"Oh Lord Jesus," says Shirley, in that way that never means anything good. Annie stops what she's doing - drawing flowers on the pastry case - and looks up, worried. What she sees is Shirley struggling with her apron ties, already turning away from the counter to leave.
"Wait, Shirley," she says, but Shirley's already halfway through the door to the kitchen and Annie gets is the tail end of Shirley’s "I can't be here right now!"
The coffee shop isn't very busy and the only ones making a move toward the counter are a couple who've just walked in, making eyes at each other like every romantic comedy ending Annie's ever seen. She doesn't know what could have set off Shirley like that.
"Craig, take the cash!" Annie yells across the shop, already moving behind the counter and after Shirley. He looks up, indignant and says, “Excuse me, who’s the manager here?”
When Annie gets into the kitchen, Britta's already on the scene. Good. It's good. Shirley's usually the steadiest of them all and this is a little bit terrifying.
"Hold still," Britta's telling Shirley, who still looks like she wants to jump out of her skin. "It's one giant knot back here. Why the sudden rush to get it off anyway? You just got back from your break."
"I can't," Shirley says, shaking her head and Annie thinks that her hands might be shaking too. "I can't be out there right now. Just get this damn apron off of me. I don't care if you have to cut the strings."
"What happened?" Annie asks, circling around until she's in Shirley and Britta's line of sight. "One minute everything was fine, the next, this." Annie makes a gesture, meant to encompass the whole scene.
Over Shirley's shoulder, Britta meets Annie's eyes and shrugs, telegraphing her confusion. Then she's got the knot undone and the apron strings barely have time for fall to either side of Shirley before she's pulling it up over her head and tossing it into a corner. Then she starts pacing the small kitchen, ignoring them, looking more uncomfortable than Annie's ever seen her.
Britta catches Annie’s eye and mouths, What’s going on?
It's Annie's turn to shrug. Then she waves Britta at Shirley, because Annie's tried and failed and Britta has more life experience anyway and reads about psychology and stuff.
"Hello there and welcome to Bean-O-Rama. What can I get to perk you two lovebirds right up?"
Craig's voice is muffled through the door, but his voice carries and Annie's been working here long enough to know all of Craig's chirpy, often weird little speeches by heart.
"So," says Britta, who's slowly approaching Shirley, who stopped pacing when Craig started speaking. "Are you going to tell us what's got you so freaked?"
"I'm fine," says Shirley in a low voice, "I just need a minute or thirty and everything'll be alright." She doesn't shy away when Britta puts a hand on her shoulder. That's probably progress? Annie can hear the customers and Craig talking just beyond the door.
"Take whatever time you need. You know we've got your back," says Britta.
"I also recommend trying one of our world famous brownies, made right here in-store, by our ridiculously talented - and good-looking - staff."
Shirley flinches when Craig says staff, actually flinches. Annie almost misses the timing of it, but she's always had above-average ability to see correlations.
When she speaks, Annie does it carefully, because she thinks she's put it together and it's not going to be an easy conversation if she's right. "This doesn't have anything to do with the couple ordering their drinks right now, does it?"
Shirley looks caught in the headlights for a minute and then closes her eyes and takes a deep breath. It’s another long moment before she starts speaking.
"My ex-husband and his girlfriend walked in and there I was, tired and smelling like coffee, working a minimum wage job in someone else's coffee shop."
Shirley wants to have her own place someday. It’s not a secret. She's got it all mapped out and decorated, with a few suggestions that could only have come from her sons, but that Annie thinks are kind of fun anyway.
"Shirley…" she says, hesitating, but she doesn't know what the right words are. "I know that what we do isn't exactly glamourous, but it's nothing to be ashamed of."
"I know that," Shirley says. "I'm earning an honest living to support my family and there isn't anyone who can tell me that I should be ashamed of that. But sometimes, what other people think matters just a little bit more, even if it shouldn't."
Britta wraps her arm around Shirley's shoulder in a hug and Annie takes three steps over to them and does the same, so that Shirley is bracketed by them. Protected. They stay that way in silence for Annie's not sure how long.
"Would it be wrong to go out there and sabotage his coffee?" Britta wonders out loud.
"Yes," says Shirley, quickly, gravely, but Annie hears the smile in her next words. "But it might also be a a lot of fun."