For Colin Dobson…
Mr Davies waited patiently in the queue. He had hurried through the mall to get to the coffee shop but now that he had arrived, he was enjoying the opportunity to watch ‘him’ at work.
Behind the counter, shrouded in steam, the young barista blew his blond locks from his brow and made the umpteenth cappuccino of the day. Davies enjoyed the way he shook the canister of chocolate sprinkles on the foamy surface of the drink. He watched, holding his breath as the young man, whose name badge revealed he was called Steven, gave the customer her change and spouted the company script, imploring her to have a great day and, of course, to come back soon.
Davies stepped up to the counter.
“Yes?” said Steven, mechanically and then he saw who it was. “Oh! Hello! If it isn’t my best customer.”
Davies found his voice wouldn’t cooperate, his words were thick and caught in his throat.
“And how are you today, Steven?” he managed to get out.
“OK, thanks. Somebody sounds thirsty. Usual?”
He watched Steven prepare the skinny latte, transfixed by the ripple of muscles beneath the polo shirt and the play of tube lighting on the fine hairs on the barista’s forearms.
“Three pounds twenty.”
Davies fumbled with his wallet, pulling out a five-pound note. He wanted to say keep the change, but the branch manager was lingering in the doorway to the storeroom. Watching.
Davies paid, thrilling as Steven’s fingers brushed his palm as they deposited his change in his hand. He picked up the drink and shuffled over to a table that would afford him a clear view of the counter.
A few minutes later, Steven emerged from behind the counter and began a tour of the floor, wiping tables and straightening chairs.
“Here,” he whispered, leaning over Davies’s table. He slipped a couple of extra biscotti onto Davies’s saucer. Then he winked at the older man and went back behind the counter and into the storeroom.
Davies relished every crumb of those illicit biscuits. All sorts of ideas began to blossom and bloom in his imagination.
He likes me! Steven likes me! He actually likes me back!
He spent the rest of the afternoon, wandering the mall with its gaudy shops and blank-faced customers. He too was in a daze. He couldn’t believe it. Steven actually liked him back!
He lingered outside the coffee shop. Closing time couldn’t come fast enough.
At long last, the staff filed out. The manager pulled down the metal shutters and padlocked them to the floor.
Steven walked away, stuffing his arms into the sleeves of his jacket. Davies had to hurry to catch up.
“I say, Steven!” he called out.
The young man turned. “Oh. Hello,” he said, but kept on walking. Davies struggled to keep abreast.
“I just wanted to thank you. For the biscotti.”
“It’s OK,” said Steven, but did not slow down.
“Listen,” said Davies. “I was wondering if you’d let me repay you with a drink. Something stronger, of course – and I don’t mean espresso!” He laughed, but Steven didn’t.
But at last he had the boy’s full attention. Steven came to a halt and looked Davies in the eye.
“I’m busy,” he said. “Sorry.”
“But – but – the biscotti – I thought…”
“They were past their Best Before date anyway. Look, I’m sorry if I gave you the wrong idea. I’m straight, by the way. It’s just that – and I mean this in a nice way – you remind me of my Dad. Sorry.”
He continued on his way, out of the mall and into the night.
Davies’s face burned hot with embarrassment and shame. How could I be so foolish? He scolded himself. It’s true: there is no fool like an old fool.
Feeling ridiculous, he stumbled out into the fresh air. There was no sign of Steven. Oh, well, I can’t show my face in that coffee shop again, Davies cringed.
I know, Davies perked up as he waited at the bus stop. I’ll get some chips on the way home. They always cheer me up. And, because it’s Tuesday, I reckon that hunky Tony will have started his shift there by now…