Rob had never been in this particular coffee shop before. Most of his contracts were in Alameda, so there was the reliable Tommy’s, the more gourmet Bean House and the sub-par Corporal’s Coffee, which he visited in a pinch.
He was a lover of coffee. He took it black, the way coffee was supposed to be drank, avoiding the superfluous creams and foams and flavored syrups that only diluted the purity of the bean—with its myriad hints of berry, of chocolate, of pomegranate. He considered himself a connoisseur—tasted it like wine, first allowing the steam to waft into his nostrils, sampling the scent, before lowering his upper lip into the brew, feeling its heat, and then finally—the crescendo—the flavor itself. He enjoyed the caffination, it was true, but it was only a cherry on top (and he LOVED hints of cherry), and when one drank as much coffee as he did, a tolerance was created.
He peered up at the sign through his spectacles. They were spectacular spectacles, horn-rimmed and clean. His eyesight was certainly still passable, but he had noticed a slight down-tick in his vision when he had turned 50 last year. His profession as a technician of navigation systems on boats required exemplary eyesight, so the glasses, which had set him back many hundreds of dollars (he was uninsured) was a fine investment. He also was under the impression that the glasses made him seem more intelligent (or, at least as intelligent as he actually was), which he knew was a real turn-on for the ladies.
The Eclectic Arabica, the sign read. The font of the sign made Rob anxious. It looked like some sort of…graffiti…like someone had come along and spray-painted a vacant building. He glanced down at his new iPhone 5. Yelp rated it 4-and-a-half stars. He wished there was a less plebeian app for rating businesses—what was enjoyable for many might not be enjoyable for his sensibilities.
Some of the ratings were competently written, and they raved about the quality of the bean. Making sure his shirt was well-tucked, he opened the door.
The interior of the space looked like a madhouse. The floor was soft wood, dented and dipping, and splattered with pink paint, obviously on purpose, as though someone had gotten it in their head that this was an attractive idea. The walls were painted black, and sprayed with various…grafitties…like the outside…people’s names, murals of gold and silver who-knows-what. Laid on top of the paint were posters of musical groups that Rob had never heard of—Dead Kennedys—Leftover Crack (the drug?)—Bikini Kill—there were even some rap posters, the type of modern music Rob most readily despised.
At least they seemed to be serious about coffee. There was a listing of the day’s brews on the warped chalkboard behind the counter, all respectable single-pours.
One of the baristas was gorgeous. She was soft-faced and pneumatic, with skin the color of raw honey—he could see it dressing her lovely neck, dipping into her Suprasternal Notch. She had exceptionally long black hair done up in a single, thick braid. He checked again if his shirt was tucked in all the way.
“Hey.” The other barista spoke up in a harsh, raw bleat, like a sheep that had been at a metal show. Turning to the second barista from the first was like having a bucket of ice water thrown on you when you’re in the tub. He was a short, aggressive-looking kid in his mid-twenties. His ears were distended because there were some sort of plugs shoved in them—a fashion Rob had seen a couple times before, and reminded him of bush-people. There was a ring through his septum and he was wearing a cap two sizes too small with the brim turned up. The kid noticed that he had been staring at the other barista, who now had her back turned to something.
“That’s Alyssa over there, and she’ll be happy to make your coffee as soon as you order it.” There was an unsubtle and sardonic undercurrent of aggression in the sentence. Rob figured the kid—Mikey, his name-tag said—had seen him admiring the other barista.
Rob decided to order for the time being. Perhaps his encyclopedic knowledge of coffees would catch the other Barista’s attention.
“Well, I see you have the Rwandan Peaberry over there. Is that from the highlands?” Rob figured that ‘Mikey’ wouldn’t know. Show him up a bit.
“Since the lowlands of Rwanda aren’t fertile enough to actually GROW coffee beans, yeah, it’s from the highlands.”
“Actually, I believe that there was a few crops of Rwandan Peaberry that were experimentally grown in the lowlands a few years ago.”
“No, I’m pretty sure they weren’t.”
“Yes, but are you ‘sure’…?”
“Baby?…Mikey still faced Rob as his addressed the other Barista. “There were never any Peaberries grown in the Rwandan lowlands, were there?”
“No…no, I don’t think so.” Alyssa turned to Mikey with a glorious smile.
Aye, so THAT’S the rub. The two were together. Rob couldn’t believe the ethereal Alyssa would be with this pierced maniac Mikey. He was also somewhat certain that Alyssa was just mindlessly agreeing with Mikey and that he was correct about there being a few crops of Peaberries grown in the lowlands.
“Well,” Rob relented. “Let’s just say the jury is still out on that one.”
Mikey gave him a deranged look, tilting his head slightly to the side and staring through him. Rob was taken aback, slightly concerned for his security. But he wasn’t going to be shown up…no, not threatened by this orangutan.
“Hm…your Guatemalan…is it too acidic?”
“Well, it’s not too acidic to me, but I don’t know if it’d be acidic to you, why don’t you try it?”
“No…I think I’ll go with the Rwandan after all…black…thank you very much.”
It gave Rob satisfaction to see Mikey forced to do his bidding. The hierarchy of capitalism. Though Rob supposed the roles would be reversed if Mikey called him in to re-tool the navigation system of his boat…Ha!
Mikey ground the coffee beans, then plopped the grind down into the filter’s cone. He poured steaming water into the soil of the grind in long streams and a rich scent emerged as the dark brew dripped into the waiting cup.
Mikey deftly slid the cup into its protective ring of cardboard as the chocolate-colored liquid reached the cusp of the cup. He handed the open coffee to Rob a little quickly, and Rob completely failed on the grab. The burning brew fell, sloshing coffee onto Rob’s shirt until it hit his knee. The remainder of the coffee shot out of the cup, hitting Mikey in the chest.
“Ow!” they yelled simultaneously.
“My shirt!” whined Rob, as he delicately pinched the hot cloth away from his chest with his fingers.
Mikey was grimacing—some of the coffee had shot into his neck, where it steamed on his skin.
“Is everyone OK?” Alyssa chose her words carefully as she grabbed a cloth.
Mikey didn’t say anything, just stalked back to the bathroom. Rob was still plucking his shirt away from his skin, doing a little dance of discomfort as the coffee cooled.
“Are you wearing a shirt under that?” Alyssa queried.
“Why don’t you just take that one off…here…” Alyssa began to unbutton his shirt.
Now, THAT’S better. Rob sucked his gut in as his shirt was removed by Alyssa’s ministrations. She peeled it off, and there Rob was in his shirtsleeves above her. It was silly to think that this was all a coincidence. Alyssa was certainly going above and beyond her job title here…unnecessarily so. She began daubing his undershirt with the wet cloth.
“Yes, well your work-mate should learn to better handle his coffee.”
“He CAN be a little klutzy. I’ll just clean you up and get you another one.”
Yes…now he had Alyssa on his side. Feeling the touch of a female for the first time in years sent his blood pumping…and such a stunning one! He began fantasizing…how he would ask her on a date…right here!…even if in FRONT of the imbecile Mikey…he didn’t care! How he would wine and dine her at the most exclusive of restaurants, restaurants that only those that repaired the navigational system of ships knew about. How he would lay her on his 2000 thread-count sheets and she would stare up at him adoringly…
He leaned his head down a little to smell her hair.
“Did you just smell my hair?”
“Why, yes. Glorious.”
“um…please don’t do that. Here.” She handed him the cloth and walked back behind the counter.
Mikey reentered with a clean shirt on. Rob saw him glare past Alyssa at him. Not good behavior for one in customer service. Rob rounded his shoulders over his cup, brooding. So what if Alyssa didn’t want him smelling her hair…perhaps it was a bit too soon for such things. He hadn’t properly wooed her. He glanced back at the coffee bar to see Alyssa whispering to Mikey, who was giving him another glare.
Mikey stepped quickly over to Rob’s table.
“Yeah…you’re gonna hafta leave.”
“…and why is that?”
“Because, you were being inappropriate with your Barista.”
“I’d…”Rob paused for dramatic effect”…like to speak to you manager.”
“I am the manager.”
“The owner, then.”
“Look, this is MY coffee shop. I own and operate it. So I’M the only one there is to speak to.”
Rob paused. That didn’t seem right. That this aggressive child was in charge of anything, much less an owner. He was aware that there was no way to call him out on his lie, though.
“Well…” Rob began. “I think I’ll be taking my coffee to go, then.”
Rob stood, retucked her shit, and, giving Alyssa a knowing smile, strode out the door.