“Dry cappuccino, coming right up.” Zeke tugged the corner of his apron and sidestepped Veronica as she rushed by with a slice of carrot cake. “Beautiful day, isn’t it?” Zeke commented to the bar-stool population-at-large. He tamped grounds into the portafilter, locked it into place, and pulled a shot.
“Not really,” said Mrs. Baxter. She sighed and patted her pug dog, Monarchy, on the head.
Steven, the café writer-in-residence, snorted. “I should get her a t-shirt that says ‘Mrs. Baxter disagrees with everything.’”
“I do not,” said Mrs. Baxter.
Steven smiled and peered into his coffee cup. “I could use a refill when you get a chance.”
“Steamed milk with that? I’ve got a bit extra from the capp.”
Zeke refilled Steven’s cup and turned to Veronica. She quirked her lips, the signal for this order makes no sense but whatever. “Three vanilla lattes with almond milk and whipped cream.” Then Veronica rolled her eyes, the signal for yes I told them the whipped cream is full-fat dairy.
“Coming right up,” said Zeke. He winked at Steven. Steven winked back.
“Five cinnamon buns, five house coffees to go. Your change is 50 cents,” Veronica told the next customer. The line went out the door.
“Don’t you love working on holidays?” asked Steven, eyes flicking down the line, mouth puckered in distaste.
Zeke poured steamed almond milk over the espresso shots and topped the cups with whipped cream. “It’s alright,” he shrugged, glancing out the window. “Look at that blue sky.”
Steven swiveled in his chair, considering the view. “It’s a bit nippy out.”
“Not compared to last week,” said Mrs. Baxter.
“Chocolate milk, a caramel macchiato, and a mocha. All for here,” said Veronica.
“Got it,” said Zeke. He squirted chocolate sauce into the bottom of two cups, and vanilla flavor into the third. He pulled a shot for the mocha and macchiato, then steamed milk for all three. “Don’t you have a coat?” he asked Steven.
“Borrow mine if you like.” Zeke shook the whipped cream canister to get the last of it, then drizzled caramel sauce on the macchiato.
“What, and lose my seat?” Steven grinned, “But alright, I can take a hint. Guess you need the seats with this crowd coming in.”
“Not what I meant,” said Zeke. “I just wish I could be outside.”
“Large Americano with extra water,” said Veronica, “and a London fog.”
“Where’s your coat?” asked Steven.
“Over there.” Zeke dumped out the portafilter and refilled it.
Steve got up and shrugged it on. “You’re not wanted for murder or anything, right? I won’t be implicated in some nefarious crime by wearing your coat?”
Zeke laughed and pulled a sachet of earl gray from the canister with a pair of tongs.
Steven turned to Mrs. Baxter. “Want to come along? Us regulars should stick together.”
“Alright,” said Mrs. Baxter. “Monarchy could use another walk.”
Steven raised his eyebrows at Zeke and mouthed “She agreed.”
“Oh shush,” said Mrs. Baxter. She smiled.
“Have fun,” said Zeke.
“Two lattes, a double cappuccino, and a shot of espresso,” said Veronica. “Oatmeal cookie and two cheese scones. Your change is five dollars.”
Zeke sighed and ground more coffee.
At 2pm, Zeke clocked out. He pushed past the line of customers at the door and stepped outside. Fresh air and blue sky swooped into his chest. Steven was right, it was a bit nippy. He wished he had his coat.
Seagulls wheeled overhead. Zeke shoved his hands in his pockets for warmth, then sauntered towards the waterfront. It felt good to be outside and not smelling coffee or cookies or milk. It felt good not to talk.
Waves lapped against the shore. Zeke left the walkway and tramped over the sand. After a few steps he pulled off his shoes. The sand pressed against the balls of his feet, soothing his sore muscles. Cold water tickled his toes.
He walked for a long way, eyes drawn from the outlines of driftwood to the wet line of surf to the sea arching into the horizon. Eventually he came to a curve in the beach, covered in piles of driftwood. A man sat on one of the logs, hunched over with his head in his hands. He wore Zeke’s coat.
Steven looked up, then rubbed his jaw. “It’s the oddest thing,” he said.
Zeke didn’t want to know. He wanted to keep walking and not talking, with the sand between his toes. But his coffee shop habits came automatic. “What is?”
“Mrs. Baxter,” said Steven. “She’s single, my age in fact. She told me she liked me. We kissed.”
Waves lapped against the beach. Sand crabs skimmed across the surface, ducking sideways into their holes. Steven chafed his hands, glanced at the horizon then back at Zeke. “I guess you’ll be wanting your coat back.”
“Yeah,” said Zeke.
“I appreciate you letting me borrow it,” said Steven, shrugging it off and handing it over.
Zeke put the coat on. It was still warm.
“Going to keep walking?” Steven asked.
Seagulls shrieked overhead. Steven scuffed his feet. He drew a hand across his face. “I guess I’ll head back.” He stood. They looked at each other. “See you tomorrow,” Steven said. Then he turned and walked away. Zeke watched him go. He fingered his coat. It felt the same as always. Strange, though, to think of it warming Steven’s back while he walked this same beach, felt the salt air, and kissed Mrs. Baxter.
Zeke stared into the blue sky. He breathed the air. He dug his toes into the sand.