Lewis Nixon is either too drunk for this, or not drunk enough. The jury is still out. Either way, the marching band above his apartment needs to get the fuck out and… that’s just the guy in the apartment above him, on crutches with a broken leg and jesus Christ, he’s more hungover than usual. Sobel is going to love this. He blinks at his alarm clock, which failed to go off and now he’s going to be late. He’s definitely too drunk to care about that, concentrates on sitting up without his head imploding. After five minutes, there’s still a ringing noise in his head, but the room is only slightly wavy, instead of spinny. He’s so counting that as a win and really, he’s getting too old for this shit. He ignores the annoying nasal voice of his mother telling him he’s only twenty seven, and rolls out of bed, aiming vaguely for the shower and being really quite impressed with himself when he only hits one door jamb on the way from his bedroom down the hall to his bathroom.
He finally makes it out of his apartment, wearing all black for two very important reasons. A) so he doesn’t have to look at colours because ow, and b) something his sister informed him was called colour coordination, and was why he wasn’t allowed out of the house in blue pants and brown shoes. As soon as he gets out of his apartment building, he’s blinded by the obscenely bright October sun, and he staggers back inside for sunglasses. He’s forty five minutes late when he finally reaches The Grind, the independently owned coffee shop slash delicatessen he works at, and his head hurts far too much to do anything but mumble a greeting to Lipton, working the deli counter and far too cheery for- Nixon looks at his watch- seven fifteen in the morning, jesus fuck. His delightful boss, Sobel, isn’t in at this unholy hour, won’t be in until at least eleven, and Nixon is eternally grateful for that fact. He ditches his messenger bag in the break room and ties on the maroon apron Joe throws at his head from where he’s slicing a tomato bigger than his fist on the bench behind Lipton. Joseph Liebgott has fresh produce “contacts”. In the same way Don Corleone has horses head contacts. It’s mildly unsettling. Nixon flips him off, and Joe returns the favour, not even looking. Nixon hates him. But not quite as much as he hates his job.
It’s not so bad, he guesses, working at The Grind. Better than selling out completely and working at the Starbucks down the block, which, Sobel tells them gleefully every chance he gets, doesn’t get nearly as much revenue as the tiny little business sandwiched between a secondhand book store and a walk in clinic. The guys he works with are decent, and, Joe excepted, actually pretty fun to spend time with. There’s Carwood Lipton, who was born to be in charge somewhere, and so fucking efficient Nixon sometimes wonders if there’s two of him, one to run the deli side of the coffee shop with Joe, do all the orders, all the paperwork, all the salaries, and one to work on the counter and generally make his living by being one of the most annoyingly friendly people Nixon has ever known. He’s so friendly than Nixon can’t even bring himself to dislike him, even a little bit. There’s Joe Liebgott, who Nixon claims to hate, but really, the insults are a sign of affection. Mostly. Nixon blames him for ninety percent of his hangovers, but Joe is a much younger man than him, and can bounce back like snapping fingers. Eventually Nixon will learn not to go out drinking with him, but that day is not coming any time soon. He’s also a fantastic cook, and Nixon has on more than one occasion sworn murder on the man who buys the last slice of carrot cake, often right before closing. There’s also Bill Guarnere, a new recruit, with a broad Yankee accent and a temper to rival Joe’s. He’s a quick learner, and already knows most of the regulars better than Nixon ever will. Especially the female ones, but Nixon’s not so bitter about that. And finally there’s Babe Heffron. Nixon doesn’t know his real name, doesn’t really care. He only cares that at least someone is on time for work, because while he was dragging his- probably still drunk, let’s be honest- ass out of bed, Babe was here, opening up and turning the coffee machine on and as a result, there’s something hot and strong and black in a mug in front of him. It takes almost all of Nixon’s willpower and strength of character not to propose to the kid right then and there, instead sticking his nose in the mug and inhaling deeply. ‘I love you,’ he says, mostly to the coffee mug, and partly to Babe, until a voice in front of him says ‘I’m sure the coffee loves you too’. Nixon flinches, sloshing hot coffee onto his thumb and looking up through tinted sunglasses [and it’s still too fucking bright, even inside, even wearing the fucking sunglasses. Nixon hates his life.] at a guy in an expensive looking white shirt and jeans that probably cost more than what Nixon makes a year, with bright red hair and freckles splashed all over his face, like he’s been dusted with brown paint. He’s smiling, and really, why is Nixon always surrounded by smiling people at half past seven on a Monday morning? It’s obscene, it really is. Nixon wipes the coffee off with a dish towel from under the counter and tries to at least look professional, even if there is a barrel of monkeys in his head, and they won’t stop pulling at the important parts of his brain. He is never drinking again.
[That is a barefaced lie, but Nixon’s pretending that he doesn’t know that.] ‘What can I get you?’ he asks, polite, but not chancing a smile. Smiling is for people who had less than half a bottle of scotch and more than three hours of sleep.
‘Can I get a quad venti half caf breve no foam with whip two splenda stirred skinny three pump peppermint mocha and one of the cheddar scallion muffins?’
Nixon stares at him. ‘…no. No you cannot.’
The guy smiles again, but less certain this time. ‘…because…?’
‘Because it’s seven thirty am and I can cope with black coffee and maybe a latte. I have no idea what you just said to me.’
‘I could repeat it for you…?’ the guy says, just looking amused now, and Nixon has no idea what to even do with that, really. Behind him, the machine starts clanking and hissing, and when he looks around, Bill’s pushing buttons and suddenly he has something steaming hot and minty smelling thrust under his nose. He takes it and turns back round to him, holding it out. Lipton is by his side suddenly, also holding out a paper bag and ringing it up on the till, because apparently Nixon has forgotten how to be a functional human being. He takes his coffee, and paper bag, and smiles at Nixon again, before turning to leave.
He vaguely hears Lipton saying ‘Have a good day,’ and the guy replying with ‘likewise’, and then Lipton elbows him in the stomach, and he’s back, seems to have remembered vaguely how being alive works. He glares at his friend, who’s already sauntered back over to the deli to serve one of the regulars, Aggie, with her usual, a ham and cheese croissant while he grins in the face of Nixon’s early morning hangover rage. He’s apparently become desensitized to it over the last nine years. Bastard.
Nixon drinks his coffee, scalding his throat, but after twenty minutes he’s feeling a lot more awake, and he even manages a soy latte drizzled with caramel for some skinny hipster chick in a mens plaid shirt and thick plastic framed glasses with no lenses. He settles into a rhythm fairly quickly, working the counter because Babe is terrified of customers, but can work magic with the machines, and because Bill can’t not flirt with anything with a pulse and a zip code.
At about quarter to eleven, David Webster turns up and lurks by the counter, ordering tea and scowling until the two students vacate his usual table. Nixon really hopes Joe isn’t trying to be subtle as he makes eyes at the writer, who dives behind his laptop screen like always. He’ll give it about fifteen minutes before Joe takes his break and wanders over with something covered in powdered sugar and fruit. He shakes his head, and cleans the counter while there are no customers there.
Fourteen minutes later, Joe slides out from behind the counter with a plate balanced in the crook of his elbow while he goes to distribute toasted sandwiches that people ordered, slipping into the seat opposite Webster, who peers at him over his laptop and then ignores him completely, snaking out a hand to take the plate. He types away for a few more minutes while Joe sits there before shutting his laptop and putting the plate on top of it, long fingers breaking the pastry in half and pulling bits off to eat. It’s a small coffee shop, but they talk in low voices and Nixon can’t read lips, so he just waggles his eyebrows at Lipton, who smiles and brushes crumbs off the counter and removes empty plates from the display, stacking them by the sink for Babe to wash.
Sobel turns up at eleven thirty; the coffee shop is fairly busy, and he skulks, looking for things Nixon has done wrong. He can’t find any, so he settles for dragging Joe away from his break to make more sandwiches, and berating Bill for not refilling the napkin dispensers. He rattles around for a bit before disappearing into his office to do whatever Sobel does in there. Probably write lists of ways to hire someone else without actually spending any more money.
At about one the shop is suddenly crazy, a couple of dozen people in the queue and not a free table in sight, and Nixon gives up his lunch break because it looks like Babe is going to cry. There’s a dark haired guy with five o clock shadow and an immaculate dark grey suit with an open collared shirt gesticulating at Babe, who is essentially cowering behind the counter. Bill’s out back smoking, and Lipton is swamped, and Joe probably couldn’t give a shit, all he cares about is his cooking and Webster, so Nixon sighs, puts his apron back on and rescues Babe, inserting himself between the two men and sending Babe off for his lunch before he turns to face the asshole. ‘What seems to be the problem?’ he asks, polite but cold, and that’s when he registers who’s standing next to the guy. It’s the redhead from earlier, sunglasses perched on top of his head, and he grins when Nixon catches his eye.
‘Well, apparently your employee is having trouble with a grande two pump vanilla non-fat extra hot latte and a chorizo, black olive and mozzarella sandwich on rye.’
‘Yeah, he’s new. You might have clocked the trainee badge on his apron, it’s a hint to take it easy and give him a break if he gets confused.’ Nixon doesn’t call him an asshole to his face, but it’s a struggle, so he settles for scribbling down the sandwich order and sliding it across to Lipton, who passes it back to Joe, but keeps watching the guy. His eyes flick back to Babe, sitting in the break room talking to Bill, who looks pissed. Nixon turns to make his coffee and rings it up on the register while the machine whirs and hisses. He clacks the cup down on the counter and directs him to the deli to pick up his sandwich. Nixon hears him muttering darkly in the redhead’s ear as he moves past, something about ‘can’t believe you dragged me halfway across fucking town for a sandwich.’
‘Sorry about Ron,’ the other guy says when Nixon turns to take his order after wiping down the machine quickly. ‘Sometimes he forgets that just because he doesn’t have a soul, that doesn’t mean no one else does either.’ His mouth quirks up.
Nixon shrugs, grabs a paper cup. ‘Same as before?’ he says, holding it up.
‘Nah, just a chocolate cream frappucino, two pumps of peppermint, tall. And uh, I don’t know what kind of sandwich is good here. Suggestions?’ Of course, all the sandwich orders they do fly straight out of Nixon’s head as soon as he’s asked, so he busies himself by digging the scoop into the ice bin and filling the blender before adding milk and chocolate powder
‘The roast beef is really good, with mustard.’ Nixon says eventually.
‘Sounds great,’ the guy says, grinning again, and Nixon finds himself smiling back, handing the drink over and scribbling the sandwich order down.
‘What’s the name?’ he asks, glancing up. ‘For the order,’ he clarifies when the guy looks at him, tilting his head slightly.
‘Oh, uh. Dick,’ he says, handing over a twenty when Nixon rings up the order and slides the sandwich order across to the deli, ignoring the pointed look from Lipton in favour of handing Dick’s change over.
‘You can pick your food up from over there,’ he says abruptly, and turns to take the next order. Dick is left looking slightly confused, but he goes to pick up the sandwich Joe waves at him and joining the asshole from before, who’s standing just outside the door, sipping at his coffee, and they walk off down the block, Dick sliding his sunglasses down over his eyes.
By then, Bill’s left the break room and has his apron back on, and Nixon can actually take his lunch break. He has to walk past Joe to get his sandwich from the fridge though, and he catches his eye. ‘Fuck off,’ he says, pulling the wrapping open and taking a huge bite as he bumps into Joe on the way past. Joe just sniggers, and keeps shredding lettuce.
The coffeeshop winds down at about three, and by then it’s almost time for Nixon’s shift to be over. Harry turns up, pulling his beanie hat off and ineffectually flattening his hair as he dumps his bag and ties his apron on, all but pushing Nixon out of the way to serve the next customer. It’s a woman in her early twenties, short dark hair and blue eyes, and Harry grins his gap toothed smile up at her and she melts. Nixon rolls his eyes and grabs his bag from the break room, slapping Joe upside the head on his way out, just for good measure. He’s abusing his break again to bring Webster more tea and a sandwich, and Webster’s talking enthusiastically, scribbling all over one of the pages in his notebook as Joe nods, following along. He flips Nixon off without even turning to look at him.
The sun is even more obnoxiously bright in the afternoon, and he winces as he goes outside, even wearing the sunglasses and for once he flags down a cab, opting for partial shade over saving a few bucks. As soon as he’s back in his apartment, he falls into the bed, face first, and rolls onto his side, scowling at the clock. It’s three thirty, but he’s going to sleep, and he intends to sleep until it’s time for his next shift at the Grind.
The next morning he wakes up early for the first time in two weeks, and he has time to shower properly and even shave. Lucky him. He’s only twenty minutes late for work, but really, if he started showing up on time, they’d expect it of him every day, and as it is, Lipton looks ready to fall over from where he’s loading croissants and breakfast sandwiches onto trays for the display. They’ve only been open for five minutes, and there are no customers yet, which is why he’d passed Bill and Joe on the way in, chain smoking and sniggering about something. Joe had looked at his watch and pretended to fall over when he saw Nixon. ‘But Nix, it’s only seven! You’re so close to almost being on time. What will Sobel think?’
‘Yeah, Nix, you tryin’ ta kill him or what?’ Bill had joined in, flicking ash off the end of his smoke. Nixon had confiscated it and taken a drag in retaliation, finishing it off and dropping it on the ground.
‘You’re funny,’ Nixon sneered, before heading inside and eating all the cheese that Joe had sliced and ready to go in the sandwiches and drinking Bill’s abandoned coffee. Lip looked mildly disapproving, but continued prying brownies from a pan and laying them on a plate before moving onto the sandwiches.
Babe’s already here, of course, and the coffee machine is up and running and has Nixon mentioned he loves Babe yet? ‘You are my favourite,’ he declares, and Bill, who’s given up trying to scrounge another smoke from Joe has come back inside.
‘Ouch, Nix. I’m hurt.’
‘You’ll survive.’ Nixon says, throwaway, as he helps himself to coffee and steals a brownie from Lipton. He looks more than mildly disapproving at that, thwacking at Nix’s hand with a spatula as Joe comes back in and discovers the missing cheese.
‘Nixon you rat bastard!’ He throws a cherry tomato at Nixon, who ducks, laughing, and they settle into an easy routine when Lipton tuts at them all, loading pastries into the display counter. They have a steady stream of early morning customers, most of them regulars, and Nixon is happy to send Babe to wait the tables while he works the machine and Bill flirts at the counter. When there’s a lull for ten minutes or so, Bill takes the chance to make himself a coffee, black and strong enough to stand a spoon up in, and Nixon sees the sharpie in the top pocket of his apron.
‘You know,’ he says, conversationally. ‘We should just get Sobel to have the cups printed with your number already on them.’
‘Ahh, where’s the fun in that?’ Bill jeers, grabbing his packet of smokes and escaping out the back door. Sometimes, Nixon thinks, it’s like he spends more time smoking than actually working. He leaves Babe waiting tables and works the counter and the machine at the same time as the customers slow down, most of them only wanting black coffee strong as it comes anyway. He’s cleaning the counter when the door opens and he glances up, and he wrinkles his nose. It’s the guy from yesterday with the freckles and the obscenely complicated drink order. He looks back down and finishes wiping raspberry syrup off the counter before tossing the rag to one side and grabbing a paper cup and a sharpie.
‘Don’t tell me,’ he says as the guy- Dick, he thinks vaguely- opens his mouth. ‘You want something ridiculous and drizzled in caramel.’
The guy blinks, and it’s definitely Dick, Nixon thinks, remembering the scribble on the side of his cup yesterday. Sobel didn’t hire him for his rugged good looks; Nixon’s always been good with names and faces. ‘Um,’ he says eventually, flushing slightly. ‘No?’
Nixon grins, and twirls the pen idly. ‘Same as yesterday?’ he asks, turning to the machine when Dick grins back, and nods.
‘So you were awake, then?’ he says, digging his wallet out. ‘I wasn’t sure.’
‘Just because my eyes are closed doesn’t mean I’m not listening,’ Nixon says over the sound of the steamed milk screaming at him. ‘Not bringing your friend this early in the morning?’ Nixon’s aware his tone gives away exactly when he thinks of Dick’s friend, but he just smiles mildly and shakes his head.
‘Ron’s even less sociable this early in the morning. I’ve lost count of how many assistants he’s fired for disturbing him before at least three cups of coffee, it’s not fair to expose him to the general population any more than his commute to work.’
Nixon laughs. ‘Sounds like Joe, our sandwich guy. There isn’t enough caffeine in the world to make him smile before at least nine am.’ He ignores Joe, who shouts over from where he’s beating a plastic baggie full of oreos with the filling removed to death with a rolling pin that he’s ‘not the fucking sandwich guy, Nix, show a little respect!’
Nixon rolls his eyes, and takes the crumpled note Dick holds out, tipping the change into his palm and handing the drink over. Dick tips his drink at Nixon and turns to leave, before telling him he’ll see him at lunch.
Nixon’s not entirely sure why that makes him smile, but he figures he can blame it on Webster rushing through the door and throwing himself into a chair on his usual table before flinging his laptop open and typing like a man possessed. Joe hasn’t noticed, is too busy pouring the cookie crumbs into a bowl of melted butter and stirring moodily, glaring occasionally at Bill, smoking happily outside. Nixon keeps an eye on Webster until his typing slows to a normal level, and then takes a cup of tea over. Joe’s progressed to swearing loudly at the consistency of whatever he’s making, stabbing at it with a wooden spoon. He puts the tea down gently, a safe distance away from Webster’s elbows, and stands there as he closes the laptop lid and sighs. He looks up, and smiles tiredly. ‘Hey Nix. How’s business?’
Nixon shrugs. ‘Can’t complain. You know, you can write at home, Web.’ Webster looks at him like he’s grown a second head. ‘Or… maybe you can’t.’ Nixon acquiesces and it making his escape back behind the counter where Babe’s wrestling with the coffee machine. Suddenly there’s a bang, and a lot of smoke, and Nixon’s there, jumping over the counter as Babe swears loudly and impressively, emerging from the smoke- or maybe it’s steam, Nixon thinks- clutching his arm. There’s a patch about the size of a paperback book mottled red and white, and Joe’s there with a soaking wet cloth, wrapping it around the burn. Bill clatters in from outside, wanting to know what in fuck is going on.
‘Babe’s burned his arm,’ Joe says. Luckily it’s fairly quiet in the store, mostly semi-comatose college kids and Webster, who’s back with his nose pressed on his laptop screen, and wouldn’t notice if a bomb went off behind him.
‘Jesus christ,’ Bill says. ‘Do not tell your mother. She will gut me.’
Babe’s pale and drawn, but he laughs at that. Bill grins back, and claps him on the shoulder. ‘He’ll be fine. I’ll go get the doc.’
Nixon shakes his head and leads Babe into the breakroom. Today had been going so well.