"Could this day get any worse?" Steve Rogers muttered under his breath. He was crouched down, watching the stray calico lapping up the bottled water he poured out in a dish. The cat had been hanging out in the alleyway behind the coffee shop all week. He couldn’t just ignore it. Maybe now it will have a better morning than he was.
First off, Steve was half blind. Not anything recent because it was normally corrected by contacts, but said contacts were accidently left sitting in the wrong solution last night, and they made him want to scratch his eyeballs out when he put them in. So he wasn't wearing them.
And oh yes, he broke his good glasses later on, after the contact incident, which was another story. All before 8 am. Because he had to be a hero. His brain was on default when he saw something he could fix and went for it. However, his body didn't always cooperate when he was trying to right an injustice.
It started with a tussle over a phone some guy was trying to lift from a woman. And ended with him on the sidewalk, a pop in the mouth, glasses broke and a rip in his good jeans. But he’d saved the phone (it clattered to the pavement with only the battery falling out) and got free water to clean up the cut on his lip and a business card, before she was off again texting madly. Maybe the whole thing would end up on Snapchat or YouTube later. It was just his luck.
He’d also gotten carded at the local food-mart this morning, for buying a Powerball ticket (the jackpot was close to 500 million dollars), because the new girl behind the checkout thought he was younger than 18 years old. He was 25 years old, thank you, very much. He should have been used to it by now looking like he was still in high school, even though he was a college grad working at a coffee shop. Maybe when he was 80 years old and look 40 years younger he would appreciate it but not now. The Fountain of Youth was highly overrated and he just wanted to be taken seriously, because he was a serious person. All his friends said so, telling him to crack a smile every once in awhile.
The cat looked up, dripping water down its chin, giving a curious, indifferent look, before going back to drinking. The cat like everyone else didn't care about Steve's terrible morning as long as Steve was present, be it giving it some water or being at his job.
“A banana is all I got, kitty,” Steve said while peeling the banana he was going to use for his strawberry banana Frappuccino for lunch and broke off a bit before setting it down by the dish. He really didn’t like cats, but the furry, little creature didn’t seem to understand that. It brushed against his hand like it wanted to be petted. Cats were supposed to be aloof, weren’t they? Steve tentatively scratched its ear and the cat’s eyes closed as if in quiet bliss. Well, okay then, that answered that question.
"Rogers, what happened to you?" Sam Wilson asked while prepping the Pike Place blend in the coffee maker for the first customers of the day. The scent of the fresh ground was full bodied and pungent.
"You don't want to know." Steve said, shaking his head, finishing up washing his hands.
"What did you do to your hair?"
"Product." Steve huffed out as he opened the refrigerator to take out the cream for the customers.
Of all the things wrong today, he didn't think it was his hair. Now he had one more thing to add to the list.
“Nice… the bed-head look is in.” Sam smiled a little too wide, and Steve knew Sam was messing with him.
“Shut up,” Steve said, slamming shut the refrigerator’s door before turning toward Sam. “Okay, maybe I put in a little too much.” He said that much just to get Sam off his case.
Steve turned back to look at his reflection in the shiny chrome of the refrigerator. Oh god! His hair was sticking up at an odd angle. He tried to slick it down with his hand, but it sprung up like a jack-in-the-box. Jesus, it was alive! It looked like he ironed half his hair to stand up like that.
“So that wasn't the look you were going for?” Sam was trying not to laugh, but he could hear him choking back a chuckle as he started to fill the cup dispensers.
“Of course it was,” Steve huffed out. “And I'm sticking to that story. I wanted some lift to it get it spiky on top.”
Which was true, kind of, but he swore it looked better in the bathroom this morning. But that was before he was knocked down by that thief.
“Well, I say you have Sharon fix it for you before you get to the customers,” Sam said.
“It's not that bad.” Steve mulishly jutted his jaw out, crossing his arms against his thin chest.
Sam just glared at him, raising one eyebrow. Sam’s glare was intimidating for such a laid back guy.
“Okay, okay, fine.” Steve starting marching to the backroom. “I didn't have my contacts in when I did it. I'll ask her.”
Once in the backroom, he fumbled through his little plastic employee box for his name badge and spare glasses. The black rectangle frames were not his first choice. But he did give him kind of a hipster look even though he couldn't afford to live in DUMBO or Williamsburg. He was an employee at Starbucks. He lived in Red Hook. Ikea was his décor, only because the store took up the whole waterfront and was cheap and convenient.
Sure he wasn't in the hip crowd that sipped turmeric lattes or dirty chai with almond milk or whatever the latest thing was (he was a plain old vanilla latte person), but he did frequent the trendy galleries in those neighborhoods. But only because he liked the art and wanted to get a small showing. Any showing. But everyone was booked until the year 2030 or you had to know someone, or have money to grease a few palms. So currently he was out of luck and selling prints at various online sites for a small percent. And working to complete enough works to vendor in SoHo on the summer weekends. But it was better than nothing. At least his name was out there, in a tiny way, in the sea of so many artists; it was kind of depressing so he didn’t think about that part.
So until he could make a living through his art, he set his dream a little smaller. He was going to go through manager training and hopefully after that get his own store. He was going to be the very best damn ‘partner’ Starbucks has ever seen. He could see all the awarded ‘Green Apron Pins’ in his future.
He tied on his green apron, then pinned on his name badge. Steve had drawn little red and blue stars around his name, just because he liked them. And it matched the tattooed stars that ran down his right forearm to his wrist. It was his little rebellion, because he got the tattoo two years ago after Starbucks lifted their ‘no visible tattoos rule’. There was no way to cover that, unless he wore long sleeves, and he was wearing short sleeves because it was summer.
Wanda waltzed in the back all jangling bracelets and flowing hair humming a tune from her iPod, before noisily dumping all her bracelets and rings in her employee box. She took out a hairband and twisted her hair in an elaborate top knot in just ten seconds, all the while still bopping and humming to the music Steve couldn’t hear because it was playing through her earbuds. Spinning on her heels, she came to a dead stop, blinking owlish at Steve. Her kohl rimmed eyes comically wide as she gaped. Slowly, she pulled out her earbuds.
“What did you do to your hair, Steven?”
“Not you, too,” Steve said, groaning and thumped his head against a wall.
Steve was in the middle of making three tall Cotton Candy Frappuccinos for three giggly teenage girls when he glance up and his heart just stopped. The whip cream kept spitting out in a big glop on top of one of the Frappucinos as he watched a man and his dog walk into the shop.
Time stood still.
He was easily the most attractive man that Steve had ever seen and that was saying a lot, because he lived in Brooklyn with over two million people. This man was it, hands down. Steve’s mouth went dry, heart knocking in his chest like a popcorn in a popper. His brow broke out in a sweat, head all woozy like he was going to faint, mimicking some swooning damsel in an old movie. It was just the hot June weather getting to him that was all, not the scorching hot guy.
“Hey, Steve,” Sam called over.
And Steve looked over. “What?”
Sam gave him a pointed look down at the drink Steve was fixing. Steve turned his gaze downward. Oh shit! Whip cream was overflowing all over the cup! His fingers getting wet and sticky.
“Ah, I hope you don’t mind the extra whip.” Steve said in an apologetic tone at one of the girls as he picked up a rag to wipe up the mess. “I could take it off.”
“Nah, it’s okay,” the girl said. Then the other girls chimed in wanting extra whip too.
After Steve finished the drinks, he took a drink of his own from the water bottle at his station. He was overheated and mentally checked out, because the next thing he was handed was a cup, his cup, the hot man’s cup. And he watched him walk to the end of the counter pulling his baseball cap down lower as he went by. Steve clutched the cup tightly and took a peek at the name. James. His name was James. Steve gazed upward blessing the Starbucks’ gods in its policy to write the names of the customers on cups. He wanted to dance for joy, but he couldn’t because he had to work on the drink order. He read the order: Caffè Americano, double shot.
The shop was airy with a high ceiling, wood floor and an elective assortment of chairs and high top tables. Near the back there were three cushioned chairs with a low table and a bookshelf. At the front was a flat screen TV with the volume turned off. The shop was well lit so Steve had an unobstructed view of all the customers.
Steve couldn’t stop sneaking glances in the direction of the extremely hot guy sitting at a back table paging through his phone. He had given him his drink, calling out his name: James. It just rolled off his tongue. The man nodded, glancing up, and Steve found himself staring at the man’s mesmerizing steel-blue eyes. His whole body felt the pull of them like a magnet. James took the drink without a word, then he and his dog, a gorgeous golden retriever, went to the very back of the shop to sit down. Steve’s body missed the tugging attraction instantly.
So Steve took to spying on him between drinks. His long, dark hair was caught up in a short, messy bun, baseball cap tipped low to obscure those hypnotic eyes, but it didn’t hide the strong jaw, sharp cheekbones and sinful lips that were gingerly sipping at the hot drink. His light blue, long sleeved Henley shirt didn’t hide the hard lines of a muscled body under it. The straining shirt pulled across a wide chest and a thick right biceps.
In about an hour, after the man finished his drink and was done with his phone, he stood up to leave. The dog scampered up from lying down at James’s feet, wagging his tail so hard it looked like he was going airborne. The man bent over to fondly scratch the dog’s head and neck, before picking up the leash. That was when Steve finally noticed the words printed on the retriever’s blue vest: Service Dog. Well, of course it was or Sam would have said something. He did take his order.
As James turned to leave, Steve’s world stopped for the second time in one day. He saw James’s left arm or rather the lack of one. His left sleeve was pinned up way past the elbow. Steve’s fantasy world spun to a stop as real life crashed in. James was a real life person, with a life, problems, quirks and joys. Not a figment of his overactive imagination. He was heartbreakingly real, and that just made him all the more attractive to Steve. Steve never had a chance, not without a plan.
Steve had no plan.
He was desperate.
“Thank you,” Steve called out as the man reached the door. James squinted at him, saying nothing as he opened the door for his dog. Steve wanted to die of mortification, sink into the floor and disappear, but he was not that lucky.
Steve watched James leave Starbucks and he still had no plan.
He hoped he would come back.
Steve had to have a plan by then.
After three days, Steve still had no plan.
After seven days, Steve finally had a plan. A dumb plan, but a plan. He was going for it!