Large Nonfat Four-shot Caffe Latte
Cocky sex-deprived butthead guy drink. Expect only the utmost stupidity to come out of his mouth. So-so body, could stand to work out more. Crappy dresser. Dramatically stares at a woman who comes in with a boob job. He looks like he is going to hurt himself in the contortions he is twisting into . . .
“Excuse me,” the customer says, stepping up to the counter. I quickly stop scribbling in my notebook and slide it onto the shelf under the espresso machine.
“Sorry about that, sir. How can I help you?” I reply in my most superefficient Wired Joe’s barista voice. “Jane, is it?” he says, reading my name tag and thinking he is ever so personable and charming for calling me by name.
“I’d like a large nonfat four-shot caffe latte.” I smile to myself. God, I’m good. It’s getting to the point where I can guess most customers’ drinks on sight. I grab a large white paper cup, write an NF in the milk box, and a 4 in the shots box, and set the cup down on the gleaming silver table for Sarah, the other barista working the counter, to start making the drink. I type the order into the cash register and look back up. “That will be four eighty-five,” I reply with a fake smile.
“Here’s a five,” he says. “Keep the change.” Cha-ching! That will so help my college savings fund.
“Thank you, sir. Your order will be up in just a moment.” The man heads over to the pick-up counter and positions himself to continue his study of Boob Job woman. Sarah draws the first of the four shots of espresso and dumps it into the waiting cup.
“What are you always writing in that notebook?” she whispers. I glance at her and stick up my index finger, indicating I’ll tell her in a minute, after the customer has left the counter. Sarah tops off the espresso with freshly steamed milk and a dollop of foam.
“Large nonfat four-shot caffe latte,” she calls out, even though the man is standing two feet away from her. It’s just something we have to do. Corporate policy. He briefly breaks his gaze from Boob Job woman to look at Sarah and grab his drink. Do these kinds of guys even know what they look like? The man slinks away from the counter and settles into one of the big comfy blue velvet chairs and continues to stare. Oh geez, he’s going to make this woman get up and leave. A few seconds later she does, and he gives her a wink.
“So, what are you writing in there?” Sarah repeats.
“Nothing much. Just some notes. You could say I’m conducting my own field research.”
“Well, people. Just people,” I say. “Honestly it’s nothing. Just something I like to do.”
“Is it for school or something?”
Um . . . no. One would have to go to school to get assignments, right? I’m a senior at Lincoln High and done with all my core curriculum already. So it’s a fluffy schedule for me this semester—we’re talking ceramics, study hall, and home ec here. Well, except for the two college-credit courses I’m taking over at Anthony Carter Community College in the afternoons. But I haven’t been there lately either—hey, I’m an equal opportunity ditcher. I’ve already applied to my DC (dream college) and I’m just waiting to hear from early admissions. It’s not like I NEED to go to school. Whereas I NEED to work. With no scholarship prospects and no apparent college fund from Mom and Dad, I’ll be footing my tuition bill next year. That’s another thing: Mom and Dad don’t know I’ve been ditching. And, crossing my fingers, they won’t find out. They are both very career-oriented these days and trust me to do the right thing, and I do. Most of the time. And it helps that I’ve been able to sign my mom’s name to school forms since the fifth grade.
“No, it’s not for school,” I say, purposely not telling Sarah that I haven’t actually been to many classes in the last week or so. “Like I said, it’s just something I’ve been doing.”
“Well, don’t let Derek catch you,” she replies. I glance around the store but don’t see Derek lingering anywhere.
It’s not that I dislike our manager or anything—it’s just that he’s always mad about something or other. “What’s his mood like today—pissy, extra pissy, or über-pissy?”
Sarah laughs. “I’d say just extra pissy.”
“Oh fun. Any particular reason?” I ask.
“Todd again,” she says, and rolls her eyes. As in Todd Stone, the hottie manager of the Wired Joe’s two blocks west of us and Derek’s direct competition. Todd’s store is continually pulling in higher sales than ours and it just kills Derek. And then he takes it out on us.
“Where is he, anyway?” I ask, surprised he hasn’t checked on us yet.
“In the break room scolding Em for something—I’m not sure what,” Sarah tells me.
“Ooh. Em is here already? I didn’t think she started until four-thirty.” I immediately brighten. Em, short for Emily, has been my best friend since the sixth grade, when I farted really loudly in a stall in the girls’ bathroom. Two of the popular girls were in there doing their makeup and said, “Ew . . . like . . . who is in there?” I stupidly answered, “Um . . . Jane Turner.” They started laughing hysterically and I thought I’d die right there on the spot. Em was also in the bathroom washing her hands and told them, “At least that is temporary—you two smell like butt all the time.” The girls responded with one of those “uh! I can’t believe you just said that to me” sounds and left the bathroom. I peeked out the crack of the stall door and Em smiled at me in the mirror. We’ve been inseparable ever since (even though I was known as “Stinky Jane” for the rest of the school year).
“Yeah,” Sarah says. “I guess Derek told her to come in early so he could talk to her. She looked a little scared.”
“Scared? I doubt it,” I disagree. I swear, nothing scares Em. She is the toughest chick I know. But now I’m a little worried. She CANNOT get fired. Working with her every day is one of the perks of the job. That and the free coffee.
“She’s been back there awhile,” Sarah replies. “I wonder what they are talking about.”
“I’m sure it’s nothing bad,” I say, more to reassure myself than Sarah.
“You’re probably right,” she says. “Hey, it’s pretty quiet in here.” A guy who looks to be in his forties is sitting in the corner of the store reading a James Patterson book and sipping a white chocolate mocha, and a girl, most likely a college student, is at a table working on her laptop and drinking an iced caramel macchiato. “If you don’t mind, I’m going to take my break.” Sarah pulls out her cell phone and heads for the door.
“Sure, no problem.” I turn to the sink and busy myself washing some of the dishes that have stacked up. When I turn around to reach for one of the large cookie trays I see her. The girl at the very top of my “People I Really Hope I Never See Again” list. Oh crap. With a freaking Wired Joe’s on every corner in the city, why does SHE have to come into MINE? The glass door flies open and I’m smacked in the face with the cool November breeze.
Okay, calm down. Think fast. Where to hide? Behind the coffee-bean display? No, not enough room. Pull my blue apron over my head? Ick, there are some used coffee grounds smeared in the corner. Oh god, she is walking straight toward me. I’ll just crouch down like I’m cleaning the floor and Sarah can help her. I sit fire-drill style behind the counter and wait.
Shoot. Sarah went outside, didn’t she?
“Um . . . hello?”
Ugh. It’s too late; she sees me. Melissa freaking Stillwell. Otherwise known as Meliss the Priss. Okay, so I’m the only one who calls her that. And only behind her back, of course, but that is beside the point. She’s here now and I so don’t want to talk to her. I pull chunks of my wavy brown hair out of the clip that is restraining it and muss them in front of my eyes, hoping she won’t recognize me. There. It won’t be so bad. I probably even look good this way.
“Sorry,” I say as I straighten up. “What can I get for you?”
“Let’s see,” Melissa says, standing back so she can look at the menu overhead. I just now notice that she has a sidekick with her. Actually it’s the same sidekick who always followed her around school last year. She’s much shorter and not as pretty—almost invisible really, next to the great Melissa Stillwell. “What do you think, Gin?”
Ginny Davis looks up at the menu and shrugs. “Maybe frappycaps?”
“Uh, no,” Melissa says sharply. “I’m doing South Beach this week so I can’t have sugar.”
Small nonfat latte, I think to myself, and wait with my hand hovering over the keypad of the register.
“Okay, we’ll have small nonfat lattes,” Melissa decides.
Ha! I’m dead-on again.
“I’m sorry, was something funny about that?” Melissa looks pointedly at me with eyebrows raised and arms crossed, ready to do battle.
Whoops. Did I “Ha!” out loud?
“No, of course not,” I say. “Just clearing my throat. So that’s two small nonfat lattes, then?”
“Yeah, that sounds good.” Melissa nods and flicks a platinum credit card across the counter to me with one cotton-candy-pink fingernail. Just then Ginny breaks into a huge smile. I can see the look of recognition in her eyes. Darn, darn, darn. Melissa looks at Ginny quizzically. “What are you smiling at?” she asks her. I move to the espresso station and grab two small white paper coffee cups with the famous Wired Joe’s logo and mark them both with the drink order.
Just keep busy, don’t even look at them. I give a sideways glance in their direction and see Ginny whispering in Melissa’s ear. Melissa turns to look at me and breaks into a huge grin.
“Cousin Dater, is that you?” she asks.
• • •
Melissa Stillwell ruined my entire junior year when she nicknamed me Cousin Dater. I had only just started getting over it this past summer after she graduated and I thought I’d never have to see her again. It happened at the homecoming dance. I had never gone to a high school dance before and my mom was all over me to go to this one. “You’ll regret it years from now if you don’t go,” she said. “You’ll look back at your high school yearbook and wish you had those memories.” Yeah, right. Wishing for memories would have been more fun than being stuck with the ones I’ve got.
I had never been good with guys, so my mom suggested I take my über-hot cousin Nathan. Of course I didn’t want to at first (I mean, ew . . . gross, he’s my cousin!) but she convinced me that no one would ever know, and Nathan was so incredibly good-looking and so popular at his school that it would totally boost my reputation. After a few weeks of going back and forth with her, I finally agreed.
The dance started out just fine. I could totally tell that people were impressed with my date. But then stupid, selfish Nathan couldn’t keep with the plan. I went into the bathroom to fix my makeup and when I came out I saw Nathan totally hitting on Melissa in front of the soda machine. I ran over to him, looped his arm with mine, and tried to yank him away but he wasn’t budging. Melissa said, “Is this your date?” and Nathan replied, “Not really, I’m just doing a favor for my mom. This is my cousin Jane.” Well, that was that. Melissa nicknamed me “Cousin Dater” and made sure that everyone in attendance at the Lincoln High homecoming dance knew that I was there with my cousin. I was MORTIFIED. Nathan left with Melissa and I had to find a ride home.
The nickname, unfortunately, caught on. Soon people I had never even met were calling me “Cousin Dater.” My mom said, “Don’t worry. It’ll blow over. There will be a new drama with someone else next week and they’ll forget all about you.” Yeah. I inadvertently ticked Melissa off a week later and my destiny was sealed. We were in the same Spanish class and the teacher told me to ask Melissa for a pen in español. I somehow mistranslated and ended up calling her a pig. The whole class laughed and I knew I was doomed. Never piss off the pretty people.
“It IS you, isn’t it?” Melissa asks again.
I hand her back her credit card. “I don’t know what you are talking about.”
“Oh, come on, you’re the girl who took her hottie cousin to the Lincoln High homecoming last year. What was his name again?” She looks at Ginny. “Ethan or something, right? I went on a date with him. Terrible kisser.” She flares her nostrils in disgust at the memory. I busy myself making the two lattes. Where are Sarah and Em? Why couldn’t one of them make Melissa’s blasted coffees? I stare straight ahead at the espresso machine and draw the first shot. I can feel tears starting to sting my eyes. Do NOT cry! The two girls move over to the counter to get in a better position to taunt me.
“So, Jane Turner, isn’t it?” Melissa asks. “Still dating family members, Jane?” Both girls laugh.
I grab the cream instead of the skim milk and pour it into the foaming pitcher. There we go—we’ll see who’s laughing when she gets on the scale later.
“Ah, seriously, all kidding aside. What are you doing with yourself, Jane? You are a senior this year, right? Or did you drop out of high school to be a coffee girl?” Melissa smiles.
“I’m a barista,” I nearly whisper.
“I’m sorry, what’s that?” she says.
“A barista,” I reply louder, “not a ‘coffee girl.’ ” Melissa and Ginny both laugh even harder. Just then Em comes up behind me.
“What’s so funny?” she asks, immediately recognizing both girls.
“Jane . . .” Melissa sputters. “She’s . . . just so funny.”
“Well, it looks like your drinks are ready,” Em says curtly.
“Yeah, yeah, keep your apron on.” Melissa glares at Em before turning to address me. “Looks like we’ll be seeing you often, Jane. Ginny and I are going to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago just up the street. It’s a top fashion school.”
“I know.” I try to act unimpressed when secretly I totally am. That’s the school I’m waiting to hear from. I’ve wanted to study fashion there for as long as I can remember, way before all of the fashion reality TV shows made it supercool for everyone and their sister to study fashion. And Melissa’s at my DC. I feel sick.
“Where did you say you want to go to school again?” Melissa asks.
“I didn’t. Have a nice day,” I tell her. I grab a rag and begin to clean the back counter. I hear the girls giggle as they leave the store. I pull out my notebook from underneath the espresso machine and quickly write:
Small Nonfat Latte
“What was that about?” Em asks once the girls are gone. “And what’s with your hair?”
“Oh.” I let down my hair and then pin it back up again, neatly this time, with the clip. “It was my disguise. Not like it worked or anything. As for Melissa and Ginny—I don’t know. I guess they didn’t have enough time torturing me last year, so they thought they’d follow me throughout life.”
“You shouldn’t put up with their crap, Jane.”
“I know. But forget about them. What happened with Derek? You aren’t in trouble, are you?”
“In trouble? Why would you think that?”
“Sarah thought you looked scared when you came in,” I tell her.
Em laughs. “Scared, no. Irritated, yes. I hate coming in early. Especially when I’m not getting paid for it. And I had wanted to get some studying done before work.” Em is taking advanced everything. She wants to be prelaw at DePaul University next year and she’s very serious about keeping up her 3.8 GPA. I pull out a box of whipped cream lids from a cabinet to restock up front.
“So what did Derek want, then?” I ask.
“Oh, you’re not going to believe this. He wants me to be the assistant manager! Like I have any bloody time to be the assistant manager!” Em is not British, but adopts a British accent whenever she gets really mad. It started shortly after we saw Bridget Jones’s Diary.
“Really? That’s kind of neat.” I wonder why he didn’t ask me. I have nothing but time. Not to mention I’ve been working here longer than Em.
“Well, I told him no,” she says. “The extra two dollars an hour is not worth the headaches.”
Raise? I could use a raise. “Hey, are you okay up here for a minute?”
“Sure. Where are you going?”
“To talk to Derek,” I say, and give her a wink. Time to make things happen.
Excerpted from The Espressologist by Kristina Springer.
Copyright © 2009 by Kristina Springer.
Published in 2009 by FARRAR STRAUS GIROUX
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.