When you work at a café, you meet a lot of people every day. Those who are busy, those who take it slow, those who just come for lunch, and those who takes everything to go. You learn to recognize them, and put faces, and sometimes names, with the orders. A black coffee for the man with the blue tie, a tea with four sugars for the tired mother with her two kids hanging on her coat, A tuna sandwich and a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice for the student who's always reading, and cappuccino for the men in suits with their leather briefcases and fancy Italian shoes. Maria from the corner store always orders a pastrami sandwich for lunch, and Peter who works at a nearby office always orders a salad with noodles and cheese cubes. It becomes a closed little world where everyone knows everyone, even if they are strangers on the streets. I've worked here since High-school, and one should think I'd get tired of it, but fact is, I love it. I love to be recognized by the regulars, and to be able to make someone's day a bit better with a friendly smile and a cup of coffee.
It was a day like any other, though, it was raining cats and dogs outside. People huddled up inside, most of them drenched, holding their coffee cups in both hands to get their fingers warmed. At first, I barely noticed him. My mind was a bit off, and it wasn't until he cleared his throat for the third time that I snapped out of my own little world of thoughts. “E-excuse me, Miss? Could I h-have a latte, p-please?” He stammered a bit, and his glasses were all covered with raindrops, distorting his eyes a bit. His messy blond hair was clinging to his face from the rain, and he looked very much like a half-drowned mouse. “Of course Sir. I am very sorry. A big or a small?” I smiled, offering him a tissue for the glasses. He accepted gratefully, narrowing his eyes a little to see when he took his glasses off to wipe them clean “B-big, thank you. And an e-egg salad s-sandwich.”
I confirmed his order and punched it in, receiving the money in cash. He had counted it out already, and had added a couple of coins for tips. Then he took his sandwich and latte, and went to sit down in one of the corner booths. I continued to serve the other customers, and didn't think too much of him. I had not seen him before, and honestly didn't really expect to see him again.
However, the next day he returned again. Same time. He ordered a latte and an egg salad sandwich, sitting down in a corner booth and read his newspaper. He actually didn't look too bad, and he seemed a little shy and very self-aware about his stutter. He made an effort to stutter as little as possible when ordering his food and coffee, but he couldn't suppress it entirely.
It took me five weeks to get him to tell that he was working nearby. That he was in fact a lawyer, transferred from an office in Chicago to help out his cousin in his company. It took me another two weeks to lure a smile out of him, and get him to call me by my name rather than just “Miss”. After all, all our regulars call me by name, so it was only right that he did too. I couldn't help but be nice to him. I have to admit I felt a little sorry for him. Sometimes, when the stutter was really bad because he was nervous or tired, he had the sad look of a puppy, as if hoping and praying I wouldn't make fun of him. So, I made it my personal little mission to be patient and kind with him, even if it sometimes took a few moments for him to order. He was always grateful when I saved him by asking if he wanted the usual. Then he could just nod, smile, and hand me the money. Always the same amount. Always the same order.
A couple of months later, he came in with three other men, all dressed in suits and expensive ties. Compared to them, he -really- looked like a mouse. “Hey there Doll. Four big lattes and, a mushroom omelet for me, a tuna sandwich, a cottage cheese salad with toast, and....Charlie? What do you want?” The all-too-fresh guy with his toothpaste smile peered over his shoulder at my little puppy, and he just offered a small, sheepish smile “J-jenny knows...”
I gave him a smile and nodded, punched in the order and got paid (With Mastercard, no tips). Then they continued their chatting and went to sit down in one of the nearby booths. I guessed that the guy with the attitude was the cousin he had been transferred to help out, and they were apparently talking business, so I just hurried to serve their food so they could continue their chat. The cousin gave me a bright, cheeky smirk and a “Thanks Doll” before continuing his chat with the others. Charlie just sent me an apologetic look as if to apologize for his cousin's somewhat rude behaviour.
I was just hoping they wouldn't come back again.
I much preferred when it was just Charlie.
But...They did return. And it became more and more frequent until they came every day. And the rude behaviour became worse each time. It went from “Doll” to “Honey” and “Sweet-cheeks”, “Babe” and worse.
One day when I was clearing tables, Charlie's cousin came in. He brushed past me and pinched me on the way, giving me a cheeky grin when I yelped and glared at him. I told him to keep his hands to himself, but he just grinned and shrugged it off.
It happened again the next day.
And the day after that.
On the third day, the others were with him. I was serving the food and turned to leave their table. I felt a hard pinch and yelped, but just as I turned to slap him across the face, I saw Charlie stand up and punch his cousin right in the face. He glared at him angrily and his stammer was almost gone as he sneered “Leave Jenny a-alone, you asshole!”
The entire café seemed to just freeze. Everyone stopped talking for a moment, just staring. Charlie looked a bit surprised at himself, blinking before stepping over to stand in front of me. His cousin got back on his feet, holding a hand in front of his bleeding nose “What the hell is wrong with you? Sheez! It's just a damn waitress for crying out loud!”
I could see Charlie's shoulders tense beneath the seams of his jacket “N-no she's not! J-jenny is n-nice, and you better t-treat her well!”
“Oh yeah? I don't care that you're my cousin! You're fired, you hear me? Fired!!”
He stormed out, followed by the other two who were seemingly trying to pacify him with little luck. Charlie turned to look at me, concerned “A-are you okay? I a-am terribly s-sorry. My Cousin c-can be such a jerk!”
I couldn't help but smile at him. He looked like such a lost little puppy, and still he seemed so concerned about me. He didn't even once think about himself, or the fact he had just been fired.
“I'm fine, thank you. You...you didn't have to punch him like that. But thank you.”
He blushed a little and looked down, then took a very deep breath, speaking so fast that I could barely understand him, just to avoid stuttering, or, maybe because he was so nervous...
I blinked, then smiled warmly. I could feel the heat spread in my cheeks, and I could hear my heart skip a couple of beats in the silence while the other customers looked from me to him, and back.
“I would love to...On one condition, though.”
He looked puzzled, tilting his head questioningly.
“We order something else than latte and egg salad sandwiches.”
He blinked, then laughed heartily as he reached to take my hands in his.
“T-that's a d-deal...”