Soft jazz plays, when Philip enters the shop through the back door. He leaves his jacket and bag in the room reserved for the employees and picks up his apron. The coffee shop is one on the fancier side, jazz being its major theme, drinks not too crazy like you get them at Starbucks and the likes. Philip likes its atmosphere; the main room is filled with plush armchairs, bar stools and a chandelier. You can smell the imported types of coffee even back here. Clothed in the dark green apron, which matches the wall behind the bar, he steps up to his spot behind it.
He got assigned to do the morning hours now, a welcome change. Philip likes to have time for himself after work. With a ready smile he greets Lettie, the waitress. She usually works the bar in the afternoon, but is a lovely helping hand on some crowded mornings.
“Welcome, Phil. Too early for you?”, she asks with a grin. Philip likes the people he works with and they all know each other quite well. Apparently too well as Philip now stops to try and stifle his yawn. He likes being done early with work, but that doesn’t mean he actually likes to start early.
“Just a bit. Let me have my first coffee and I’m ready.”, he says.
They only open in ten minutes, enough time to swipe some dust from the cookie jar and make an espresso for himself and a simple black coffee for Lettie. Lettie then proceeds to switch the handwritten “closed”-sign to “open” and unlock the front door.
Phillip quickly moves his emptied espresso to the sink and clips on his name tag. It took him too long when he started working at the shop last year, to decide on a version of his name, so Lettie chose for him. She likes to call him ‘Phil’, so that’s what his tag reads. Philip grew kind of attached to it.
The first costumers are people in a hurry, like it is often the case. Business men who need the caffeine to start their work day, stressed women with the same issues. Occasionally some hipster college student who then realises they don’t serve decaf soy lattes with an extra shot and cream.
When the shop empties after these people, who can’t stay for long, Philip sways to the music and looks up songs and their instruments just for fun. He found out, he really enjoys the soprano sax.
“Excuse me?”, Philip freezes, half turned away after his slowly circl-y dancing.
“I’m sorry. You didn’t listen the first two times.”
Philips eyes widen and he snaps his head around, followed by his body, to face the costumer. In front of him stands a tall man with a wide, somewhat apologetic, smile on his face. As he sees the mischievous twinkle in the man’s eyes, Philip decides the smile is not apologetic at all.
“I apologize. What can I get you?” He sticks to the polite rules of a barista.
When the man takes his time to look at the neatly written card on the bar, Philips allows himself a moment to really look at him. The maroon coat and black walking stick give him an exotic, eccentric flair. Apart from that, Philip catches him studying that still smiling face from the corner of his eye. Dark hair, which appears effortlessly styled, gentle brown eyes. Not like the piercing gaze Philip knows he has without his intention.
“Do I have to return to calling you sweetheart?”
Philips gaze flickers hastily back up from the man’s lips, he came to admire right then. He feels his cheeks warm and hopes he doesn’t blush. He must have let his mind wander too long. Again.
“Uh, sorry, sorry. You decided?”, he asks.
“Yes, I’d like a cappuccino, please.”, the man orders and slips his coat off his broad shoulders. His shoulders.
Philip nods and musters a small smile himself. He goes to carry out the order and sees the man take a seat at one of the huge armchairs in front of the window. He stands in front of the coffee machine, when Lettie pops up out of nowhere.
“What a nice gentleman, right?”, she muses. Philip shoots her a questioning look and regrets it instantly. On Letties face a cheeky grin appears and she puts her hands on her hips.
“Do you want to know something about him?”
“No. His order is nearly finished, you can take it to him.”
“Oh, sweetie. I’ll tell you anyways. When you hadn’t had this shift, he came by too. For about two weeks now, I think, most mornings. And he is always nice but quickly orders and then takes his seat. No teasing or that many smiles.”, she tells him and wiggles her eyebrows. Philip sighs.
“Why are you telling me this?”
“Because he likes you, Phil. And we all can admit he is handsome. Charles and Anne agree.”, she states. Philip doesn’t know how that makes the situation any better. Charles, the young owner of the shop, is hardly even here, although he is nice to talk to. Anne is something different.
“Just give him his order.”
“No.” With this as her final word, Lettie takes off to the back room. Having no other choice, Philip picks up the drink and makes his way over to the sole costumer.
“Here you are. Sorry again for being so absent.” He carefully places the mug on the wooden table. His costumer grants him another cheerful smile and waves the matter off.
“There is nothing to apologize for.”, he catches sight of the name tag. “Philip.”
Philip doesn’t know why his face heats up again. He nods his thanks and returns to the bar.
When the man pulls on his coat and picks up the walking stick, Philip collects the mug. And because he crosses the door, he spontaneously opens it for this not at all special costumer. The man leaves promptly, but not without a wink at Philip.
The next morning, Lettie greets him again.
“What are you even doing here, don’t you have the morning off?”, Philip asks.
Lettie just shrugs and hands Philip his apron. They have a coffee before they open the shop for costumers, like they did yesterday. Lettie doesn’t wear her apron yet, which leaves Philip sceptical.
“Okay.”, Lettie starts and points a violet painted nail at Philip.
“You spill now.”
“I spill what? Excuse me.”, Philip jokes and looks around, as if he spilled coffee.
Lettie doesn’t have any of it. She crosses her arms and steps closer. Although the woman is at least a head shorter than him, Philip has a ton of respect for her. He warily gazes down and shakes his head.
Lettie huffs annoyed and presses her pointing finger against Philips chest.
“You ‘Sweetheart’. What happened after I left the scene?”, she interrogates. Philip groans and slumps against the bar. He had an idea, but he had hoped Lettie didn’t want to talk about yesterday. Especially when there is nothing to talk about.
“Nothing? I mean. Listen. How can you be more invested in my private life than I am?”
“I can.”, she states. Then her tone grows softer. “Philip, I’ve known you for a year and if I was sure you were perfectly happy, I wouldn’t bother you. But you hardly go out, you always work – yes, I know you still work at the theatre. You need to take care of yourself and spend time with people.”
Philip wants to be mad at her for this close and exposing analysis. As it is, he can’t be angry.
“I- I don’t know.”, he admits. “I don’t know how. I don’t like my old friends. I don’t want to go ‘out and party’.”
Lettie nods and pats him on the shoulder. She offers him a reassuring smile.
“You don’t need to. Just be yourself and maybe, if you like someone, be a bit more than the polite barista. You do know, small talk exists, right?”
Philip rolls his eyes. “Thanks, Lettie.”, he says. It won’t be that easy, he thinks. But maybe he can try. Was that wink and pet names from the man yesterday just his usual behaviour? Or might Philip really be interesting to him. He wouldn’t understand that, but would he argue it?
Yes he would. With a groan he puts on the coffee machine, places the mugs correctly and broods.
Maybe the man won’t come back. And even if he would, could Philip really start small talk? And even if he could, why would this beautiful man be interested in him? He was probably straight. Married. Successful in his career, sweet children. Living the dream. Also, way older than Philip. But who counts. Philip does, of course.
The door swings open and Philip greets a woman in a sharp suit, briefcase in hand. She gets her Latte Macchiato to-go and vanishes as quickly – or rather efficient – as she came in.
Philip is left alone once again; Lettie finally accepted her free time and went off grocery shopping.
It didn’t take long for the early-morning-rush people to stop by and disappear. Around 9.30 that rush abates and Philip is back to listening to the playful jazz. Today he took a script with him. He doesn’t participate in the play as an actor, but he helps out at the theatre and gets glimpses at the productions every now and then. He tries to not get in too deep into the story, to not miss any costumers like yesterday. After all, he wasn’t a rookie any more.
Right after he finished the second page, the door opens again and carries a chilly breeze inside. A man with a maroon coat and a remarkable device – a walking stick – enters. He seems to carry the walking stick mainly for fun or the looks he gets, because Philip doesn’t see him limping.
“Good morning, Philip.”, he greets with that grand smile, as if he were to welcome a huge audience.
“Morning, sir. What can I get you?”, Philip answers. There was no small talk. When does one start small talk? And how? And, for God’s sake, why? At least he wasn’t lost in thoughts this time.
“Oh God, don’t call me sir. I’m Phineas.”, the man – Phineas – introduces himself and offers Philip his hand. Philip nods reluctant and takes the hand. Might have been a mistake.
The man – Phineas – does not continue to shake it, but pull him a bit closer and place a kiss on his fingers, casual as if he did it a hundred times. Philip is stunned into silence. Might have not been a mistake.
“Okay.”, Philip croaks. If he wasn’t sure yesterday, now he is definitely blushing.
“Could I get a cappuccino?”, Phineas carries on and only now let’s go off Philips hand. Philip hasn’t noticed. He nods vigorously and turns to comply. He swears he hears the lightest chuckle.
Phineas once again removes his coat and places it, along with the black stick, on one of the armchairs and sits down in the remaining one. He pulls a news paper out of the stack, they provide at the coffee shop and makes himself comfortable. Philip completes the order and on a second thought adds a small design into the foam that lingers on top of the drink. He once tried numerous little ornaments out, but thought it not worth his time, when most of the costumers didn’t stay long enough to really see his creations.
“Okay here you go. Uhm, yeah.” So much as to ‘easily make some small talk’.
“Thanks.”, Phineas doesn’t even take a look at his drink. Philip feels himself tense up a bit and quickly returns to his designated spot behind the bar. This was a stupid idea. Why does he bother with people? He lays down the script again and reads some more. When Phineas – the man – wants to pay and leave, he will come here.
Philip finished three more sites before anything happens at all. Then a shadow darkens the white paper he has still trained his eyes on. Slowly he lifts his head.
“That flower was beautiful. Thank you.”
Well, he didn’t expect that. Philip rises from his slumped down position and sets the script sheets aside. He bows his head a little.
“Eh, you’re welcome?”, that wasn’t a question. Why does he make it sound like one? Philip nearly scoffs at himself there and then. Phineas seems to have a similar train of thought, because he offers him a warm smile.
“Sweet. I have to go now, how much do I owe you? Oh doesn’t matter, the change is for you. See you, Philip.”, he says his good bye and leaves, once again letting a cold breeze inside the shop.
Philip watches him, until the long strides carry him out of sight. Then he realizes what Phineas has left him on the counter. $10, which leaves Philip with about six dollars as a tip, and a tiny origami flower made out of a piece from the news paper. A warm feeling buzzes through Philip and he can’t contain the smile that spreads over his face.
The rest of his shift flies by and when Anne arrives to take over for the afternoon, Philip is still in a good mood, occasionally grinning like an idiot. The occasions being every time he catches a glimpse of the fragile flower, resting on the script he finished reading.
Anne is surprised to see Philip beaming. They are cautious around each other, although they still have a pretty strong bond. After a few weeks of dating Philip had to admit his crazy-college-bi-phase might be over. At least for now, girls don’t seem the right partners for him. Or maybe he isn’t able to have a relationship with whomever. However, who knows what the future might look like. Anne accepted Philip perfectly fine, it wasn’t his fault that he didn’t have the feelings for her she wanted him to have. But it definitely clouded their relationship afterwards.
Philip notices Anne’s curious attitude instantly. It only takes him a moment to decide, whether he wants to talk to her about something so private. The last months they stuck to light topics and work.
“Hey. How are you?”
“I’m good, but you are downright radiant. What’s the reason?”, she answers.
“I got a gift.”, Philip grins. He doesn’t care, really, who he talks to now, he just has the urge to share his story. There isn’t a whole lot of story, but once again, he doesn’t care. Proud, and a tad embarrassed now about his behaviour, he shows Anne the flower.
“Oh, that’s cute.”, she states. They look at each other, unsure. Then Anne smiles, genuinely. Philip laughs relieved and nods. He’s glad to talk to Anne a bit more like they did before they were dating. And failing.
“Now, tell me about him!”, she prompts and takes a seat right on the counter. Philip guesses he can hang around a little longer then.
“Nothing much, really. Maybe you have seen him before, tall, with a long reddish coat?”
“Oh my god. And that’s maroon, you twit. Don’t tell me you get wooed by Mr Barnum!”
“Pretty gentleman vibes, about twice my age, carries a walking stick?”
“Yeah, that’s Phineas.”
“Oh my god.”
“What? And wait, twice your age? Come on, he isn’t that…okay, maybe he is older than us.”
“He totally is. And don’t ‘what’ me, he introduced himself to me when I had your shift, friendly and all, as ‘Mr P.T. Barnum mylady.’ Which was odd. But he is charming.”
“Oh.”, Philip is not sure how to react. His cheeks take the hint and heat up again, along with his ears. Although Anne is obviously teasing him, Philip can’t find it in him to stop the giddy smile developing.
“You are so smitten. This is adorable, but let me warn you. He is a showman, all drama and amusing. I just don’t want you get hurt.”, she says more serious now.
Philips smile drops.
“I met him twice, don’t worry. I’m not one to get my hopes up.”, he reassures defensively.
Anne sighs and hops of the counter, her hair already falls out of her loose braid. She pets his hand and smiles.
“I know. And I want to see you happy, okay? I just don’t want to have to go on a man hunt, because this, this…flatterer hurts your feelings.”, she says light heartedly but Philip would believe her to do exactly that. She is fierce as a lioness and just as beautiful. Philip thinks he might have loved the idea of them being together. Turns out, they are a better couple as friends.
“Thank you, Anne. I’ll be careful.”
She nods and ushers him out of the coffee shop. New costumers already fill the place and Philip has places to be. Namely, behind the scenes at the theatre. On his way there he reflects on his day. He is glad to have such great friends, he knows he can always rely on Lettie and Anne. And to sweeten the day even more he got the most thoughtful gift he ever received from a handsome man. This is going to be a great week.