My short story, Barista, is published here first for your pleasure. I plan to publish original content weekly. It may be a poem, flash, or a longer short. Stay in touch and let me hear what you think. Chris
His eyebrow rose. “Forty-three?” The assistant manager shakes his head at The Expresso Computer’s newest hire. “Tisha, I wouldn’t have pegged you over thirty.”
Latisha Williams frowns and points her long brown finger at the tip jar. “I’m not tipping you Brian.”
“Too bad.” He flips a can of whipped cream into the air, catching it behind his back. With a flourish of prestidigitation he squirts a dollop on a hot Grande Supreme. “Your soy, mocha, latte with three shots.” He hands the steaming java to an enamored teen.
“Impressive.” Tisha nods her Afro and glances over the room. It’s 4:30. The tables are full with one computer station unoccupied. The afterschool rush is over. It’s her fourth day, and she knows the routine—now the after work crowd. Squeezing out a soapy sponge in the sink, she wipes down the counter. “This place moves. How long have you been working here?”
“A couple of years. I’m in grad school.” Brian pulls a stack of cups from the stash under the counter and points to the assistant manager tag on his chest. “I can set my own hours.” Beans rattle as he pours coffee into the grinder. “And you? This is a career opportunity at your age?”
“Funny,” she says, over the noise of the coffee mill. “I’m waiting for an opening to teach high school math.” She ducks her head and throws some trash away. “And you’re studying computer science?”
“No, I’m working on my Masters in psychology.”
“I thought you were the computer geek here.”
“I’m good with technology, and Bob is a complete zero.” Brian’s fingers circle into an O.
“He is strange.” From the platform behind the counter, Tisha looks over the bookshelves dividing the store and recognizes the manager. His bald crown, like an egg, nests on the long black tuft of fuzz over his ears. “What do you think of that chain tatt around his neck and down his arm?”
Brian continues his inventory. “It’s tied to his thumb—holds his head on.”
“Hey.” Mandi steps behind the counter. “What are you giggling about?” Her messy chic hair piled on her head is tied with a ribbon, matching the store aprons.
“We were discussing Bob.” Tisha shakes an air-pot. “What do you think of him?”
“He’s weird.” Mandi looks at Brian, “But he doesn’t hassle me. What’s not to like?”
Brian pushes a pour spout into a bottle of hazelnut syrup. “Maybe his inane banter or the glassy way he looks after lunch?”
“He isn’t stalking me.” She wrinkles her upper lip in Brian’s direction, giving her spiky top-knot a dismissive flip.
He shakes his head with a sigh. “It’s calm right now.” He pats his shirt sleeves, rolled evenly to the elbow. “You two can handle this. I’m taking my break.” He steps down from behind the bar and vanishes between the bookcases.
Tisha looks at Mandi. “Stalking, really?”
The teenager shrugs. “Maybe just creepy.” A gaggle of khaki queues at the counter. “May I help you?” Mandi flashes her practiced grin.
Dark outside, the line has disappeared finally. Tisha rolls her shoulders. “You work till close often?”
“Not if I can help it.” Mandi plunges the empty carafes into the sink of water. “And I’ve already told them, not during cheerleading.” The two stand side-by-side washing and drying equipment. Mandi leans into Tisha and whispers “See the buff guy sitting by himself?” Tisha looks over her shoulder. “He’s been in here every day this week. Reads Muscle Car Magazine.” Mandi giggles.
“What’s so funny?” Tisha looks at the guy slouched in the upholstered chair.
“He drinks cinnamon lattes.” Their laughter echoes through the room.
Tisha sends Muscle Car a finger wave. He knows they’re talking about him.
Mopping the counter, Tisha points at a stack of text books and a binder in the corner on the bottom shelf. “Is that Brian’s?”
“Yeah, said he’d be back in twenty, and it’s been hours.” Mandi wipes the perspiration from her forehead with her wrist. “I’ll bet he’s in the back office playing video games.”
“Bob doesn’t care?”
“Brian’s excuse is, he’s working on the computer connections. He’s always working on the computers when I’m swamped out here.”
“I wonder what a psych major studies.” Tisha picks the binder up and a folder falls onto the floor.
“I don’t think we should mess with his stuff.” Mandi squats to pick-up the pile of papers. “Oh, my God.” She looks up at Tisha.
“What do we have here?” Tisha takes a grotesque photo of a naked child and glances over her shoulder. The seating area is deserted except for a table of rowdy female forty-somethings dousing their wine buzz with caffeine.
“I can’t believe this.” Mandi stands at the counter and riffles through the notebook. “The creep is a perv.”
“Shhh…” Tisha looks over the sack of books. “Brian’s coming.”
Disgust plays across Mandi’s face. “If you think I’m not saying anything, you’re crazy.”
Tisha shoves the photos back into the folder. “Put it away until we get some help.”
“Bob’s not going to help. He’s a wimp.
Brian steps behind the counter. “What are you doing with my stuff?”
“You’re sick, Brian.” Mandi folds her arms and juts one hip to the side.
Tisha steps in between. “This is yours?” She holds out his books and binder.
“Yes.” Brian reaches for the texts and smiles his perfectly straight teeth. “For my dissertation.”
He glares at Mandi. “Let me have the folder.”
Tisha turns to the counter and opens the folder. “Interesting. I’ll bet the D.A. would love to look at these.” She holds up a photo.
“Shit.” Brian shoves Tisha to the ground and grabs the folder. Mandi shrieks.
As he turns and steps over Tisha, she projects a well-placed foot to the groin. He collapses on top of her.
Muscle Car jerks Brian up and throws him against the mini-fridge with an ooph. “Williams, you okay?”
“Leger, you ass. Where were you?” She sits up and pulls a pair of cuffs from her apron pocket.
“I had to pee. Gees.” He yanked Brian’s hands behind his back.
“If you wouldn’t drink so many cinnamon lattes…” The handcuffs sing as she snugs them onto Brian’s wrists.
Leger offers his partner a hand-up.
“Crap.” Tisha stands with a grunt. “I’m getting too old for this.”