Since she opened up shop that morning exactly four people, two of which included a woman and her far too loud spawn, opened the door, peered in, and hastily beat a retreat. The rest of the mass would reach for the handle, look in, blanch, and then leave, though they hovered near the front door. A small crowd of people were waiting outside, but none were stepping into the store.
Cara supposed that her scowl wasn’t really helping business.
Fact, she was just bad for business, especially ones where she had to interact with other human beings.
She sullenly wiped down the countertop for the fourth time (as there wasn’t anyone to serve). A small ting from the door made her look up. The elderly man who just walked in hesitated before beating a hasty retreat.
This was bullshit. Cara even saw the empty mug in the man’s hand.
And this was why she was bad for business.
Twisting her mouth unpleasantly, Cara threw the towel to the side of the counter and hid behind the display of pastries and juices. It wasn’t much, but maybe if the customers didn’t see her immediately they’d come in further. Then she would pounce before they knew what was going on.
Running a critical eye around the store Cara had to grudgingly admit that the coffee store, while not to her tastes, wasn’t too shabby. It was cozy without being cramped and the color decor reminded her of wandering through woods in the fall. The coffee types were lined up neatly behind the front register and she just spent the last weekend memorizing everything on the giant menu behind her. Fresh ground coffee and cinnamon wafted through the air and just added to the pretty picture that was Seeker’s Coffee House. Its location a block away from the local university only added to the appeal.
Clearly, it wasn’t the store that was failing to draw in customers.
Glaring absently in the direction of the chocolate chip muffins and lemon pound cake slices, Cara toyed with the idea of calling up Richard. She could do the apologetic thing, offer some consolation and make a few logical points about her inefficiency, and then he’d let her go back to her life.
Except, the last time she did that she got a little lost between apologizing and leaving and actually ended up agreeing to work in his store as he recuperated from his broken leg. The broken leg she caused. Somehow between checking to see if he was okay and leaving forever she got guilted into watching the stupid store.
What. Just, what? What happened? She couldn’t even remember what happened. The last thing Cara remembered was sad, droopy brown eyes and the next thing she knew she found herself behind a coffee counter the following Monday with drink recipes written down on flashcards.
Clearly, Saturday nights were no longer acceptable times to be joyriding.
Well, at least Richard said that she could have as much coffee as he wanted. “Perks of working there,” he had said cheerily as the ambulance wheeled him away.
She didn’t even like coffee on a good day.
Still concealed, Cara moved over to the teas and picked out an indiscriminate tea bag. Of course it was just her luck she ended up working someplace where she didn’t actually like the product. Pulling out a small cup she filled it up with hot water and let the tea seep.
“Now why couldn’t Richard own a chocolate store?” She complained to the understanding cup of tea. “Who tries selling small business coffee three blocks from a Starbucks? Or,” she pulled out a bag and read the label with a grimace, “organic, free-trade coffee. There aren’t enough hippies on campus.”
The cup remained silent. Of course it would.
Taking a loud sip, Cara sat on the stool near the cash register and leveled a flat stare at the front door where customers should be coming in instead of loitering outside.
At least the music was something nice, if a little odd. Given the hipster mood of the store she expected some obscure indie band and not the soothing piano notes plunking over the speakers. Eyeing the sound system she debated whether it was worth it to change it, or turn it off, just for something to do when the front door chime went off.
Ah, maybe later.
“Yes?” Cara rotated on the stool and crossed her legs, taking a small sip of the tea.
In front of her stood a woman with brown hair and stunning blue eyes. She was in a white jacket that had the Aydindril University logo stitched on the breast and her hands were casually stuffed in the pockets. A slight twist to her mouth was reflected in the canted hip and slight lean over the counter.
If Cara didn’t have self-control she probably would’ve squeezed the tea all over herself.
“How can I help you?” she continued, hastily placing her somewhat unprofessional cup of tea underneath the counter.
“Are you Cara?”
Cara looked down at the nametag sticker she reluctantly made and slapped to her chest that morning. “Unless something changed in the last few hours, I should be.”
“Richard sent me in to see how you were doing.” The other woman moved past the counter and opened the door leading to the manager’s office—Richard’s currently unoccupied office—as Cara swiveled to follow her around. “Given how this place is usually packed at this time and the small gathering waiting outside, I’m guessing not too well.”
Scowl back in place, Cara leaned back on the counter and pulled out her tea again. There was an unfriendly chill hiding in the dig; it was subtle, but there. “I warned him this wasn’t a good idea.”
“Maybe you should’ve thought of that before you broke his leg.”
Cara felt a flush go up the back of her neck, thankfully hidden since her hair was down. “I’m here, aren’t I?” Damn, Cara didn’t even know this person’s name, but what was her problem? “Who are you anyway?”
“I’m Kahlan,” introduced the other woman as she pulled on a brown apron over her blue plaid button-up, white jacket discarded in the office.
Raising an eyebrow, Cara turned and took a closer look at the brunette. That was a familiar sounding name. Tapping her chin thoughtfully she spun around on the stool a few times as Kahlan fiddled around with the syrups or something.
Kahlan. Kahlan Kahlan. She was Richard’s friend or something. Brows furrowed, Cara tried to remember what he said about her when she called him. Pretty? He did say Kahlan was pretty and (she glanced surreptitiously over her shoulder) she could agree with that. Always doing something? Yeah, that sounded right. Kahlan was always running around in the background when she called, getting jello or water for the pain meds when Richard needed it.
“Ah-ha, I figured out who you are.” Pleased, Cara sensed Kahlan walk up to the counter as the front door chime went off. “You’re his—”
“—bitch. Or, based on the look on your face, maybe not,” Cara said off-handedly before jumping off the stool, pulse pumping, with the first customer awkwardly standing in front of the register and Kahlan’s mouth open with shock. “Well, awkward. I’ll just deal with the drinks then.”
As Kahlan quickly recovered and smoothly dealt with the first of the customers (now that Cara wasn’t scaring them away) Cara silently took the cups from her and delegated herself to the coffee-maker corner of shame. The only words that passed between them were drink orders and nothing else. Cara could feel a hole being drilled into the back of her head by blue eyes each time she handed a drink out to a customer.
Not for the first time that day, she rued the day that she swerved to avoid hitting a deer. Next time, Bambi’s mom was going to die.
“So darling, darling, STAAAND, BY ME, OOH—”
Bolting up, Cara groped blindly at her tiny bedside table, covers pooling haphazardly around her waist.
“Hey, Cara! How’s it going?”
“…Richard, why are you calling me?” Cara groggily asked after checking caller ID to make sure that the voice on the other end was indeed Richard. He probably was drinking his own merchandise given how alert he sounded. Lying back onto her back she closed her eyes as Richard’s tiny voice prattled through the phone.
“I heard from Kahlan what happened yesterday and I wanted to make sure everything was okay. She’s a little over-protective.”
Richard didn’t have to be so cheery about it. Or so awake. “No, I meant why are you calling me at eight in the morning. I don’t work till noon. Go away.”
Cara pressed the end call button on the screen and slid the phone to the ground. With a satisfied sigh, she pulled the covers up again and reveled in the warmth. It was cold in her room, like always, and she wasn’t going to leave until she could jump in a hot shower and into her thickest coat.
After sleeping more. Like hell she was going to get out of bed before brunch.
“So darling, darling, STAA—”
“Oh my god. The number you have reached is not in service. Please try again never.” Cara snapped into the tiny receiver without opening her eyes. Hanging up, she yanked out the battery and threw it across the room where it landed someplace she didn’t care about.
She was going to sleep in and her annoying boss wasn’t going to change that.
Pulling the covers up to her nose she tried to lull herself back asleep but it was a tad too bright. Eyes still closed she fumbled around for a spare shirt and covered her eyes. That was better…except that she had a slight scratch in the middle of her back. No matter. Rolling over, she scratched the spot and kept her face buried in the pillows. There, now it was dark and she wasn’t itchy anymore.
It was at that moment that the noise outside her window—cars racing past, the trash guy, birds—decided to ratchet themselves up to unbearable levels and even after yanking the covers over her head she could could still. Hear. Them.
Clearly, today was not a sleep-in day.
Sitting up again and feeling the fatigue of insufficient sleep pull at her shoulders and rest on her eyelids, Cara kicked aside the covers with a disgruntled and slightly chilled growl.
If there was no hot water again someone was going to get hurt.
Ignoring Kahlan, Cara made a bee-line for the room in the back where her apron hung. There were a few students on their Macs (and one with an Acer) sipping distractedly at their sugary coffee drinks in the front, typing furiously or just reading up for classes. Even from the behind the counter their textbooks, of all sizes and colors, stood out against the warm browns of the store with their distinct serious and dark figures.
Cara did not envy their lifestyle.
“Someone looks tired, even though it’s past noon.”
“Mmrf.” Leaning against a counter in the back, apron tiredly tied on, Cara threw a distinctly unhappy look at Kahlan’s back. The hot water didn’t work and she was already tired of her colleague’s passive aggressiveness for the day. So she accidently broke her boyfriend’s leg, that didn’t call for all the crap she was getting. “How come you’re here? You’re not supposed to be here till tomorrow.”
Kahlan was wiping down the front counter and shrugged a shoulder. “Zedd couldn’t make it and you’re still being supervised for a while, especially since only your second day. And there is always your charming personality to look forward to.”
Moving past the other woman and towards the hot water Cara started to prep a small cup of hot tea instead of immediately saying something she might regret.
More than she already did working at the Seeker’s, that is.
An awkward silence fell between the two of them as Cara busied herself with the drink stuff only to pause in her motions. The slight mess she left behind yesterday was no longer there. She had planned on cleaning the area today when she wasn’t so tired but now the boxes were aligned with near neurotic perfection and the handles on the pumps were so clean it was like someone took a steam blaster and blasted away the germs and dirt away.
Slowly, so as to not startle her target with any sudden movements, Cara turned cautiously to covertly watch Kahlan attacking the spotless countertop with a rag and a vehement vigor.
Suddenly, the large and nearly empty bottle of hand sanitizer behind the counter didn’t seem out of place.
“Uh, hi, can I get some coffee?”
“Yes,” said Cara as she automatically moved toward the cash register, hiding her seeping cup of tea below the counter. “What do you want?”
The slightly balding, overweight man seemed to quaver a little. “Uh, can I, can I get a mocha frappuccino with two pumps of soy? Small?”
“Mocha frappuccino, with, two pumps of soy,” she muttered as she wrote down the order and handed it off to Kahlan. “Four thirty-five.” The customer handed her a credit card which she swiped mechanically. “Thank you. Would you like a receipt? No?” she continued as the man walked off to the waiting area. “Alright. Come again.”
Since there wasn’t anything else going on Cara stayed by the register and watched the overweight man wipe his brow on his sleeve and pick at his pant loops. Strains of piano keys played over the speakers and she noted that the songs weren’t the same as the day before. Yesterday’s stuff was more structured and today it was almost a loose, easy jazz. She almost wished she knew more about music since it was really pretty playing.
The afternoon rush pushed the limits of the fire code as pretentious hippy after pretentious hippy came in and ordered their drinks. Cara took orders, marked cups, made drinks, and made a conscious effort to try and clean up after herself a little bit more when she had some downtime. People came and left, eyes glued to their iphones and woolen sweaters tied around waists.
Cara could just feel the hipster vibes settle uncomfortably onto her.
“Hey, come here,” Kahlan said as she dragged Cara near the sink by the arm. The rush finally ended and now only a few stragglers were in the shop up front.
Cara promptly pulled her arm out of Kahlan’s surprisingly strong grip. “Why are you manhandling me? I hear you perfectly fine.”
Kahlan rolled her eyes in response to Cara’s scowl. “If you listened I wouldn’t need to take such drastic actions. Anyway, you need to lighten up.”
Cara’s scowl, if anything, deepened. “What.”
“Lighten. Up. You stare—creepily, I might add—at people waiting for drinks when there’s no one at the register and you’re going to scare all the customers away at this rate. I’ve already gotten one complaint about you so you’re going to need to change that attitude of yours. And fast.”
Cara crossed her arms and forcibly stopped from scowling. Further. “So what do you suggest?”
“Smile? Make small talk. Just so long as you aren’t glaring at everyone like they keyed your car or something.” Picking up her ever present rag, Kahlan started to head to storage. “I’ll be back. Try to exercise a little friendliness.”
With a slight scoff, Cara retrieved her cup of tea and took a sip. Indulging in a moment of childish whimsy she made a ridiculous, patronizing face in the reflective chrome of the coffee maker. “Smile smile a little, Cara. Lighten uuup.”
Whirling around, Cara seamlessly reverted back to her Customer Face. “Yes?”
In front of her stood a scrawny boy. Technically, she supposed he was a man, but there was a nervous way he held himself, almost as if he expected her to ask to see some ID. She idly contemplated it, but then there was an annoying voice in her head that was blathering about being friendly.
She smiled a smidge.
“Yeah, hi. I’d like a grande soy extra foam, one pump vanilla, one pump hazelnut, one pump peppermint dark roast in a venti cup with the rest of the space filled with the organic chocolate whipped cream and I’d like to buy this gift pack of fair trade coffee. My brother’s in the hospital and he loves the coffee here.” He trailed off, apologetic. Cara stood at the register, sharpie in one hand and cup in the other, mouth slightly agape.
“Are you fuc—okay. Okay,” Cara forced past gritted teeth and a tight smile as she put down the grande cup for the venti. “Soy, extra foam, one pump of vanilla, hazelnut, peppermint dark roast. And organic chocolate whipped cream. Plus, a gift pack. That’ll be fifty-nine and sixty-three cents.”
As she set out to do the Fucking Ridiculous order she noticed that the boy had only placed a few ones on the counters and was frantically patting down his jacket. With a sense of trepidation, Cara came back to the counter with the Fucking Ridiculous order and set it down next to a paper jacket. “Is there a problem?”
“I—” and to Cara’s horror she noticed tears in the boy’s eyes when he looked at her. “I don’t think I brought my wallet. Oh god, my brother’s going into surgery soon and I wanted to make it before they put him under. It’s a tumor, you see,” and he reached across as if to grab her hands, which she had quickly pulled back, “and the surgeons said that he might not make it. Please, is there some way that I can just pay you back later?”
Cara likened herself have a heart of stone; never being swayed by tears, pleas, ‘puppy eyes’ or any similar crass ways of persuasion. She found that people often looked at her blonde hair and (now former) job as a secretary and figured they were dealing with a brainless piece of fluff when it came to deal with money.
But there was a reason why Darken Rahl wanted her to deal with people at her (still former) job.
And the sly way that the boy was eyeing her just pissed her off.
“No? My brother is getting surgery!”
Cara snorted. There were still tears gathering in the corner of the boy’s eyes but it wasn’t anything new to her. “I know there’s a no drinking or eating 24 hour policy before operations. If you still want the gift pack after he makes it through then it’ll be right here and waiting. No cash, credit, or card, no gift.”
The boy set his jaw. Thankfully all the people who could’ve been watching the scene were actually still nose deep in textbooks and computers. While she didn’t have a problem confronting unruly people in public it would’ve been some bad publicity for the Seeker’s.
“Okay, look. I was lying about time of my brother’s surgery. He’s already got it, but he’s supposed to wake up any second. I don’t have my wallet on me, but I know he’d really love having it.” Moving slowly, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a watch. “My girlfriend bought me this watch, but if I leave it here as collateral, can I come back later with my money? I swear that I just forgot it, is all.”
Cara took the proffered watch warily. It looked fancy, and turning it around she could see it was a Rolex. The boy still wasn’t being honest, but the watch was still pretty sophisticated looking. And Kahlan did say to be friendlier, for customer retention. “Alright. You still owe,” she did the math quickly on a discarded customer’s receipt, “fifty-four and ninety-one cents.”
The boy grabbed his coffee and the unwieldy gift bundle. “Thanks, thanks so much. It’ll really make my brother’s day, I can promise you that.”
“Sure. Have a good day,” she said woodenly just as Kahlan came out. “Look, friendlier. I even smiled,” Cara added as Kahlan placed the box of ground coffee beans on the ground.
“Now why do I find that hard to believe? And what’s that?” Kahlan asked curiously. Cara looked down and opened her hand, revealing the silver watch.
“Some kid just gave me this Rolex as collateral for one of those fair trade gift baskets.” With a shrug she placed it under the countertop. “He didn’t have his money and really wanted it for some reason. So we get this till he comes back.” She headed towards the manager’s office to go and enjoy her belated lunch when she felt her arm being yanked back. “Oh, my god. What is it?”
“You did what?”
If pressed, Cara would admit to enjoy the flabbergasted look on the other woman’s face. “You said to be friendlier so I took this guy’s Rolex as collateral for the gift basket.” She shrugged. “Simple as that. Now let go.”
Kahlan did. She went to the counter, pulled out the Rolex and promptly dunked it into Cara’s lukewarm cup of tea.
“What are you doing? You do realize that you just dumped a Rolex into a cup of tea,” Cara said dryly as she watched curiously from the frame of the manager’s doorway.
Silently, Kahlan pulled out the watch and tilted it from side to side before throwing it at Cara, who caught it. “It’s a fake. Real Rolexes are waterproof. Congrats, you just got suckered into a con.”
“No,” Cara stared dumbly at the watch. “Are you kidding me?”
“Nope. Well done.”
“You’re the one who told me to be ‘friendlier’. See where it got us?” Cara said crabbily as she threw the watch aside and started to take off her apron.
“Are you saying that this is my fault?!”
“Yes,” Cara said over her shoulder as she threw her apron into the manager’s office. “The next time you preach your friendliness you can shove it up your ass.” And with that she adjusted her fashionable running shoes and ran out the door.
Pausing outside she shivered as a cold breeze blew through. The top she wore wasn’t suitable for the weather anymore and the pants were barely tolerable. They were, however still perfectly suitable to run in.
Now all she needed was to find was a dipshit.
Looking down the street she tried to find the guy. There were more hipsters huddled together for warmth, a family with a young child bartering with a merchant at the farmer’s market, and an unholy amount of fallen leaves and jack-o-lanterns. Some normal looking students gave her funny looks but she walked right past them in her search. And…there, way in the distance. The dippy looking guy had a phone to his ear and the gift pack under his other arm.
She’d recognize the fool that wanted to screw with her.
Breaking into an easy jog she dodged the stands and throngs of people and pulled up close. As she got closer she contemplated what she wanted to do. Punching him, while satisfying, would only cause more problems than it was worth especially since she just wanted the stupid package back. But at the same time she needed a way to get him to just go away. Stopping a few steps after him, Cara silently considered what to do.
“I don’t need to listen to Daddy anymore, not since he made me come to this stupid school. No, no, Jennifer, you don’t understand. I’m not going to be his ‘princess’ anymore. I wanted to live my own life but he made me go here.”
Cara looked up. Walking towards them was a girl snarling angrily into the phone. She was pretty in a mindless sort of way.
“I don’t care if he’s a professor! Daddy can’t tell me what to do. I’ll get a tattoo if I want. I’ll get a bad boyfriend if I want. He. Can’t. Control. Me.”
Looking at the boy she was chasing, Cara thought of a plan.
Taking a few quick steps, she tapped the boy’s shoulder. “Hi, remember me?”
“Gah!” The boy jumped. A small look of panic crossed his face before the excuses started spluttering. “Listen, I know that the hospital’s that way, but—”
“Shut it.” Cara yanked the package from his nerveless arms. “You have tattoos, right?”
“How, how’d you know?” He spluttered, waving a tattooed arm around frantically.
She rolled her eyes. “Lucky guess. Tell you what, you do what I say, I’ll pretend I never saw you.” Not waiting for a reply Cara led him over forcibly to the girl and tapped her on the shoulder. “Hey, I couldn't help but overhead you…”
“I’m back from lunch.”
Kahlan raised her head and looked up irritably. “You already had lunch. Two of them.”
“True,” Cara conceded as she went back to the manager’s room and put on her coffee stained apron. “Usually I don’t come with a gift.”
Kahlan looked up distractedly from the textbook she was reading. “A gift.”
With a slight flourish, Cara raised the gift bundle, marred only by a few wrinkles. “Ta-da.”
“What? How? What did you do?” Kahlan raised a suspicious eyebrow at her.
“Nothing. I didn't,” Cara insisted at Kahlan’s dubious look. “I just did a little matchmaking. Point is, fake Rolex dude won’t bother us anymore.”
“Alright,” Kahlan said with a faint shake of her head as she went back to her book. “I almost don’t want to know. Well, whatever happened, nice job.”
Cara wouldn't stake her house on it, but she thought she saw a faint smile from the other woman. With a shrug, she went back to work.
Day to day, after all.
A week later.
“Are you serious?” Cara said at the happy couple, jaw agape. “You’re fucking serious? Why the fuck would you come back?”
The female dippy one beamed. “We just wanted to say hi, and thanks. If it weren’t for you I wouldn’t have met the love of my life.”
Her boyfriend stuck his hand over the counter. “And no hard feelings. It’s a good thing that I came and I’m going to shut up and leave now,” he added hastily at Cara’s glower.
“No, please,” Kahlan pulled them aside with a wide smile, clearly laughing at Cara. “Ignore her. But you should tell me how Cara got you two together. Cara?”
“What?” Cara snapped.
“I’m taking my lunch.” With a pleasant laugh Kahlan flitted off, lovebirds in tow.
Cara just stopped and stared.
Some days she wished she didn’t get out of bed.