Susan was her name. Robert knew she was competition from the moment he saw her. The guy that had hired them hadn't said it out loud, but it was pretty obvious. Why else would anyone hire two people on the same day, to do practically the same job? They were gonna be pitched against each other, winner take all, leaving the loser out on his arse without a decent reference.
He had been in these sort of situations often enough to know how things went. And it had cost him more jobs than he liked to admit. The so-called luck of the Irish definitely had skipped him. Maybe because he had been born on the wrong side of that border. But for Pete's sake, hadn't he put all that behind him? There certainly were enough miles between him and home.
He looked at Susan. Cute. Clean cut. Good girl. Probably brainy too. Slightly studenty. American sweetheart type. Polar opposite of him.
He was more the bad-boy type. Good looks. Toned body which he prided himself on. Long hair and the signature leather jacket he loved. It all screamed rebel-without-a-cause - the kind of guy you don't take home to mama unless you want to scare the hell out of her. It sometime worked in his favor - especially if he was on the pull, women seemed to be attracted without him saying a word - but just as often it did not.
When it came to getting a job, most bosses saw him as a potential liability. Never mind he was a hard worker - a very hard worker - good at his job, willing to learn and trustworthy. But he just did not look it. When it would eventually come to it, nine out of ten bosses would choose her.
And who could blame them? At first glance she was gonna beat him hands down. She had that dependable look that most bosses loved – no fuss, no backtalk. Pretty enough to draw a crowd, and 100% reliable. All in all, the perfect employee. Plus, she was darn cute in that girl next door kind of way, and what's more, seemed to be absolutely oblivious to it. Of course they were gonna choose her. The male punters were gonna run away with her. Especially if she gave them one of those shy smiles that she seemed to have been throwing around all morning for no apparent reason. Maybe she was just practicing for when she needed them later to wow her bosses.
His only saving grace was that he had a few skills she did not. She did not seem the cocktail-mixing type. He could pour cocktails like you saw them do it in the movies these days, juggling bottles without losing a drop. It drew quite a crowd. He knew how to make a few hundred cocktails by heart now, but he did not have a degree or anything.
Argh, he hated all this negativity in his mind, and he knew he should not be letting it get to him. But he had been been in this situation more times than he could count. For now, though, a job was a job, and this one was not something he could turn down. He needed the money, or he'd be out on the streets by the end of the month. Which meant his green card would be revoked, and he'd be on a plane back to Ireland. He did not want to give up on his American dream just yet.
Okay, positives. She was cute, but his own looks drew crowds too – mostly single women – which was just what this place needed. He knew what he was doing – he was good at mixing cocktails, better than many a bartender he had met – he just needed experience to put on a resume. Right now his resume was full of odd jobs and odder professions. He had done a lot over time, but the jobs he liked he had a hard time making money in and the things that made money ... Well, they just weren't the kinda professions that would last. Bartending was hopefully gonna be a happy intermediate - it could make him some decent money, especially if he could get some tips coming in, and it was something he could see himself doing for years to come. He liked standing behind a bar, and he couldn't rely on his looks to bring in money for the rest of his life. He was determined to make the best of it. This had to work.
She looked to her left. Handsome hunk at nine o'clock. It was hard to keep your composure around him and not gawk. Robert - that was what he was called, and he was to be her colleague at the bar she had just been hired to work for. He looked like the kind of guy you'd conjure up in your wildest fantasies. She felt distracted just looking at him. Not that she dared to give him more than the occasional glance while she was setting up the coffee machine for afternoon business. She needed to be serious about this. It had been a while since she had last been a barista and she quickly found out it was a temperamental beast. The coffee machine that was, not Robert – although he did look a bit moody. She wondered if was always like that, or if it was part of his tough boy routine.
Most likely he was the type that would not give ordinary-looking girls like her a second glance. Well, maybe if she threw herself at him, he'd notice her, but that wasn't ever gonna happen ... the only way that it might was if she accidentally tripped and fell in his arms because she was too distracted by his good looks to pay attention.
He looked like the kind of guy that was not just drop dead gorgeous but knew it as well and probably acted like it. After all, the six-pack that was visible through his tight white t-shirt did not happen by itself, and those biceps probably came from hours spent in the gym.
Not that she had been looking, of course ... well, not for longer than three seconds at the most anyways. Then he'd noticed, and she'd had to look away, an embarrassed smile playing on her face.
One thing was clear though. He looked after himself, and he liked getting the attention it brought. Any woman walking in was gonna moon over him. He attract a lot of customers that way, which was probably why they hired him. No girl could resist ordering a cocktail from that blond god. Well, dirty blond, anyways.
She hated to admit it, but even his hair was perfect. It had this perfect healthy shine which made her slightly envious. His glossy, shoulder-length mane looked much better than her copper mess, which wasn't even tamed by the ponytail she had tried to twist it in. It was bad enough most women had better hair than she, but when guys did, it just wasn't fair ... and it made him absolutely irresistible in her book. Guys with long hair always made her weak in the knees, even if it wasn't fashionable at the moment. She could see she was going to be in for a very long afternoon shift indeed.
Again she wondered if he was the kind of man that was completely full of himself. He looked like a guy who could be obsessed with outer appearance and nothing else. Training for muscles seemed to train away the brain. Would be a pity though – when guys were like that, it completely destroyed their eye-candy value. No matter how cute a guy was, if the inside was rotten to the core, that ruined it, as far as she was concerned.
She shouldn't be thinking about all this anyways, he was a colleague – there would probably be rules against dating. Wait a minute, he minute he had not even spoken to her, how could she even think of dating? With a bit of luck his words could cure her from this light obsession with the way he tucked his hair behind his ear when he... oomph... this was getting ridiculous.
So far, they had been getting ready for business in their respective corners of the bar, and he seemed to be staying as far away from her as possible. She was at the coffee and tea corner, while he was at the hard liquor side of the bar. She had to admire the way he seemed to effortlessly toss around the bottles ... and she noticed the way his muscles tensed as he did so. She took a deep breath. Get it together, Susan - you're a grown woman. At the end of the day, he was just another guy. And even if he hadn't spoken yet. she would have to talk to him at some point. The sooner it was out of the way, the better. Well, if Mohammed would not come to the mountain ...
Robert heard a small cough behind him. "Hi, I'm Susan." He knew that. And even if he didn't, he could always read it on her name tag ... What was she doing over here so close to him, anyway? Didn't she have things to get on with at her side of the bar? He had no interest in being nice to her. There was one of those shy smiles again. Did she need something from him? Well, he was determined those smiles were not gonna work. She could find some other slave. "I guess we will be working together," she continued, "so we might as well get to know each other. I'm the barista."
Barista? He vaguely heard of that. They seemed to be the new rage around town. At the moment, every self-respecting bar wanted a "barista," which was really just a fancy word for ... "A coffee girl," He tried to make it sound like a sneer, but she seemed completely unfazed.
"That's about it, yes," she giggled. "In Italian, it actually just means bartender, by the way. But since everybody drinks their coffee in the bar, that is what baristas mainly serve. You know, I don't even like coffee, except for maybe a cinnamon mocha, but I did an internship in Italy a lifetime ago, and to make some extra cash I started working in a coffee bar, and they sent me to the famous Illy academy. I knew I couldn't pass that up, it's a skill you can always use. So I got the diploma and everything. I still prefer tea though. Herbal teas, with fresh ingredients from the garden, you can't beat that. Unfortunately there isn't enough space in my apartment for more than a few spots with lavender, rosemary, and mint. How about you?"
He sighed at the stream of words. "I think I prefer coffee," he said, not wasting words and wanting to turn back and keep checking the bar.
"Well, let me make you a cup then. What with will it be, espresso, macchiato, cappuccino? Something with a little kick to it, like an Irish coffee? Though it is a bit early for that. And we still need to work. I'm sure our boss won't be pleased if I get us drunk on my first day."
All those fancy names made his head spin. "How about a regular cup of coffee? Straight up."
"That's possible too. Basically, that is what an espresso is in Italy, only it's stronger than our usual coffee. If they water it down, they actually call it an Americano." She laughed at her own joke. A pearly laughter that seemed to sing. "But I can make a regular cup of joe if if you like, no problem. As soon as I figure out how this machine works exactly."
"No, hit me with your espresso. I would love to know what is so special about it." And he would probably need the kick it was supposed to give to get him through the day. He tried to return the beaming smile she was sending him. Well this girl certainly was enthusiastic.
Alright, he'd give in. The offer of coffee was sweet, and it seemed well intended. If was gonna stay grumpy all day, that wouldn't do either of them any good. It would probably at one point rub off on the customers. He had no reason to behave like a jerk towards her. It wasn't her fault that the likelihood that the boss was gonna choose her over him was growing by the minute. Not only did she have skills that were in high demand, she actually had the qualifications to go with it. Not that he was giving up just yet.
She was rattling on. Words were coming out of her mouth, and she was unable to stop herself from talking. She couldn't help it – he was so cute He seemed like a nice guy too – he didn't seem to be self absorbed and was actually listening to what she said.
And, amazingly, he had not yet checked his appearance in the mirrored panel behind the bar – not even once. Maybe he didn't have a reflection?
Just to be sure, Susan took a quick look. Alright, he had one. She really had to stop reading those silly vampire novels before going to bed, but sometimes a girl needed a little distraction. And ever since she had seen Interview with a Vampire, she'd kind of had a crush on vampires, like so many other women. Lack of a real love life, that's what it was. But she was always too shy to go after what she really wanted.
A lot of distraction was standing in front of her right now. This guy could have given Brad Pitt a run for his money, easily. He had a voice ... ooo ... soft and creamy, like the milky froth on a cappuccino, especially with that Irish accent of his. She could never resist an accent, anyway. And then there were those stormy gray eyes. She was sure you could see all the way to the Irish sea, surveying that beautiful Giant's Causeway if you looked in deep enough.
She loved Ireland, it was such a lovely country of legend and folklore. Ever since she had been little, she had been reading Celtic myths. And now she was faced with a real Irishman that looked like he could be the god Cernunnos - or Uindos - himself... Though she had yet to detect his horns in this human form..
"Are you really Irish?" She realized how stupid the question sounded the moment it left her mouth, but by then it was too late.
"Yeah, the accent is not fake, if that's what you're asking. Although technically, I'm British, seeing as I'm from right below Belfast." There was a bitterness in his voice that had not been there before... Ah yes, Susan had heard about Northern Ireland. She could have kicked herself. She was going to have to stop saying stupid things. Why was it so hard to talk to a cute guy? Either nothing came out, or this constant stream of verbal ... whatever.
A safe simple question maybe would be better. "How long have you been working here?"
He chuckled. "About an hour more than you. Probably less."
"This is your first day as well?" That was not what she had expected. And not reassuring. Who was supposed to show them the ropes if it was just the two of them. Yes she had worked in a bar before, but not in this country. She didn't have a clue what she was supposed to do. And this coffee machine was just horrid. It was definitely not new like the owner had promised it was. Cleaned up and completely rebuilt perhaps, but definitely not new. The portafilter did not fit well, the machine had trouble coming up to steam, and a few of the levers seemed to stick. The rest of the equipment did not look much better. The grinder blades of the coffee machine weren't sharp and did not grind the coffee as well as they should have, the milk pan looked like it had been burned at one point, and even the beans smelled a bit musty. You couldn't start complaining after barely working there half an hour though, so she would need to make do. Besides, she needed the money to pay for her studies.
The fact that she was making him a coffee was sweet. Although ... she wasn't really getting on with it. Wasn't she supposed to be the coffee expert, with her degree in brewism, or whatever it was called? Instead, she was hitting the machine. Not really what you'd expect of a pro. How hard could it be to make one lousy cup of coffee? He did that every day. Not that it was considered to be very drinkable. Cocktails were his forte.
"Things not really going your way?" he asked, in a slightly mocking way again. Cut it out Bobby, he told himself. His father would have his head if he knew how he was treating this lady. Even if she didn't seem to notice herself. Too involved with the coffee maker to notice.
"No," she groaned. She was trying to unscrew something that just did not seem to budge. He decided to lend a hand. Two taps, and it was loose. "Thank you."
"Anything else I can help you with?" Maybe if he paid attention, he could learn to do her job, and he'd be in with a chance after all. Plus he'd learn a new skill... and be able to make himself a decent brew in the morning.
"I don't know." She let out a deep sigh. "This machine just isn't up to scratch. I'll get it to work though ... eventually. Now, why is this lever stuck? I'm sorry, but I think your coffee might need to wait a bit. I need to run some vinegar through the machine, to get rid of any calcium deposits. Hopefully that'll do the trick. Is there any around? Any kind will do. Apple, white, even cleaning vinegar."
So it wasn't her fault that the thing wouldn't work, or at least according to her. He had to hand it to her - she was inventive. Most women that came across a temperamental appliance ran a mile and waited for a guy to come fix it. So, he decided to help her look, if only to make up for his earlier behavior. It seemed there was none. No regular vinegar anyways. "Hmm ... how about wine vinegar? These wine bottles have been in the light and heat for far too long, so the wine has probably completely turned acidic."
"Is it white wine? I don't want to stain the boilers."
"Yes." Smart lady indeed - he hadn't even thought about that possibility.
She looked a bit doubtful."It sounds a bit extravagant using a bottle of wine, though."
"If it's drinkable, I'll be sure to sell it tonight as white wine spritzers, don't worry." He opened the bottle and poured a glass. "Wanna try it?"
"I guess I'll have to." She carefully took a sip and immediately her face scrunched up. "Ugh! That'll do. Pour it in," she coughed, trying to catch her breath again.
He got her a glass of water first. "Sorry, shouldn't have asked that of you."
"I'll live. Now let's see if it works. Stand back just in case." Carefully she plugged it in.
"Are you expecting it to blow up or something?" he asked laughing.
"Believe me, you never know. And the hot steam can cause nasty burns." She put a pan under the spout and covered the entire front in a tea towel. "Here goes nothing."
The machine made a terrible racket as it sprang to life. Maybe she had been right – maybe it was about to blow.
"What's in there? It sounds like you have yourself a whole load of banshees dancing in there." he said stepping back.
"Probably." She pulled a lever, and kept holding it until the machine stopped sputtering. "Right, time for a cup of coffee. Finally."
Italians would never had let their precious espresso machine get in a state of disrepair like this. But what was done was done. "Alright, here it is. First cup of coffee." She should really test is herself to check if all the wine residue was gone and if the beans were any good, but she had already made him wait so long. The cups were actually too big for a real espresso, but it was all she had. She would have to talk about it with her employer, along with everything else. She had a feeling he would not be pleased.
"If it's undrinkable, just hand it back, and we'll try again," she said handing the cup to Robert.
"You're not trying to poison me? Take out the competition and have the job all to yourself?" he asked before taking a sip.
"Naw ... I'm useless pouring cocktails, so your skills are definitely required. And I'd probably end up in hospital if I started juggling bottles like I just saw you do. So I need you." And she wanted him there, too.
He started coughing.
"No, but STRONG … I swear - you could stick your spoon straight up in this."
She took a sip herself. "That's how it should taste. It's not over-extracted, the layer of crema looks good. Beans could be better quality, though - I think that is the bitter aftertaste. The coffee might be too strong for American taste though."
"Or the taste of an unsuspecting Irishman. I have no idea what you just said, but that stuff should come with a warning label."
Oh dear, she had meant well, but now he probably thought she had wanted to poison him for real. "Do you want me to water it down?" she asked concerned.
"No, it's fine, I'll finish this. I know what to expect now. I'll tell you this though, haven't felt this awake in months." He finished his coffee in one big gulp.
She laughed. "Well, that's why the Italians drink it. Though in the morning you have a cappuccino rather than an espresso. It's their alternative to cereal."
"I'll just stick with a full Irish breakfast with all the trimmings, thank you very much. Gets you through the day." He smiled. It looked like she was forgiven.
So he was nice and helpful as well as cute. That was an enormous relief. It was gonna be lovely working here, getting to look at him every day. And it was gonna be as tantalizing as hell.
Okay so FP undid ALL of my POV change markers and I have finally found one that they will keep. I'm trying to update all chapters, but in the meantime, sorry about this.