What happened in this story actually happened to me last week. Three cheers for an inspirational Starbucks barista!
Derek pushed through the doors to Starbucks, feeling like the walking dead. His alarm hadn't been set to go off that morning, so he had woken up later than normal. Forty minutes, to be exact. He'd cursed, jumped from bed, and gotten ready within five minutes, skipping a shower for time's sake. His boss would kill him if he came in late for work again. He'd only been late twice before, but it was enough to tick her off.
Misty, his boss, was always wound tighter than a spring on Monday mornings, and extra cranky to boot. She usually threatened to fire him at some point throughout the day, and sometime even twice just for kicks. She didn't follow through with her threat, though. She never actually fired Derek just because she found him remarkably attractive and decided that the view was worth a few extra hassles around the office. That's why Misty gave him the cubicle nearest to her office; she wanted to watch him work whenever she became bored. Sometimes she daydreamed about what it would be like to rip off his white button-down shirt and see what he looked like underneath. He'd be well-muscled, definitely. His olive skin would probably be wonderfully smooth…she bet he smelled wonderful, too.
Derek didn't know any of this. Almost every day he'd feel her sharp blue eyes on him, still piercing even thought she was behind the glass walls of her office. But he'd shake it off and continue to work, ignoring the feeling. He assumed that she only watched him so she could spot him making a mistake and catch him on it, proving further that his current life was too terrible even to be considered hell. He hated his job. He hated his life. Hell, he didn't even have a dog, cat, or pet rock to come home to because his flat building didn't allow pets of any kind. Would a girlfriend count as a pet? With his landlord, Derek couldn't be sure. Oh well, he didn't have a girlfriend anyway, so there was nothing to worry about.
It was on this particular Monday morning that Derek Slater finally had something to worry about. And no, it wasn't about his terrible job or that he was pinching pennies to pay his rent. It wasn't even the fact that he was slowly killing the potted Japanese peace lily that he had at home on his table.
He had to worry about the girl who was working the espresso machine that morning.
He approached the counter with the speed of a comatose cheetah, staring up at the menu the whole time in order to decide what he wanted to get for himself. He knew what he was going to get for his boss as a "please-don't-fire-me" gift, but he also needed some sort of caffeine in his system so he wouldn't spontaneously die in his cubicle during the day. Then he'd really get fired, and he couldn't have that.
"Can I help you, sir?" A perky blonde with big blue eyes asked Derek from behind the counter. She kept her eyes on his attractive face instead of on his wrinkled and dirty clothes, but she couldn't help guessing what had happened to him. It was morning, and it was Monday. Point in case. After working in Starbucks in a big city for three years, you kind of learned that Monday mornings were not the best days for appearances.
"Three hardcore shots of espresso, a Grande caramel Frappuccino with soymilk instead of actual milk, and a blueberry scone. To go," Derek mumbled to the blonde woman, not bothering to read her nametag. He just needed to get the drinks and break a few major traffic laws in order to get to work before Misty stabbed him with a ballpoint pen. That was all he cared about.
She told him the cost (ridiculous these days) and he forked over the cash, making sure he got back his change. Then the girl grabbed a tall plastic cup with green markings on the side and pulled out a sharpie to write the name of whoever it was for. She looked toward the haphazard man before her and asked in a polite voice, "Name, please?"
Derek almost said his own name, but caught himself before he uttered a single syllable. It was Monday, he was tired, and he decided for a little self-satisfactory revenge to make him feel better. Making a split-second decision of evilness, Derek replied with a hint of spite in his voice, "Voldemort."
The girl looked at Derek strangely. Is he serious? She took notice of the way his expression hadn't changed at all when he said that. Not one bit. Deeming that he was actually serious (Monday mornings were getting stranger, she guessed), she wrote the name of the evil Harry Potter character on the side of the cup and handed it back to a tall girl behind her, who took it and began to churn up Misty's iced coffee treat for Derek.
Derek moved out of line and over to the counter where he would receive his suck-up gifts and he could go. He watched as the perky blonde girl got the scone out of the glass display container and slipped it into a paper bag for him before sliding it across the counter to him. She then proceeded to help the next customer who looked considerably more put-together than Derek did at that point.
Derek checked his watch. He had about ten minutes to get his drinks, take a subway across town, and get into his cubicle before Misty got pissed enough to actually fire him. So in other words, he was doomed. The subway would take ten minutes by itself to get to the downtown area, so there was officially no hope for keeping his job. Derek exhaled heavily. He placed his palms against the counter and leaned his weight on them, slumping down in defeat. Now what would he do? Maybe if he hurried, he could get off easy from Misty. Maybe she would let him keep his job. Derek thought it was unlikely, but he might as well try.
"Volde-" a voice called out, but she suddenly stopped in the middle of the name. Derek's head snapped up to see how she would react to seeing a name like that on a side of a coffee cup. Confusion, probably. Or maybe she had no idea how to pronounce it? Either way, Derek looked up at the girl who was holding the Frappuccino.
His arms almost gave out at the sight of her.
She was frowning at the side of the cup, dark brown eyes narrowed in concentration. Her dirty blonde hair was pulled up into a high ponytail, but a few strands had escaped the hairband and were delicately framing her face as she looked at the cup. Her pale pink lips were pursed adorably, and her free hand rested on her slender waist. Derek had to struggle to keep from drooling.
Oh, Jesus Christ…I just made a total idiot of myself in front of this girl by saying Voldemort. Shit, what do I do? I can't take the drink from her. She'll think I'm a lunatic! But what if that drink is the only thing that might save my job? I DON'T KNOW WHAT TO D-
"He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named?" The girl called out, holding up the drink and looking around for whoever the buyer was.
Derek could've sworn he had a mini-heart attack.
There were quite a few people in the shop that morning, which made the search for him or her (Voldemort's sexuality was totally justifiable to speculate on, she always thought) a much more difficult task. There were a few college students over by the walls, tinkering with their computers and typing at ridiculous speeds. She decided it couldn't be them, because they already had their drinks and were quietly sipping them as she searched the room. Her eyes drifted over a few business men who were practically shouting their orders at Lizzy, who looked about ready to leap over the counter and stab their eyes out with her sharpie. She scribbled down their ridiculously long orders on the cups with a vengeance, setting them down on the counter with more force than necessary so Peter could pick them up and fill the orders. The barista felt Lizzy's pain; she had started out as the cashier when she first started working, too. Monday mornings usually left you with some serious homicidal tendencies toward business men and women.
The girl continued to look around for the owner of the cup, hoping she would find him soon. She had more orders to fill, and things were getting pretty congested around the shop. More and more business people were arriving, and more and more cups with their orders written on the sides were being lined up. Lizzy shot her a pleading look as she dug out change for a scowling man in a suit. The girl nodded in response and called out the name again, eyes scanning for anyone who would take the drink.
"That's mine, thanks," a low voice said to the girl's left. She turned and held the drink out, resting her gaze on the man who had ordered the drink.
"'Voldemort'? Rough morning, I'm guessing?"" She questioned him with thinly veiled amusement. She handed him the drink, which he took hesitantly. Derek's dark eyes avoided hers as she stepped back over to the espresso machine and turned a few handles in order to prepare his triple-shot espresso for him. As she squirted the steaming drink into a small cup, Derek nodded in assent.
"You have no idea," he muttered. Shoot, I don't think I brushed my teeth this morning. Note to self: Don't breathe in her direction.
The barista raised an eyebrow at him as she put the lid on his drink. She slid it over to him and started on the next order: a mocha Frappuccino with no whipped cream. As she was making it, she said, "Well you look like absolute hell. Care to tell me your troubles, young one?"
"I'm older than you."
She rolled her eyes. "I figured, sir. I only said that for comedic effect."
Derek mentally slapped himself. What was wrong with him? He was never this stupid in the morning. It was just a girl! An insanely attractive girl, but a girl nonetheless. He nodded and muttered, "I knew that."
The girl snickered. "You aren't a man of many words, are you? Either that or you're so tired that you're barely standing up right now. You woke up late, huh?"
Derek's head popped up and he looked into the warm brown eyes of the barista. How had she known that? He voiced his question before taking a quick sip of his espresso. The coffee burned his throat in a similar fashion such as alcohol, but he powered through it and got it down.
The girl, whose name was Tobi (according to her apron) shrugged and didn't look up from the next drink order. "I've been here a while. You learn to read the business men like a book after a few months. It's actually not so hard once you get the hang of it."
"Can you read me?" Derek asked, genuinely curious. He really should've been out of there by then, but Tobi was just too interesting. He couldn't leave. Not now, at least.
Tobi set a finished order down on the counter and turned to look at Derek, leaning her hip against the counter and crossing her arms. She narrowed her eyes as she took in his wrinkled shirt that had the sleeves rolled up to his elbows, shaggy dark hair that probably was long enough to break a few company policies, and there was a stain on his collar that he hadn't gotten out the night before. She also noticed his well-muscled arms under the thin white material of his shirt. She pursed her lips, coming to a conclusion quickly before she got too carried away while looking at him. He was attractive, but he was just a customer. Tobi shrugged.
"My best guess is that you woke up at least a half an hour later than usual, and that guess came from your clothes and hair for. Your boss hates you and you hate her, based off of the name you told Lizzy to put on that drink, and you're probably going to get fired if you don't get moving pretty soon and get to work. But right now you're here talking to me, which means that you don't care about your job anyway or you think that there's no hope for getting there on time. Am I close?"
Derek stared in shock. How had she guessed all of that? Did he really look that bad? Sure, his shirt wasn't pressed and his hair wasn't gelled back like normal, but he hoped no one would catch his appearance at work. (It was against their policies to have hair as long as Derek did, but his hair was a major vanity point. He would only cut if he were at gunpoint. And the gun would have to be a bazooka.)
"Impressive," he said coolly. "Can you pull a rabbit out of a hat too?"
"Only on my night shifts," Tobi laughed, straightening up and starting on another order.
"Maybe I should drop by one evening in order to see it."
"Maybe you should go to work," she replied, still smiling. "You're going to be late if you don't get out of here."
Derek shrugged. "I was going to be late anyway. It's a lost cause now."
Tobi shot Derek a sympathetic look as she held a drink under the mixer. She moved it in circles under the spinning blade. "Well you might as well try to salvage your job just in case. Times are tough, sir. You shouldn't throw it all away just because your boss hates you. It's not worth it."
"What if I'm unhappy?" Derek questioned, suddenly serious. "Is it worth it?"
Tobi squirted the whipped cream on top of the drink and snapped the lid on before handing it off to another customer with a phony smile and a wave. Then she turned back to Derek, fake smile gone and her brown eyes soft.
Derek took all this in, eyes still locked with Tobi's. They were so warm and deep that they almost consumed him in their richness. She gave him a small smile, which he returned without hesitation.
"Thank you, Tobi."
Feeling the conversation was over and knowing that Tobi had to get back to work, Derek grabbed his stuff and turned toward the door, about ready to push it open and leave. Hopefully Misty would like her present. Maybe she'd like it enough to not fire him. Unlikely, but there was a chance. Tobi had made him hopeful, but she had also put doubts in his mind. Didn't he deserve to be happy, like she was? She seemed content with her job and her life, so why couldn't Derek be like that? What was holding him back?
Derek's hand was on the glass door, pushing it open, when Tobi spoke up from behind him once more.
"You know," she called out as she wiped down the counter. "Starbucks pays pretty well. If you ever want a job where your boss doesn't hate you and you get to have some fun, just drop by. We'd love to have you."
Derek couldn't help but smile. Slowly, he turned around to face Tobi again, his dark eyes glittering with mirth. He was amazed at how fast this random espresso barista had turned his sour mood around. He didn't know how she managed to do it, but she had. Now he didn't feel like working in a cubicle at all, much less actually showing up to work to keep his job.
Derek held up his espresso to her in a silent thank you as he walked out the doors of the shop. His gait seemed more bouncy than it had before, but that may have been the espresso he had drunk. The loud noises of the city greeted him as he turned from the door and started walking toward the nearest subway station. Derek could feel Tobi's eyes on him as he walked past the front of Starbucks, but he didn't look up and meet her gaze. He didn't have to. He would miss her, sure. But he would be seeing her again.
He'd be seeing her again very soon, actually.