He began to know her intricacies in the coffee she ordered each morning – sometimes her voice was gentle, soft. Those were mochaccino days. She smiled with her eyes and her hands were warm as she passed over two faded coins and a crumpled note. Sometimes she ordered it black, and it mirrored back in the bags under her eyes and the bruises beneath her fingernails. She didn't smile those days.
He knew her in the way she blew through the doors like a storm, with a guitar slung over her back and hair straggled into a bun that perched haphazardly on top of her head. Shoelaces perpetually half-laced, she hunched over the table to scribble notes on crumpled napkins. He watched her from behind the coffee machine as she raised a steaming cup to pursed lips, blew gently across the froth, and then took a sip with delicate grace. A second later her cheeks bulged as she hacked a cough, spitting her coffee back into her cup with a gasp.
"Bugger, that's hot!" She cussed again, brushing her hands down her front to send stray droplets flying onto the table in front of her, where she wiped them away quickly with a used napkin. The hand that held the napkin froze, and she slowly lifted it to eye level. Ink was smeared crudely across the paper, staining the white an ugly black and blue reminiscent of a bruise.
"Well... shit." She lay back with a sigh and stared at the ceiling, her hand limp and trailing next to her. And behind the machine he stifled a laugh, seized a small pile of napkins, and made his way from behind the barrier to her side. She pushed herself up into a sitting position at his polite cough, and watched from beneath low lashes as he offered her a handful of pristine napkins.
Blue eyes that twinkled with mirth smiled up at him, darting down to his badge before back up to his face.
"Thank you... Michael." She said it slowly, rolled his name over her tongue, tasted it across her lips. It sounded like a caress. Freckled marched across the bridge of her nose, and the sunlight from the wide window danced havoc across her cream shoulders. A blink or three later and he realised he was hovering over her table. Michael blushed and pulled his barista cap low with a nod, turning away before she could see the red crawling up his neck and lighting the tips of his ears in a pink glow.
Her laugh followed his feet over the scuffed linoleum, bounced over the coffee machine, and tucked itself into the grin playing across his mouth. It was a mochaccino day.
She came in more frequently after that - some would say she was out of place in the quaint cafe. In amongst the modest wooden tables and light windows she was a swirl of colour. Some days a ribbon woven in her dark tresses, other days golden rings glittered from slim fingers and bangles laughed from graceful wrists. Black boots for stomping kingdoms down and slashed jeans clad tight to strutting legs became her signature style, and he became attuned to the sound of her feet on the floor.
It took weeks to learn her name - up until then she had been a number. Table three. Mochaccino. Two marshmallows. A blueberry muffin if it was raining. It wasn't until a slow afternoon, where he idled away behind the machine, stacking and restacking takeaway cups just to hear the sound of cardboard crack across the still air. She blew through the door like the gale outside, dark hair plastered to her scalp, hands shoved deep inside pockets that dripped a heartbeat on to the shining floor.
She reached the counter in a puff of air, laid one wet hand against the counter, and smiled. A messenger bag slung across her chest hugged her hip, and beneath the curtain of her hair he caught glimpses of a black tattoo nestled in above her heart. Delicate fingers rummaged through her pockets, resulting in several damp receipts crumpled to the bench, a cracked phone with a pair of twisted headphones, and a small fortune in coins.
"Moccachino", she breathed. "Takeaway."
"Name, please." He said, feeling a small stirring of excitement flutter in his stomach at those beautiful blue eyes smiling up at him.
"Leia." He smiled across at her.
"Leia." He repeated. He rolled it over his tongue, tasted it across his lips. And when she passed the coins over, her fingertips lingering on his open palm, it sounded like an invitation.
She took her seat at her normal table three as he bustled behind the machine, stretching the milk and mixing cocoa in to a large take away cup, pulling one free from his towering stacks. He placed a blueberry muffin onto a warm saucer, carefully placed two soft marshmallows beside the warm food, and carried them deftly over to her table.
She was staring out the window, far past the glistening sidewalks and shining traffic. Maybe into the past. Maybe into the future. Somewhere he couldn't quite reach.
The gentle chink of the plate being set down shocked her out of her dreams and she turned to him with a sweet smile that sunk beneath furrowed brows at the sight of the muffin before her.
"I didn't order this", Leia said.
"On the house." He watched with delight as her lips parted into a gentle 'o' and she grinned up at him, her red lips framed by two small dimples either side of her mouth. He wondered why he had never noticed such an intriguing detail before.
"Thank you, Michael."
"My pleasure", he said, and had just turned to leave when he heard his name whisper across her lips once more.
"Excuse me", she said with an apologetic smile. "You spelt my name wrong."
His cheeks flushed as he turned back to the table. She held out a napkin, folded into a wonky diamond, in his direction.
"Here's the correct spelling." The napkin fit snug in to his palm and the apologies tripped off his tongue as she stood, saluted with the muffin, and, with a small chuckle and a twinkle in her eye, walked once more into the lashing storm.
He watched as she leant forward in to the wind, and powered down the street with purposeful strides that almost seemed to dodge the raindrops as they fell. He watched until she was down the corner and out of sight, nothing more than one more shadow in the looming silhouette of the city.
An embarrassed breath escaped from behind his teeth as he suddenly remembered the napkin in his hand and the blush across his cheekbones.
He opened it with a small twinge of dread, hoping he hadn't offended her by spelling her name wrong, asking himself how in the world he'd managed to screw up a word with only four letters in it.
There was no name on the paper - only a number, scrawled in dark marker pen that looped and swung across the page in slanted cursive, and, underneath, a note.
Same time again, tomorrow?