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Just Another Day at the Star Cafe

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Cover art by SkyUnicorn

mp3 || m4b

The light smell of coffee wafts from the machine as Deanna runs water through to clean it. Again, Barclay had forgotten to clean out the espresso filters. This would have frustrated Beverly. To be fair, she does come off her nursing shift right before work. Deanna just smirks while imagining Barclay trying to clean the place as efficiently as possible and still missing the thing at the top of the closing list. She watches as the rinse goes from black to brown grey to a nice foamy white.

Deanna is discarding the first shots after the cleaning when Beverly opens the door with more force than is necessary.

"Good morning, Beverly" Deanna says, trying out out her cheery morning voice for the first time that morning.

Beverly replies with a grunt and nod.

That is about what Deanna had expected. It has been a very rough week. Beverly had gotten her first rejection letter. Her first reply at all. Several schools still had yet to reply, but it had definitely put a dark cloud over the wait. Deanna hopes and trusts that one of the med schools will be smart enough to let Beverly in.

Beverly is still in her scrubs and carrying the bag that contains her change of clothes for the morning. She disappears behind the curtain into the office to change, leaving Deanna to continue the set up ritual. The brunette is counting out the money for the register when Beverly returns and beelines to the espresso machine.

Deanna pushes the small cup of ice she has already made over toward the machine. The thankful smile from the red head brightens up her face and slightly lifts the dark, thoughtful crease in her brow. With a practiced motion, her hands pour the two shots of espresso over the ice. Beverly shoots the small cup of lukewarm liquid, and Deanna can't stop the face she makes as her tongue curls in sympathy for Beverly. It truly must taste disgusting. Deanna is a fan of chocolate with her coffee.

"Good morning?" Deanna asks again.

Beverly gives her two thumbs up and a cheesy, very forced grin before beginning to brew the coffee.

Their first customer comes in immediately after Deanna flips the 'Open' sign on.

"Good Morning, Geordi." Deanna greets the man as he retracts his cane and tucks it in his pocket. "You two got here quickly."

"I was watching for you." Geordi's eyebrows raise over his sunglasses at the joke.

"I think you had a little help." Deanna's voice devolves into a baby talk voice as she addresses his companion. "Data, did he have you on stake out duty?"

The German shepherd wags his tail and smiles up at Deanna. She prefers to think of it as a smile, and not just him trying to let off some heat. Based on the slight sheen of sweat on Geordi's forehead, Data had a good run this morning.

"How is it going on the med school applications?" Geordi directs at Beverly. The red head's shoulders go up in tension before she relaxes for her reply.

"Only one rejection so far," Beverly's smile is sad and pinches at Deanna's chest.

"I'm sorry to hear that." Geordi pulls out the money for his morning Americano. Deanna puts away the exact change in the drawer and gives him the receipt. "You know, working on jet engines is basically brain surgery. You'd make a great engineer."

The joke makes a genuine smile cross Beverly's face. "I bet I would make a lot of jobs for doctors if I became an engineer. Here you go."

"Thanks, good luck. Seriously. They can't all be stupid. You're going to have to be choosing." Geordi assures her as he pulls his cane back out of his pocket and makes his way out the door.

"Thanks." Beverly lets a bit of the sad through in her voice, and Deanna thinks that is good. She hates watching her hold it all in.

“I’ll let you sort pastries, if you let me clean out the coffee grinder,” Deanna offers. Beverly enjoys the task, and it will probably take her mind off of things for the time being. Or, Deanna has high hopes that it will.

“That sounds lovely”

***

"How is it going?" Deanna asks about the pastries when the grinder is clean.

"The mailman comes at 10:45" Beverly blurts out, and then adds, "-ish."

"So, three hours until you hear something?"

"I may have called the people at the McCoy Medical Institute a few times to find out when the letters were going out." Beverly cringes as she admits to this. "God, I've ruined my chances."

"I think I've heard worse." Deanna smiles at her and tries to be reassuring. "I hear they get some seriously type A characters around there."

"God I hope so." Beverly leans her forehead against the glass after shutting the sliding door and lets out a heavy sigh.

Beverly’s mood sinks even lower when Jean Luc comes in for his morning drink . He orders the way he does every morning “tea, earl grey, hot” and they go over the same inquiry about the acceptance letters.

”Yes, they are all just so dumb for not letting me in.” Beverly addresses the door Jean Luc had just walked out of with a bitter tone.

”They just want you to be happy.” Deanna gives her a smile that goes unseen as the red head exchanges pennies from the tip jar for dollars in the register.

”It's only because-" Deanna starts slowly, trying to brighten the mood before she is interrupted when Ward walks in. The large man has his usual scowl. "Good morning, Ward"

"Two double shot Americanos?" Beverly ends it like a question, but it is what he gets every morning and she is putting in the order as asks.

Deanna stops mid packing of the second set of shots. Beverly is blissfully unaware of Ward's tight grip on his money and flared nostrils as she rings up his order.

"Is everything, okay?" Deanna takes the few steps back to the register.

"No." Ward does not open his teeth in his reply.

"Not two Americanos?" Beverly looks up, confused. She is not picking up on the clues that Ward is on edge, and must have missed Deanna's question.

"Not today." Ward's teeth clack this time around the words.

"Oh?" Beverly looks up at Ward. "Does Dax not want one?"

"Who knows what that woman wants." Ward barks.

Beverly jumps lightly at his change in volume and freezes up. Ward is looking squarely at the wad of money clamped up in his hand. Deanna pours hot water over his shots and slides him the cup. It turns out to be just enough time to jog her memory that Ward had been looking at engagement rings. She mulls over whether or not to bring it up. Maybe Ward changed his mind.

She watches as he moves to the condiment and mix in area. His shoulders slump. He drinks his coffee black; Dax drinks her coffee with cream. Deanna guesses is not angry with her. Or at least, he doesn't hate her. She recognizes the masked pain and decides to broach the topic.

"That coffee would go really well with some chocolate ice cream with chocolate fudge. I know a little place if you're interested." Deanna says casually as she empties out the spent espresso.

Ward grunts in response, but then sucks in a sharp breath.

"She..." Ward trails off. The college kid on his laptop finishes packing and practically runs out of the store. Ward is visibly less tense when they are alone. "She did not say yes."

"She said no?" Beverly gasped. Ward had become very endearing to them both in the past year. He was gruff, but underneath he had a good heart. He loved his son, though their relationship was strained since he moved in with Ward. Watching Dax's flirting frustrate and confuse him had been very entertaining for Deanna and Beverly. Deanna had won the bet for how long it would take him to figure out that she was interested--it had been three months.

"No." Ward set his jaw. "She said that she would ‘think about it’." He ground his teeth at the phrase.

"Well at least she was honest with you." Deanna reassured on the bright side.

"Yes, but who knows how she thinks. We have talked about getting together in a…more permanent fashion." Ward stumbles over the relationship terminology. "And I asked permission from Alexander. I could not even talk to him this morning. I left before he woke up. What am I supposed to tell him?"

Ward had escalated to yelling and Beverly had begun to wring the cleaning rag with a bit too much force.

"The truth." Deanna says gently. "And double chocolate ice cream from Quarks. There are few things that ice cream can't make better."

She resists the urge to pour out some of her knowledge from school. Besides the fact that it was pretty unethical for her to be dishing out psychological advice without a license, she did not want to give it without it being asked for.

"I'm sure she just wanted to be honest with you and not lead you on until she was sure." Beverly adds, upping her bedside manner game.

"I..." Ward does not finish the sentence. "Could I get a hot chocolate?"

"Now you're thinking." Deanna winks.

Beverly takes his money while Deanna whipps up some hot chocolate with whipped cream on top.

“I think she’ll say yes.” The red head whispers as she hands over the hot chocolate.

Ward gives her a curt nod, and then walks out the door. He is headed in the direction of Quark’s, Deanna notes.

***

“I wonder what’s up with Dax.” Beverly thinks out loud after a few more customers come through. She is staring into space at the door.

“He probably caught her off guard.” Deanna drums her fingers in thought. “I can’t imagine her saying no after all—“

The phone rings interrupting Deanna mid thought. Beverly looks at the clock and sucks in a breath. It is ten thirty-four. She nabs the phone and lets out the breath slowly before answering it. "Yeah?"

Deanna can hear Wesley’s voice over the phone, but can’t distinguish his words.

“Oh. That’s the one.” Beverly bites her lip. “Open it. No wait. Don’t. How big is it? God. Don’t tell me. Um.” Somehow, she manages to wring the cleaning rag with only one hand. “Could you come over?”

Beverly lets go of the rag and wipes her hand on her pants, but then absently goes back to wringing the rag.

“Thank you, sweetie.” Beverly lets out a heavy sigh and bends in half, hands still on the counter.

“Going to make it?” Deanna pats her on the back as another customer makes the bell jingle.

“I might just throw up.” Beverly groans.

“Am I in that much trouble?” Dax is wincing when Deanna looks up at her.

“Oh, no J.D.” Beverly stands up and shakes her hands in front of her. “I, uh, got another letter.”

“Ah.” Dax relaxes once she knows she is not the subject of their disgust.

“You making him work for it?” Beverly has a soft smile as she takes Dax’s money.

Deanna raises her eyebrows at Beverly’s blunt broaching of the topic. Her hand drops from the position it had risen to—reaching out to stop Beverly, or something.

“No.” Dax drags out the single syllable response as her head sinks to the counter. “No no no.” She taps her head against the laminate with each iteration.

Beverly and Deanna exchange a look in which Deanna tries to convey ‘what the heck were you thinking?’ in frustrated hand waving before shooing her toward the espresso machine.

“You don’t have to talk about it.” Deanna puts on her best soothing voice.

Dax reaches into her pocket and pulls out a little black box.

“Is that the ring he gave you?” Deanna is fairly confused, but tries not to let it show. Did Ward think that giving her the ring overnight would help convince her?

I bought it. I panicked.”

There is a long silence as Dax remains slumped onto the counter lightly knocking her head against it.

“J. D.” Beverly says slowly as she sugars up the Americano. “We’re going to need a bit more clarification. We’re lost.”

Dax lifts her head from the counter. There is a red mark on her fore head and her eyes are ringed red. “I was going to propose to him.” Dax sniffs and gives a wry laugh. “I panicked when he asked me first.”

Beverly sputters, but manages to hold her laugh in behind a tight grin.

“I know.” Dax sniffs again. Her smile is sad. “He probably hates me now.”

“Oh, Dax.” Deanna croons at the tall brunette and pats her hand. “No way.”

“He was a mess this morning. He was just so sure you would say yes.” Beverly’s words make Dax cringe again, but in the end it does make Dax look more hopeful.

“I guess.” Dax picks up the black box and gives it a fond look. “If it does work out, it will be a really funny story, right?”

They both reassure her for a few more minutes until Dax gets the courage to leave the store to call Ward.

“We need to work on your bedside manner a bit.” Deanna pokes at Beverly’s side.

“Yeah.” Beverly nods and chuckles along with her.

It is only a few minutes of respite before Wesley appears at the door. He is clutching a large envelope. Beverly bites her fist on his approach. She gives him a big hug across the counter before dashing into the bathroom.

Deanna is left watching Wesley’s anxious face. The bus did not run for another thirty minutes. His t-shirt is dark with sweat near his collar. The kid must have dashed the whole way on his bike.

If Beverly was anxious about getting in, Wesley was five times worse. Deanna had talked with him a few times about it, maybe going a bit too far into counselor mode. When she opens her mouth to reassure him, he cuts her off to stop her from going there again.

“I know, I know.” Wesley bobs his head from side to side. He drones on as kids do when reciting adults. “She loves me no matter what and I shouldn’t feel bad about her not getting to go into med school earlier. I know. Kind of. I just.”

Deanna smiles and lets him talk. This is counselor mode also, but he seems unaware.

“She’d make a great doctor, Deanna.”

Deanna grabs his hand and pats it. Wesley’s eyes are ringed with the evidence of crying and he is trying very hard to avoid doing this again.

Beverly walks out holding a plain looking letter and wearing a poker face. Wesley’s shoulders slump.

“We are going to have to go back to complaining about that mystery guy Riker your mom’s always trying to set you up with.” She says in an even tone, but her lips quirk up at the end.

“Huh?” Wesley tilts his head to the side.

“Yeah?” Deanna asks with a broad grin over her face.

“I got in, sweetie!” she tells Wesley.

Wesley runs into her arms, and Deanna lets them have as much privacy as possible in the public space. She cleans the espresso machine and dumps out some forgotten spent grounds before setting to making a hot chocolate for Wesley. She will make him drink some water too because of the bike ride, but the occasion calls for chocolate all around. Chocolate to mend the soul and chocolate celebrate success. She may be becoming a one trick pony.

Oh well. Wesley thinks her idea is great.

***

Beverly is shooing Wesley out to put his bike in her car so they can leave when Jean Luc walks in for his afternoon tea. He used to come in later, before Beverly started working there. Every time Deanna points this out, she is waved off by Beverly with ‘he’s just a friend of Jack’s,' and ‘I have no time for men, I’m trying to get into med school’. Deanna will wait for another day to have that conversation again.

Jean Luc has an awkward few seconds of stepping into the same path as Wesley before he finally steps back to hold the door and gestures for the boy to leave. Deanna will admit that Jean Luc probably needs a lesson in kids before going out with Beverly. She thinks he will manage.

“You know, I have this rash on my arm…” Jean Luc goes to unbutton his suit jacket.

“That obvious, huh?” Beverly is practically beaming.

“A whole different person.” Jean Luc smiles at her with a warmth that sends just a pang of jealousy through Deanna. She squashes it immediately. When they get together, Deanna is going to lead a parade.

“Well, I won’t be checking rashes in coffee shops any time soon.” Beverly smirks. She slides him the tea she had already made before he walked into the store and takes his money.

Deanna does notice that Jean Luc seems more relaxed as well. Maybe he took more of the blame of Jack’s death upon himself than he let on--a thought for another day.

“You better get used to it,” Jean Luc says with a wink. “Dr. Crusher.”

Deanna gives Beverly a hug and kiss before letting her go before the evening wait for Barclay. She’s not even mad when he shows up fifteen minutes late.