Jessica wakes up alone in bed. She stretches, luxuriating in the mild protest of her muscles, and rolls over to read the note John's left her today.
Jessica, it reads, Got called in early today. Will try to stop in to see you around three. If I can't make it, I'll let you know.
She runs a finger along the empty space where a Love, should go, smiling fondly. Her John isn't good with his words at the best of times, which is something that used to frustrate her endlessly. If he couldn't tell her what he wanted out of their relationship, how was she supposed to know if he was happy with her? But now, after everything that's happened, she's come to realize that reticence isn't the worst problem a guy can have. And John... John has his reasons, for being the way he is.
So she's learned to read between the lines - literally, in the case of these morning notes - and he manages, on rare, significant occasions, to use his words. And it... they work. The two of them are good together now. He tells her the truth when he can, and she doesn't ask for more than that.
She doesn't need to know where all his old wounds came from. So long as she's able to bandage the new ones, she doesn't care.
She glances at the clock; there's still half an hour before her shift starts, but no reason to risk running late. She makes herself presentable, turns on the stove to heat up water for coffee, and sticks some bread in the toaster. She slips the note under the kettle and turns on the range hood fan when it starts to burn, silently thanking John's mysterious employer once again for getting them an apartment with gas. Before, they'd gone through too many lighters and matches, and set off smoke alarms too many times. Each suspicious super had meant another move.
This is much easier.
The toast is done and the water boiling by the time she finds the instant coffee tucked away in some back corner of the fridge. She eats the toast while adding a metric ton of sugar to the coffee, and is out the door, the tiny thermos warming her hands more than her stomach, with five minutes to spare before her shift starts. The cafe is just down the block, though, so she's fine.
"Jessie!" Don crows the moment she walks through the door. She likes Don. Everybody likes Don, who seems to like everybody in return, who exudes cheerfulness from the tiniest laugh lines on his face, whose tight curls wriggle excitedly with his every step. Jessica used to consider herself a pretty happy person, but that falls flat next to Don. "How you doing today, girl?"
"Pretty good," Jessica says, draining the thermos as she walks behind the counter. She nods at a couple regulars she's served over the weeks she's worked here; a plainclothes cop, a couple college kids hovering over their laptops, two old men who play chess here every weekend. She offers Don her thermos, eyes wide and hopeful. "The dark roast, please?"
Don gives her cup a playful stink eye. "Bringing your own coffee to work, Jessie?" He takes it out of her hand, pops open the lid and sniffs, makes a face. "And instant at that? That's just not right."
"If I could afford the coffee we sell I wouldn't work here," Jessica says, the same lie she tells every morning. She walks into the backroom, washes her hands, pulls on an apron. "Besides, I needed something warm to get me down here. What is it out there, minus ten?"
"Ha! In Celsius, maybe. You need to get used to this kind of cold if you're gonna live in New York for long," Don says, filling her thermos up with a roast that smells strong and nutty. Jessica's mouth waters, and she takes her thermos back eagerly. No need for sugar to make this coffee palatable, she thinks, downing half of it in one go. She emerges wide awake, fingertips tingling, and raring to go. Don readily hands over the reigns; he's got a class halfway across town at noon. It's not long after he leaves that the lunch rush comes in, but before it gets unbearable she manages to get one of the flavored roasts brewing - a spicy coffee that warms her down to her toes, and one she thinks is going to be popular today.
The lunch rush disperses, with it going the college students, the elderly men, and two-thirds of the flavored roast she brewed, not to mention most of the pre-made sandwiches and pastries the cafe orders daily from a place ten blocks over. Wiping down the steam wand, Jessica basks in the feeling of competence. Sure, this may not be the career she spent half a decade training for, and it may not be the most intellectually stimulating job, but she likes it, and she's good at it. She brews a fantastic cup of coffee, she's good at making first-time customers come back again, and she's great at making regulars feel welcome and remembered.
Speaking of... she glances at the clock and pulls out a tin of tea leaves and a French press. Five minutes later, she's got the tea steeped and ready to pour when he walks in.
"Sencha green tea, one sugar?" she asks.
Her favorite customer pauses in the doorway, nearly getting smacked by the door closing behind him. "Am I really so predictable?" he asks, ducking his head slightly, embarrassed.
She pours his tea, smiling. "Not at all," she says, adding the sugar. "You just know what you like. Nothing wrong with that."
"Indeed." He accepts his tea, handing her a five. "Oh, keep the change," he adds when she starts to hand him a few bills and coins.
"Thank you," she says, startled. That's more of a tip than the drink was worth. Very generous, for a man whose name she doesn't even know. She calls him Mr. Green Tea in her head, and can get away with just saying "you" out loud.
"Thank you, Jessica," he says, smiling gently. He's one of maybe two people who call her by her real name here. At John's suggestion, she'd taken to going by Jessie, and that's what's on her name tag, but Mr. Green Tea had misread it the first time he came in, stumbling over her name before correcting himself sheepishly, and since then it's become something of a joke between them. He walks carefully to a table in the back, passing by the cop who's been here since before Jessica got in. It looks like he's still working on a cup of the dark roast Don brewed earlier. That was hours ago. As Don himself would say, that's just not right.
She empties the last of that brew into a carafe and approaches the cop, offering him a top-up. He jerks in his seat, shoulders rising up to his ears before he relaxes and accepts the offer, sliding his cup over to her. It looks barely touched, which seems strange - he's had it for nearly three hours now - but from the way he's been glancing out the window all day, Jessica thinks she understands.
She leaves him to his stakeout and starts wiping down the empty tables. She's still got another three hours before somebody shows up to work the nine-to-fivers' rush, and it seems like it's going to be pretty quiet around here until then unless John stops by. She debates starting a new dark roast brewing, but she's still got a good two cups left in the carafe. It can wait until a new customer comes in. She's scrubbing at one particularly stubborn spot - somebody with a very sugary drink had left a napkin on top of a spill and it had gotten glued there when the liquid dried - when Mr. Green Tea opens up his laptop and starts talking quietly to someone. On his phone, she figures, until she glances over to see him phoneless. Maybe Bluetooth, then. She returns to her cleaning.
A couple loud, sharp noises snap her out of the zone she'd fallen into, and she looks up to see the cop jumping out of his chair and running out the door, reaching for something at his waist that she's pretty sure is a gun. She freezes where she stands, bent over one of the tables closest to the door, and stares. It looks like there's half a dozen muscular men over there, each of them holding a gun, ducking behind cars and firing at something down the street. No, someone.
Her breath catches. It's John.
John, calmly shooting men in the kneecap, being assisted by the detective who'd been watching the whole thing develop from inside her cafe, but one person isn't enough backup, can't be enough, not when John's being shot at right in front of her, oh God this is so much worse than hearing about it later, so much worse than knowing nothing at all, she's not going to be able to fall asleep tonight without seeing this in her dreams, and that's if he survives, God knows how she's going to manage if he doesn't, if she has to stand here and watch him die -
"I think, Jessica," Mr. Green Tea says, taking her arm carefully, "we should wait in the back for this to blow over." Shaking slightly, she lets him lead her to relative safety, where they sit and listen as the sounds of gunshots fade away and the sounds of police sirens get louder.
A bell rings. Someone's entered the cafe.
Still somewhat unsteady on her feet, Jessica approaches the counter, Mr. Green Tea not far behind her.
Her breath catches. It's John.
John strapping a gun back into its holster under his suit jacket, John with a nasty bruise high up on his cheek, but John, alive and well. She looks at the stiff way he's holding himself and amends that to mostly well. But that's okay, because the key word here is alive. He smiles at her. "Hey," he says, "I think I made it."
Sure enough, the clock's just ticking past three. Jessica smiles, unable to help it; it's just like John to say something light and silly like this right after something big happens. He'd done the same thing when he first told her what he was doing that kept him out at all hours and brought him back to her bloody and bruised sometimes. And now that she's seen it for herself, he's once again pretending like it's nothing, like it doesn't matter, while deep down he could be tearing his hair out for all she knows.
Inspecting him properly, she knows it's not quite that strong a reaction, but he's still concerned. Not that he needs to be; she's still smiling uncontrollably, just seeing him safe.
His eyes shifts away from hers slightly, looking behind her, and surprised pleasure lights up his face. "Finch."
"Mr. Reese," says Mr. Green Tea, who is apparently also John's mysterious employer.
"Now I know where you've been running off to all the time," John says teasingly. "And here I thought you just didn't like me all that much."
"I like you fine, Mr. Reese," Mr. Finch says, in his own quietly playful way. He edges around the counter and sits down, setting his laptop up at a table with three seats. "I just happen to like your friend Jessica's tea better."
"Well how about that," John says. "If it's that good, I'll have to try a cup." He looks at Jessica again. "How much?"
Something inside Jessica settles, back in familiar territory. "On the house," she says, pulling out a tin of tea leaves and a French press.