Espresso Pt. One

Tonight I’m being trained in. It’s my first official shift since orientation, and I’m supposed to be working with some guy named Sam, who’ll be showing me the ropes.

When I get to the Big Bean the place is practically empty. I glance behind the bar, looking for Sam. The only person there is a girl. She has brown hair and smoky eyes, and she’s leaning against the counter texting. I figure Sam is in the back, although I was told it would only be the two of us for the evening. I start toward the back room when the girl looks up.

“You must be Jackson,” she says. She sounds almost bored.

“Yeah,” I nod, “that’s me.”

She offers me her hand. “Hey, I’m Sam.”

Three thoughts immediately pop into my head. One, Sam is a girl. Two, whoa, she’s got a firm handshake. And three, holy-gilded-waffle-irons-Batman, Sam is a hot girl!

She regards me like she’s inspecting a racehorse or something. I’m suddenly fidgety, and I shove my hands deep into my pockets. She frowns. “Something wrong?”

I realize that I’m staring and shake my head. “No, it’s just, um, I was expecting a guy and you’re sort of…a girl. I mean, because Sam is a boy’s name I thought.”

My insides congeal. Did I really just say that out loud?

“Samantha,” she says with a straight face. “Like I said, is something wrong?”

“No,” I swallow, “of course not. Sorry.”

Great. Now she probably thinks I’m some sort of chauvinist pig.

She nods once, her face slightly puzzled. “Right. Let’s get this over with.”

She leads the way around the bar and through a swinging door to the back storage room, which doubles as an office. It’s a long rectangular room. To the right is an industrial style sink, behind which are shelves stacked with boxes, utensils, and containers full of dark, white, and milk chocolate. In the center of the room, pushed up along the back wall are two huge refrigerators, a clothes rack full of aprons, and in the far left corner is a desk that holds a fairly modern HP desktop system and a swivel chair.

“You’re gonna’ need an apron,” Sam says, nodding at the rack behind her.

“Oh, okay.” I maneuver past her. Even with only two people in here, the space feels tight and crowded. I grab the nearest apron and tug at it. It’s caught on something. I pull harder, and the whole rack nearly falls down on top of me.

“Crap!” I steady the rack and carefully untangle the knot that’s holding the apron to the hanger. Sam stands waiting, her hands on her hips and an exasperated look on her face as I struggle with the knot.

“I’ll be up front,” she says. She disappears, leaving me to my own devices. It takes longer than I would like to get the apron strings figured out and even longer to get the thing on. Eventually I manage it and rush back out. I find Sam behind the bar mixing a drink and step back with her.

The bar has the feel of a mad scientist’s laboratory. On the counter in front of us sit three bulky espresso machines, each complete with their own steamers. Four blenders and an oven take up the immediate back counter. On the other end are two giant coffee brewers, a grinder, and two three-foot tall thermoses labeled dark and light. In front of those are the double cash registers. I linger behind them. It’s all still very intimidating, and I start running through everything I learned at orientation; the difference between a cappuccino and a latte, how many shots of espresso go into which sized drinks, how to froth the milk…

“Are you much of a coffee drinker?” Sam asks without looking up from her concoction. “Sounds like a dumb question but you wouldn’t believe how many people have worked here that hate coffee.”

“Oh sure, I love coffee. Probably a little too much.”

She gives me a weird look as she squirts a shot of vanilla into the cup and tops it off with a huge dollop of whipped cream. “Okay…good.”

“Is it normally this quiet?” I ask, looking around at the barren lobby.

She caps the cup and takes a long sip. “Not really. We’re lucky.” She wipes the froth from her lip with the back of her hand.

“Why’s that?”

She leans back against the counter. “Because usually right around this time we have like a million people here, and with only you and me the line would go halfway around the block.”

“Because I’m still basically worthless, right?”

She takes another swig and nods. “Yep. But on the plus side, only the two of us here means bigger tips.”

I shove my hands in my pockets. Five minutes go by. The only sound to be heard is the distant humming of low-fi music from the speakers somewhere off in the lobby and Sam’s occasional slurping. I walk aimlessly back and forth.

“There’s nothing to do,” I state to no one in particular.

“Enjoy it,” Sam says.

I try. But after five more minutes I can’t take it. I take out my phone to text somebody and remember that I have no one to text. Other than Gray, but he doesn’t count.

“Should I make coffee or something?” I ask.

Sam gives me a look of detached curiosity. “You don’t get out much, do you?”

“What do you mean?”

She shrugs one shoulder. “I can tell you don’t.”

“Define ‘getting out.’”

She chuckles and folds her hands in front of her. “Tell me about yourself, Jackson. What do you do? What brings you here of all places?”

“Well um, let’s see…” It takes me a second to get my story straight. I haven’t really had to talk about myself in a long time, and the way she looks at me makes me forget how to use my brain. I fumble through a quick synopsis of my brief existence—all the while doing my best to skip over the boring bits. Which turns out to be most of my story.

Still, Sam listens, nodding at the right intervals, asking for clarification. When I finish she raises her eyebrows. “Wow, Jackson. You’re…awesome.”

I frown. “Really?” I can’t tell whether or not she’s being sarcastic.

She laughs. “Yeah.”

“Oh.” I shrug. “So, now I work here.”

I tug at my collar. Something about her—her piercing, impassive eyes, her stoic expression—makes me feel like I’m lying even though I’m not.

“So, what about you?” I ask, suddenly desperate to get some of her attention away from me.

She chugs the rest of her drink. “I just work here.”

The door chime rings, and a portly woman carrying two shopping bags shuffles in. Sam crushes her empty cup and tosses it in the waste bin. “Man the register, will you?”

“No problem,” I say, grateful to finally have something to do with myself.


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