“Excuse me, sorry,” Hawke said, squeezing himself behind the chair of a regular customer in order to pull himself up on the ledge of the picture window in the front of the coffee shop.
The man looked up at him – the blonde fellow with the ponytail whose name, he knew from writing it on endless to-go cups, was Anders, and who was a writer and a doctor (Hawke thought) who spent a lot of time writing in a journal – and Hawke smiled awkwardly. “Hanging lights,” he explained, gesturing uselessly to the string of white snowflake-shaped lights in his hand.
“Do you need me to move?” Anders asked, reaching for the pile of papers he had spread all over the table.
“Nope, still got the hooks up here from last year, I’ll only be a second!” Hawke reached up and hooked the end of the lights onto the hook in the corner, and stepped down off the ledge to the floor. “Sorry to disturb your writing, sir,” he said to Anders as he hurried back to the counter to assist a customer.
After he had made his forty-fifth peppermint mocha of the day, Hawke came back to the window on the other side. He plugged in the string of lights and they lit up, sending glimmers reflecting off the window and all across the tables in the front of the shop. Admiring his handiwork for a moment, he caught Anders gazing at him. “Looks festive,” Anders said simply.
“And I’m not even done yet,” Hawke replied, grinning. “I’ve still got to decide where to hang the mistletoe.”
Anders looked around the shop. “Where does it usually go?”
“Last year it was outside the restroom,” Hawke replied. “That didn’t go over so well.”
The blonde man laughed quietly and scratched his temple in a gesture that was both amused and awkward. “How about above the pickup side of the counter?”
Hawke looked up. There was a convenient exposed pipe right up there that he could probably reach, and if he put a long cord around the mistletoe then he could loop it over. “Excellent idea, sir,” he said.
“Just Anders. No sir.”
Hawke grinned. “Anders, then.” He turned and fetched the mistletoe from the “DECOR” box and went in search of a rope or a cord to hang it. He was interrupted by another three customers before he got it up, and by the time he was finished, Anders was gone.
Hawke had pulled the Christmas Eve shift, and so it was that he was there on Christmas Eve when Anders came in at 9:00 PM, an hour before closing. Aside from the two women knitting in the corner, Anders was the only customer he’d seen in hours. “Evening, Anders,” Hawke said with a grin. “Your usual?”
“Indeed, and the freshest pastry you still have left,” Anders added. “To go, please, since you’re closing soon.”
Hawke nodded and went to make the man his double espresso. As the machine churned, he retrieved the last chocolate croissant – which Hawke had been kind of hoping to save for himself, if he were being honest, but the only other option was ageless biscotti and, for the handsome well-tipping blonde doctor on Christmas Eve, it seemed like a reasonable sacrifice.
“Wait, you didn’t ring me up,” Anders said from back near the cash register.
“No need, it’s on the house. We’re closed tomorrow, all this stuff will be thrown away when I close anyway.” Hawke watched the espresso drip into its little cup, being careful not to spill a drop.
He caught a glimpse of blonde hair between the machines as Anders walked to the pickup station. “Why not donate it?” he asked.
“Donate it?” Hawke replied, looking up as the espresso finished brewing. “Where?”
“To the food pantry. It’s just up the street, and they have Christmas dinner for the homeless tomorrow. I bet they could use your milk and whatever else is going into the trash.”
Hawke wasn’t sure this was in the company policy, but he was the manager and only one working, and the owner was away until January. Why not? “Alright,” he said, putting the lid on the little cup and placing it on the pickup counter next to the croissant in its bag. “Just for you, and because it’s Christmas Eve and I’m no Scrooge.”
Anders smiled, and appeared to hesitate, like he was going to say something but thought better of it. He tucked the croissant in his shoulder bag and raised the espresso towards Hawke as he turned to leave. “Merry Christmas,” he said simply.
“And to you, Anders,” Hawke replied. The bells on the door chimed as Anders left the shop, and Hawke meandered back to the ordering counter to take stock of the inventory that he could possibly sneak away to donate.
As he was unfolding a paper bag to put the leftover biscotti and mostly-full bottles of chocolate and peppermint syrup, his eyes caught the tip jar. Hawke reached forward and pulled out something that hadn’t been there before – a fifty dollar bill. His audible gasp startled the knitting ladies in the corner, and Hawke looked at the door and realized that Anders must have been the one to leave it for him. Only then did Hawke’s eyes find the pickup counter where the man had last stood, and he realized that his customer had been positioning himself directly under the mistletoe.
Hawke looked between the door and the bill in his hand, then bit his lip and folded it once and put it in the bottom of the paper bag.
It was January 6th, and Hawke had stopped in to the shop on his day off. The two days before, he had spent most of his energy taking down the Christmas decorations and serving the customers who were working their way back into the regular routine after the holiday season. For the annual employee betting game they called “Skinny Dipping”, he and the other baristas on duty had kept a count of how many “skinny” lattes and mochas had been ordered by customers with New Year’s resolutions. Hawke had won a share of the pool and he was in to pick up his winnings.
Since he was there anyway, he had Merrill hook him up with an Americano, and he was waiting for her to finish ringing up a non-employee customer when he heard the door bells jingle behind him. Hawke turned and saw Anders enter the shop, finding a smile on his own face at the sight of the other man.
“Anders,” he said by way of greeting.
Anders was smiling back at him. “Garrett,” he said.
“Now where’d you learn that name?” Hawke replied.
“Your cup,” Anders answered, nodding towards the cup on the counter with Hawke’s Americano, on which Merrill had scrawled Garrett in fancy cursive script.
“Well, you caught me,” Hawke replied. “How was your holiday?”
“Good, especially when I heard that the food pantry served hot chocolate and biscotti surprisingly like the stuff you guys have,” Anders said.
Hawke felt himself blushing a little bit against his will. To cover it up, he grabbed his Americano off the counter. “Well, what can I say, I have some Christmas spirit.”
“Even on January 6th, I see,” Anders said, his eyes drifting upward.
Hawke looked up and saw the mistletoe directly above his head. “Hm,” he said, clinging to his Americano for safety. “I guess I forgot something.”
“Forgot?” Anders asked, and Hawke suddenly realized that the other man was very close to him.
“I’m not that clever, to create some elaborate setup to be standing under the mistletoe just when my favorite customer comes in,” Hawke insisted.
“Pity,” Anders replied, and Hawke felt a hand on his cheek. “Are you saying you would engineer such a circumstance, if you were clever enough to do so?”
Hawke had lost control over his mouth, and was surprised to hear himself say the words, “Only for certain customers who inspire me to Christmas miracles…”
Anders’s smile melted Hawke’s inhibitions, and their lips met, and Anders’s fingers were warm against his skin as Hawke’s eyes slid closed. The moment of that kiss seemed to last forever and yet was over before Hawke knew it; it was both too much and not enough.
“Even,” Hawke breathed, “on January 6th.”