My first cup of the day is ready. It’s a decaf skinny vanilla latte drowning in milk with a dusting of cinnamon. I glance at the door while trying to create a mocha-colored heart against the backdrop of milky foam.
She smiles at my artistic attempts.
Every morning at 5:45, she strolls into the lobby and stops at the Coffee Express counter, waiting with a sense of urgency that rivals my most caffeine-crazed customers. Even on the days when she is in a rush for her elevator ride, she never skips her latte ritual. I’m not sure I will ever understand why decaf exists, but I’m kind of glad it does.
My shift starts at 6, but Decaf Girl doesn’t need to know.
A gust of wind from the front door makes me look up. She looks amazing as usual. Sleek blue pumps and a bright yellow, daisy-print dress landing just above her knees. In fact, does she ever wear the same thing twice? In a world of black professional wear, she always adds a pop of color. I wonder where she works. I could just ask, but the more I speak, the more I increase my chances of saying something stupid.
Someone like her might laugh at the dumb things the coffee guy said in the morning while dining with the trust-fund suits from level 12’s accounting firm. Yet for the past five month’s worth of drinks, her ring finger tells me I have a chance.
She steps forward while rummaging through her bag for exact change.
“Good morning.” It’s the one thing I’m confident I can say right, which is pathetic considering I get to practice that stunning two-word phrase a million times during the day. I tug at my plaid shirt sleeves, glad that the counter is hiding my threadbare sneakers.
“Guess I’m predictable, huh?” She smiles toward the generic-print cup and hands me two dollars, a quarter and a hair clip. Her cheeks turn cherry-red. “Gosh, I need to organize this purse. I usually have tons of quarters in here.”
I laugh and fish out a spare quarter from my tip jar. “It’s fine. Actually, I’m missing a name for the order. Gotta ask. New policy.” Gotta? Way to use proper English. And you’ve been working on that line for months.
I finish lettering the outside, and she takes a second to analyze it. “Huh, you spelled it right.”
“I try. By the way, I like your hair today.”
Her face falls and I could tell she was wondering if her hair had looked bad on previous days. Shut up before you make it worse.
She knows my name! Wait, why did I take so long to ask hers? My happiness dissipates as I remember my name is printed on my ID badge in 3-inch red letters.
“See, it’s easy for me to look this great every day,” I point at the hairnet caging in my two-weeks-past-a-haircut jungle. “Too bad this style hasn’t caught on with the corporate crowd.” Shut up about the hair already, dork!
She giggles and hands me back the hair clip. “You might need this.”
I reach up to find my hair net sliding off. Smooth, I cringe as I fix it with the marble clip. I finish and offer a modeling spin.
“Maybe that look will catch on.” Yvette waves before hurrying towards the elevator.
My phone buzzes me back to reality and I pull it out in time to see a photo of NY Giants tickets along with a message from my boss, “Guess who is going to have to pull a Double Shift tonight?” I place the phone back inside my pocket with a sigh. Looks like I’ll be done when the janitor finishes his lineup of black coffees.
The rest of the day melts in a patterned blur of people sitting on stiff lobby couches. The elevator dings and faces and orders blend into a long drip of mundane mocha. I sit on my bar stool and pull out my Quantum Physics textbook, thumbing through the worn pages. Someday I might have a chance at a real job.
6 PM creeps along. Yvette hasn’t walked by yet. She must work late too. Maybe I could work that into a conversation sometime. I would think about it on the way home so I didn't end up stumbling badly in the delivery. I flip the to the end of the chapter and remember with a groan that my professor assigned both even and odd number questions for homework this week.
“Hey Sonny,” the janitor yells across the lobby, breaking my focus mid-equation. “Can you bring that cup of Joe over here?”
I start across, fresh black brew balancing in one hand with my textbook in the other. The elevator opens. I turn my head in time to see a flash of yellow colliding into me. Coffee rain pours down.
“Shit,” the janitor bellows.
Yvette’s face hovers above mine, horrified. We untangle and I offer a hand to steady her as she gets back onto her feet. The contents of her purse scatter across the floor. People step around us, avoiding the coffee splashes and personal items.
“You ok? I’m… so sorry,” I scramble to pick everything up, using my hairnet to hold as much as possible, shaking off the coffee.
“Yeah… you?” Yvette adds an intern’s ID badge for Fashionable Times Magazine into my hairnet before grabbing my textbook and eyeing its dripping pages.
I can’t even bear to look at her as we walk over to the counter to dry everything off with the miniature, economy-size napkins. Catastrophe is mathematically measurable and ironically, I always seen to find myself as the unwanted variable.
“Hey,” she nudges my arm, forcing me to face her.
I try to find my voice. “You probably hate me right now.”
She laughs. “There are only two things I hate: my narcissistic boss and real coffee. You aren’t on that list.” Yvette holds my gaze meaningfully and for a second, I feel my skin turning as red as the plaid squares on my shirt.
“Yeah but your dress is ruined. You were probably going somewhere nice and now…”
The Janitor grunts behind us, swearing at the liquid that normally makes his day complete.
“It’s not a big deal,” Yvette says, wiping her hands on her dress. “I’m actually on my way home where some yoga pants and an over-sized t-shirt are calling my name. No harm done.”
“Really? I thought-”
“Don’t be such a drip, ask her out already,” the janitor interrupts as the smell of caffeine mingles with orange-infused cleaning chemicals.
She giggles, then suggests, “Well, you do owe me for a dry cleaning. And maybe dinner somewhere that serves tea?”
“Yes ma’am,” I smile, “That’s an order I can complete.”
“Don’t forget my coffee. Is that an order you can complete?” the janitor grumbles, pushing the mop around our feet.