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When the Dust Settles

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Today is different.

There’s something off, something new. The days have started to run together, and he can’t tell the difference between yesterday and last Friday. Summer always feels like that. Today doesn’t.

The coffee shop is quiet. Dim lights and calm music, maybe too aesthetically pleasing. He was never a fan of the decor or the patrons or really anything about this place. But he likes his coworkers and they really do have the best coffee in town. Probably because he works there. No bias.

Jamie taps his fingers on the counter as he watches his friends try to keep busy, cleaning and organizing where they can. They don’t seem bothered by the feeling he’s getting.

“Is something different?” He asks eventually. Lucio is the first one to perk up, smiling wide and warm as always.

“They’re building something over there, man.”

He looks out the window, and it’s across the street. Signs and loose dirt and chain link fences. Machines and people. The sounds are starting to come through his ruined ears, muffled buzzing and clanging. He’s mesmerized by it.

“You don’t really pay attention to your surroundings, do you?”

“Nah,” he agrees.

It’s early afternoon, and the few customers they have are hiding in corners behind laptops and textbooks. There isn’t much to do, and he tries to actually work, but he can’t stop staring at the mess outside. Powerful metal contraptions ripping apart the earth. Booming, destructive, lovely.

“What are you looking at?” Hana chirps, and leans against him to see. “Are they blowing stuff up?”

“Not yet,” and he can’t help the disappointment that settles in his tone. He doesn’t want to miss a moment of it.

It’s all very beautiful, he thinks, the way the jackhammer breaks concrete, the shrill piercing sound of it. It makes him fidget. He’s an amateur builder, a tinkerer. He likes to make things, keep his hands busy. He likes to see things blow up in a quick moment of fire and wreckage, builds things to break them. An anarchist. Watching them work makes him itch, and he can’t tear away from it.

The customers file in as it gets later, the buzz of caffeine needed after a long day’s work, and he jumps at the chance to serve them. Jamie is good at what he does, goes the extra mile to add to the recipe or put more flare into it. The customers like the creativity, and his boss likes that they like it. He serves the drinks quickly, with a finesse he can only reserve for work. Otherwise, he’s a twitchy clumsy idiot.

He notices with the evening drawing nearer that the low rumble of construction has died, and it’s too calm, too dull. Has it always felt this way?

He’s wiping down the counter when the door opens with a jingle and there’s a rush of bodies. He’s not used to so many people here this late. They’ve all got safety jackets on, sweaty and dirty and rough around the edges. Construction workers.

They’re loud and smiley as they place their orders, definitely having caught Lucio’s contagiously good attitude. Hana grumbles about having to stay later to clean up their mess, but Jamie is entranced with the smell of dirt and rubble that they’ve brought with them. It clings to the air, and it’s practically clouding around them. He thinks of steel and dynamite.

“Earth to Jamie, you gonna start on these orders or am I alone here?” Hana snaps at him, and he takes a sharp breath through his nose, saluting her with a grin.

“Yes, ma’am! I’m on it!”

He’s gentle when he handles the machines, artistic when the foam kisses the coffee in just the right way, fluffy, textured. He takes an extra moment to draw in the lattes, pouring patterns delicately. The men are impressed and he is satisfied.

His last order for the night is a flat white; his specialty. He steams the milk to perfection, enjoying the heat of the metal cup in his hands. The steamer is loud and has a high pitched whistle. He whistles back. He loves the science of it, turning liquid into a foam, but just barely. It was a matter of timing. Not too much air, smooth, velvety. He watches the gauge carefully and swirls the wand about.

Every night, his last drink is always the best. He has all the patience in the world for this, doesn’t need to be anywhere else but here, making art. Going out with a bang.

He pours the foam into the espresso quickly, feeling it hit the bottom of the cup before spilling to the top. He makes swift motions, little white leaves starting to appear in the creamy brown beverage. A wreath.

He sets it on the counter lovingly, and Hana praises him with a smile, already forgetting about her extra work. He picks up the receipt to call out a name, but there isn’t one.

“Lucio, whose is this?”

Lucio glances up from counting the money in the register. “He wouldn’t give me his name.” Wouldn’t be the first time. Strange how paranoid people could be about their names, but give their credit card to anyone who asked.

“Flat white!” Jamie calls out, and the mass of customers don’t even look up. He sighs and takes the time to admire the design. He hopes the guy didn’t leave. A work of art like this needs to be appreciated. If he did leave, at least Jamie would drink it. It’d leave him jittery all night, but he couldn’t let it go to waste.

He hears a grunt, deep and raspy, and his eyes shoot up to take in the man suddenly looming over him.

The first thing that comes to mind is big, huge, is this man a giant? He’s the only one from the crew not wearing a safety jacket, and he immediately knows why. They couldn’t possibly make them in his size. Arms as big as tree trunks bulge out under a dirty white shirt, muscles on top of muscles.

His face is intimidating, wide nose and thick lips, square jaw, small eyes. He’s got the face of a serial killer or a bouncer or maybe a pro wrestler. He looks like he could punch a shark without hesitation.

Something about this guy makes Jamie’s brain go a little stupid. A lot stupid.

He feels his mouth moving, but it doesn’t compute and he says the only thing that makes sense. “Big.”

The man gives him an odd look, and Jamie snaps his open mouth shut, feels the heat in his face. He’s about to walk off with his shoulders shrugged up to his ears in embarrassment, but he’s met with a gruff snort not unlike a pig, dusty brown lips tugged up at the corners in what he thinks is probably a smile. He can’t stop staring at it.

“Yeah,” the man says, and it’s strong and thunderous, like the sound of a well oiled engine. Jamie feels his heart beat a little faster. The man takes his coffee and is gone in an instant.

For a moment his head is still swimming, the dim lights suddenly too bright, and there’s a sickening silence, the hum of chatting customers fading out. His eyes can’t focus, and there’s something in his mouth, like cotton. It hasn’t settled in.

“What the hell?” Hana bursts out laughing, holding her sides. “What the fuck?”

Lucio tries to keep his laugh in politely, but it doesn’t work. “Jamie, are you okay, man?”

They’d watched him make a fool of himself. Jamie slaps his hands onto his face and lets out a groan that slowly morphs into a quiet scream.

Jesus Christ.