“wicked” – mansionz (feat. g-eazy)
“that girl is vicious
when you see her be sure that
you’re keeping your distance”
He was good at his job. Nobody made a cup of coffee like Nara Shikamaru did. Tsunade had said so herself, and that woman was incredibly difficult to please.
He had made approximately 18,980 cups of coffee over the course of four years, amounting to about thirteen cups a day, give or take. All of it was muscle memory at that point; steaming milk for thirty some seconds, pressing espresso and popping open a sleeve in the same move. Three pumps of syrup for a sixteen ounce, four for a twenty. Anything he didn’t already know could be learned in less than an hour after introduction. He’d done it so often, he did it without even thinking. In his four years of coffee making, he had never made a mistake.
So, when that Bothersome Blonde he’d never seen before came trudging to the counter complaining about her order being made wrong, Shikamaru couldn’t help getting irrationally defensive and argue with her.
It also didn’t help that she happened to be the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen in his entire life.
“Do you even know what hazelnut tastes like?” She asked him incredulously, green-blue eyes ablaze between narrowed lids.
Shikamaru scoffed. “Of course I do; I work here. Do you know what it tastes like?”
“Definitely not this,” the blonde snapped. “What happened to the customer is always right?”
“We both know that’s a bullshit excuse made up by shitty customers to justify being shitty customers,” Shikamaru shot back.
She took a step back, still holding the alleged wrongly made cup of coffee. “Whoa. Isn’t this supposed to be a family friendly environment?”
Shikamaru scowled at her as he waved his arm around the store. “We’re the only two people here.”
Realistically and rationally, he should not have been arguing with the customer. It was a stupid argument over his hurt pride and inability to admit that he was wrong (though, Shikamaru knew with a great degree of certainty that he was, in fact, not wrong). He was not typically an arrogant person; having a handful of decent qualities about oneself made it easy to be humble, but Shikamaru made no mistakes when it came to the coffee he handled. It was a well-known fact.
He remembered making the drink distinctly; five pumps of hazelnut (“go heavy on the hazelnut,” he had overhead) while he pressed the beans (two shots), and then he steamed the milk (two percent) while the espresso dripped into the cup. He poured the milk into a leaf before he handed it to Asuma, who then hand delivered the drink to the Bothersome Blonde. It was the last drink he walked to a customer before he left. That was exactly how it happened.
“Is this how you respond to all of your customers when you make a drink wrong?” She asked.
Shikamaru snapped his attention back to her and narrowed his eyes.
“I didn’t make it wrong,” he contended, ignoring her question. “I’ve never made a wrong drink.”
“They say today is the best day to do something differently.”
She gave him a smirk, just a subtle lift at the corner of her mouth and that only made him more annoyed. It was always the beautiful women who were the most troublesome.
And god, was she beautiful. Her features were sharp and well-defined, save the color of her eyes that seemed to shift like the ocean under the scrutiny of the light. She was tan, having sat under the sun for quite some time given the thin, pale lines that ran up and down her shoulders. Her gold-spun hair had to be no longer than his, but he couldn’t be sure since it was tied back and out of her face. If she had been wearing makeup, he couldn’t tell which only had him wondering how much more striking she would have been if she was. The sound of her voice was rich and full; she spoke with a smooth and precise enunciation of each word without wavers of insecurity. She was gorgeous and she knew it.
The most important feature of her though was the fact that it was the first time he had ever seen her at the shop. Shikamaru knew just about everybody who came through, having worked the busiest shifts for as long as he could remember.
He had been serving the same number of customers over the course of four years, learning their names after he learned their orders. There was old lady Saki (the café au lait on Mondays), Akemi (the double shot espresso at eight in the morning every day), Jun the lawyer (an Americano on Tuesdays and Thursdays at exactly three) to name a few. He knew his friends that stopped by habitually: Naruto and Hinata (a pour over dark roast and regular latte, respectively); Sakura (and her white mocha); Ino (a habitual toddy at two on Tuesdays).
Shikamaru knew everybody that came in. He always had. King’s on Twelfth had been around long enough that its customer base shifted into being the same patrons over and over again. Konohagakure was big and healthily populated, but King’s was tucked away on a corner of the city. A hidden gem only known to natives, or some shit along those lines often included in trendy foodie magazines.
“I didn’t make it wrong,” he finally repeated, a little more firmly this time.
She tilted her head and outstretched her hand holding the cup. The look in her eyes and the curl at the corner of her mouth said enough. It was a challenge.
Shikamaru’s eyes dropped from her face to the cup before looking back at her. She nodded again to the cup with a raised eyebrow.
He sighed as he took it from her. Their fingers brushed slightly and he made note of the callouses at her fingertips. The little hole of the lid was rimmed in soft pink, the outline of a kiss and a blotchy coffee stain staring back at him with fierce audacity. He sniffed before popping the lid off and tossing it into trashcan beside him.
The coffee was still warm against his touch and just as full as when he had made it. Saying it out loud would have made him sound like a snob, but he could smell the coffee beans they were using. The Flying Swallow dark roast blend, he recognized, meant to have a slightly sweeter taste than their regular beans with hints of cherry and chocolate. Asuma had said they were experimenting with them, but very few would notice the difference since “hot bean juice tastes the same to everybody” as Naruto had aptly put it.
Shikamaru took a sip and just about choked on the drink.
Not hazelnut, he fumed. Definitely not hazelnut.
It was vanilla.
He didn’t have to look back at the Bothersome Blonde to know that she had a wolfish grin on her face, the smug feeling of triumph radiating off of her and crossing the counter like summer heat.
Trying his hardest to ignore her, Shikamaru turned to angrily throw the contents of the cup into the sink and then crushed the cup before dropping it into the garbage. He wordlessly grabbed another cup and began pressing the espresso again. His glare was intense as he looked to the rows of syrup, noticing then that Hazelnut and Vanilla had been switched. What was muscle memory did not take into account the outside force of shifted bottles. Shikamaru would have to have a strong word with whoever had decided to change the order of the syrups.
“I’m sorry for making your drink wrong,” Shikamaru said with forced courtesy through clenched teeth as he placed the freshly made latte onto the counter. The Bothersome Blonde looked at him and smiled.
“Thanks,” she responded sincerely though still very much amused. “I appreciate it.”
She placed a ten-dollar bill onto the counter and he couldn’t do anything but stare at it.
“What’s that?” He asked stupidly, looking from the bill to her with narrowed eyes.
“For the coffee,” she said plainly.
Shikamaru shook his head and began retreating towards the grinder. “Mistakes are on the house.”
It still pained him to admit such a fault but he had already argued away his pride; all that was left was acceptance and moving on.
The Bothersome Blonde made no other comments as she moved away from the counter and back up onto the platform where she had been sitting. He had gathered that she must have been a tourist by the way she dressed and the fact that she had ordered a hot drink in the most treacherous time of the summer.
Konohagakure summers were sweltering and merciless, leaving most of the inhabitants sopping wet at all times whether it was due to endless sweating or exiting another shower. Such was that of the Land of Fire. But, the Bothersome Blonde was dressed modestly compared to the other patrons that came in, almost seemingly unfazed by the heat. Where most others were sporting shorts and t-shirts, she had worn a lavender, long-sleeve that fell off the shoulders. The hot drink also indicated that the present heat must have not been the worst she’d encountered before.
He frowned as he wiped down the porcelain mugs coming from the dishwasher. Tourist meant that he would never see her again and there was no use in analyzing where she had come from. Even if she was curiously alluring in all the ways that piqued his interest, her troublesome bite and fierce challenges included. She would just be another rare passerby served at King’s and he would forget about her in a week’s time. It was often how it went with the infrequent number of outsiders they saw.
Sunagakure, he concluded nevertheless as he placed the cups onto the rack. If Konohagakure summers were merciless, Sunagakure summers were a literal hell on earth. He had driven through once on a business trip with his father, a time when his other job still required him to travel such distances. The state was only seven hours over and should not have had such a dramatic climate change, but it had, and Shikamaru had feared the tires of his car were going to melt as they rolled over the scalding asphalt. Every breath taken was suffocating, and the sun had glared down with fierce animosity and no intent to stop. Shikamaru was never sure if Hell was a real place, but if it were, he had imagined it was Sunagakure.
The sound of the door opening caught his attention as he glanced over his shoulder, then to the clock. Three-thirty already, he thought absently.
“Hey,” Moegi chirped with a two-finger salute at her forehead.
She was a freshman at the university four blocks down, and the one who graciously relieved him of his duties at three-thirty every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday; Udon came in on the Tuesdays and Thursdays at the same time. Moegi was tolerable at best, though she often gave him a headache on the rare occasion they worked together. She was a good employee, which was not the root of his headache, but rather the sometimes overbearingly bratty attitude she had. Her good work habits and ability to take responsibility (unlike Konohamaru) in addition to her backbone of steel (unlike Udon) outweighed her bratty behavior most days though, so he considered her tolerable.
Shikamaru nodded at her by way of greeting then lazily pointed a finger to the rack of syrups.
“Did you change the order of these?”
Moegi threw her bag down behind the door towards the kitchen and barely glanced in the direction he was pointing in. She took her time answering as he watched her head to the register to punch in, looking over at him once more.
“Nope,” she finally responded as she tapped at the smudged screen.
“You know who did?” Shikamaru asked as he threw his rag into the sink. “And I don’t even care if it was Konohamaru who did it; I will publicly shame him even if Asuma hits me over the head with a brick.”
She snorted and adjust her pigtails. “Realistically, Asuma would probably thank you for that. Why are you so worked up about the order of those dumb syrups anyways?”
His eye twitched as he reached for his backpack; none of the younger kids understood the pristine order King’s had to be in at all times. “I made a drink wrong today because they were out of order.”
Moegi took a sharp, dramatic breath and turned to face him. Her expression teetered towards mocking as she placed a hand delicately over her heart. “Oh, god forbid.”
He scowled and threw his backpack over his shoulder. They also did not understand the importance of his flawless coffee-making record. “Asuma will be back at four. Pass the word along that I have a shitstorm coming for whoever changed the order of the syrups.”
“Hear you loud and clear, captain,” Moegi drawled with her back to him as she wiped down the back counter.
Shikamaru said nothing else as he stepped out from behind the counter, grabbing his own cup of coffee in a quick move. His eyes flickered up to the platform in a quick glance at where the Bothersome Blonde… was sitting. The table she occupied was cleared and empty, just as the rest of the shop was before the college rush would come. He narrowed his eyes and wondered when she had left (not that he cared or anything).
“I’m headed out,” he called out as he approached the door.
“’Kay,” Moegi chirped. “Wait, wait.”
He turned around just to see her wave something at him. “What?”
“What’s this ten-dollar bill doing here?”
For the coffee.
“Oh.” The sound dropped from his mouth and he felt himself automatically tighten his grip on the cup. “Throw it in the jar.”
“You don’t want it?” Moegi asked curiously, dangling the bill over the jar.
“Just throw it in the jar,” he repeated, nonchalant. He watched as Moegi stuffed the bill into the mouth of the glass before leaving. Rounding the corner, he took a sip from his coffee and frowned.
It was vanilla.
“Oh, Shikamaru,” a familiar voice called from behind him. “It’s been a while.”
He turned slowly as he fumbled with his keys. He smelled of burnt coffee beans and printer ink, and his head throbbed as a result of being under the glare of white office lights, and he desperately wanted to shower. He was mildly annoyed that somebody had interrupted him from entering the sanctuary of his apartment but as he met whoever the voice came from, he raised an eyebrow.
“Kakashi,” he greeted and straightened his back. “It has been a while. What brings you to the building?”
His landlord shuffled towards him and lazily bobbed his finger downward. “New tenant in 710. Thought I’d be hospitable for once and introduce myself.”
“710? Shino moved out?” Shikamaru asked curiously, shifting his weight from one foot to the other.
He did not know his neighbor from one floor below except by name and the fact that he must have slept like a dead person. There were never any complaints whenever Shikamaru managed to disturb the peace of night. On several occasions, he had groggily wandered into his kitchen at three in the morning only to hit his head on the too-low cupboards and drop pans, followed by a string of loud curses. There were bangs on the walls that came from either side of his apartment, and he had waited for a passive-aggressive note left on his door from whoever lived below him, but they never came. Shikamaru was almost sure that this Shino didn’t even exist and was just a cruel joke Kakashi was playing until Naruto had exclaimed he was a former classmate of Hinata’s some years ago.
“Yeah,” Kakashi confirmed. “Said something about the person living in 810 making too much noise at night.”
Shikamaru winced and opened his mouth to come to his own defense until Kakashi snickered, waving his hand dismissively. “I’m kidding. He got promoted and they relocated him across town to be closer to the new facility.”
His shoulders sank in relief as he sighed. “That’s good. That’s good for him, I’m glad.”
Even though I have no idea what he does, Shikamaru thought to himself. But, he wondered who could be living below him now. Not that he would ever meet them. He hoped that they didn’t mind his bimonthly pots and pans symphony in shit! minor like Shino had. He didn’t even know the silent (and possibly non-existent) bastard but he kind of missed him.
“Yeah, he’s a good guy,” Kakashi said, then jutted a thumb behind him. “Know if Jiraiya’s in? I offered to read his new manuscript but left my phone at home.”
He shrugged and finally managed to get his key into the hole. “Don’t know, I just came home.”
Shikamaru knew a total of three people who lived in his fifteen floor building: Kiba and his dog, Akamaru, on his left; Tayuya on his right; and Jiraiya across the hall.
He knew of Kiba through high school though they were never acquainted with each other. His dog was well-behaved (save the times Shikamaru could smell bath time through the vents, but that was out of the dog’s control) and Kiba only banged on the walls every time he managed to make a late night racket. Besides that though, they were on seemingly good terms and he didn’t mind his left-side neighbor too much.
Tayuya, on the other hand, drove him fucking insane. She was a haughty girl who made no efforts to be friendly from the first day she moved in and it was hard not to mention that she was absolutely, positively tone deaf. She played the flute at decent times during the day, which would have been fine and tolerable, if it weren’t for the fact that she was talentless. He was not one for direct confrontation and figured she would realize how awful she was and give up her aspirations of being a flutist. But that was three years ago and against all odds, she seemed to have only gotten worse. He was at least grateful she followed some semblance of a schedule and he made sure to be out at those times.
Jiraiya happened to be the only neighbor he could say he truly liked, despite the fact that Shikamaru was sure the man had to be a registered sex offender somewhere in the world. He was a renowned author who decided to live humbly in the apartment complex Kakashi owned (though, Shikamaru had begun to suspect that it was because he was able to live rent free on the account that said landlord could get first dibs on new releases). He always gifted him a bottle of expensive whiskey or scotch for big, consumerist holidays and his birthday though, and was also kind enough to let Shikamaru keep his spare key underneath his mat for the days he would forget his keys.
“Ah, guess I should knock and check myself, eh?” Kakashi said.
Shikamaru gave a tired smile and nodded. “He should be in. He doesn’t go out ‘til later.”
He knew this fact due to the boisterous laughter that rang throughout the hallway after two in the morning and girlish giggles that stopped just at his door.
“Great. I’ll leave you alone now,” Kakashi grinned. “Have a good night.”
“You too,” he responded before slipping into his apartment.
Upon entering, the clock informed him it was nine and past Eggplant’s dinner time. He reached for the container beside the bowl and twisted the top off to shake the food into the water. The purple fish swam to the top and eagerly gulped the flakes as Shikamaru tapped a finger to the glass. Eggplant had been a housewarming gift from Naruto five years ago, the latter of which insisted that Shikamaru needed company and graciously named the former. His blond friend had remarked his laziness and jokingly warned him not to kill the fish during its first year with him. Shikamaru had taken it as a challenge to keep Eggplant alive as long as possible out of spite.
After watching his fish swim in circles for a moment, he moved to unlace his shoes and place them on the rack by the door then loosened the tie that was choking him. Rummaging through the fridge reminded him that he would have to go grocery shopping very soon unless he resolved to eating pasta and butter for every meal. He grabbed a roll off the counter and bit into it while he scrolled meaninglessly through social media.
He sat down onto his dad’s ancient recliner with a plop and threw his feet up onto the ottoman. Deciding to rest his eyes for a few moments before he showered, Shikamaru placed his phone on the table beside him and dusted the crumbs off his shirt.
When he woke, it was half past three in the morning.
“Fuck,” he mumbled as he rubbed the heel of his hand into his eye.
He had said it as if he were surprised he managed to wedge a decent night’s sleep into an indecent timeframe; as if it weren’t a nightly occurrence. He should have known himself better by then at the ripe old age of twenty-five, but Shikamaru learned every day, despite his genius and much to his dismay, that he still had a lot to learn.
The wood floors creaked beneath his weight as he searched for a pack of cigarettes and fished for the lighter in his slacks. He thought he could hear some sort of scraping coming from a part of the apartment and it reminded him of the time Ino had confidently declared his apartment was haunted.
It wasn’t until he paused in front of his balcony doors that he heard the clear sound of furniture being gently moved across the floor. Whether it was whoever lived above or below him that decided to do some late night rearranging, he couldn’t tell. He pushed the doors open with some resistance, and figured he would smoke in the hammock for a bit before finally taking a goddamn shower. He had to be at King’s in approximately three and a half hours, and hoped that the noises would stop soon so that he could sleep for the few hours he had in his bed like a regular person.
The green-grey hammock was strung diagonally across the length of his balcony and groaned every time he sat down in it. His mother had incessantly nagged him about bringing the stupid stringy thing to his stupid expensive apartment, but Shikamaru tuned her out. The hammock was comfortable and provided him with the best way to sway in the wind while watching the clouds. His apartment was fine and perhaps it was too expensive for his budget, but the balconies provided the best views of the sky in the entire city. Of course, it was a pain in the ass that all three of his friends lived on the other side of the city, and that he had to drive to twenty minutes his second job, and sometimes it got very loud when there was construction—but what mattered the most to him was the view of the clouds and stars.
He lit a cigarette and took a long drag. Besides the occasional car that cruised by, the city was silent and the summer air was cool on his skin. It wasn’t until his ears picked up on the sound of another balcony door opening that he paused his swinging.
Shikamaru planted his feet firmly on the ground of the balcony and listened, wondering who in the hell could be up this late (though, he really had no room to judge given his current activity). It wasn’t Kiba or Tayuya (thank god), leaving only the person below or above him. There was quietness again and then the familiar twang of a guitar being tuned.
There was at least ten feet between each balcony on either side, so any sound made from the space would be sucked into the city and leave no trace of a disturbance for neighbors. He knew this because Naruto had sung to the heavens one drunken night and miraculously did not get him evicted.
The tuning continued for a brief moment before a test note was strummed, then a song came to life. He braced himself for a Tayuya 2.0 but what came surprised him. The sounds were fluid and each note moved seamlessly into the next with no hiccups between. He could tell whoever was playing had deft hands and years of skill behind their fingers. He had been prepared to admire a late night, lyric-less show until they had opened their mouth.
They had a strong voice, he inferred, though they sang softly to accommodate the night time sleepers. There was a smoothness in the words being sung that reminded him (his coffee snob self) of a perfect dark roast, and made goosebumps rise all along his arms. A new sense of peace washed over him and ebbed away at the crabbiness he had fallen asleep with.
The song ended before he could have registered any of the lyrics (though he suspected briefly that it was a cover given the sense of familiarity he had with the tune) or the passing of time even, and he could barely hear the guitar being placed onto the ground. There was a sigh, and then creaking of what he assumed was a chair, and then finally there was silence again.
Shikamaru enjoyed the rare hours of silence the most out of anything; after spending years in the loud atmosphere of the coffee shop, the hustle and bustle of the office, and with shitty neighbors who didn’t know the dictionary definition of quiet, silence was a treat.
But, for the first time in a while, the silence of the night left him restless.