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Fiction

Sadie flipped her dark ponytail over her shoulder as she tipped an open bag of whole coffee beans over a paper filter on a scale. She tilted the bag back up intuitively, without watching, as the number on the scale ticked upward until the display read precisely 0.220. Her fingers flitted to the white tags to mark the date of the prepped beans. She wrote the date, placed the tag, then grabbed one of the filters, pouring it into the grinder. Sadie raised her voice over the hollow ting-and-shir of the beans hitting the burrs, “You know what they don’t tell you on that little white placard with the price and the witty little description of the thing at the Trader Joe’s?”

“What?” Tyler answered flatly, dropping a square, plastic container of Perrier-softened cream cheese into the refrigerator door at the prep table.

“Organic carrots grow, Ty.” Sadie’s face contorted, turning toward Tyler to see his reaction.

“Really,” Ty replied coolly, grabbing a stack of decorative plates and the box of pastries that would top them.

Headlights flashed across the lobby and flipped off quickly, followed by the muffled sound of a car door closing.

“Yeah!” Sadie grabbed the filter and turned to the industrial machine. She plopped the filter into the coffee maker’s drawer and smoothed the edges of the filter against the sides of the reservoir. “I pulled a bag of ‘em out of my fridge last week and planted the suckers. Isn’t it a thing that you can only—

“Good morning!” Ty called out cheerily to a red-headed woman, bundled in a smart-looking wool coat and her teenage double as they approached the counter.

 “—eat the vegetables that are dead?” Sadie finished at volume, earning three blinks from the woman and an amused purse of the lips from Ty.

“What can we make for you this morning?” Ty flashed his customer-facing smile.

“Can I get a large black coffee and…” the woman looked at her daughter, “a medium caramel macchiato?” 

The daughter nodded, muttering a faint thank you.

Ty rang up the order quickly and moved to the espresso machine. Sadie winked at the girl as she took a cup from beside the registers. She hummed lightly as she expertly maneuvered the cup beneath the stream of fragrant black from the industrial machine. She maneuvered the Airpot back without spilling a drop and popped a lid on the cup before placing the drink on the counter, making eye contact to let the woman know it was ready. The woman smiled and picked up the cup, taking it to a counter stocked for coffee customization.

Sadie glanced at the prep table and rounded the corner to the back of the store for the silverware. “There’s a difference, right? Dead and alive veg?”

“Um—” The voice sounded from the counter.

“I mean, I didn’t want to get sick off of franken-freaky veggies. I’ve read that Arthur book.” Sadie raised her eyebrows conspiratorially at Ty as she passed. She dropped the knives into an empty plastic bin at the table, flipped the switch to begin the warmup of the toaster, and returned to the steaming coffee maker. 

“—excuse me. There isn’t anything in here.” The older red head bobbed close to the cashier counter apologetically as she held up a pitcher labeled ‘half and half.’ 

“Let me get that for you…” Sadie dumped the ice and filled the carafe before handing it back and returning to the coffee maker to dump coffee grounds and drop in a new filter.

“The aardvark, Arthur? Wasn’t that a show?” Tyler finished placing the pastries and turned toward the front of the shop, trays in hand.

“Oh, bye, now! Have a great day, guys!” Tyler called again to the women as they pushed open the door. He slid open the display case and arranged the plates of scones, danishes, and muffins to symmetric perfection.

Sadie snapped the lid onto the Airpot, placing it at the self-serve station, then punched the full potbutton over another, adjusting the new Airpot by sound as the nutty-sweet aroma of hot coffee wafted from the machine. She shrugged. “I’m pretty sure it was a book first. But, chicken—"

“Welcome in!” Ty beamed as an older couple approached the counter.

“—egg… who knows.”

Ty took their order—another black coffee, a toffee latte, and a bagel—while Sadie looked over his shoulder and grabbed a cup to hand to one of the couple for his coffee. Ty handed back a debit card and moved to the espresso machine, tamping the portafilter before appraising Sadie behind steaming milk. “Okay, but Sade. Wasn’t that a kids’ show? Like, just for entertainment?”

“Oh, definitely. But, come on! They had a book—episode, whatever—about bad carrots—”

“You’re out of skim milk.” The more mutinous looking of the couple, a solid, plaid-attired man with a permanent scowl, thrust the carafe across the counter at Sadie’s back, shaking it impatiently, as she cut the bagel and tossed it on to the toaster’s conveyor belt. She whipped off the food safety gloves and took the carafe with a pleasant nod.

“and you know it totally fits my brand as human against villainous fruits and vegetables. I’m thinking of starting a group… H-A-V-F-A-V,” Sadie said as she handed back the full carafe, donning new gloves and scooping the cream cheese as she waited for the bagel to move through the toaster's system.

Ty laughed, “Not as catchy as some other acronyms—” 

“Sorry, can I get a straw?” The other half of the couple asked. Ty grabbed a straw, twirling it with his fingers and inclining his head theatrically as she took it. 

“—but I’m here for it.”

“As I knew you would be,” Sadie grinned as she slid the bagel into a bag and handed off to the gruff-looking man. The odd couple settled into the plush seats in the corner of the coffee shop as Sadie turned back to the prep table. Her eyes unfocused for a moment, imagining the carrots growing in a time-lapse while brushing crumbs into her hand. She refocused, committing to the routine wipe down. “But, for real, they should put that on those little cards. I would like to know if my veggies have a life of their own.”

Tyler rubbed his face, yawning then squinting into the lightening daybreak outside, “Yeah, it’s disconcerting when things don’t do what you’re expecting. Like… just sitting in your crisper drawer.”

“Less that. More, so that I know to watch for it. Maybe I’m thinking about this all wrong, and that dastardly Arthur has prejudiced me about innocent survivor-veg. I need the empirical data, is all I’m saying.”

Tyler shook his head as he settled behind the espresso machine. “Want a latte?”

“Pour the shot or steam the milk first?” Sadie asked critically. 

“Milk in a pitcher, tamp the portafilter, pull the shot while steaming the milk,” Tyler replied evenly. 

Sadie lifted her chin to show her approving smile. “Sure, I’d love one. Three pumps hazelnut, one vanilla, sixteen ounces. Please.”

The silence lengthened as Tyler set the latte-making in motion before— “Empirical data? Really?”

“Um, are you questioning my use of the term or my need for the thing?” Sadie refilled the mocha powder container on the counter from the plastic bag-lined box they kept beneath it.

“I guess the need for the thing? Always so scientific?” Ty placed the drink on the corner of the façade that held the daily checklist, pointing to it conspicuously as Sadie glanced at him.

Sadie nodded in acknowledgement, then tilted her head back, fingers turned up and witchlocked in mad scientist fashion. “Muahahaha! Question everything!”

“Hear, hear!” The gruff man puffed through his mustache from the corner, raising his coffee toward the pair. The woman tapped his leg with the toe of her strappy boot, her eyes wide as she sipped her latte.

“Hey, hey, Marv!” Sadie pointed to the man, then added. “Um, your name was on your debit card.” The man scowled, turning infinitesimally toward the woman. Sadie stifled a chortle.

“Really, Sadie? Question everything?” Ty asked as the door of the shop opened to admit a line of people. “Good morning, guys! Welcome!”

“Absolutely.”

Ty took the first round of orders, pausing to help make them before moving on to the next group. "Do you question your mom?"

Sadie snorted. "Not to her face, but yeah."

Ty gave an incredulous eyebrow raise.

"No, seriously... I have been previously, um, shall we say, chagrinned by repeating things my mom has told me as unquestionable truths."

“Well, what else do you question that might not seem questionable—”

“Hey, can you make sure that’s two percent milk in there?” A customer in a chunky jacket interrupted.

Ty smiled and nodded. “—other than vegetables... and your mom?”

“Hmm. Actually, there has been something I’ve been questioning lately, but it isn’t a vegetable issue.”

“—can I get the cream cheese on the side, please?” A trim woman with an enormous bag asked from across the self-service coffee station.

Sadie held up a plastic single-serve container in confirmation before continuing, “My roommate told me her firm wants to hire me. I’m not even sure what they do.”

“No way! Are you telling me you’re leaving me?” Tyler called out the name of a customer with their order.

“No, I’m telling you I got a job offer from a company I don’t even know the name of.” Sadie paused for a moment in front of Ty, true inquiry on her face. “That’s weird, right? Not just crisper-drawer weird, but weird-weird?”

“Yeah.” Ty took the next group’s order, then began the dance of putting it together again. “What does your roommate do?” 

“I think she’s an interpreter? She might be in finance though? Her major changed so many times in college, I had to stop keeping track. But she said not too long ago that she's glad she gets to use what she went to school for.” 

“Hey, can I get some help here? You’re out of whole milk.” A man with a cap pulled over his eyes waved the next carafe at Sadie. She dumped and filled it, then handed it back, putting on the customer-facing smile.

“She’s certainly questionable.” Sadie said. Ty emphatically bobbed his head and called out the name of another customer.

“I need a straw, too.” The man with the cap intoned. He snapped impatiently after a moment.

 Sadie moved the straw out of the customer's grasp, then winked as she handed over the straw. She furrowed her brow at Ty, “Actually, I should probably ask more there.”

Sadie shook her head gently, pushing the roommate inquiries to the back of her mind as Marv made his way back to the counter. He was grimacing in what seemed to be an attempt at a pleasant way. Sadie smiled a wide amused grin at him, waiting for a request. He slid a small square of paper across the counter toward her.

It’s time to go.

Sadie held her grin while her brow crumpled quizzically. “Pardon?”

The grizzled man raised an eyebrow and shifted his eyes to the right. It was at that moment that Sadie noticed every person in the shop—except for Ty—had stopped moving. The entire coffee shop was paused in bated breath for her reaction.

Sadie’s mind quickly flipped through the clientele in the shop--the man with the oddly chunky jacket, the woman with the too-big bag, the guy with the hat pulled suspiciously down over his face... She skimmed each of them realizing that they hadn't stilled, but had begun moving with exaggerated slowness, the man with a hand in jacket, woman with her arm deep in her bag, hat fellow with both hands behind his back. The moment took too long. As the pause lengthened, a white smoke seeped from the corner where the woman had dropped her reserved pretense. She was still unlike the rest of them, her feet planted in a wide stance and a complex mask attached to her face. 

“Ty. Listen to me.” Sadie said evenly as she remained frozen, eyes fixed on the gas floating across the floor. “Run! Get out the back!”

Marv’s grizzled grimace broke into a true smile as he chuckled, crouching slightly and side-eyeing the people at his back. “Welcome to day one.”








December 19, 2020 04:58

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4 comments

You did just a lovely job writing this story! :)

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Alex Fim
00:36 Dec 25, 2020

You are so kind. Thank you for taking the time to read it!

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Oh, no problem! :)

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Salma Jarir
13:19 Jan 27, 2021

Woww that was rlly amazing !!

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