The sun shone in through the big, wide windows on the side of the building, filling the room with warmth as Newt reached up and tugged down the shades with a sigh. He liked the way the sun shafted in through the trees out the front, but the glare through those big windows hurt people's eyes and heated up the vinyl booth seats and made customers not want to hang around.
"Fifteen minutes," Chuck called as he hefted a stack of bagged beans out of the back room and set about restocking the shelves behind the counter.
"Got it." Newt stopped and checked out the display case, making sure all the tasty goodies were stocked up and well presented - freshly baked biscotti and scones on the top shelves, and brightly iced cookies and dapper gingerbread men and ladies on the bottom - and continued on to grab a custom reserved sign and a chessboard.
The booth in the back corner where the sun dappled best got one reserved sign and the chessboard, leaving him to jog back to the front as someone walked in through the door.
"Hi!" Newt greeted brightly as he looked up at the newcomer, a man with a dour expression, ill-fitting suit, a stack of notebooks under one arm, and a cane clutched in his hand. The man sniffed his acknowledgement and looked around dubiously.
"Can I get you anything? We have the best espresso blend in the city. Guaranteed." Newt held his arms out as if to say 'Ta-da!', but the man just rolled his eyes.
"I need somewhere quiet to work for a few hours." The man shifted his weight slightly, and continued to look around the empty store with something bordering on disdain.
"Well, for the next fifteen minutes this place will be as quiet as a tomb. Quieter, even. Then for about twenty minutes, we'll see more traffic than Shinjuku on a Friday night, when about five billion soccer moms descend and drink us dry. After that, you're pretty much in the clear until five. You good with that?" Newt asked, shimmying his hips as if that'd sweeten the deal.
"I suppose it will suffice." The man glanced around at the table options before choosing the booth directly across from the counter by the drawn window shades.
"In that case, what can I get you?" Newt clapped his hands together and waited.
"Pardon?" The man paused as he settled onto the bench and set his notebook in front of him.
"That's some prime real estate you got there, buddy. Can't just let you stay rent free. Daddy's got bills to pay, y'get me?" Newt was sincerely beginning to wonder if the man was all there.
"Ah, yes. Of course. What teas do you have available?"
"Well, your hair's kind of silly." Newt said with a wink.
"I beg your pardon?!" That was sincere anger, whoops. Newt held up his hands and shrugged his shoulders sheepishly.
"Sorry, dude. I was teasing you. Y'know, because, tease. Teas. Heh. Uh. So, yeah. We have Orange Pekoe and Awake." Newt would swear up and down that he saw the man physically shudder.
"I suppose the Pekoe will have to do, though I do suggest you stock something less akin to swill; your business will suffer." The man sniffed and flipped open his notebook, carefully arranging a pencil sharpener, eraser and pencil in straight lines beside it.
"We're doing pretty okay with the espresso crowd, but I'll take that under advisement." Newt responded with a roll of his eyes and went to get the man's order.
He returned a few minutes later with a cup of hot water and a teabag, placing it on the table near the man's notebook. He didn't normally do table service, but he figured he could just this once. He craned his neck to see what the man was working on and his eyes lit up.
"Math, hey? You work over at the university?" He asked, drumming his fingers on the table.
The man glared at Newt's fingers and slipped his own up under his glasses to pinch the bridge of his nose.
"In a manner of speaking. Though, with the number of co-eds panicking all over campus, I cannot imagine much in the way of work is being accomplished." The man griped, clearly annoyed at Newt's interruptions.
"Ah, yeah. That'd suck." Newt commiserated. "Say, what's your name? Maybe I've read some of your stuff."
"I find that highly unlikely." The man said witheringly, drawing the cup of water closer so he could rip open the tea packet with a disdainful look and leave it to steep.
"Try me." Newt jutted out his jaw in challenge.
"Doctor Hermann Gottlieb, if you must know." He said with a sigh. "Though I do not believe that one such as yourself-"
"Holy sh-," Newt cut him off, stunned. It had been fifteen years since he'd sent the last letter. Fifteen years since Hermann had stopped writing back. "I've, uh, I've read all your work. It's the tits." Newt tried to play it cool; he'd gotten over that years ago. Really, he had.
"'The tits'?" Hermann responded, sneering as he dipped the teabag delicately into the water and placed it carefully on the saucer.
"Yeah, I mean, that work you did for the LHC was super ballsy. I really liked-"
"Five minutes!" Chuck yelled from the back room.
"Shit. Thanks, Chuck! Listen, I've gotta go prep, but maybe we can talk later?" Newt asked as he walked backwards away from the booth; he couldn't help himself, Hermann's letters had been the best part of getting his first few doctorates. "Oh, yeah." He called, stopping near the counter. "Name's Newt. Just... give a holler if you need anything." Newt stopped, waiting for any sign of recognition.
Hermann stared over the rim of his glasses and said nothing as Newt's shoulders slumped and he disappeared into the back room.
Five minutes later, as if on cue, a trickle of parents and children started to filter into the shop. First in small, staggered groups, and then a mass influx that had a line leading almost out the door. The volume level rose considerably as people practically shouted their orders as they reached the register, then Newt shouted them on to Chuck, the barista, and Chuck shouted them once more when he finished. A seemingly endless stream of double shot soy lattes and Americanos went to the parents as their children wreaked havoc over the store.
Hermann curled an arm protectively around his work, as a pair of eyes peered over the top of the table, one arm stretching up to try and grab at his pencil sharpener. A mother swooped in with apology in her eyes and carefully grasped the child's hand and moved it away.
"What do we say to the nice man you've interrupted, Denise?" She asked patiently and looked at the little girl.
"Sorry, Mister." The little girl said around the three fingers in her mouth.
Hermann nodded, smiling tightly and returned to his work.
Twenty minutes later and the noise levels had dulled and the place returned to some semblance of sanity. Newt held up his hand and high-fived Chuck behind the counter, then came out with a cloth and started wiping down tables and straightening chairs. He spoke briefly to the couple of remaining customers dotted around at various tables, and brightened considerably as the door opened and two tall men walked in.
"Principal Pentecost, my main man!" Walking over to clasp one of their hands and lean in to pat him on the back.
"Now, now, Newt. What have I told you about calling me that?" Pentecost chided Newt in a sonorous tone.
"That it's awesome?" Newt replied innocently, moving on to repeat the greeting to the other man.
"Good to see you, Herc. Your booth's set up. I hope today's battle is epic." He stepped back and saluted before returning to his work.
"Stacker." Chuck nodded as they passed by the end of the counter, he paused for a moment before grudgingly greeting the other man. "...Dad."
"Chuck, I've, uh-"
"Can't talk now. Got things to do." Chuck abruptly turned and walked into the storeroom. Stacker placed a hand on Herc's shoulder and slowly lead him to their booth, talking to him in a quiet undertone as they sat and set up the chess board.
Newt puttered around behind the counter for a while, wiping things down and serving the occasional customer who came in. At around a quarter to four, he walked over to Hermann's booth and placed a plate beside him.
"I didn't order this." Hermann barely glanced at the plate of biscotti before returning to his work.
"I know. It's on the house." Newt grinned and slid into the booth across from Hermann. "Consider it your reward for surviving your first Mom Rush at Kaiju Blue." And incentive to keep coming back. He added mentally.
"I, er, thank you." Hermann set aside his notebook and gingerly picked up the biscotti, biting into it carefully. "This is very good." He said sounding somewhat surprised.
"Thanks. What're you working on?" Newt couldn't help himself, he spun the book around and peered at it, trailing a finger along the lines as he read the equations. The number of times they'd managed to work each other out of a mental rut was unquantifiable. Maybe they still had the same zing.
"No, don't." Hermann protested, setting down the biscuit and brushing off his hands almost frantically. "I doubt you'd understand it and-"
"Now, my physics is a little rusty..." Newt cut in, a little annoyed that Hermann thought so little of him, but trying to remind himself that his letters clearly hadn't left that much of an impact on him. "But I think your issue is... right here." He spun the book back and tapped the book midway up the page.
"I don't see how you could-" Hermann started and then scanned the page more closely. He picked up his pencil and made a few annotations, occasionally erasing something and muttering under his breath. Newt watched him work for a moment with a small, sad smile on his face and slipped out of the booth.
"Fifteen minutes!" Chuck yelled from the back room.
"Shit. Gotta go, men. Duty calls," Newt said, standing from the chair he'd pulled up to the booth in the back to watch the men play chess. "May your victory be swift."
Both Pentecost and Herc scoffed.
"In that case, may it be a long and arduous bloody massacre." Newt saluted and rushed off to prepare for the next wave - the Zombie Walk.
He paused and grabbed one of the custom reserved signs from beside the display case as he passed, walked all the way down to the cash register and set the sign on the table just beside the counter. He was about to step into the back room to grab some things to restock the baked goods, when he noticed Hermann standing with his books under his arm, leaning heavily on his cane.
"Hey, Hermann! Did you get some good work done?" Newt asked cheerily.
"I- Yes, thank you. I did." Hermann said, irritated by the overfamiliarity but trying to put politeness first. "I was quite, ehm, stuck on that equation. Your input was a tremendous help."
"Sometimes all you need is a fresh set of eyes, am I right?"
"Quite." Hermann shifted slightly, looking down at the floor.
Newt had a brief wild fantasy that Hermann was going to admit that he remembered him and they were going to fall into an epic friendship built on rigorous scientific and mathematical debate but then Hermann spoke.
"About the tea..."
"Oh, right. Eh, don't worry about it." Newt glanced around the serving area, trying not to let disappointment show as he focussed on making mental notes of everything he'd have to do before the rush.
"I really must insist." Hermann pressed, but Newt just held up a hand.
"Seriously, dude, it was just some hot water and, apparently, crappy leaves in a bag. Forget about it." Newt pulled a face at Hermann and then leaned over to rummage around under the counter for some more napkins.
"Very well. In that case, I must insist upon providing a handsome tip." Hermann reached into his pocket and pulled out some notes and some coins. Placing a five-dollar note in the tip plate, he nodded at Newt and began to walk away. As he was almost at the door, he turned and called out. "Also, my compliments to your baker. The biscotti was most enjoyable."
Newt shook his head and sighed as he watched him leave.