The crisp morning air bit at my cheeks gently. It wouldn't be too long before it became a full-on winter breeze. The tips of my fingers were painfully numb. Maybe I should have worn my gloves today. I saw my sanctuary from the cold up ahead, the coffee shop.
However, as I approached, that sanctuary quickly turned into a chamber of torment. I watched as Mike began to hang a poster in the window. The picture on it stared at me ominously. As he saw me he gave a sad, empty smile. No, it couldn’t be. I rushed inside.
“Lisa! Please, tell me it isn’t true,” I begged as I raced toward the counter.
She sighed and gave me the same sad smile as Mike. “I’m afraid so. We start selling the seasonal fall drinks tomorrow.”
I groaned loudly and laid across the counter exhaustedly. Luckily, there were no customers at the moment. It gave me the chance to fully express the despair I felt at my hopeless situation.
“Sorry, Pheebs. Clock in and get over here so I can get you ready for the onslaught tomorrow,” she said, patting my head.
I slunk off the counter slowly and drug my feet all the way to the back. Why? Why did there have to be seasonal drinks? Of course, the customers were excited for them, but they were hell for the employees. I felt like I’d just barely recovered from the summer drinks and the fall ones were here already.
“Mike, you too, stop dragging your feet,” I heard Lisa call. “You guys should learn them now while we’re not busy.”
Mike and I stood behind the counter like two prisoners being tortured. Lisa may have been the one who had to teach us, but she didn’t seem thrilled about the idea either. As far as I was concerned, the only good thing about seasonal drinks was that I could drink them here for free. And, honestly, I think I’d rather pay.
Spiced Caramel Apple Cider, Cinnamon Swirl Coffee, and I swear to God if I even had to smell Pumpkin Spice one more time, I was going to end up puking. The extra ingredients we had to haul back and forth from the storage room, the new recipes we had to learn in addition to the hundred or so we already had to memorize, the constant questions from customers about the new drinks. They were all bad, but manageable.
The only thing worse than having seasonal drinks in a coffee shop? Having seasonal drinks in a coffee shop in a college town. Ugh. I could already see the lines of sorority girls in their bubble-style parkas and college-themed headbands lining up to get their first Pumpkin Spice fix of the year. The over-worked graduate students taking up tables for hours on end as they kept refilling their reusable mugs with cup after cup of seasonal black coffee. After all, if you have to be stressed about a thesis, you may as well be festive while you do it. Swarms and swarms of college students in never-ending waves of caffeine-fueled chaos.
However, the worst wasn’t even the students. It was the regulars. Every year we got swamped with the influx of students looking for seasonal drinks. The students knew we were busy, and they didn’t mind waiting to get their fix, but the regulars? God forbid they have to wait one minute longer than usual for their coffee.
The younger regulars were grouchy, but that was usually because of all the people in the shop. The older ones were much worse. For some reason, anyone over forty seemed to think they were a VIP in the shop and we, as the employees, were personally responsible for any inconvenience they faced. Line too long? Complaint. Their coffee is fifth in line? Complaint. Students being too noisy? Complaint. And God forbid that in all the seasonal chaos you forget and actually ask them their order. You may as well have murdered their entire family the way they screamed.
And I’d have to deal with all of it for the next couple of months. Not even the sweet blessing of free hot drinks throughout the chilly weather was enough to quell the pure misery I felt just thinking about it. As if on cue, Lisa handed me a cup.
“Here, try the cider,” she insisted. I took a small sip. “What do you think? How does it taste?”
“Like despair,” I mumbled.
“Well, at least despair tastes like caramel,” she said, shrugging.
“And pairs well with the cake doughnuts we got in,” Mike said through a half-chewed bite.
“Mike! We’re testing drinks, not food!” Lisa cried.
He shrugged. “What? It’s research. I have to upsell things to customers, right? It’s easier to sell the food if I know what drinks go well with them.”
“Oh, bull! You just want an excuse to eat the doughnuts.”
I couldn’t help smiling as they argued. Working here this time of year was hell, but hell didn’t seem as bad with them around. In the rare times when the customers weren’t here, we could crack jokes and talk like this. At the end of the day, we could swap stories about the good and the bad customers we had throughout the day. We would play music throughout the store at closing time as we cleaned, having impromptu karaoke battles when a good song came on. At the end of the night, we’d say our goodbyes and head out, each of us with a well-earned drink in our hands. Then go home to prepare to do it all again tomorrow.
“Here, Pheebs, you try one too,” Mike said, handing me a doughnut. “They’re actually not half bad.”
“Mike!” Lisa cried, exasperated.
“Oh, come on. The poor thing just found out it was seasonal time again,” he said, nudging her gently. “She needs this.”
Lisa sighed and rolled her eyes, but didn’t argue with him. I took a bite of the doughnut. Not great, but like Mike said, not half-bad.
Lisa grumbled under her breath about Mike wasting products as she went back to her office to work on more promotional things. Mike shrugged it off and started brewing some fresh coffee for the before-class rush in an hour. I munched on my doughnut as I started looking over the recipes for the seasonal drinks again.
“Mike! Don’t even think about it!” I heard Lisa shout.
I heard her footsteps running back to the counter. I didn’t even look up, but I knew he was trying to take another doughnut. Of course, this started them playfully arguing again. The drinks may have been seasonal, the students may have been seasonal, but moments like this were seasonal too.
He tussled her hair like a small child, leading her to make several half-hearted threats to kick his ass. As I watched them fighting and laughing I couldn’t help but think, maybe seasonal things weren’t so bad after all.