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Keep the change

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It was the mid-morning slump and Emil was leaning against the counter, ready to sing the praises of the next person who walked through the doors. Anything, anything to break this lull of boredom. He had been a little excited at the idea of working here while his parents figured out the family’s financial troubles, but this - this unending stream of people walking past and not coming in was brutal. He had even taken extra special care with his hair that morning, making sure it lay exactly as he wanted it, gathered back into a neat ponytail with nary a strand out of place.

Checking once again to make sure there was no-one at the till, Emil casually bumped the door to the back room with his hip and sauntered in. It always smelled amazing here - vanilla and chocolate and a myriad other flavors all saturating the air hotly. Tuuri was busy kneading dough, occasionally calling for her tall red-haired assistant to check on this or that oven. He had attempted to pile his long braid on top of his head and stuff the entire mess into a hat. Emil watched him scurry back and forth, apologizing every time, and smirked.

“Reynir! Is the cake for the reception ready?”

“Ahh! Y-yes - I mean… I think so? I’M SORRY!”

“Sigrun will come crashing in here soon to pick it up, so you better know! Go look for it in the fridge.”

“Yes! Of course! Fridge! Sorry!”

Tuuri rolled her eyes and glanced at Emil. There was flour on her cheeks, and the barrettes holding her short hair back from her round face had let a few strands slip.

“Hey. Shouldn’t you be watching the front?” She asked, wiping her hands on her apron.

Emil waved a hand in her general direction. “Nah, it’s dead out there. Just Old Baldy with his endless stacks of papers. I don’t think he’s gonna publish that novel before he dies, honestly.” He said with a chuckle. Tuuri did not look amused. “Come on, you know Mr. Madsen doesn’t like you being back here without good reason. He’s very particular about protocol…”

“Oh come on, I’m dying out there! Let me do something…”

She seemed to give in to his pleading eyes and let out a sigh, handing him a tray full of cookies. “Well, um… you can carry these out, if you want-- DON’T drop them like last time.”

“I got it, don’t worry!” he said, walking back into the main room and very narrowly avoiding falling over when he tripped over the threshold.   

 

Emil looked up from where he ended up, on his knees on the floor, cookies thankfully safe. He started putting them into the display case before realizing something was amiss and blinking. There was a person in front of his counter. How long had this guy been standing there?
“Good.. um. good afternoon...Morning? Um, HELLO. What can I get for you today?”

What the heck? How did Emil suddenly forget how to speak? He blinked one more time because looking again, he realized that this person was actually really … really … pretty. His eyes darted quickly over disheveled platinum hair, small mouth, eyes so clear he forgot where he was for a moment.

“I want…” the customer began.

Emil nodded, ready to key in the order on his cash register and trying to act like a person who was in full control of his limbs. His voice was even nicer than his face, he realized; it sent shivers down his spine, airy and ethereal but with a rhythm like knocking on a hollow tree trunk. This is how these things usually went, right? People told him what they wanted, paid, and he made it for them. In the back, he could hear the now-commonplace sounds of Sigrun crashing her scooter into the side of the building, her loud cheers, likely kicking the door open, but right now none of that mattered because if he waited long enough, this person would probably speak again.

He did not. At least, not right away. He pointed with a long finger to the tray of cookies Emil had just brought out.

“Oh, you’d like a cookie? Okay, can I uhh, can I interest you in anything else?” Like a date, or a kiss ? his brain finished for him. “LIKEACOFFEE or um, somecake OR wealsohaveummmsandwiches---” everything he said came out in one long breath, eyes blinking rapidly as he tried to backpedal away from any kind of inappropriate hint he may have accidentally dropped. What the hell was going on with him today? He was usually very charming and suave around customers; there were some older ladies, always coming in to knit together, who were definitely not immune to his charms.

The stranger looked like he was considering for a moment, before uttering a single flat “What?”

“I… um, I was wondering if you’d like something else with your cookie… maybe a drink?” Shit, that did not come out right. “I mean, something TO drink. We have coffee, and tea, and … uhh…” He could see Old Baldy’s annoyed gaze penetrate his already crumbling facade from across the shop.  

“I want another one.”

“Another…?”

The stranger pointed again at the cookie tray.

“So… you want… two cookies?”
The nod was so subtle that Emil would have missed it had he not been absolutely engrossed in every single word and gesture this guy was making. As pretty as the person was, he seemed quite shy, or at least, not able to express himself properly. He slid the two cookies into a brown paper envelope and held them out.

As the other’s hand reached out, for a brief moment their fingers touched. Emil thought he felt snow - something cold, in any case; cold and pure and quiet.

There was the smallest intake of breath from the silver-haired person, eyes opening wider. “Th-that’ll be $3.50 please,” Emil managed to stammer out when their hands parted after what felt an eternity but was no more than a few seconds in reality. The silver-haired person quietly placed some money onto the counter, backed away a few steps, and dashed out of the cafe.

 

Emil spent the rest of the day mulling over what had happened, even as other customers came and went with their drinks and pastries. Was he scared? He didn’t even wait for his change, or… or was it a tip? Had his meticulous hair routine amounted to something? Maybe that was this guy’s way of flirting… and anyway, who orders two cookies but no tea or coffee? It must all mean something, he realized. And what it meant is that he screwed up and would never see him again.

As it neared closing time, he heard a crash from outside again, barely lifting his eyes when Sigrun burst into the cafe a few minutes later. “YO -- oh, hey little viking. What’s got you down?” she asked, taking off her helmet and hopping up to sit on one of the counters in clear violation of Mr. Madsen's food safety protocol. Emil looked up from where he was slumped over one of the display cases.

“The most beautiful person in the world came in here and I didn’t even get his name or his number or anything,” he explained, disappointment dripping from his words.

“Oh. That sucks. What are you going to do now?”

“I don’t know. It’s all hopeless. Everything is in vain.”

Sigrun looked at him for a few moments, as if confused. “Well, why don’t you ask Uncle Trond?”

“Old Baldy? The guy who keeps asking me to read his stupid book?” he asked, standing up.

“Yeah, he knows everything about everyone in town. Got me this job, too! Uncle Trond is awesome.”

“Okay, I… I guess it’s worth a shot…”

“That’s the spirit!” Sigrun yelled, hitting Emil on the back so hard he nearly lost his balance. Yes, he thought… maybe something would come of this after all.