"I think we need to get a filter or something for the tap," Chuck said as he looked at the small white flecks floating in the glass of water he was holding. Newt peered over his arm and shook his head.
"That's just lime build up; it looks funky, but it's harmless. I'll descale the faucets tonight after I close." Newt walked up to the other end of the counter, looked around the empty store, sighed, and picked up a cup. "Hey, you think I can juggle three cups?"
"Do you know how to juggle?" Chuck asked crossing his arms over his chest.
"Nope." Newt tossed the cup from one hand to another as if to get a feel for the weight.
"Then, no. No, I don't think you can juggle three cups."
The bell tinkled and both men looked over at the door, hoping for something to do. Hermann walked in and nodded to them as he made his way to his booth. He was about to put his things down when he noticed a sign in the middle of the table. His shoulders slumped and he moved to the next booth with a sigh.
"Hey, what- woah- no," Newt stuttered as his mind jumped between fifteen different responses to the situation. "Did you even read the sign?" Newt asked as he stormed around the counter to pick up the sign and wave it in Hermann's face.
Hermann gave Newt a withering look and reached up to hold the sign still so he might actually have a chance at reading it. "'Reserved for: My Granddad's Clothes.' I'm sorry, I don't know what you're expecting me to see."
"It's a reserved sign! I made it. For you," Newt explained. "See, all the regulars have one and I change up what the sign says before they come in each time. It's like a thing." Newt looked at Hermann hopefully, eyebrows raised and bouncing on the balls of his feet like a child.
"How was I ever supposed to understand that that sign was meant for me?" Hermann asked, subtly adjusting his sleeves; they were not anybody's grandfather's clothes.
"It's from a song. The next line is I look inc- Okay, so. In future, I'll make it a little less pop culture and a little more... you. Cool?"
"Thank you. I- I do appreciate the gesture." Hermann turned and collected his things from the next booth and brought them back. "I don't want you to think that I don't- ...There's dust on this table." Hermann cut himself off and swiped a finger across the surface.
"Uh..." Newt said, turning a little red.
"How long has the sign been here?"
"Well, uh. It's not like I've got a handle on your timetable yet. You're kind of erratic. I mean, you don't really keep any kind of regular schedu-"
"Two days." Newt cringed a little as Hermann raised an eyebrow at him. "Three days."
Hermann's eyes widened. "Do you mean to tell me that you've prevented anyone from sitting in this booth for nearly three days just so... just so what?"
"It's got your math mojo, man. It's like... your workspace, now." Newt shrugged, avoiding Hermann's eyes.
"Ah." Hermann said with a flush of pleasure that Newt now thought of the booth as Hermann's workspace. "Might I suggest that, at least for the foreseeable future, if I have not arrived by... say, eleven in the morning, I'll likely not be in and you can remove the reservation?"
"I guess that could work." Newt grinned bashfully.
"Now, I must visit the Gents. I hope that when I return, there will be slightly less dust in my 'workspace', as you put it." Hermann nodded decisively once, placed his notebook on the seat, and turned to head towards the back hallway.
"Sure thing." He said before turning to the counter and yelling: "Chuck! Clo-" The cloth hit him in the face before he could even finish the word. By the time he pulled it off, Chuck was watching him from behind the counter with his chin perched on his hands.
"You two are fuckin' adorable," Chuck said dreamily.
"Shut up." Newt scowled at him and turned to wipe down the table.
Hermann stopped in the hallway, closed his eyes, and leaned against the wall taking deep breaths - in through the nose, out through the mouth. First, Newt had shown him such kindness by giving him free food, and now the reservation sign. Hermann would admit that he was more than a little overwhelmed by the inclusiveness he had found in this place; he had only been looking for a few hours respite from the students who didn't understand the concept of office hours and he had ended up with... so much more.
He opened his eyes and straightened up, needing to take back control before whatever it was he was feeling overwhelmed him completely. He focused on the frames on the wall across from him; he had passed them many times but not given them much notice. There were certificates from the USA Barista Games proclaiming Charles Hansen as the Northeast Regional Barista Champion for the past two years, newspaper clippings of positive write-ups from the city's newspapers, Doctorates, awards from the local street papers proclaiming Kaiju Blue to be the Reader's Choice for four years in a row, and-
Hermann could feel his knuckles turning white as he clenched the curved grip of his cane handle. With a huff, he turned and stormed out into main room. Newt had just finished wiping down the table and was throwing the cloth at a laughing Chuck when he saw Hermann.
"All clean and waiting for you to park it and wrap your brain around some epic math," Newt said with a flourish.
"You." Hermann pointed as he stalked towards Newt. "Geiszler."
"Uh, yeah. That's my name," Newt said warily as he held his hands up defensively and backed away, putting a table in between he and Hermann.
"Newton. Geiszler." Hermann continued marching forward, breathing heavily through his nose and glaring at Newt with the fire of a thousand suns.
"Dude, you're kind of freaking me out a little." Newt laughed uncomfortably.
"You left academia five years ago and disappeared into the ether," Hermann said, stalking closer.
"Uh, yeah. That was a thing that happened. Kind of." Newt moved the opposite way around the table from the direction Hermann - still pointing angrily at him - was taking.
"There are rumours circulating that you are dead."
"Well, clearly those rumors have been greatly exaggerated." Newt laughed a little shakily, still circling the table.
"I thought you were dead! You stopped replying to me and then you let me treat you as though you were some sort of, of... layman." A little of the anger drained from Hermann's face, leaving behind a touch of confusion. "Did you enjoy playing with me? Was it some sort of- of game to you?
"I'm sorry I didn't tell you, okay? It wasn't a game! Whatever I have to do to make it up to-" Newt stopped in his tracks. "Wait. Back up a little. I stopped replying to you?! No, dude. You stopped replying to me!"
"I never did anything of the sort. I sent the last letter to you on the seventeenth of August, fifteen years ago." Hermann sighed, looking down at the floor and fiddling with the handle of his cane. "It was months before I could accept you'd grown tired of me and moved on."
"I never got that letter, dude," Newt said, stunned. "I thought you'd gotten tired of talking to a nerdy kid and... I don't know. Got a girlfriend or something."
"You're a year younger than me, Newton. Hardly a significant age difference." Hermann sighed. "I looked for you; followed your publications. Kept up the blind hope that we might one day cross paths. And then everything just... stopped. I thought I'd missed my chance."
"Dude, I'm sorry. I don't know what to say."
"You could explain why you didn't just tell me when you knew who I was." Hermann's shoulder's slumped tiredly as he looked at Newt searchingly.
"You read my last letter... I thought you didn't want to talk to me. At least this way, I got to talk to you." Newt shrugged, looking away.
"You're Newton bloody Geiszler! Everyone wants to talk to you!" Hermann sputtered, ire rising anew.
"You've walked past my degrees at least twice almost every time you've been here. It wasn't like I was hiding it or anything." Newt pointed out, setting his hands on his hips.
"I apologise for not spending more time reading toilet walls," Hermann sneered.
"Well, I'm sorry you were so damn full of yourself that you couldn't be bothered to get to know me. Remember: you assumed that I was stupid." Newt spat.
"I assumed that you were dead!" Hermann shouted, breathing heavily in the silence that followed.
Newt blinked, jaw hanging open as he stared at Hermann.
"Shit. I'm sorry. I am so fucking sorry. I didn't even think." Newt came around the table and put a hand on Hermann's shoulder. "Here, come on. Sit down."
"I can make it on my own." Hermann yanked his arm away from Newt and moved to sit at his booth, brushing down his blazer where Newt touched him as he went.
"I didn't mean to worry you," Newt said, sitting across from Hermann. "I didn't know I could worry you."
"When I didn't receive a response to my last letter, I thought... I thought you'd changed your mind," Hermann said, looking down at his hands fidgeting on the table.
"I asked if we could meet at that conference in Stockholm, not to, I don't know, go to prom," Newt said with a wry smile.
"I, er, indeed. You did not," Hermann said, focussing on the table. "Why... why didn't you write another letter when you didn't receive a response?"
"I dunno, man. I was feeling pretty thoroughly rejected, y'know." Newt shrugged. "I thought we were friends."
"We were," Hermann said ruefully.
"We still could be. I mean, it's not pen to paper, but we can still talk and stuff. I don't really do research, per se, any more, but I'm happy to talk about whatever you're working on. If you want." Newt said with a small, hopeful smile.
"I would very much like to... reestablish our acquaintance," Hermann said, tentatively raising his hand out over the table. "Friends?"
"Of course, man," Newt said, taking hold of Hermann's hand and gripping it tightly. "Friends."
Hermann smiled genuinely as they shook for a little longer than was probably necessary. The tinkling of the bell over the door brought them back to earth as a customer walked in, and they broke apart, laughing a little awkwardly.
"Uh, If you've time now, I think you might be interested in some of the research possibilities I've narrowed myself down to for the summer break." Hermann said, looking at Newt hopefully.
Newt looked over his shoulder at Chuck. "You good manning the helm for a while?"
"Got it covered," Chuck said with a thumbs up.
"Sweet. Thanks, man." Newt said with a grin. "Oh, hey, when you've got a sec, can you get Hermann's tea?"
"Not a problem," Chuck said and turned to serve the customer, standing by the register looking up at the board.
Hermann flipped the notebook open and spun it around so that Newt could more clearly see the equations. "I have a theory about the viability of a traversable Einstein-Rosen Bridge. If-"
"Dude. Wormholes? Awesome."
The two sat together, huddled over the equations as Hermann outlined his basic theory. Hermann would occasionally write something to show Newt and Newt would grab the pencil from his hand and scribble something back.
"It's the first Monday of the month, isn't it?" Chuck asked as he wiped down the steam nozzle on the espresso machine.
"Yeah." Newt said, scrubbing at the edge of the counter where he'd noticed a build-up of... something... under the rim.
"Kaidonovskys. Incoming." Chuck pointed to the window where an incredibly large man and a not insignificant woman were walking up the street toward Kaiju Blue.
"Shit!" Newt dropped the cloth, ducked past Chuck, and sprinted to the end of the counter. He sorted through the reserved signs, grabbed one, shoved it on the nearest table, and then bolted back down to stand by the cash register as the bell tinkled and the two walked in.
"Sasha! Aleksis!" He greeted the space between them, only a little out of breath. "Good to see you again!"
"It is good to see you, too," Sasha said. Or maybe it was Aleksis. They had never been able to work out who was who and every attempt to find out was met with a sly smile or a laugh. It was the one with the lady parts, Newt was pretty sure of that.
"Can I get you your regular?" Chuck asked, holding up the pot of coffee they kept for the plebeians with unrefined palates. And the Kaidonovskys who they would never refer to as plebeian. To their faces. Or ever.
"Two coffees. Black," The one with the man parts said, paying Newt and leaving a hefty tip in the tip plate.
"Your regular, coming right up." Chuck poured the coffees and watched as they took them to their table.
"Comrades in armchairs." The one with the lady parts read out from the reserved sign and laughed. "I like you, funny little man," She said to Newt and sat down beside her man, cozying up to speak with him in quiet, Russian tones.
Newt breathed a sigh of relief and exchanged a look with Chuck
An hour later, the Kaidonovskys left with a smile and a wave and Newt slumped against the counter feeling like an asshole.
"Are they often... violent?" Hermann asked, looking at the way Newt was standing and extrapolating the data from there.
"What? Sasha and Aleksis? God, no." Newt said straightening up. "The dude? He's a freakin' teddy bear. She... could break me in half with her pinky if she wanted to. She doesn't. I don't think. Maybe. It's just... whenever they're there, standing right in front of me... He is huge. It's super intimidating."
"Ah, I see." Hermann nodded slowly. "Do they come in often?"
"Not really. They're usually in on the first Monday, and the Tuesday in the third week of the month. Sometimes they come in at other times, but definitely on those two days. I'm not sure why that is." Newt walked around the counter and slid into the booth across from Hermann. "They run a security company on the other side of town - Cherno Alpha. I'm not sure what they do exactly, but he's the brains and she's the brawn and they're pretty cool when I'm not, y'know, having my own internal freak out."
"And they are also 'regulars'?" Hermann took off his glasses and set them aside with his notes. He picked up his tea and took a sip as he waited for Newt to respond.
"Yeah. They seem to like the bad Russian puns I come up with." Newt grinned a little.
"Indeed, 'funny little man'." Hermann smirked slyly over the rim of his cup.
"Hey, I'd rather be a funny little man than a funny little stain on the wall. That's not a hard choice." Newt shrugged.
"True, true..." Hermann finished off his tea and set the cup in the saucer carefully.
"Hey, Newt," Chuck called from the counter, hitting the cash register with the palm of his hand. "This bloody thing's stuck again."
"Ugh. Gotta go; duty calls." Newt bounced up from the table.
"I must also take my leave if I am to make my appointment." Hermann began to gather his things and stood. Newt picked up Hermann's teacup and headed back to the counter.
"See you tomorrow, yeah?" Newt called as he put the cup and saucer in the sink and moved to stand beside Chuck. "You've just got to finesse it a little, is all." Newt thumped the side of the till a few times.
"Indeed you shall," Hermann said, unsure if Newt was even listening anymore, and left.