“Hello, ma’am, what can I get you today?” I tried to put my best cheerful-I-can’t-wait-to-help-you tone in my voice as the next customer stepped up to the counter. She was sort of short, with funky red hair. As she spoke I caught the glint of a tongue piercing to go with the one in her nose and lip. Her blue eyes bored into my head with an unmistakable “Seriously. Don’t fuck up my coffee” look. As I watched her, she drew a silver dollar from her pocket and began idly flipping it across the backs of her fingers.
“Yeah, get me…” her eyes scanned the menu board as she paused, which I thought was weird, because she comes in every morning.
Every. Single. Morning. And orders the same thing, every time.
“…yeah, get me a quad, venti, peppermint mocha…nonfat. No whip. Aaannndd….one hundred and twenty degrees.”
Her eyes returned to my face from the menu board, and I broke out in a cold sweat. I had seen this woman rip hapless baristas up one side and down the other for ringing up her drink wrong, and I was desperate not to mess it up.
Carefully, I punched the keys to ring in her coffee. Venti latte. Check. Add peppermint, check. Add three shots, check. I picked up a cup, carefully added the markings to it, and handed it to the barista behind the bar, calling out “Quadventinonfatnowhiponehundredandtwentydegreepeppermintlatte, please, Brian!” I turned back smartly, impressed with my ability to get it correct, but my smile died on my lips as she eyed me scornfully and said, “That was a mocha, not a latte.”
“Oh, of course, of course, I’m so sorry,” I turned back, picked up the cup and scratched out the “L”, replacing it with an “M”. Hands shaking now, I placed the cup back on the bar and went back to re-ring the order. Venti. Mocha. Add three shots. Add peppermint.
“Okay, that’s 6.52,” I proudly announced to my customer, only to feel my heart sink again as her red head started shaking in the negative.
“5.55. A venti only has two add shots.”
“Umm, are you sure?” As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I wished them back.Her eyebrows drew together in a frown and I could almost see the thunderclouds gathering in her face.
“I mean, I mean, I’m sorry, of course you’re right, only two add shots, of course, I can’t believe I didn’t remember that…” I was babbling, and I knew it, and her face was getting darker and darker the longer I took.
Start over. The background music was distracting, so I fumbled out the remote control and turned down the volume. Venti. Mocha. Two add shots. Add peppermint. 5.55. Oh thank God.
“5.55, please.” She rolled her eyes as she handed me her card, then tapped her nails on the countertop as I hurriedly ran through her card and handed her her receipt. She moved off, scrutinizing her receipt with an absentminded “Thank you” tossed over her shoulder. I breathed a sigh of relief.
I helped two customers in the time it took for Brian to finish her order. Something made me turn around, and when I did, I was horrified to see him finish pouring the milk (from the Whole Milk jug!) into her drink and reach for the whip cream dispenser.
“NO!” I shouted, frantic lest he try to hand off a with-whip, whole-milk coffee to this evil devil woman. I launched myself at Brian in desperation, hands outstretched to stop the delivery of the incorrect coffee.
My feet completely slipped out from underneath me, my legs went flying, and my head hit the corner of the bar. My world darkened to a pinprick as I watched the floor rush up to my face with a sort of detached fascination.
I drifted about in the dark for some time, I don’t know how long, until suddenly I felt myself rushing through the darkness, heading for a tiny dot of light that expanded the closer I got to it. Suddenly I was tumbling into the light, landing on the floor unceremoniously. Even with my eyes shut, I knew. I had died. I had died and gone to heaven, all because I tried to save that awful woman from getting the wrong drink.
I heard voices. And…a coffee machine? Of all things.
I cautiously opened my eyes, one at a time, but they got wider the more I gazed around at my surroundings.
Heaven was a Starbucks.
Happy, smiling customers were chatting with the baristas, collecting their drinks, waving a cheery goodbye before floating back out the doors. Every coffee drink made to perfection, every barista grinning, every customer cheerful. Everything had a golden glow about it, there was no doubt I had landed in some heavenly place. I was amazed. I wanted to stay here forever.
No one seemed to notice me sitting in the midst of all the bustle. I watched for a time, then suddenly felt myself fading, becoming insubstantial, and I could feel a curious tugging in the pit of my stomach. The Starbucks-Heaven dimmed around me until I was once more floating in that black void, rushing back the way I came until I was slammed back into my body with a teeth-rattling jolt. I opened my eyes to see Brian hovering anxiously over me, his nose mere inches from my own. With a strangled yell, I scooted back from him until my back was against the bar.
I looked up and saw the devil woman standing off to one side, watching the proceedings with an air of impatience. I knew who she was now.
Further, I knew what I had to do in order to repel the forces of evil she represented. I reached slowly into my apron pocket and pulled out a slip of paper. I eased to my feet and faced her, the devil incarnate, the bane of all baristas everywhere. Slowly, I reached out my hand to the woman, the slip of paper dangling from it.
“Here. Take this. Your next drink is on us.”
The corner of her mouth twisted sardonically. She knew I knew her secret. Still, she took the paper anyway with a brief nod, took her coffee, and turned away.
I sighed in relief. Evil was once more defeated.
At least for this morning.
This week’s topic: A story about a near death experience. Include a silver dollar and a remote control.