Coffee, as drunk in England, debilitates the stomach, and produces a slight nausea. In France and in Italy it is made strong from the best coffee, and is poured out hot and transparent.
In England it is usually made from bad coffee, served out tepid and muddy, and drowned in a deluge of water, and sometimes deserves the title given it in “the Petition against Coffee,” 4to. 1674, page 4, “a base, black, thick, nasty, bitter, stinking puddle water.”
--William Kitchiner, The Cook's Oracle, 1817
There’s a loud banging coming from the kitchen. When she fell asleep last night she was, as usual, the only person in the apartment. She takes her gun from the bedside drawer (it is the end times after all; maybe it’s a particularly clumsy horseman of the apocalypse) and creeps out into the hallway silently. There’s a tall familiar figure standing in front of the counter, diligently smashing something with a mortar and pestle she didn’t even know she had. Her wariness disappears, replaced by exasperation.
“Crane, what are you doing in my apartment on a Saturday morning?”
“Lieutenant! You’re awake!” He’s obnoxiously cheerful, and she’d swear he’s enjoying seeing her rumpled and half-asleep still. She sets the gun down and sits at the kitchen table. It is way, way too early for this.
“Actually, back up. What are you doing here period?” Something in his expression changes, and he leans against the counter.
“I… wanted to show my appreciation for your continued patience and assistance. I cannot imagine it has been easy for you, Miss Mills, shepherding a confused relic--” here he smiled wryly ”--in addition to your normal duties and dealing with the loss of your colleague and partner. As my wherewithal, financially and socially, is rather limited, I thought I could make you breakfast." The expression on his face is earnest but unsure, like he’s expecting her to refuse.
“Oh.” That was not the answer she was expecting, however sweet. “What I meant was how did you get in?”
“The door was unlocked.” Shit. She must have been really tired last night. There needs to be a talk about boundaries and expected behavior. Right now, apparently.
“So you just waltzed on in.”
“Waltzed?” He looks quizzical, and she fights the urge not to jump down his throat about that. To the matter at hand.
“Never mind. You just came into my home, and started poking around in my stuff like you own the place.” She gestures towards the gun. “I could have shot you!”
“But you didn’t.” There’s a certainty in his voice she’s not quite comfortable with. They haven’t known each other for very long, but he’s already demonstrated a confidence and trust in her that seems near unshakeable, and she’s not quite sure what she’s supposed to do with that.
“Regardless. I’m pretty sure you still had manners back in the dark ages, and it was rude even then to mess with things that don’t belong to you. Actually, didn’t you fight a war about that or something?”
“You are correct. It was indeed rude and presumptuous, and I am sorry.” He ducks his head, looking sufficiently remorseful now. “While I am here, would you like me to make you breakfast? And may I use your kitchen implements?” She smiles, just a little bit.
“Now was that so hard? I would love some. Use whatever you need; I’m going to take a shower.” She grabs the gun and walks out of the kitchen.
Cleaned up and dressed in something other than pajamas, she walks back into the kitchen to find a plate of eggs and and a cup of coffee on the table. He’s toasting bread with a fork over the gas flame, and it’s more than a bit ridiculous, but he doesn’t look like he’s going to set himself on fire, and the eggs smell really good.
She takes a bite of the eggs and they’re better than she expected. They’re not fancy brunch eggs with goat cheese or whatever, but they’re solid, unpretentious. She can imagine Crane spooning them out of a pan by the fire, surrounded by the bustle of a camp. When she looks up from her plate she sees him watching her. Mouth still full, she gives him a thumbs up.
“Well you’re still eating them so I take it they’re acceptable? Or are you suffering out of politeness?” She swallows what she’s currently eating.
“No, they’re good. That’s what the thumbs up was for.” He flips the toast onto a plate and joins her at the table.
“I am glad you like them. Eggs were a treat during the war, when you could afford them and when they were available from the camp followers. And now they come in little boxes, for anybody to buy.” He gets this look sometimes, like the world and what he knows about it hasn’t just opened up but exploded; and there are always things to marvel and exclaim over, like cartons of eggs. It can be annoying at times, but it makes her appreciate how difficult life would be without so many of the things she has to explain.
She takes a sip of the coffee and it’s all she can do not to spit it out. It’s beyond awful: there’s so much sugar in it she feels like her teeth are going to fall out of her head, and there’s this sharp grittiness--are those grounds? How did they get in the cup to begin with? She swallows, feeling the jagged bits on the way down.
“We need to talk about your coffee-making technique.”
“What on earth are you talking about? I had a cup while you were in the shower and it was perfectly respectable. Good, even.” He actually looks offended, and she sighs.
“Well first off, you left the grounds in the cup.”
“You didn’t have a proper coffee pot! How else was I supposed to do it?” He may have a point here, as she has no idea where her French press is. Damn.
“Also you put way too much sugar in the coffee.”
“How else are you supposed to mask the bitterness?” He’s starting to remind her of an irritated cat. If he had a tail it would be puffing up right now.
“It’s coffee. It’s supposed to be bitter. I swear to god, Crane--”
“You appallingly uncultured--”
“Creaky ancient savage--”
They laugh, because it’s so utterly ridiculous to be fighting about coffee, of all things.
“Tell you what. I’ll make it my way, and you can try it.” He flinches at the sound when she presses the button down on the little blade grinder, and watches intently as she fills the French press (now retrieved from the back of a cupboard) with water and lets it steep. When she hands him a cup full of steaming liquid he sniffs it suspiciously, then with increasing curiosity, before taking a sip. The surprise and wonder dawning across his face, she has to admit, is a thing to see.
“This is absolutely marvelous! I had no idea coffee could taste like this.”
“See what happens when you make it properly?” They sit at the table for a while, saying nothing at all.
When she gets in on Monday Irving makes a straight line for her. She wonders what’s caught on fire now but he just frowns.
“Did you know your boy can email now?”
“First off, he’s not my boy, and secondly, what?”
“I got a message from an account requesting a coffee grinder and a french press. It was addressed specifically to me because I quote: ‘You are the closest thing to a department quartermaster I am aware of.’” Abbie can feel a headache forming behind her eyes.
“Yep, sounds like him.”
“Tell him they’re in the staff break room.” Irving’s eyes glint with amusement before he walks towards his office.
She gets distracted by paperwork and never actually tells him, but when she looks up she finds a mug of coffee on her desk and Crane sitting in the corner with a book, nursing one of his own. He raises his cup in acknowledgement and goes back to reading. In time, it becomes their little routine: he brings her a mug, and she takes a sip. The question he asks is always the same.
“Is your coffee acceptable this morning, Lieutenant?” In turn, the answer never changes.
“Thank you, it’s perfect.”