that was behind everything that had been going on lately. It wasn't the drink's fault, he had just gotten used to drinking it when things were bad. 'Here, have a tea, they would say before delivering bad news. Anyone was stupid to think he had forgotten the drinks of tea in the hospital waiting room whilst he waited for news on his father who had been in a car crash. Was it strange that since then, that was what he remembered when he had a tea? It didn't help that Eliza had dropped him a text telling him to meet her at Eighty Eight because they needed to talk. Things had been rocky but it was that text that proved just how troublesome their relationship was.
"Elz, I-." They both spoke and stopped at the same time. Miles smiled sheepishly, his expression not mirrored. He gestured for her to continue.
"Listen, I can't do this." She paused to drink some of her sweet tea. "I'm walking on egg shells with you, Miles. You know it hasn't been right for months."
"You think we need to break up, don't you?" He finished for her in a small, child like voice. "But Elz..."
"Don't do this," she replied, stopping him. She closed her eyes, certain she would struggle to argue if she dared to meet his gaze. Those puppy dog eyes always had her give in. "You'll be better off, wait and see." And before she could change her mind, Eliza drained her drink and left.
Miles just stared ahead at the seat she had been sat on. He barely noticed Olive until she spoke. "Don't worry dear, she'll regret it. Here, your drink is on the house," she told him, her motherly instincts getting the better of her. Her words barely registered with Miles but he drunk some more, hoping people were right when they said tea solved everything.
Tanya pushed the pram backwards and forwards, watching six month old Noah as he slept, his little chest going up and down in such a therapeutic rhythm that Tanya was in trouble of falling asleep right there at the cafe table. It was a little after three and she was waiting for her older sister to come back from the bathroom. She had serious news, after all. She wiped at her eyes again, thinking it all unfair and afraid she might cry again.
"Is everything alright, dear?" Brenda asked from the table opposite as she cleaned it. Tanya forced a smile and nodded, saved from explaining by her sister's return.
"Sorry!" Loud and bubbly Monica called out, swerving through the tables to rejoin her sister and nephew. Her dark brown eyes fell on Noah, and she beamed for a moment. Then, when she caught her sister's watery gaze, she frowned. "What's up?"
Tanya sighed, hating how Monica could easily read her. "I..." She bit hard on her lower lip. She had three simple words to say but they wouldn't come. Since when was she so awkward around her sister? She took her tea instead, sipping at it. Maybe that would help her. Surely it would give her strength. She stared at the beige liquid, talking to that instead. "I have cancer."
"Oh," was her older sister's reply, too shocked for much else. She took her own steaming mug in her hands as she tried to wrap her brain around those three awful words.
Half an hour until closing time and Eighty Eight was almost empty now. There were only a few groups of customers left now and Brenda was busy with them whilst Olive cleaned up in the kitchen. The last table to be served wanted only two cups of tea and were an older man with a youngish girl. Father and daughter, Brenda thought as she carried over their drinks with a smile.
The girl, twenty one year old Caitlyn wrapped her hands around the cup of tea as she looked up at her Dad, Michael. He was still the same loving man who had brought her up but right now, he terrified her. Michael couldn't understand why but noticed how scared she seemed. Still, he didn't speak or ask, instead waiting for her to explain in her own time.
"Jack and I are having a baby. You're going to be a Grandfather," Caitlyn blurted out.
"I'll kill him! I'll rip his balls off!" Michael shouted, already standing up. "That son of a-."
"Dad! Will you calm down!" Caitlyn hissed. "I'm not a kid anymore."
"You're not even married!"
At that, Caitlyn rolled her eyes. "Just drink your tea, please."
Brenda and Olive watched from behind the counter, both ready to call it a night.
"What a day," Olive murmured, sipping at her milky tea.
Brenda nodded in agreement as she copied her friend. "Same again tomorrow. Thank God for tea."