"Hey Barbie, you okay with closing up shop?" Joe asked from across the shop, flinging his dirt-ridden rag over his shoulder. He wiped his hands on his apron while Barbie restocked the supply of travel mugs.
"Yeah, I'm good. You say hi to Norrie for me, okay?" He responded, not really paying attention to Joe as he left, absentmindedly waving in the general direction of the door.
It was almost ten at night, which wouldn't be strange except for the lack of customers lately, causing Rose, their sweet, mother-hen of a boss to cut back their hours. Which wasn't bad, all things considered, but when in college, one needs money.
Barbie was completely lost in his task of taking inventory when he heard the bell ring as the door opened. His head shot up from his kneeling position and was rewarded with a loud thwack sound as he hit his head on the edge of the countertop.
"Fucking ow," Barbie muttered as he rose - this time more wary of the countertop. "Hey, not to be rude or anything, but we're kind of closed."
"Well then the sign on the door should really be turned to 'Closed' not 'Open'" The woman unwrapped the scarf from around her head, revealing a head of curled, slightly frizzy auburn hair, and sighed. "And, as a possible paying customer, I'd like to get a cup of coffee." Barbie shrugged, as long as he didn't have to turn the espresso machine on - he'd just finished cleaning it.
"Sure, what'cha want?"
"Medium decaf with room, thanks." He nodded. The woman was nice enough, but after pulling a double shift, and the need to write his thesis before its due date in two days, Barbie was ready to kick up his feet and call it a day. As he went over to the machine, she inquired, "Aren't you going to ask me for a name?"
"Seeing as you're the only person in here, aside from me, it'd be kind of pointless, but whatever. Name please?"
"Julia." She replied, her sea-green eyes twinkling. He wrote her name on the side of the coffee cup, slid the sleeve around it, and handed it to her. Julia paid him and poured milk and three packets of sugar into her coffee. Then, she sat down on the barstool and motioned for Barbie to join her. He did.
"So, Barbie?" She questioned, motioning with her hand to his nametag, her head cocked to the side.
"Dale Barbara. Barbie's just easier." He responded.
"I see. So, you're obviously in college - junior or senior for what, the military?" Julia raised an inquisitive eyebrow at him.
"Senior, and yeah, actually. How'd you guess?" Barbie was astonished, to say the least.
"One, when you checked your phone a few minutes ago, it said twenty-two-thirty-five, not the usual ten-thirty-five. Of course, that could also be out of habit, or how you were raised, posture, that fact that you didn't repeat my order to me, and that the only schools around here are military-based. Also, it may or may not have been a lucky guess."
"Holy shit. You could be the next Sherlock Holmes." He was duly impressed.
"Nah, I'm a journalist, I'm paid to notice everything and be precise. Thanks anyways though. For the coffee and the company." Julia stood, re-wrapped her white scarf around her head, dropped a ten dollar bill in Barbie's lap, and left.
This went on for months. She had started to come around in January, and it was now mid-October. Julia would come in two or three times a week, right after everyone but Barbie had left, and would sit and talk with him about any and everything. How she knew the days he'd stay late, he didn't know, and chalked it up to her super-freaky journalistic skills.
Thursday was the day when things became strange, for lack of better word. Barbie didn't notice it until it had become blatantly obvious. Julia was leaning against him, rubbing circles onto the back of his hand, quietly humming as she sipped her newest coffee addiction - a blonde roast with a shot of caramel. Her hand then moved to the back of his neck, her fingers settling in the close-cropped baby hairs. However calming it was to Barbie, with her fingers a comforting weight on his neck, it was still bizarre to have her touch him in what he viewed to be an intimate way, but, it was nice. As he yawned and leaned his head on her shoulder, eyes blinking in attempt to stay up, Julia stopped.
She leaned down and peered at him. "You fallin' asleep on me, honey?" She murmured. Which Barbie was, admittedly. The shop was warm, the couch soft beneath him, the company quiet. He almost didn't register the words, but when he did, he frowned. Or attempted to, he was exhausted. Did Julia mean 'honey' in the affectionate way that didn't know that he was partly conscious - the way a caring friend would, - or the way that sounded like it wanted something more, but restrained itself because of the possible consequences.
So when Barbie mumbled, "yeah," which sounded more like, "hhhh" making him sound even more asleep than he was, she retracted her fingers and hesitated, before standing up, lightly kissing him on the cheek, and then leaving.
When he woke up the next morning, Barbie's shoes were placed next to the couch, and a crumpled post-it note was in his hand. He half expected it from Julia, but it was from Angie, one of the other baristas.
Saw you on the couch, and decided to open late in case you didn't wake up in time for opening. You also have the day off, says Rose - cuz I called her earlier. So, yeah. See you tomorrow.
Barbie didn't see Julia for two weeks.
She came back on a Thursday.
"I had a huuuuuuge paper to work on, I barely had a moment to breathe!" Julia explained, sinking back into the leather couch, "I couldn't come in for coffee, as much as I wanted to, which I really did."
"Sure you weren't just trying to avoid me?" Barbie joked. He didn't want her to say that she wasn't, even if she was. The past two weeks made him realize that closing the coffee shop without Julia popping and talking to him - hanging out with him - was dull. She made everything better. They always bantered and laughed, making constant fools of themselves. It was the most fun Barbie had. The smile on her face fell. Julia glanced and him and winced, as if in some unknown pain.
"I d-" Julia was cut off by Barbie gasping. "W-what?"
"I should've realized it earlier."
"I'm in love with you." He glanced over at Julia grinning shyly, while her mouth hung open, the corners of her lips turned up in what he thought was a hopeful manner. "You make everything better. Coffee doesn't taste as bitter around you. I can be myself around you and no matter who that is, I know you won't judge me for it. I could make the crappiest joke ever and you'd still laugh at it like it was the funniest in the world. I don't know how I didn't realize it earlier, but I love you. Seeing you is the highlight of my week. You with huge bags under your eyes from a long day of classes, you dressed to the nines or like you're going to spend a day in bed. You asleep or awake. You."
At that point, Julia was beaming, her smile lighting up the dim coffee shop. She leaned across the couch, placing both of her hands on either sides of Barbie's face. She bit her lip and laughed.
"I'm in love with you too. You who smells like coffee and sweat, you with stains on your apron or with a clean pressed one. You with coffee cup in hand or a pencil. You who makes me feel like I'm floating on cloud nine." While she said this with a grin on her face, and a slightly mocking tone, Barbie knew she meant it.
And then they kissed, Julia laying on top of Barbie, his arms resting on her waist. She tangled her hands in his hair much like she had done in the weeks past, slipping her tongue into his mouth. It wasn't a perfect kiss, with their noses occasionally bumping, and teeth knocking into each other.
But they'd have much more time to practice.