Jeremy served his hundredth morning expresso while watching Beth. Continuous orders interrupted his view as foam hearts, leafs, and kitties dominated coffee requests. Instagram was a barista’s worst nightmare. Yet Eliza “Beth” Adaline predicted with unearthly accuracy what pleased. She danced through her morning shift, and patrons put down their phones to enjoy her grace. Jeremy stood taller next to Beth. They moved like synchronized swimmers: bean, grind, pack, pull, steam and serve.
Squeezed behind the counter, they brushed elbow and hip. Beth smiled. Jeremy averted his gaze. He wasn’t sorry but apologized softly for each touch. Beth had a boyfriend since before they worked together. Still, she shared deeply. Her reflections on her mother, reasons for dropping out of school, her small business dreams, she couldn’t help herself and slid her fingers through her hair every few minutes when she bubbled with thought.
In the lull before lunch, Beth pressed her chest to his back as he hung over the sink. She toasted his skin through their shirts, cupped her mouth and shared her latest treason. “I stopped taking my birth control, and Tony doesn’t know.”
Jeremy’s ears burned. At this point in life, he couldn’t afford children. He lived in the transition between college and adulthood. Nevertheless, he wanted to eat Beth up. Jeremy borrowed time, flushed away stray grounds and scrubbed at unforgiving sink stains. In a few hours, Tony would pick Beth up and order a watered-down afternoon tea, green with honey. Light on the sweetness and flavor after his bitter construction job. Without knowing in advance, Tony would soon step up as a father, and that would be that.
The espresso machine sounded its deafening wail. Yes, Jeremy hated weak tea so very much.
Richard Bower writes in Central New York. He has previously published flash in Postcard Shorts, 101 Words, Storyland Literary Review, Enchanted Conversation Magazine: Folklore, Fairy Tales & Myths. He has forthcoming work from Boned: A Collection of Skeletal Writings.