"Do you believe it's possible to shift to another reality?"
I turned around, almost dropping the blender I was in the process of washing up. God, I hate frappucinos. If one more person orders a frappucino, I'm just gonna shove a cake pop into their eye.
There was a lady staring at me. She had long black hair, a white headband, and wore a white dress made out of some sort of silky material that shimmered faintly in the winter daylight. Considering she wasn't wearing a jacket, I would have expected her to be freezing, but she didn't seem to be bothered by the cold temperature at all. She also wore a mask out of matching material, which someone had embroidered a snowflake on in silver thread.
"Er, I guess so," I replied. "Like, what kind of reality? Harry Potter?" Also, what would you like to order? Can we get this over with, please?
She raised her eyebrows. "Any reality you like," she smiled, and patted the side of her pants. It was then I noticed that she had something hanging from her waist- a whole SWORD. How did I not notice that? I was starting to get some weird vibes from this lady. "Have you ever dreamed of controlling your own reality? Living in a world where you can do whatever you want?"
God, I hope she's just a cosplayer, I thought worriedly. That sword DOES look a liiiittle too real for comfort. Maybe I should humor her and play along so she doesn't cut off my head with it. Although, that could be a blessing in disguise.
"Sure, I guess."
"And how would you change your current reality?" she asked, grinning and looking at me uncomfortably intensely.
"Uh..." A reality where I don't have to hide that I'm a gay failure from my parents? A reality where I'm not in love with Marie? A reality where I didn't lose contact with everyone I used to be friends with in middle school? A reality where I'm not failing all my classes and forced to beg antimaskers to put on their masks like a hostage negotiator trying to stop an active shooter from committing acts of domestic terrorism? "Um, I'd ask for more swag and hoes, obviously," I laughed uncomfortably.
She raised her eyebrows at me, almost as if she was trying to get something deeper from me. "Come on," she said. "I know there's more to you than that. What do you really want?"
"I..." This was getting weirdly intimate for a conversation between a Starbucks barista and client. "May I take your order?" I asked, trying to change the subject.
"A Grande Frappucino with two pumps of caramel, one pump of hazelnut, one pump of vanilla, and sweet cream please. Oh, and some marshmallows please, if you have any," she replied brightly.
Sounds murderously sweet. "Great, thank you. One Frappucino coming up." Kill me now. "Cash or credit?"
"Credit!" The woman replied excitedly, handing me a credit card that I'd never seen before. Parts of it were transparent, holographic, and it had a chip shaped like a snowflake.
Whoa, that looks really fancy, I thought to myself. I wonder if she's one of those platinum-card holders, the ones who have a crazy high credit score because they're filthy rich. I started looking at her more closely, trying to see any signs that she was secretly a billionaire.
"Uh, sorry, looks like your card's being declined," I said awkwardly.
"Oh! Cash then," the lady replied disappointedly. She handed me a fifty-dollar bill. I took a deep breath and decided to just run with it.
Although I preferred one-on-one customer interactions because of the reduced risk of infection and the lack of pressure to hurry up and finish so I could take the next customer's order, I soon began to dislike the lack of any other people. For one, I started to feel like I was trapped with the crazy lady, without any way of escape.
"When you shift to your dream reality, you can control anything," she babbled excitedly. "Anything you desire. You can change what the people look like, who is there, you can even bring copies of your friends along. Only, it's not the same as having real friends. But besides that, it's great for repairing relationships you miss!"
I nodded unenthusiastically, trying not to encourage her but also trying not to get my head chopped off by the giant metal sword she was carrying tied to her waist.
"In the real world, everyone is just boring, bland, powerless human beings. But! In your dream reality, you can have as many magic powers as you wish. Isn't that cool? Imagine being able to fly or control the elements. Don't you want to understand what animals are saying? Wouldn't it be cool to be a firebreather?"
"Oh, I already am," I replied. She looked at me, amazed, and I quickly rushed to correct the misunderstanding. "Er, by that I mean I'm really good at lighting things on fire." She stared at me for a little, disappointed, and I immediately went back to working on her frappucino. "Sorry."
"That's fine," she said reassuringly. Then, looking at my hands, she added, "You usually wear a bracelet, don't you?"
I flinched, almost dropping everything on the ground. "I can tell from the marks on your hands," she explained. "You usually wear one all the time. Why aren't you wearing it right now?"
"Well, baristas aren't allowed to wear jewelry," I replied uncomfortably. "Um, food safety reasons...I guess."
"Oh, I see. You don't want to get them dirty, right?" the weird lady asked. "It's a Loki bracelet, isn't it? I used to wear one too. It has these round beads, and one of them is supposed to contain air from the highest mountain in the world, and air from a lowland with the lowest atmospheric pressure in the world."
"Um, yes," I replied. "Yeah, my parents gave me a Lokai bracelet. But mine has water in it, not air."
"Ah, is that what you call them? Where I'm from, we call them Loki bracelets. They're a total scam," she leaned in and whispered, though not that close because of the glass partition screen. "Total nonsense. But Loki likes to trick people and tangle them up in all sorts of weird schemes, so he keeps on selling them claiming that they'll help people or whatever."
"Uh-huh," I replied, feeling kind of confused. Loki? Is Tom Hiddleston running some sort of jewelry scam that I'm not aware of?
"Anyways," she said, "In my culture, we prefer to wear jade bracelets. You usually receive one from one of your grandparents, and it's supposed to protect you from evil spirits. Do you know what I'm talking about?"
I felt a small pang in my stomach.
I did know what she was talking about. I'd seen many girls my age growing up who used to wear those green jade bracelets to church. I remember asking my mom why she never gave me one, to which she replied "Those are for girls, lah. Don't be stupid."
"Your culture?" I asked weakly. "Are you...Chinese?"
"Oh, no. I am Vietnamese. Well, really I am Greek, but strictly in terms of nationality," the weird lady sent me a proud smile. "But in Vietnamese culture, we also believe in jade bracelets. You're Southern Chinese, aren't you? Our cultures share a lot of things in common together."
I blinked. I was, in fact. "How can you tell?" I asked, starting to feel concerned about the security of my personal information. Maybe I should have listened to those Youtube ads and bought a Nord VPN subscription after all.
The weird lady laughed. "Your last name," she said, pointing at my name tag. "It's very uncommon, except in the South. You must be from the Liangguang area."
I nodded, deciding to just go along with it. "Um, here's your frappucino," I said awkwardly.
"Oh! Could you add some more whipped cream to it, please?"
"Sure, no problem."
"A little more, please."
"Hmmm, that's almost right. Juuust a little more, please."
At this point, the mountain of whipped cream was at risk of falling over. "Perfect," the crazy lady exclaimed excitedly.
"I'm so sorry, I forgot to ask for your name," I apologized. "You see, usually when there's multiple customers around, I always ask so I can tell the drinks apart...but as you can see, there's nobody-"
"Oh it's no trouble! My name is Lily," the woman grinned brightly at me.
"Oh...okay," I said awkwardly, slowly putting the drink down and shakily picking up the Sharpie. "Here you go," I muttered awkwardly, trying not to call attention to how horribly awkwardly and messily I had written her name on the side.
"Thank you!" Lily the Weird Lady said brightly, picking it up and immediately stabbing a reusable straw into it. I stared at it, impressed. "Isn't it cool?"
"Yeah," I muttered.
"Oh! I have something for you," Lily said excitedly, and hurriedly started digging through a weirdly luxurious-looking white designer purse. It looked as if it had been made out of leather, then hand-stitched and embroidered.
"Oh ma'am, it's fine, you already paid-"
"No no! This is different." She continued to rifle through her purse, pulling out various receipts and weird trinkets. Scented bottles of hand sanitizer, a pair of nunchucks, a framed picture of Tom Hiddleston, and what looked like ten different cell smartphones. She also pulled out a short metal rod which rolled onto the floor and loudly expanded itself into a long martial arts bar staff, making me almost piss my pants. "Ah! Here it is," she said. "Here, let me sanitize for you." She also somehow had managed to fit an entire bag of baby wipes into her purse, which at this point I decided must have some sort of fancy antimatter military technology that allowed it to contain more objects on the inside than it should physically be capable of.
"Here you go," Lily said, placing the object on her side of the glass partition. "You can pick it up whenever you like, I promise I've cleaned it up nice and easy for you. If you ever want to try shifting, just place it on your wrist. Try not to get it wet. Oh, and if you're ever in a tough situation, try throwing some ice at a mirror, okay?"
I immediately stepped back. Weird lifehacks aside, was she trying to slip me a bomb? Or maybe, was she so impressed by my customer service, that she had decided to slip me some invaluable survival commodity? I prepared myself emotionally for the gift to be a bottle of Purell, or maybe antibac soap, or even a roll of toilet paper.
"Well, I'm going to head out. Have a good day!" Lily winked at me, turning around and walking out the door.
"Hey, I can't accept this! You should take it with you!" I yelled, confused. She just waved back at me from the other side of the door, completely indifferent to my distress.
I ran out from behind the coffee bar to chase after her, but she was running too fast and both my bosses and the CDC highly frowned upon grabbing customers by the shoulder. I groaned and turned around, resigning myself to my fate, then gasped.
I was expecting many things but not this.
There, on the countertop, it gleamed in the daylight, green as the one I used to wear when I was a toddler.
She'd left me a jade bracelet.
I turned around once more, but she was already gone. There was only the soft fall of snowflakes outside.