Earl Grey

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Flash Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Two workers in a cafe make up stories about their regular customers to relieve boredom, but what they find out about one customer is beyond anything they could have imagined.

Submitted: September 26, 2014

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Submitted: September 26, 2014

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Earl Grey

By Vermontmom

 

Jesse and I work week days and Saturdays at Bev’s  Koffee Kup. It’s an old diner that’s been updated in an attempt to rival Starbuck’s on the next block. We only have two sizes of coffee or tea, but the variety is pretty big. And we don’t do the fancy pastries, just doughnuts and cookies Bev makes at home and brings in at 6:00 and 11:00. I’ve been here six months. It’s a job.

We try to make it fun when it’s not too busy, tossing the wipe cloth from one end of the counter to the other and toasting each other with sips of the fancy coffees. But my favorite game is Speculation. We make guesses about the lives and livelihoods of our regulars, adding wilder and crazier notions each time a customer comes back. “Here come Pat and Andy, Jess! Did you know they just came out to their wives? They’re going to take the apartment upstairs and redecorate like mad.” “That’s nothin’.” Jess comes right back at me. “Lulubelle over there took in a thousand dollars last Friday, for just one night with the mayor!” I stick out my tongue and lob him the cloth. He grins, the gold on his teeth flashing. He tosses back his dreadlocks and bends over the sink to swipe out a carafe.

There’s an old woman who comes in on Tuesdays at noon and asks for tea. It’s always Earl Grey; in all the time I’ve been serving here she never buys anything else.  Here’s how she looks--pepper-gray hair pulled back in a tidy bun, lavender cardigan with round pearl buttons, a lacy blouse slightly yellowed with age, tweedy gray-blue skirt, white old-lady sneakers. Her face is younger-looking than the rest of her, it’s mostly smooth but with deep commas either side of her mouth and three smile lines by her right eye, four by her left. No make-up but lavender-scented face powder, and a neat line of cherry-red lipstick.

I take a whiff of her hot tea as I pass her mug across the counter. The heady, spicy scent of bergamot fills my head with the steam. I like Earl Grey, but it’s not my favorite. My choice is jasmine, so delicate and floral at the back of my tongue, where the Earl Grey flavor is almost numbing. I set down her mug. “$1.80 today, Ma’am. I’m sorry, Bev raised the prices again.” She reaches into her bag, snaps open her coin purse, and plinks down a nickel next to the one and quarters already there. I smile and scoop up her money, and she smiles back, a brief little stretch of her red lips, but the lines at the corners of her eyes deepen, so I know she means it. She carries her tea to the table-for-two at the back of the café and sits facing the door, as she always does. And I know just like other Tuesdays, she’ll sip at her Earl Grey, glancing now and again at her silver wristwatch, and right at 1:00 she’ll sigh, push her chair back, and slip out the door.

When she’s out of earshot I sidle over to Jess and poke his arm. “Mathilda’s back.” I talk just over the sound of the water splashing into the sink. “She’s got a date with the Pope.” “Too bad Batman stood her up last week, huh?”

 

It gets busy for a while as office folks come in for the jolt to go with their lunch. Today it’s mostly espresso shots and hot lattes, as it’s gotten pretty chilly. For a time Jesse is moving so fast his dreadlocks swing around and almost swat me in the face. I focus on checking the urns, tilting them gently so I can guess how much coffee is left. We always dump them when there’s a cup or two left, so it doesn’t get too strong and thick. I’m working on a fresh batch of Yerba Mate, when I hear a customer address his request to Jess. “Tea, Earl Grey, hot.” That voice, there’s something about that light accent: British? I turn to take a look at him and can’t believe my eyes. As he takes his mug and walks toward the back of the café, Jess and I stare at each other, mouths agape. “Can’t be! Can it?”

The customer greets the old woman, who has stood up, her eyes alit and wearing a huge smile. “Beverly, at last!” “Jean-Luc!” They embrace, he drains his Earl Grey, and they dash out the door together. Jess and I watch them leave and then look at each other. “We didn’t see that, we didn’t.” But we know Matilda won’t be back.


© Copyright 2020 vermontmom. All rights reserved.

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