Leaflitter wasn’t supposed to taste like this. Michael took another tentative sip of the warm drink. Even the smell seemed spot on, it was earthy and rich, with undertones of drying plant life. It was smooth and firm, and the taste on his tongue curled like piles of crisp autumn leaves. Leaflitter wasn’t supposed to taste like this. It wasn’t supposed to taste good. It should probably be muddy, not clean and calming.
The young man looked up to match the obviously pleased face of his employer.
“It’s good?” He smiled questioningly.
All Michael could do was nod distantly. “Yeah, it's nice.” Michael assured him, looking down into the light faun shade of the “leaflitter” latte.
“Great,” Séan grinned a bit smugly. “I’ll add it to the autumn board and the coffeemakers then.” He announced. “I wanted to be sure someone else liked it too. I don’t know about the current name though. “Leaflitter” doesn’t sound wildly appetizing, does it?”
Michael shook his head, setting down the clay mug and returning his hands to his pockets.
Séan Douglas was the center of a dramatic running joke amongst his employees that he was secretly a wizard. All of his seasonal menu changes were impossible, and no other coffeeshop knew how to recreate them no matter how often they tried to buy or steal the recipe.
Perhaps the craziest thing was that Mr. Douglas wasn’t making a fortune from it. He hadn’t opened up a new location for The Muddy Cup, nor did he charge a high price for the obvious monopoly over his drinks.
“Thanks for trying it out,” He told Michael. “I hope I’m not going to keep you too long by calling you back here.”
“No, it's fine,” he answered quickly. “I haven’t got anywhere better to be.”
Except maybe home, but he was happy for the excuse to dodge studying for his midterms.
“Oh that’s perfect then,” Séan said with the confidence of someone who was expecting honesty. “If you don’t mind hanging around, I wanted to bring up something with you.”
Michael wondered for a moment if he should be worried about something. Mr Douglas was somehow a person that never came off as very intimidating. Even those who worked under him never faced the risk of his anger, instead, you would suffer the wrath of his disappointment, which was remarkably twice as bad.
“What is it?” Michael asked neutrally.
Séan paused, looking oddly nervous. The flicker of betrayed uncertainty quickly disappeared. “You’re a hard worker Michael, even with school and your sports to balance. I notice you aren’t very talkative, but you're certainly kind.” He explained. “And I’ve met some of your classmates.” He added under his breath. Séan sat down in a comfortable looking chair in the office, gesturing for Michael to do the same.
“But I have an odd question Michael, have you ever looked into herbology?”
“The study of plants?”
“Usually medicinal, but yes you could define it that way.” He smiled, resting his chin casually on top of his fist.
“Is that how you make all your drink flavors?” Michael asked.
“Sure,” He shrugged. “It’s a part of mixology and you know I started off as a bartender.”
Michael nodded. He was convinced that Mr Douglas had just happened upon a combination of flavors able to mimic the odd nooks and crannies of nature. Séan even kept a number of plant filled jars in his homey office, making an odd assortment of blended green hues. He claimed they were for decoration, and they certainly looked that way, but Micahel had noticed the quantities changing subtly from time to time.
“Anyway,” Séan continued, possibly impatient from the brief pause. “I wanted to know if you’ve ever found any interest in it. I know it’s a strange category to look into, but I’ve found a variety of fascinating aspects to it.”
“Yeah, I guess.” Michael tried. “I think plants are actually kind of cool. A lot of our units in biology last year were centered around them, but we only learned their adaptations and identification, we never really went into what they did.”
“And you’re taking AP chemistry now, is that right?”
Michael hummed in confirmation.
“I see.” Séan murmured thoughtfully. He reached over to a corner of his desk and brought over one of his knitting projects. Unless it was a serious topic, he liked to be fiddling with his hands. Michael knew he barely needed to look down to get the pattern right, but he would often advert his gaze anyway. It was quite disarming.
“I would really recommend that subject for you then. I’m sure at one point or another you’ve heard someone compare cooking to chemistry and they're absolutely right. The plants that go into that mix are like walking chemical reactions. Allergies and drugs make for great examples of how those work.” He rambled, the wooden needles making a pleasant thk thk thk in tune with the dancing red yarn.
Michael blinked, taking a closer look at the needles he was holding. One of them wasn’t a needle. He wasn’t actually sure what it was, but it was at least wooden. The stick was longer, and of a much darker shade. It looked much more like a smooth dowel rod, and it couldn’t be the same diameter of the needle. Michael wondered if Séan had lost one, but the mismatched stick looked too refined. It seemed intentional, but it was a weird choice.
His stare snapped upwards. Séan had been asking him something.
“Uh, yeah, sure.” he bluffed.
The older man smiled. It looked like that had been the right answer. “That’s great!” He exclaimed happily, setting down his knitting again. “Don't forget that I can always make my schedule more flexible than yours, but I’m glad to offer help for your upcoming project.”
Michael blinked, tactfully deciding not to admit that he hadn't been paying attention.
“Aside from that, I won’t keep you behind any longer.” Séan passed him a small index card with some directions in slanted handwriting. Michael looked it over. It was a location. And a time. He jumped up, moving exit the door Séan was politely holding out for him.
“It would be nice to talk to someone about spel- about herbology,” Séan corrected. “There’s….” He trailed off distantly, at a loss for words. “There’s a lot of things I would like to show you.”
Michael looked behind him at the leaflitter drink he had been asked to taste test. What a weird flavor to get absolutely perfect.
“Curled leaves.” He announced unconsciously.
“Hm?” Séan asked curiously.
“Oh, uh,” Michael flushed. “You could call the drink "curled leaves",” He said, pointing to the ceramic cup. “Because you said that uh, "leaflitter" didn’t sound very appetizing.” He offered helplessly.
Séan flashed another easy smile. “I like that.” he nodded. “Yeah, I think I’ll use that one. Thanks, Michael, I’ll see you later.” He added happily, giving a final hopeful glance in the boy’s direction before turning back into his office.
Michael blinked. He looked down at the index card. He had an itching feeling that he had just been interviewed a second time, but for what he wasn’t entirely sure. He had an even more uncomfortable feeling that it was a test he had just passed.