By Rebecca Grace
He wasn’t aware of the way his fingers repetitively tapped out the forgotten QWERTY alphabet on the side of the red, reflective Marzocco machine. He was bored. His fingers were making it known. But she didn’t want to listen to it, and it was driving her crazy. Where had he even learned to do it? She’d learned when she was younger—her mom had an obsession with relics, had brought her along to numerous Google maps in search of outdated bits and pieces. Her mother had taught her the keys, and they’d typed for hours on those 3D pads, playing with the sentences they could make (anything!), until stores had kicked them out. It was, in fact, part of the reason she’d ended up here at Coffee Café.
Tap, tap, tap.
Nylon pressed her fingers into her ears and glared over at the slim, brownish digits of her coworker. Rad rac tad tac red rec.
“Stop it,” she said suddenly, surprising herself. She was still new to the night shift and not trying to make any enemies.
Seed glanced up. “What’s your problem?”
“You,” she said, crossing her arms over her white cotton bib apron. It was only 9 p.m. They had hours to go (before they slept, she thought), and she wasn’t going to stand here and listen to him drumming his bones away. “I can’t think when you do that.”
“What?” He seemed genuinely mystified. A finger twitched, itching to get back to its soliloquy.
“That tapping. It’s driving me crazy.” She chuckled and shook her head. “Rat tat tat?”
“Ha.” One shoulder moved self-consciously under the black t-shirt he wore with his spotless apron. “Didn’t notice,” he said.
“I thought you were typing out a secret message, at first,” Nylon said, pulling out a rag and the spray bottle.
A fingernail hit the metal. He caught himself, looking over at her to see if she’d noticed.
She squirted a quick Z onto the double-wide glass doors, obscuring the momentary reflection of her face. It was her favorite part of the job, even if it was just part of a show. Used to be, the place would be buzzing at this time, with classes and jobs ending. There were always a few students—the artsy ones—and older retirees, who’d still come out to enjoy a cup. Tonight, the street was empty, and the lights hadn’t come on. It was going to be a slow night.
“How long have you been here?” Might as well try to pass the time, she thought.
He blinked and looked back at her. “Uh.” He rubbed a hand over his chest. “I dunno.”
She nodded. He surprised she was trying to make small talk. Oh sure, it was good for the customers, but there was no one around to impress just now. But, didn’t he ever just want to talk for fun? She hoped she wasn’t annoying him. “Do you ever close up early?”
He shook his head, not bothering to unplug from his screen. She looked out the glass, past her reflection. A dumpster squatted in the shadows. Yarn would be scrounging there for…well, not for anything. He was still hopeful, though. He never gave up. He’d find something. She wiped the glass again, wondering what Seed would say if he saw Yarn walk in. But Yarn wouldn’t just walk in. He was a (mostly) well-behaved wolf. He always did everything right. For instance, at the end of her shift, around midnight, he always accompanied her home and made sure she was safe. Not that she had anyone to be afraid of. It was ludicrous to get out here. Besides the retirees and the poor students who occasionally still liked to use their vehicles for entertainment, Nylon figured she and Seed were about the only humans around who had any reason to go into the city space. They were definitely the only ones who’d risk sharing air. But the job paid. And Yarn would never let anything happen to her.
Chimes filled her ears. Finally, a customer. Seed climbed off the counter and skimmed his fingers over the consoles. The vehicle popped up in our vision. Two old people sat side by side in their mini, stuck together shoulder to knees. The woman wore a large coat. Nylon tried to toggle the lighting to see her better, but it didn’t help. She was sitting in shadows. The lights in their vehicle must be going out.
“Good evening and welcome to Coffee Café! Would you like to try our Frangipani Mocha, straight from Hawaii?” Seed had an exceptional host voice. Obviously it’s what got him the job. We had a few older customers—ladies, naturally—who came just to listen to him. He didn’t even have to say much, which was a good thing because a few lines was about his limit. It was the salty timbre of his voice. Like he’d been walking in the rain for too long and some of it had gotten in and had left a residue that wouldn’t go away. Every word was a crunchy melody of need. That’s why the ladies liked it. It reminded them of their sons, stuck in puberty.
The older gentleman turned toward the screen and shook his head. “Two double shots, sugar cubes, spoons, demitasse cups,” he barked.
Seed looked at Nylon and rolled his eyes. She slapped a hand over her giggle. It amused him that some of the older generations still remembered these little things to a tee.
Nylon put in the coding for the imaging as he finessed the flavors. “How do you know all the odd ones?”
“My grandfather used to love the stuff. He was actually from there.”
“You know, the place they made all this stuff up.” He finished the order and linked it with Nylon’s code, then sent it out to their customers. Image, taste, smell and mouth-feel waves recreated the outdated experience of coffee that had somehow retained its addictive charm. Nylon had tried it when she’d first gotten the job, after her mom’s accident, but hadn’t understood the obsession. Sure, it was hot, it was flavorful, it was wet on her throat. But so was a soup commercial. She couldn’t imagine going out to pay for this.
The couple stayed a few minutes, listening to the café broadcast, then they left.
It was raining outside now. Raindrops clipped the glass, falling steadily, drowning out Seed’s incessant fidgeting. Nylon searched the street again. Oh, there he was. Good old Yarn, jumping around on top of the dumpster like a puppy. She smiled as he shook, tongue lolling, silver-black fur sticking in wet spikes. Sometimes he was almost too playful to be a wolf. But only when he felt safe, she decided. He had no trouble looking mean and scary.
“I’ll be back in a minute,” she called to Seed. She had meant to ask if she could take a break, since he was technically her supervisor, but it seemed a bad precedent to make. If she asked for a break this time, she’d always have to ask, and that would be annoying.
She walked under the overhang, out of the rain. Yarn slipped off the dumpster and slunk over to meet her on the side of the building, out of sight of the front glass. She bent and rubbed his head, then she squatted back on her heels and leaned up against the building. Yarn sat down by her side. His green eyes swept the dark street in front of them.
“I wish you didn’t have to live here,” she said. “This is no place for you. You need to be somewhere with space, and…and…grass to eat.” She turned. “Do you eat grass?”
He shook his head, tongue wagging.
“No, that’s right. You eat fish and mice.” She tucked her hands under her apron and shivered as the wind started to blow, sending the rain sideways. “I have to go in,” she said, apologetically to the waist-high creature by her side. He closed his mouth and blinked. Then he pushed his broad head into her side, urging her in.