Mai kept an eye out for her destination through the dull shops rolling by the bus window. Her family had moved to this city a couple of weeks ago and it was so boring. The bus was boring, the shops were boring, the new house was boring, and her parents and little brother were especially boring. So Mai had finally given in to her mother’s requests to find something to do outside of school and was now on her way to apply to the least boring place in the entire boring city: a downtown coffee shop.
The bus stopped just across the street from the shop she had in mind. This was good because the last thing she wanted was to have to walk anywhere. Seriously, why couldn't her father have driven her? It's not like there would have been anything pressing at city hall he couldn't leave to take her to her new place of employment. Her parents were so inconsiderate.
The smell of overpriced coffee and milk foam washed over her as she stepped into the building. Mai wasn't sure if she wanted the job here for the smell alone, but it was certainly a factor. It was a million times better than the smog and garbage smell outside, and a zillion times better than her mom’s old-lady perfume that permeated the entire house. She shuddered at that thought.
"Hi!" chirped a voice. Mai turned to the bubbly girl behind the counter. The other patrons had been served and Mai was the only one in line. "How can I help you today? We've got choco-nutter-caramel-coffee-banana-blast cookies fresh out of the oven! They're super scrumptious!!" The girl bounced a little and leaned over the counter, her grin threatening to fill the cafe with sparkles and rainbows.
"I don't eat chocolate."
"Oh, well how about a nutri-grain low-fat low-sodium carrot almond muffin? They're vegan!!!" Most people couldn't put just one exclamation mark on assertions of vegan products. Somehow this girl managed three.
"Do I look vegan?" Normally this would be dripping with scorn, perhaps with a dash of sarcasm, but something about this girl made Mai legitimately curious. What did a vegan person look like? More importantly, would it annoy her parents?
"Imbeciles!" The kitchen door burst open and a girl, who in other circumstance may have been described as beautiful, stormed out carrying a cupcake. Her face was contorted into a mask of rage so intense there was practically smoke coming out of her ears. She stalked to the counter, throwing the cupcake down next to the register. "Those fools don't know a thing about pastry."
The bubbly girl pulled her into a tight hug, "Poor Azula! Didn't they follow your guidelines?"
Azula straightened and gently pushed the hug away, giving the bubbly girl a brief smile and squeezing her shoulder as she did so, "They have seen fit not to I'm afraid. Ty Lee you simply must instruct them in proper icing technique. Look at this," she held the offending cupcake aloft; it had been smushed slightly by its violent landing on the counter. "It is a disgrace to my family's coffee shop. There is no style to be seen in this frost topping. No flair, no panache, and most certainly no symmetry. This cupcake is completely unworthy. I need people I can trust in that kitchen."
Ty Lee bounced a little, "You need me to ice cupcakes?"
"If you would," Azula had recovered from her earlier outburst and now seemed bored with the conversation.
"Yay!" Ty Lee turned and cartwheeled into the kitchen.
"Have you been helped?" asked Azula, as though cartwheels were an ordinary occurrence.
"Your sign says 'help wanted'" replied Mai, pulling her resume from her handbag and handing it over.
"Hmmm...." As Azula read the page, Mai couldn't help but notice how impossibly perfect the other girl's manicure was, considering she had apparently just been baking. "Have you ever worked in a coffee shop before?"
"If it's not on my resume, then I haven't done it."
"Indeed, then what makes you think you're qualified to work here?"
"I don't know, I'm smart? How hard can it be to learn this stuff? I already know the names of every roast, brand, and grind of coffee you sell because I come in here often enough. I won't put up with anything from the idiots you seem to have working in the kitchen, and I'm good at keeping things clean because I'm organized."
"I see," Azula turned back to the resume, "Go ahead, eat that cupcake."
The bossy girl flapped a hand, "Don't be a fool. It's free. I don't sell damaged goods."
"I don't eat chocolate.
"You what?" Azula looked up, confused, but intrigued.
"Hey 'zula!" Ty Lee skipped up, carrying a tray of identical cupcakes, each with a perfect spiral of pink icing. "There was a bunch of peanut butter cupcakes, so I put on strawberry icing. It's a PBandJ cupcake! Like the sandwich!"
"Ty Lee, please, I'm in the middle of a job interview. Here eat this" she held out the offending pastry, "Our applicant is apparently allergic."
"I'm not allergic, I just don't like it.'
"Mmmu moph mibb mummffmumff?!?" Ty Lee had taken the cupcake in her mouth and was attempting to eat it without putting down her tray.
"That's irrelevant." From the girl's expression, Mai couldn't tell who Azula was addressing. "So what else do you do? Do you have any hobbies? Sports?"
"Oooh! You should come free-running with us!" chirped Ty Lee from the cupcake stand she was arranging. "It's so much fun. You have to get from one spot to another in the most creative way possible. I like to add flips and summer-saults. Azula jumps off of walls and runs along banisters. Sometimes Azula's brother, Zuko, comes too. He's good at-"
"My brother," Azula cut her off, "Is a traitor and no longer welcome."
"Why? What did he do?" Mai was interested, even if her voice didn't betray it.
"My father worked tirelessly to build the most successful coffee shop in the city from nothing. Through his skill, cunning, keen business sense and mastery of the latte he has driven away the competition, and franchised our glorious family name to multiple locations in key hotspots. Other restaurants weep at the sight of or success. But my Uncle apparently believed that coffee was not enough and left the family tradition for his own miserable ends. Zuko's employment for my Uncle at The Jade Dragon tea shop is nothing short of treason."
Azula didn't catch, or chose to ignore, the dryness of Mai's tone, "He will pay for his crime; when we grind their pathetic tea shop into the ground."
"You must have awkward family dinners." noted Mai
Azula sniffed, "I see it as an opportunity to make him suffer."
"Maybe he just likes tea?" Ty Lee had moved on to re-arranging scones.
"Nobody likes tea." Azula and Mai replied in sync. Azula blinked, cleared her throat, and glanced once more at the resume.
"If you have no experience, and aren't sure of your qualifications, why did you even bother to apply."
"I needed a job. And I like coffee. I've come to this coffee shop almost every day since we moved here. It's the only place I know where I actually feel," she shrugged, "comfortable." She shuffled a bit, she hadn't meant to say that much.
Azula nodded. "Very well. Once my father approves, which he shall, you're hired on a three month probation. Welcome to the Phoenix King."