Rupert Giles turned the box over in his hands, for this coconut milk came in a box, not in a can. The sort he used when cooking came in cans, and was often so thick as to make the idea of using it in a latte ludicrous. This sounded quite liquid when he shook it, and the box was similar to the ones the soya milk came in. But coconut milk? He set the box down on the bar-top and repeated his question to Anya.
“Coconut milk,” Anya said. “It’s in. It’s hip. It’s paleo.”
“Paleo? As in, er, the prehistoric era?” Here Giles ought to have found himself on firmer ground, as his past life had featured historical research, but Anya’s much briefer span of past life did not. At least not so far as he was aware.
However, she said cheerfully, “That’s the one. Fad diet. Its adherents believe that by eating only what primitive man ate, they’ll be healthier.”
“Because primitive man was of course notable for his longevity and health.”
“You can snip at me all you like. It’s the latest thing and we need to offer speciality beverages featuring it. Coconut milk is vital to the success of this cafe.”
“Oh, is it?” Giles murmured.
“Yes,” Anya said, firmly. “You hired me to think about these issues and advise you on them, and that is what I am doing.”
“I hired you to do my books.”
“Your books need larger numbers in them. This is how we’ll get them.”
Giles shrugged. There was no harm in it. He was a fuddy-duddy, as Jenny had liked to call him, and he ought to make more efforts to break out of his ruts. He walked behind the bar, around to the back of the espresso machine, and handed over the box of milk to Tara.
“Well, let’s find out what it tastes like. Latte, please, Tara, single shot.”
Tara nodded. The grinder ran for a few seconds. She tamped down the grounds in the filter holder, then attached it with a casual, practiced gesture. The Marzocco hummed, and coffee ran into the little glass below the spout. Giles preferred glass to metal cups for the coffee. They allowed his baristas to better see what they’d produced. Meanwhile, Tara had taken a clean metal steaming pitcher from the fridge where they were kept chill.
He tried not to hover over her, but he was hovering. He hoped she didn’t mind too much.
She tapped the pitcher against the bar to settle the foam. “Froths well,” she said, to him.
She poured coconut milk froth into the cup carefully, moving the cup not the pitcher.
A swan, he noted. Her art was getting more complex and detailed every week. It was almost a pity to ruin it by drinking, but it was of course intended to be ephemeral. Everything they created in his cafe was that way: all in service of coffee in a cup, which was to be drunk immediately.
Giles took a sip and swished it around his mouth. Oh dear. He resisted the urge to spit it back into the cup, but it was a near thing. The feel in his mouth was horrible, for a start, and the taste was strange. What little coconut he could detect wasn’t nearly enough to make up for it. It was like supermarket ice cream: more seaweed extract than cream, with almost plasticky residue left behind.
“Not in my cafe,” he said to Anya.
Tara took the cup from him, brow furrowed, and tasted it. She shook her head and pushed it towards Anya. Anya pouted and drank. “It tastes great,” she announced. “Certainly better than the one I had at Ethan’s.”
“You should spend more time brewing coffee,” Tara said, hesitantly.
“I’m a terrible barista. Everyone knows that. My talents are much better used at the cash register.”
“That doesn’t mean you should never try.”
“Yes, it does. It also means Tara should never touch the money.”
Tara shrugged, so Giles decided not to press the matter for her sake. “Anya, you are a marvelous bookkeeper. I shall take your suggestion to heart. But maybe next time, real coconut milk?”
“Oh, yes. That reminds me of something I’m supposed to say right now. Giles needs to get laid,” Anya said.
“Right, I am now ignoring you,” he said.
Anya continued on without seeming to have heard him, while Oz came up behind. “Or date. Or do something that gets him out of this cafe sometimes. He’s here every time I am here, doing things like suppressing my ideas. Did I do it right?”
Oz said, “Yup, you said exactly what I wanted you to. Giles should definitely date.”
“Why doesn’t Giles date, anyway?” Anya said.
“He did. He was dating this software engineer. Stone cold fox. Smart as he is, you know? Major sparkage. Then she got killed by a drunk driver.”
“Oh,” said Anya.
“Think he’s finally getting over it.”
“Also he can hear you,” Tara said.
“Yeah, I know,” Oz said. “I did that on purpose.”
Giles glared at him, though it was without real anger. He was indeed over it, or so he hoped. He’d had a brief fling with somebody last year that had convinced him he’d got his feet back under himself again after what had been a bad time. Oz was the only barista from those days who was still working for him now, oddly. He’d been in high school at the time. Now he was a college student and still pulling shots to pay his way through. Oz’s hair color might change weekly, but he was as steady an employee as Giles had ever had. He might yet promote him to manager, though Anya would probably have his head for it. How many more years before he graduated? Two at least. Then he’d be off and Giles would have a hiring problem again.
“The point is, we need to find him a new fox.”
“How? Not Craigslist,” Anya said. She made a face. “Only murderers use Craigslist.”
“There’s a hot new startup that does dating for the area. Founded by recent graduates. Five million in seed round funding. They have a new technique for guaranteed matches. It’s called Blindr. Every date is a blind date.”
“No,” Giles said.
“Yes,” Oz said.
“This is a recipe for disaster.”
“We’ve already set you up.”
Giles turned his back on his rebellious employees and leaned on the bar. No. Nonsense. He was not using a dating service. The cafe was all he needed. His nice, lovely, welcoming cafe, the Magic Box. Middling-full tonight, not bad for a Tuesday. Mostly students, a few young couples, the thirty-year-old man with the terrible beard who was pretending to write a novel but who always bought at least three complicated drinks on every visit. Decaf. Giles frowned. Perhaps he was a wanker if he drank decaf.
The door jingled open. A woman came through. Young, short, vibrant, wearing boots and a pleasingly short skirt. An adorable little nose. Not that he was looking at her.
The blonde woman picked her way through the tables. Giles continued not to look. She didn’t seem to have any intention of ordering anything. Perhaps she was meeting someone? Perhaps he should ask her if he could advise her about what to order. Then he dragged his attention away. Pretty, yes, but most likely an undergraduate. Not interested in the likes of him.
“Pretty, huh?” said Oz.
“Hmm? Oh. Hadn’t noticed.”
“Can introduce you.”
“I’m too old for her,” Giles said.
Tara wrinkled her nose at him, and Oz said, “Huh.”
Giles had had enough. He stalked off in a huff to his office and sat down to console himself by reading bean grower reports. His laptop sat open on the desk, screen glowing. Oz had helpfully already unlocked it and opened a Firefox tab with the dating site page. Blindr, forsooth. He really ought to change his password. Again. Giles sighed. Oz had apparently also already made an account for him and filled out all his personal information. Giles heaved out another sigh and yielded to the inevitable. He knew when he was beaten.
He sat himself down to look at his prospects.
A page full of profiles. A never-ending scrolling list of boxes of text. Text? He read the “about Blindr” page. Blind dates only. You wrote about yourself then looked to see what other people had written. No photographs allowed. An unbearable weariness came over him. How on earth was he supposed to find somebody interesting in this heaving mass of misspellings?
Footsteps behind him, and Oz and Tara were in the office. Oz clicked, and a new page appeared, with far fewer boxes of text on it.
“These three,” Oz said. “The ones we’ve tagged as ‘interested’.”
“You went through my Blindr account and found women you like.”
“Tara and I both like them. For you. Not ourselves. We sort of have different taste in women. Than you do, anyway.” Oz glanced aside at Tara, who was looking at the floor instead of at him. Oh, yes, now he remembered: They’d dated the same woman, a redheaded girl Giles had seen around the shop off and on. Wasn’t Tara dating her now, in fact? Giles’s official position was that he didn’t keep track of his employees’ love lives, but in practice he ended up knowing everything in detail. Far too much detail in Anya’s case.
“Your job is to set up dates with all three.”
“All three. This week,” Oz said, “It’s a heavy burden, I know, but I think you can handle it. ”
Giles groaned and buried his face in his hands until they left the office. He’d do it. He would. That was the very devil of it: he was that desperate and lonely and sick of spending his evenings tasting Anya’s latest horrible idea. And so he clicked on the first one and set himself to write an invitation to dinner that didn’t make him sound like the hopeless coffee-obsessed prat he was.
His first blind date was tonight, with someone named Melinda. Giles was in a very bad way thanks to nerves, which his ever-helpful staff was attempting to distract him from with an endless succession of new drink ideas. The flat white was Xander’s contribution, via a New Zealander surfing buddy. He quite liked that one, and approved it for immediate addition to the menu.
Anya’s coconut obsession, however, was driving him batty. She had not given up on the idea, but had given up on the paleo hook.
“Try this one,” Anya said. “It’s coconut syrup. Completely different from the milk.”
Giles sipped and made a face. “Good Lord. Too bloody sweet.”
“You hate sugar.”
“We’re putting this on the menu. For people who like sweet things.”
Giles set the cup down on the bar in exasperation. He could forbid it, but then she’d simply do it anyway and stay angry.
“Whatever, Anya. I trust your judgement.”
“You do?” She smiled at him quite alarmingly.
“Yes. Your idea of partnering with the pastry shop was genius, and it did indeed make the money, er, larger. Here’s what I’d like, though. Could you purchase some real coconut milk? The tinned kind. Unsweetened. I have an idea. Inspired by you.”
“I would be delighted to, boss!” she said.
Giles returned her smile nervously, and backed away. It was time he left for his date, anyway. He ducked into his office to find the tie he’d picked out for himself in the morning and the gardenia for his buttonhole. The gardenia was the recognition token he’d suggested in their exchange of messages. A gardenia in his button, his favorite Italian restaurant down in the flats below campus near the water, and a showy red silk tie around his neck. He looked more than presentable. A dab of bay rum on his handkerchief, and he was ready to conquer– well, something. All of womankind was a bit ambitious. This one woman, perhaps. Melinda. He’d conquer this Melinda– in a gentlemanly, respectful, and perfectly courteous way– and have a lovely evening and perhaps spend the night not alone.
The events of dinner did nothing to dissipate or otherwise disturb his hopes. It had all gone rather well, in his opinion. She was about a decade younger, personable, a successful businesswoman, pleasant to look at, nicely dressed, amusing. He laughed at her jokes and she laughed at his, and all in all it had been much less of a trial than he’d feared it would be. It had been a success.
He walked her to her car, which was not far from his, in one of the lonelier city lots behind the line of restaurants and bars. The lights had gone out in this corner, he observed; when he’d parked the sun had yet to set, so he hadn’t realized quite how dark it was. And isolated. It was eerie. Fortunately he’d parked in the lighted corner, all the way across. He offered his arm to Melinda. If she took it, perhaps he might suggest some coffee.
“Hey, mister,” somebody said.
Giles turned around. Running toward him from the alley was a big man. Big? Huge. Enormous bushy red beard sticking out from under a ski mask. Ski mask?
“How can I help you?”
That was when Giles saw the knife. Oh, bugger.
“Don’t be alarmed,” Giles said, to Melinda. “best to just, er, comply.” He reached into his pocket for his wallet.
“Scuse me,” somebody said, from behind the mugger. “Mind if I cut in?” And the mugger fell to the ground at Giles’s feet. He stared down in befuddlement, then up at the interrupter. A woman, a tiny woman, in a black jacket and a watch cap.
“Step back, would ya?” she said.
Giles backed away and looked for Melinda again. She was already halfway across the parking lot and not looking back.
The short woman in the cap was kicking the mugger in the stomach. He kicked right back at her, rolled, and came up to his feet again. He still had the knife. He swiped out at the woman and Giles winced. But she dodged back, kicked again, and then without seeming to move, had kicked the man’s legs out from under him again. She knelt on his back, got hold of his arm.
Giles held his hand up in front of his face so he couldn’t watch what happened next. There was a disturbing crunching sound, and the man made a even more disturbing mewling sound. The knife clattered to the pavement. Giles found himself able to move again. He kicked the knife away. But it was pointless: the man had struggled to his feet and was running off, his right arm dangling oddly.
His rescuer stood and tugged her jacket straight. She wasn’t even breathing hard. “Oh, yeah, hi, sorry about that.”
“Thanks,” Giles said, or rather, stammered. Dammit.
Who was she? Young, short– very short– blonde hair peeking out from under that black watch cap.
“You shouldn’t park here. No lights. Right behind the bar where they deal meth. Worst part of town.”
“I’ll keep that in mind in the future.”
And with that she was off, jogging away without a further word.
Giles made his way over to Melinda, who was leaning against what he assumed was her car. “Fortuitous,” he said, then wanted to slap himself in the face again. Marvelous way with words, Romeo. His hands were shaking, he noted.
“Yeah, definitely. Anyway. See you.”
“Would you like to get together again? Maybe on the weekend?”
“I’ll call you. Next week some time. Maybe. Goodnight, Robert!”
Giles’s shoulders drooped. He watched Melinda get into her car. She started it and drove off rapidly. He thought it had gone well, but apparently he’d missed a signal somewhere. Or perhaps it had been the mugging incident. There was something hideously unmanly about being having one’s mugger knocked out by a wisp of a blonde woman even as one was reaching for one’s wallet, he had to admit. But what was he supposed to have done? Shot the fellow? Perhaps that’s what Americans expected.
Giles sighed and found his own car in the corner of the lot. Home alone again.
The second date was over before it began. Montana– whose recognition signal was a single red rose– took one look at him and backed away. “Nope,” she said. “Nope nope nope, no senior citizens.”
Giles sputtered in outrage. “Madame, I am only barely into my forties.”
“My profile says nobody over thirty.”
“It said nobody over fifty.”
“Nope.” And she was gone, leaving Giles to ignore the sympathetic look from the restaurant hostess and trudge his way back to his car. He dropped the rose onto the pavement and ground it under his foot before getting in. Bugger this for a game of soldiers. Bugger him. Bugger everything.
By the time he got back to his cafe he was feeling less angry and more a sense of overwhelming despair. Ennui. “Nausea, even,” he said to his reflection in the rear-view mirror. “Existential angst. Oh, bloody hell, Rupert, get over yourself. You were too old for her anyway.”
He slouched his way in through the back door of the cafe, pulled his tie loose, and tossed it onto his desk. Old school tie. Exactly the wrong bloody signal. Well, pick yourself up and get back on the horse, Rupert, as his mum had used to say to him. His mum had been a bit of a brute, now that he came to think of it. That horse had been a monster.
The cafe staff tonight was Xander and Tara. Tara was unpacking the dishwasher. Xander was behind the coffee bar. Giles joined him and surveyed the equipment, looking for carnage. There was none: no coffee spills, no exploded machinery. Xander looked perfectly calm and in barista mode.
Giles said, “Did you repair the grinder?”
“Yeah. Nothing tricky. Just needed to be taken apart and cleaned and oiled.”
“Aren’t you supposed to be out on a date?”
“Aren’t you supposed to be working and not idling about?”
“I am working. I’m doing a pour-over.” And so he was, though Giles didn’t see anybody hovering near the bar waiting for a cup. Giles watched with a critical eye on Xander’s technique. He was generally better with the machines than with the simpler things that required attention. Too impatient. He’d been learning, possibly from Tara, however, and Giles couldn’t find much to criticize. He took about the right amount of time to pour the water in, and the pattern of grounds on the filter was just right.
Xander poured the coffee into a cup and set it on a saucer. Then he set it on the bar in front of Giles.
“On the house,” Xander said to him, and he waggled his eyebrows. Giles glared without real anger.
What had the boy brewed for him? Ah, this. He’d roasted this batch two days ago and in a moment of whimsy had named it Repentant Vampire. There was something contradictory about darkness of the beans and the honey notes in the cup. It had some bite but was harmless at heart. Meant to be drunk black, though of course none of this lot ever did.
He wandered away from the bar, cup in hand. It was busy tonight, he observed. Ordinarily this would fill him with satisfaction, but tonight it made him morose. Nowhere to sit even in his own coffee house. He might end up driven back into his office, where he’d feel duty bound to work, and he didn’t feel like working. He wanted to sulk.
He bumped into a chair with his foot and stopped to apologize profusely. The woman in the chair was familiar to him, but he couldn’t place her face at first, until she smiled at him almost impishly. Then the penny dropped.
“Oh, it’s you,” he said, completely idiotically.
“Oh, hey, hi, nice to see you in less garbage-y surroundings. I mean, less like a darkened alley full of muggers. I mean, join us. We have an extra chair.”
Giles hesitated, then realized it would be rude not to. He set his cup down and gracefully folded himself into the chair. The red-haired girl waved her fingers at him uncertainly. “You’re dating Tara,” he said. “Willow, is it?”
“Yup, that’s me. And this is Buffy.”
So that was the name of his rescuer. It was a ridiculous name. Giles was, however, grateful for the rescue, if somewhat embarrassed by his need for it, so he restrained his reaction to the name to a lifted brow.
“Hi,” she said, and waved at him with a finger.
“Have I seen you here before?” he asked.
“I don’t hang out in northside much. I live down Telegraph. But yeah, I was in here the other night because Willow likes it.”
Giles smiled at Willow. He liked people who liked his cafe. It stood to reason that they were people of good taste.
Buffy said, “I usually go to the cafe on the south side of campus, you know, Ethan’s. He does this coconut milk thing. But it’s too noisy in there.”
“Is it?” Giles asked, with real interest. He hadn’t dared go near the place.
“This is a nice place. Way better for studying or reading. No obnoxious music, plenty of comfy chairs, really great mocha.”
“Is that your preferred drink?”
“Yup. Loads of chocolate and sugar. Can hardly taste the coffee. Would probably be even more amazing with coconut milk.”
Giles buried his face in his cup lest he allow the rejoinder on his lips to escape.
“So yeah, anyway, sorry about beating up that guy in front of your date.”
“You’re quite ready with your fists.”
“I’m a martial arts instructor. I have three black belts in three different disciplines. I like Kyokushinkai karate best, though, because it’s full contact. Handy for situations like the other night.”
“I must say, quite.” Giles flushed. He had rather enjoyed watching her in action. Such a little slip of a girl, flinging that fellow around, and then the disturbingly satisfying cry of pain he’d made as she wrenched his arm out of its socket. Perhaps there was something wrong with him, but he admired her skill.
Even if it had destroyed his date.
“Aaaaand I just realized I don’t know your name.”
“He’s Giles,” Willow said.
Buffy brightened up. “Giles? That’s unusual. Do you know why your parents picked that?”
“They hardly had a choice, as it was my father’s last name and his before him.”
Buffy turned a glare onto the hapless Willow. “Last name,” Willow said, weakly. Giles almost regretted his acerbity, for Willow’s cheeks were pinked up.
And now Giles felt like a heel, for Willow winced again and said, “Sorry, it’s just that that’s what everybody calls you.”
“It’s quite all right. I hardly recall that I have any other names at all.” This seemed to soothe her again.
Buffy seemed not to know how to respond to that conversational sally. Her eyes wandered back down to her college textbook. Giles relaxed a little when it seemed that neither one of them was about to ask him any more questions. It really had been a most terrible date. He had one more to get through, on Friday night, and it could not possibly be any worse than what he’d just endured.
Why couldn’t the matchmaking service had found him someone like this Buffy person? Personable, good-looking, handy with her fists, terrible palate– Well, there was that. Also much too young for him. And probably gay, if she was a friend of Willow’s. Right out of his league.
Giles sighed and drank the last of his coffee. At least he had his livelihood to console him. He was good at that.
On Friday night, Giles braced for his date with the confidence and spring of a convict preparing for his date with the executioner. He was prepared, oh yes, prepared to meet her and go through with it to the bitter end. A single daisy, because she liked daisies, or so her profile had said, and Giles thought it would make a good recognition token. A single daisy, picked up from a florist and tucked away in water in his office until it was time for him to go home and change.
Giles showered and shaved and tried not to be morose. Women didn’t like morose men. They liked men with spiky haircuts and body-wash named after medieval weapons. Or so Xander told him. He applied his usual conservative dab of bay rum to his newly-smoothed chin and told himself to buck up. He was amiable enough, decent-looking enough. He’d had relationships before. No reason he couldn’t make this date work.
And if it didn’t work? Well, if it failed, tomorrow he’d inform Oz that he was never using an online dating service again and that would be that. He would live out his life as a single man and he would be happy about it. Truly.
Giles braced for a lifetime of solitude, found his car keys, and left.
He arrived at the restaurant five minutes early, because it would not do to be late. Not even for his own doom. He stood in the entrance shuffling his feet.
The door opened. Young couple; not his date. It opened again: a short woman came through. Blonde. Familiar. Buffy. Oh, bugger, the last thing he wanted was for someone like her to know he was meeting a blind date. A date who would probably ditch him instantly.
He smiled at her then half-turned away, hoping she would read his body language. But no. She walked right up to him.
“Hey, it’s Giles who only has a last name.”
“You’ve, um, got a daisy,” she said.
He flushed so hotly that his ears felt as if they were glowing. “Oh. Er. Yes. I’m supposed to be meeting someone. Elizabeth. Um.” He trailed off, reluctant to confess the absolutely humiliating truth to her.
“Yeah. It’s just that I’m supposed to be meeting somebody who’s carrying a daisy. A guy somebody. And you are. Carrying a daisy, that is, not a guy, though obviously you are also a guy. But the daisy. That would be a huge coincidence, kind of. But your name isn’t Rupert so coincidence it is.”
Giles blinked. “My name is Rupert, though. My given one. The one Willow didn’t know. Um. Er. For you.”
He half-bowed and held out the daisy to her, because it would be ridiculous to pretend he wasn’t there to meet her and he refused to look even more ridiculous than he did already. She was really rather pretty when he came to think about it, much prettier than she’d appeared when wearing a watch cap and a leather jacket. Though most women looked better in nice deep peach dresses that left their shoulders and necks bare. Though she was still ridiculously short, even in heels.
Giles realized he was staring. “Elizabeth?” he said, to cover himself.
“Actually it’s just Buffy. My mom. Did a thing.” Buffy wriggled her shoulders. “I use Elizabeth when I think I might need to never be found again by the other person. Which, um, blind date. You know.”
“Believe me, I know. Shall we find our table?”
Dinner was– well, if he had to admit it, it was surprisingly pleasant. The shock of finding he already knew his date had jolted him out of his epically poor mood. He had absolutely no hope she’d be interested in him, so he gave up all of his absurd wishes and concentrated on at least having a good time and ensuring she did as well. He got her talking about why she liked full-contact karate, and she got him talking about how he selected beans and roasted them. He promised to show her how to roast them if she visited the cafe in the morning. She promised to show him how to break the arm of a mugger when they reached out to take your wallet from them.
“You’re a lefty,” she said, with some amount of enthusiasm. “Nobody ever expects that. Huge advantage in the early seconds, and if it lasts longer than that you messed up.”
They split the check– “it’s only right,” she said– and then headed outside.
“So,” said Buffy.
“So,” Giles said, and then wanted to slap himself in the face for idiocy. He was having a lovely time and he didn’t want the evening to be over, but apparently it was.
But she said, “Hey, I hear you’re into coffee. Want to get some of that?”
“Oh! You want coffee? Um. Yes. Certainly.” Giles looked around himself. In sight down the block was Ethan’s, which he remembered was her favorite. “Shall we, er, go there?” And he would try the coconut latte that Anya had been so inspired by.
“Sure, yeah, sure, there it is, right there and stuff. Let’s do that walking thing, the whole way down the block. Whee.”
Giles looked aside at her. Was she babbling? Could she perhaps be as nervous as he? Nonsense.
Ethan’s was modern, full of shiny hard surfaces. Very clean, very sharp. Looked some places he’d seen in Tokyo. He could see why it was popular. In addition to coffee, Ethan sold pearl tea and artisanal doughnuts. Doughnuts? In the evening? Apparently it was trendy.
To Giles’s eternal dismay, the man himself was behind the espresso bar to take their order. He looked just as he always had, though perhaps a little seedier, a little trending toward gray.
“Why, Rupert. Here to enjoy the competition?”
“Hardly the verb I’d have chosen. Good to see you again, Ethan.”
“The Magic Box. Really, Rupert, must you?”
“Inherited the name,” Giles said, promptly. “Saved on repainting all the signs.”
“Not in the least.”
“You two know each other, huh?” Buffy said.
Ethan looked her up and down, then smiled at Giles. Giles felt his brows coming together and the urge to punch rising. “Yes, we do. Great friends back in our university days, eh, Ripper?”
“Quite,” Giles said. “Long time ago that.”
Mercifully Buffy did not seem to pick up on the name Ethan had used for him, nor on his utter tension. She said, “We’ll have two of those coconut latte things.”
Ethan smiled almost genuinely. “Good choice. I’ll bring your drinks to you. Ta.”
Giles paid at the till while Buffy found them an empty pair of chairs. Giles scowled as he watched Ethan work behind the espresso machine. He was good with the milk steamer, Giles had to admit, but the beans looked over-roasted, even for espresso. And he didn’t do pour-overs. Well, Giles had one market advantage to boast of to Anya later.
Ethan came out with two drinks on a tray: pint glasses, with the coffee and milk swirling around inside. A beer glass. For espresso. Made sense if you wanted to sell to college students who wanted caffeine by volume. And if he had to admit it, they looked rather nice.
Giles lifted it to his lips and tasted. Rolled it around in his mouth.
The famous coconut latte was made with the same guar-gum-laced nonsense from a box that Anya had had him experiment with. It was sugared up to the point where a distracted college student wouldn’t notice it, but Giles’s palate was too well trained. He swallowed and smiled bravely at Ethan.
“Interesting,” he said.
Ethan narrowed his eyes. “It’s our most popular speciality drink.”
“I believe you.”
“Unique in this town.”
“Certainly I serve nothing like it.”
“Bloody well right you don’t.”
Ethan strode away. Giles set the glass down and glared at it. Infernal fellow. There was plenty of room in a college town for more than one coffee shop, oh yes, and the existence of this place didn’t cut into his business no matter what Anya said, but damn the fellow and his syrupy heavy-handed monstrous drinks.
Somebody laid a hand on his arm. Oh. Buffy. His date. Giles smiled weakly at her. “How much do you hate his guts anyway?” she said.
“About as much as it possible to hate somebody’s guts.”
“And you hate that drink.”
Giles flushed. “Am I that obvious?”
“Yup. You hate it about as much as you hate him.”
“I can taste the seaweed,” he said. “Can’t get past it. Always have been able to taste things other people can’t.”
“Oh, so that’s why!”
“Why your coffee is so much better. I can’t go here any more since I had a latte at your place.”
Why hadn’t she said? She’d been being polite, of course. Mutual politeness, gone horribly wrong as always. Well, to hell with politeness and holding back. She’d shown him what she was good at. It was time he showed her what he was good at.
Giles stood and reached out for Buffy’s hand.
“Come on,” he said. “We’re going to my cafe. I shall make you a coconut drink that both of us can like.”
She grinned at him and they were off, hand in hand, into the mess of downtown, up and across the university campus. Halfway across the campus, as they crossed the plaza below the campanile, he realized that her hand was still in his and she showed no signs of minding.
The campanile chimed out the hour. Buffy tugged him to a stop. “I love this thing,” she said. “It’s my favorite thing on campus. I love it when they play songs on it.”
“It is rather lovely,” Giles said, but he was looking at her. He might as well put it to the touch. What was the worst she could do to him? Well, break his arm, but possibly she wouldn’t. Possibly she’d– oh, stop wittering about and have at it!
He took her face in his hands, bent to her, and kissed her.
“Nice,” Buffy said. So he kissed her again. Her eyes were closed so he closed his too.
Giles broke away at last. He was aware he was smiling like a fatuous idiot, but she didn’t seem to mind, so that was good.
“Right,” he said. “Let’s go make some coffee.” He had a promise to keep.
They ascended the steps to the hilly street that defined its northern edge. One block over and north again, and they were in the little shopping district where Giles’s cafe sat, between a used book shop and a Greek restaurant. Inside, in the happy hushed murmur and coffee scent that meant his home away from home.
Giles led Buffy in and behind the espresso bar, where Oz and Tara were hovering.
“What happened to your date?” Oz said.
“Buffy is my date. Get out of my way.”
Oz and Tara dodged. Giles gathered what he needed: the tinned coconut milk that Anya had indeed acquired for him, whole milk, a clean cold metal steaming pitcher. Whole milk in first. A tablespoon of Dutch process cocoa powder, into the milk. Stir. He poured the coconut milk in, stirring with a rod, until it felt about the right consistency.
Tara was watching, with a little spiral notepad in hand.
“Ratio?” she said.
“Maybe two to one.”
“Right.” And she jotted it down. Good. She’d be able to reproduce this if it turned out well. If it turned out poorly, like all the others had, well, perhaps Buffy wouldn’t notice. Then Giles felt ashamed of himself. She would notice. She’d already figured out that his beans were better. She could taste well enough to know if he messed this up.
Get it right, Ripper!
He gave the steam nozzle a ceremonial wipe, not because it was dirty (perish the thought in his cafe) but because Buffy was watching. Nozzle in, hand under the pitcher to gauge temperature, and steam turned on. He frothed it the way Xander had frothed the milk for the flat white, keeping the nozzle deep for tiny bubbles.
A bit of vanilla syrup in the cup, enough to smooth out the chocolate and add a hint of sweetness, then the espresso poured in with a swirl to mix it. Then the steamed coconut mixture, poured in as carefully as he could. He did not have anything like Tara’s deft hand with the foam, but he knew how to make a heart shape. So he made one, and he set the cup in front of Buffy anxiously, heart facing toward her.
He hadn’t tasted it, but he knew what it ought to taste like. If he trusted his palate, this would please her. And if he crossed his fingers as he shoved them into his trouser pockets, no one would ever know.
Buffy lifted the cup daintily. Tasted. Looked thoughtful. Took a larger sip. Giles was perhaps going to die in these next seconds if she didn’t speak.
Finally: “Ooh, that’s good. That’s not sweet, not really, but it’s good. Crazy rich. Look at your bad self and this bad latte!”
Oz poked his arm. “That means she likes it.”
Giles rolled his eyes. “Thanks, I had rather figured that out.”
Anya snatched the cup from Buffy. Buffy looked at him as if to say: what? Giles shrugged helplessly at her and took her hand again. Anya drank, then drank some more, and more, and then set the empty cup down with a bang.
“We are going to sell lots and lots and lots of these. We should price them really high.”
“Shut up. We’re going to be rich.”
“Right,” said Giles. “We’re going to be rich. Tara, could you make us a pair of those?”
“Duh,” Anya said. “You’re leaving now.”
Anya merely pointed at Buffy.
“We are,” Buffy said. “To my place. I’ve got a bottle of wine you can pretend not to hate.”
“Right then,” said Giles, and he grinned to himself as Buffy led him out.