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Kelly, the Well-Meaning and Very Confused Barista

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Kelly’s pretty sure the red-haired woman doesn't work in any of the offices in the building. She always comes in from the street, not the elevator, and she doesn't come in just before 9 to order something to go, or around lunch, or just after 5. She comes in whenever, and she always sits by the big window that overlooks the street, sipping her coffee and eating her pastry.

Kelly thinks she’s really pretty.

Sometimes the woman comes in every other day, and sometimes she doesn’t come in for several weeks. There’s no rhyme or reason to it as far as Kelly can tell, but what really shocks her is when she comes in WITH someone.

And the guy is FIT.

The woman orders her usual two-sugars coffee, and the guy stutters and orders a black one. He’s six feet tall and built like a Mack truck. Blond hair, big blue eyes, long lashes. Red-haired woman snatched up a good one. Kelly stifles her disappointment at the woman’s possible heterosexuality and plugs in the order, takes the exact change, and watches as they both sit at the woman’s usual table.

Maybe they’re not dating. The guy’s spine is ramrod straight, hands on the counter and folded over each other like he’s at an interview or something. She’s not so nervous, though. She never is. In fact, she’s grinning at him. Maybe he’s a coworker she’s trying to seduce.

Get it, red-haired lady.

Over the next couple weeks the woman comes in alone and with blond guy in about equal measures. The guy’s body language relaxes a little over time; he smiles when she makes jokes, and he even makes a couple jokes of his own. Kelly can’t hear them, but he’s got this goofy smile on like he’s proud of himself for coming up with it, and Kelly has to hide her expression behind the counter because OH MY GOD.

Maybe she’ll finally bag him and they’ll have little strawberry blond babies and they’ll come in with strollers one day. Kelly wants that.

She comes up with a backstory in her head. They work at a gym together. (Why else would they look like that?) Blond guy is new and the woman’s been showing him around. Blond guy’s working up the courage to seal the deal but he hasn’t yet.

Days pass. The shop gets these new little berry tarts that are the cutest most scrumptious looking things ever and if Kelly wasn’t cutting back her sugar intake, she would be all. Over. Them. When the woman comes in to order a coffee Kelly gathers up her courage and points to the display, asking her if she’d like to try one. The woman grins and says yes, asking for the biggest size. YES, Kelly thinks. Treat yourself. Those things look amazing.

Five minutes later a gorgeous black guy with a gap-tooth smile comes up and asks if it’s too late to order a breakfast wrap. Kelly lies and says no. (Jake’s working the grill today. He’ll forgive her.)

When the guy’s coffee order comes up he gets it from Jamal and heads over to the woman’s table. He SITS DOWN. She SMILES AT HIM. They start talking and when the guy’s food order comes, the woman cuts her tart in half and puts half of it on his breakfast wrap plate. He smiles and makes a show of eating the raspberry on top super delicately.


Kelly stifles the indignant spike. This is not her life. Maybe blond guy wasn’t a good match. Maybe it all just fizzled. But he was SO SWEET. He held the door for the woman, and for random people too, not just the one he wanted to get with. He always thanked Jamal when he got up and took the coffees. Blond guy was a good dude.

Gap tooth guy is the new dude. He’s relaxed and grinning and he probably didn’t have nearly as hard a time finding the guts to take the next step. He looks like he loves steps. Steps are his favorite. Kelly sighs morosely and rearranges the sodas in the display fridge.

More days pass. The woman comes in on her own a few times and Kelly resists the urge to ask what happened. It’s not her business.

She’s completely unprepared when the woman comes in and orders two coffees, with the blond man in tow. He’s smiling easily like everything’s normal.


Kelly puts in the order and takes the exact change. Hands over the receipt. Blond guy looks fine. He doesn’t look like a guy who’s been dumped and is trying resolutely to ‘just be friends’. He has NO IDEA.

This woman is evil.

Kelly keeps herself chill when they sit down together, talking easily as if everything is cool. The woman makes a joke and he laughs, and he makes a (dumb?) joke and she grins, just a little. Jamal catches Kelly watching and tsks.

When they leave, blond guy holds the door for her. He also holds the door for the two old ladies tottering out. Oh. Blond guy.

Change is life, Kelly reminds herself. She psychs herself up so that two days later, when the woman shows up and orders another large berry tart, Kelly knows she’s gonna share it with gap tooth guy and she’s ready for it.

There he is, five minutes later and smiling when it’s his turn in line. He compliments Kelly’s new haircut in a nice, non-creepy way. He stuffs a dollar into the tip jar. Gap tooth guy seems like a good dude.

Kelly realizes with a painful thud that gap tooth guy has no idea he’s The Other Guy.


It goes back and forth like that, blond and gap-toothed, about once a week, to the point where Kelly’s just jaded and unaffected by it. It’s not her business to say anything. She doesn’t know the whole story. Or even part of it, really. She’s surprised when blond guy comes in one day and asks for the woman’s drink order to go.

"Your girlfriend’s stuck in the office?" Kelly asks evenly, feeling like the world’s best super spy. It’s so innocuous, but his response will be telling.

The tips of his ears go pink. VERY telling. “She’s laid up,” he says, looking uncomfortable. “I mean, she’s, she’s fine, she’s just got a broken leg and she could use some cheering up.”

Kelly nods and punches in the order. How sad. This guy is trying to get her a treat and she’s got a treat on the side he doesn’t have a clue about.

What really takes the cake is when gap tooth guy comes in the next day with the same order. They must both be smitten. Poor dudes.

The woman comes back in a week later like nothing’s changed. Kelly can’t even detect a difference in her walk - maybe she never had a broken leg? She might be a compulsive liar. Or a hypochondriac. (Do hypochodriacs think they get broken bones, or just weird illnesses? Kelly will have to look into that.)

It’s a slow Wednesday that takes the cake, though.

It’s pouring outside, which means not many customers. The people in the office buildings across the street stay in and order sandwiches from the bigger places that deliver. Kelly couldn’t hear a pin drop, not exactly, but Jamal’s mopping across the shop and Kelly can tell his iPod is playing Beyonce.

The door swings open and the woman walks in, taking her hood down. She gestures to the right, and the man coming in behind her, who’s hunched over like he’s got a warrant for his arrest, turns the way she pointed and takes the chair in the corner.

A third dude. JEEZ.

The woman comes to the counter. “One coffee two sugars, one coffee black, a club wrap, and one of every sandwich.”

Kelly's fingertips hover over the register. “We have … eight sandwiches.”

She just nods and pulls out her wallet, putting down a $100 bill. Kelly blinks and make sure to punch in every item before taking it. The woman stuffs the change into her purse without counting it and sits down.

Kelly watches them from between the cookie displays. It’s difficult - the guy is looking in all directions, twitchy, and Kelly thinks maybe THIS one knows. He knows he’s The Other Other Guy. He’s waiting for gap tooth guy and/or blond guy to bust in at any moment and beat him up for being with their girl. (Could he take them? It’s hard to tell underneath all those layers and that sad grey hoodie.) But he’s rooted there, unable to leave, because he’s so desperately in love with Evil Seductress Woman.

The coffee order comes up and the woman gets up to get the cups. The guy looks beyond nervous. Miserable, too. He barely touches his coffee at first and then he starts downing it like it’s the best thing he’s ever had. Kelly wastes time checking stock and refilling the display fridge. When the food order’s up, the woman gets up again to get it, carrying both trays over to the table and sliding them in front of the guy. He just stares at them. She pulls the wrap out of the foil and starts to eat.

It’s so weird. He sits there and cautiously takes a bite of everything in front of him, and it takes like an hour. When he finishes half of the roast beef the woman acts like it’s some big deal, holding his hand across the table and smiling at him warmly. Kelly’s never seen that smile before. This is so weird.

She has no idea how to contextualize this anymore.