Josh looked out at the long line of customers and then down at the clock on the cash register. “Only five more minutes until break,” he said over his shoulder to Todd.
“Yours or mine?” Todd said as he sprayed whipped cream onto a fancy-named drink that was basically liquid chocolate.
“Mine,” Josh said. He took a patron’s money, placed it in the register drawer, and handed the patron a receipt.
“Don’t you even think about leaving until that line dies down,” Todd said.
“Five minutes and I walk,” Josh said with teasing authority. He knew he could joke with Todd. The two men worked well together and trusted one another. Josh would never actually leave Todd to manage a line like this one by himself. The fact that Todd knew that made it okay to joke about.
Josh liked working with Todd better than the other employees of Zachariah’s Coffee. With the others, things were choppy. Josh was always bumping into them because the other employees drifted into his space. With Todd, it was different. He and Josh were like a machine. Josh took the orders and made the simple drinks, while Todd worked on the more complicated things. When someone ordered a small coffee, Todd knew Josh would take care of it; and if someone ordered one of the more complex menu items, Josh knew to stay out of the way. It was nice working alongside someone whose movements you understood and could predict.
“And what can I get for you today, little man,” Josh said to the boy who’d stepped up to the counter. Josh knew exactly what the boy was going to say. The boy came into the shop every day after school and ordered the exact same thing.
“Hot chocolate. Extra whip. Keep the change,” the boy said as he placed two dollars and fifty cents on the counter, the exact price of the drink.
“Why, good sir,” Josh said with mock surprise. “You’re so generous.”
The boy winked. “And don’t you forget it,” he said.
“One hot chocolate, extra whip,” Josh called over his shoulder.
“You better split that tip with me,” Todd said back.
“I missed you over the break, little man,” Josh said to the boy. “Did you have a good Thanksgiving?”
“My mom made a huge turkey and mashed potatoes,” the boy said with a big smile.
“Was there pie?” Josh said.
“Yeah,” the boy said. “Lots of pie. Three kinds.”
“Sounds like the perfect meal,” Josh said.
“It was fun,” the boy said.
“Alight, little man. You know where to go,” Josh said, motioning with his head to the Pick Up sign over the top of the other end of the counter.
“See you tomorrow,” the boy said.
“Next,” Josh called with a smile.
Two young women stepped up to the counter. Josh barely noticed them as he placed the boy’s money in the register drawer. “What can I get you?” he said.
“Hey, Josh,” the first woman said.
Looking up, Josh didn’t recognize either of the women. The first was tall and brunette. She had a mischievous smile on her face. The amount of confident eye contact she was offering made Josh uncomfortable. The second was shorter, had sandy-red hair, and was looking away, trying to avoid eye contact altogether.
“Do I know you?” Josh said.
“Of course. We were in here yesterday,” the first woman said.
“Let’s just go, Autumn,” the second girl said, looking toward the door.
“I’m sorry I don’t remember. We get a lot of customers,” Josh said, trying to be kind. “What can I get you?”
“You sure you don’t remember her?” Autumn said, pointing to her friend.
“Stop it, Autumn,” the second woman said. “It’s too late. I already told you.”
“No, sorry,” Josh said, shaking his head.
“Could you hurry this along?” a short man in a brown suit said from behind the girls. “I’ve got to get to work?”
“Sorry,” Josh said, giving the man a smile. “Okay, ladies,” he said to the two women. “What can I get you?”
“I’ll just get a medium latte,” the second woman said, looking at the floor.
“And I’ll have a Café Mélange,” Autumn said, leaning on the counter and smiling at Josh. “Extra whip, just like yesterday.”
“Okay,” Josh said, punching the orders into the cash register. “That’ll be eight dollars and twenty-three cents.”
“Go ahead,” Autumn said to her friend. “Do it.”
The second woman looked at the ceiling. “I told you, it’s not going to work,” she said.
“Ladies?” Josh said.
“I just want a large black coffee,” the man in the brown suit said as he peered over the shoulder of the second woman in an attempt to make eye contact with Josh.
“I’ll be with you in one minute, sir,” Josh said.
“Come on,” Autumn said to her friend. “Just do it.”
“Fine,” her friend said, stomping her foot. She took a deep breath, placed her hands on the counter, leaned toward Josh, looked him in the eye, and said, “How about you give us those drinks for free?”
Josh cocked his head in confusion. “Why would I do that?” he asked.
“I told you it was too late,” the second woman said, taking a step back and looking at her shoes.
Autumn’s eyes burned with rage. Motioning toward her friend, she said to Josh, “What is wrong with you? Don’t you recognize her?”
“No,” Josh said, looking at the second woman. “I’m sorry.”
“She’s a superhero, you idiot. How do you not see it?” Autumn said.
“I’m going to be super angry if I’m late to work,” the man in the brown suit said.
“Let’s just go, Autumn,” the second woman said, looking at the door again.
“A superhero?” Josh said, confused. He thought through all the heroes he’d seen in the news over the past few weeks. He couldn’t match this woman in his mind to any of them.
“Just yesterday she was on the front page,” Autumn said.
“I think I’d remember that,” Josh said with a laugh.
“Yesterday you did,” Autumn said, stomping her foot in frustration. “And you said she was the most beautiful woman you’d ever seen, and you gave us free drinks.”
Josh laughed harder. “I would remember that,” he said.
“Can we please just go,” the second woman said.
“Please,” the man in the brown suit said.
“Look at her,” Autumn demanded.
“Okay,” Josh said. He looked at the woman again, studying her features. “Sorry,” he said. “It doesn’t ring a bell. That’ll be eight dollars and twenty-three cents.”
“Hey, Todd,” Autumn called to Josh’s partner.
Todd stopped what he was doing and stepped behind Josh so he could see the customers and asked, “I’m sorry, do I know you?”
“Yesterday, you told my friend here that you would give her anything she wanted, on the house, that she was the most delicious thing you’d ever seen, that you would leave your girlfriend for her.”
Todd and Josh burst into laughter. “I’m sorry,” Todd said. “But that never happened, and I’ve never seen you before in my life.”
“Black coffee. Large,” the man in the brown suit called.
“Ladies,” Josh said. “That’ll be eight dollars and twenty-three cents, or I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”
Smacking the counter to punctuate each sentence, Autumn demanded, “Look at her! She’s a superhero! Her name is Pumpkin Spice! And yesterday, you idiots were falling all over yourselves to give her whatever she wanted!”
“Pumpkin Spice?” Josh said. “I’m sorry. If we’ve met, I don’t remember you.”
The second woman sighed. Digging into her purse, she pulled out a ten dollar bill and placed it on the counter. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I tried to tell her that my powers only work from September first to Monday after Thanksgiving, but she just wouldn’t listen.”
“Sorry,” Josh said, as he took Pumpkin Spice’s money and placed it in the register drawer. “I honestly have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Of course you don’t,” Pumpkin Spice said.
“You can pick up at the end of the counter,” Josh said, handing the woman her change. “Next,” he called. The two women walked to the end of the counter, arguing quietly with one another, their heads hung in defeat.
“Finally,” the man in the brown suit said, stepping forward. “I’ll have a . . .”
Before the short man could finish his order, the young woman behind him touched him on the shoulder. The physical contact sent visible shivers through the short man. With a smile, he said sweetly, “Why don’t you go first, ma’am?”
The young woman giggled and stepped in front of him. “Thank you,” she said. “Don’t mind if I do.”
Seeing her for the first time, Josh’s mouth fell open. She was nothing less than a goddess. He couldn’t tear his stare from her red lips and blue eyes. He wanted nothing more than to get lost in them for hours. “H-how can I help you?” he stuttered.
The woman giggled. “I’d like a large café macchiato,” she said.
Josh instinctively leaned in as she spoke to smell her breath. It was sharp, and sweet, and left a tingle in his nose. He closed his eyes and held the smell, savoring the sensation it caused. “And, um, who can I say this order is for?” he said, gazing at her again.
“My name’s Peppermint,” she said with a flirtatious grin.
“I’m Josh,” he said extending his hand.
When she returned the gesture, Josh felt a small jolt of electricity. “And how about we make that drink on the house?” Peppermint said.
Still holding her hand, Josh replied with a dreamy sigh, “Anything for you.”