Sighing Beth Greene ran a rag over the glass front case that held the pastries next to the counter. She avoided looking at the contents of the case, it was close to noon which meant that she still had another hour until she got off of work and would have just enough time to snag some food from the dining hall before her first class of the day.
Straightening she rubbed at the sore spot on her neck, silently wishing that she would not have to walk the two miles back to campus with her heavy bag and her guitar case.
"Beth, can you cover the counter for a minute?" her supervisor, Natalie, called out already ducking behind the counter. Beth smiled at her and took her place at the cash register staring at the clock and waiting for the small noon rush that always helped her last hour go by faster. It was going to be an hour of vanilla lattes and espresso shots as the people from the neighboring businesses came in to get something to get them through the rest of the day.
Her bright blue eyes scanned the nearly empty shop: there were some college students in the corner, Beth could tell due to the way they were all hunched over laptops or textbooks rarely taking the time to speak to each other, a middle aged woman sat with a baby in her lap, sipping a large smoothie in between making faces at her child, and an elderly woman sat reading a book by the large front windows. It was a normal crowd for near noon on a weekday but Beth found herself craving something interesting to happen to break the monotony of her day.
The sound of the front door opening pulled Beth from her daydreaming. There had been a bell over the door at one point but Beth could not stand the sound of its incessant dinging during their morning rushes so she had taken it down one day in a surprising fit of annoyance. No one had bothered to put it back up.
Pushing herself off the counter she readied her fingers on the register keys before looking up to smile brightly at her customer. The surly looking older man did not return her smile, he simply dug in his pocket while informing her.
"Large coffee. Black, to go." In a prominent Georgia drawl.
Beth could not place the sudden need she felt to get the man to smile back at her. Lord knew she got more than her share of grumpy people in here every morning but this one felt different.
"Long day?" she asked with a smaller smile, as though afraid that her wide grin had scared him off. She knew all about the stereotypes of baristas being happy because they were on too much caffeine. She tried to discourage that as much as she could, she once even went so far as to cut caffeine out of her life. She only made it four days before Glenn, Maggie's then boyfriend now fiance, had shoved the largest cup of coffee she had ever seen at her and told her to 'drink it or go get laid.' because he could not handle her bad mood.
The man shrugged as he began to count out change on the counter top. "You could say that." he finally muttered as Beth pushed the coffee across the counter towards him. "How much?" he asked looking up at her. The blue of his eyes startled her almost as much as the intensity of his gaze on hers.
She shook her head quickly. "No charge." Natalie would kill her for giving anything away for free if she was here but Beth would just put the two dollars in the register herself before she left. "You look like you could use something good today."
The man raised his eyebrows in surprise before shoving his crumpled change into his pocket and taking the large foam cup in his hands. "Thanks." he peered closer at her name tag and she felt herself holding her breath. "Beth."
She smiled brightly at him again as he turned to leave, enjoying the way her name sounded when he said it. The smile fell from her face instantly as Natalie came back behind the counter. As her supervisor looked for her headset for the drive through Beth quickly pulled two dollars from her pocket and shoved it in the register completing the purchase. Shaking her head at her antics she began to make sure everything was ready for the next rush, determinedly putting all thoughts of the man she'd likely never see again out of her mind, a feat that was admittedly harder after she had gotten a look at him walking away.
Classes seemed to drag on longer than usual that day and she began to wish for next year when she would be done with all of her prerequisites and could truly start focusing on her specific field of study. After her last class of the day she rode her bike over to the small apartment where Maggie and Glenn lived looking forward to a real cooked meal. Maggie did not disappoint and Beth helped her finish up the meal preparations before joining the two of them at the table. Everything felt normal, from their bad jokes to the talks of their jobs but when Maggie asked her how work was the first thing she thought of was the stranger she had given the coffee to. Shaking her head at herself Beth had simply said it was 'fine' while inwardly telling herself to forget about him.
And she did until just before noon the next day when she heard the door open and looked up to see him walking towards her. He had on a sleeveless vest this time and Beth swallowed hard at the sight of his arms. Smiling at both him and her own reaction she found herself wishing she was wearing something other than the white collared shirt, black pants and red apron of her uniform.
"Hi there. Hope today's going better for you than yesterday." she was hoping to get some form of a laugh or a smile from him but he simply shrugged and took her statement as a real question.
"It is. Large black coffee to go." Beth rang up his order as she tried not to feel too dejected, half of her wanted to ask him if it was small talk he disliked or just small blonde baristas. But she liked her job to much to get fired over her sudden need to flirt with the customers. Well, customer.
"That'll be $2.08." She told him as she turned around to fill the cup from the large carafe of coffee behind her. Beth slid the coffee across to him and accepted his exact change before trying, and failing, not to watch him walk back out the door.
The next day Beth woke up a few minutes early to actually put on a little bit of make-up before she went to work. She even freshened up her lipstick about fifteen minutes before noon, much to the raised eyebrow of her supervisor. Beth had muttered something about Maggie telling her it might get more tips before taking her place at the register. The door opened and while she tried not to look up at it eagerly, especially with Natalie's eyes still on her, she could not help a quick glance at the doorway.
He was wearing the vest again and Beth felt her face grow warm at the sight.
"Tips. Riggggghhht." Natalie muttered under her breath before nudging past Beth with a cloth to go wipe down the tables. Beth promised to thank her later for not embarrassing her.
Smiling Beth made to ask the man what he wanted before he simply told her the same thing as the past few days. "Large coffee black to go." he already had his exact total in hand and Beth found herself deliberately having her hand brush against his as she took the money from him. She placed it in the register before turning back to pour his coffee, sliding it carefully across the counter towards him.
"That's really hot. It just finished brewing." Beth informed him, looking up. What she did not tell him was that she had purposely brewed the new pot twenty minutes early so that it would be fresh for his arrival.
"Thanks." the man paused suddenly, his brow scrunching as he scrutinized her face. "Did you do something different? With?" he moved his hand in a circle in the air in front of his own face and Beth did not know whether to blush or feel jubilation by the fact that he had noticed.
"Oh. I'm wearing make-up." she informed him before biting her lip in embarrassment. "I woke up early so I figured why not." she shrugged lightly wondering why she felt the need to explain herself to this man, not to mention why she had purposely put make-up on for him.
"It looks nice." he did not bother to say good-bye as he took the coffee cup and headed out the door. Beth stared after him open mouthed until Natalie sent her a thumbs up from across the store as she watched him walk outside. Beth very much wanted to return her gesture with a rude one.
The next day the rush came earlier and when the man got to the counter Beth was already about four coffees behind.
"Hi!" she smiled cheerfully, her eyes darting to the long line behind him. "Large coffee black to go?" she asked quickly already pulling a large cup off the stack.
The man nodded at her and Beth thought she almost caught the ghost of a smile before he passed her the exact total.
"Can I get your name too? I'm a bit behind." she admitted gesturing to the madness of Natalie taking orders from drive and their Friday third person, James, trying to make all the drinks at once.
"Daryl." he told her before turning to walk over to the counter where drinks were given to the customers. Beth wrote his name down carefully, wanting very much to say his name aloud just to see how it felt in her mouth. She had to force herself not to draw a smile after his name or her phone number.
And so they fell into a routine. Every Monday through Friday at just before noon Daryl showed up, Beth tried to get him to smile at her, their hands brushed as they exchanged money, and he took his coffee to go. Sometimes they would exchange a few more sentences, like the day it was raining and Beth asked him how bad it was outside, or the time he ordered two coffees and she jokingly asked if he really needed that much caffeine (while secretly wanting to know who the other was for, she had already checked his left hand for a ring several times) and he told her the other one was for his co-worker. Over time she found out that he worked at and co-owned (with his older brother) the auto-shop at the end of the street. Beth had never wanted a car as badly as she did when she learned about that. He began to ask her questions too, only one every few days and the next day she would always ask her own question in return.
"Do you go to school?"
"I'm a sophomore at GSU."
"Have you lived in Atlanta long?"
"Born and raised."
Beth began to live for weekdays at just before noon, unable to explain to even herself the draw this slightly surly older man had on her. She refused to tell anybody, not even Maggie, about him seeing as there wasn't exactly anything to tell.
They continued their dance of one sided smile, coffee, change and retreat for nearly a month until one fateful Friday. Beth had finally convinced Natalie to host an open mic night at the shop, stating that it was a coffee shop cliché that they should actually use to their benefit. She was planning on singing that night, had even written a new song for it and everything. Maggie and Glenn would be coming and she had told all of her friends in the music department to come and perform, determined to make this a reoccurring event.
When Daryl showed up a few minutes before noon Beth found herself debating whether to tell him about it or not. He had probably seen the poster on the front window but as she placed the lid on his cup of coffee she decided that she could not handle much more of this strange dance between them. While she could never tell if he was flirting with her or not she knew that she was flirting with him. She had to make a move sometime since it seemed clear that he never would.
"We're hosting an open mic night tonight." Beth informed him brightly as she pushed the cup of coffee across the counter towards him. "I'm going to perform. You should come." silently she cheered to herself about getting out the invite without stuttering or blushing, or even beating around the bush. No 'if you're free' statement from her.
Daryl paused as he picked up his coffee before looking at her in that scrutinizing gaze he sometimes did. "I'm not really a fan of slam poetry."
Beth shrugged as she counted the coins into the register. She wasn't sure if that had been a joke or a brush off. "Well its a good thing I'm a singer then."
This time she did not watch him walk out the door, slightly embarrassed by his words at her invitation. Promising herself to let him just become another regular customer she began to focus on the night ahead of her.
The rest of the day simultaneously dragged on and flew by until the next thing Beth knew she was walking up to the microphone and stool they had sat in a cleared corner of the room to act as a stage. Beth had made it past the first thirty minutes of the open mic not sparing a single look around her, acting as though she was entranced by the other performers or incredibly interested in Maggie and Glenn's conversation. But as she sat down on the stool and adjusted the microphone to her level she could not stop her eyes from scanning the room before her, not really seeing anyone's face as she looked for the one she had promised herself not think about tonight.
"This song is called 'Coffee To Go'." she informed the small crowd just as the bell above the door dinged, silently she cursed that someone had replaced it but just as her fingers hit the first chord a familiar face walked in. She had to physically stop herself from singing the entire song to him but her eyes wandered to his for most of it anyway.
You say coffee to go
No please or how are you
I still keep smiling
and silently adore you
The counter top seems
such a vast space between us
I can't quite figure out
If this is interest or lust
You say coffee to go
No hi or hello
You brighten my days
but I can't tell you so
You wear detachable wings
But don't seem like an angel
And I've never been the girl
To want something so unattainable
You say coffee to go
Then tell me thanks
I keep firing you smiles
But I suppose I'm just shooting out blanks
You say coffee to go
And then I watch you leave
How do I tell you
to stay here with me?
Beth finished out the last few chords of the song before standing up to polite applause, well polite except for Glenn who was whistling and Maggie's thunderous clapping. She quickly joined them at their table, placing the guitar in her case as she heard the bell ding again. Beth did not have to look up to know who had left. Her heart began to pound as to why he had fled. He must have realized the song was about him, it was fairly obvious by the lyrics and the way she had basically sang it to him. Beth could not just leave the night at this though. She needed to speak to him.
"I'll be right back." she whispered to her sister as the next person began the start of a spoken word poem. Beth turned and carefully made her way through the crowd before she darted out the door. The streets were the soft dark of twilight, streetlamps illuminating the lone figure walking a few doors down.
"Daryl!" Beth cried out as she ran towards him. He stopped just outside of a circle of lamplight before turning around to face her. His face was unreadable as always. Beth grasped for something to say, she didn't know if she should apologize for the song or thank him for coming so she was as surprised as him when the words that actually came out of her mouth were. "Do you want to grab a coffee sometime?"
For a moment Daryl simply stared at her and she wondered if her heartbeat was loud enough for him to hear.
He then chose to surprise her as much as she likely just had him. "I don't drink coffee."
Beth stared at him open mouthed for a moment. "But you order coffee everyday." she said slowly, unsure if he was playing a joke on her.
The corner of Daryl's mouth twitched and Beth wondered if he was actually going to smile, "Those were for my brother. He was too lazy to walk down and get it one day so he sent me." Daryl explained in the longest sentence she had ever heard him say.
Beth shook her head in confusion. "But you came in so many times." she bit her lip as a realization began to come to her.
Daryl shoved his hands in his pockets and shrugged. "It was my only excuse to see you." he admitted causing Beth to first blush and then smile as the meaning of words sunk in.
"So." she whispered before inching a step closer, leaning her head back so that she could look him in the eye. Telling herself to be brave she whispered. "Say we skip the coffee and just go get dinner?"
That time she finally got Daryl to smile.