Disclaimer: I still haven't forgiven Paramount for Fair H!$, so...
Working in a small coffee shop isn't really as bad as it seems. Most people think it must be dreary dull, when, in this century of starships and holodecks, I could be doing something far more 'exciting'. But I love my job - it's nice to talk to the people that come in, help them with a problem, share in a celebration or simply provide a sounding board to those who are working late. I like to think of myself as an unofficial counsellor as well as a waitress. After all, these people could just replicate a cup of coffee in their home - why bother coming out unless you want some company?
It was a normal Friday evening, and we were quiet as we usually are on a Friday night. One or two loners, a young couple, and me and Lauren on staff. Then he walked in.
At first, I didn't give him a second glance. He was tall, alone, and walked softly. He took a table in the shadows, as if he didn't want to be seen. I looked over to see if Lauren was going to serve him, but she was on the commline, talking to her mother who was trying to organise a holiday of some sort. I sighed and headed over to the table to see what the newcomer would like.
"Coffee?" I asked with a polite smile.
"No... her drink... haven't touched it in... tea?" the man asked, his voice more of a mutter than anything else.
"Well, we don't normally serve tea, but I suppose I could get you a cup. It'll be replicated though, I'm afraid."
"Whatever," the man replied with a wave of his hand. "Whatever."
I smiled and went out the back to replicate the drink. I'm not a tea person, I have to admit, but my mum is, and I'd had to memorise her favourite formula when I was younger. And so, moments later, I was heading back out to the front of the shop, tea in hand.
"Here you go, sir," I said quietly, placing the cup in front of him on the table.
He lifted his head out of his hands and muttered, "Thanks."
I looked at him quizzically. "I'm curious. Is there something wrong? Can I help?" I asked.
He let his head drop back into his hands. "I don't think anyone can," he mumbled.
I sat down opposite him and leaned across the table. "Please, let me listen. A trouble shared is a trouble halved."
"But true," I pointed out with a smile.
One corner of his mouth turned up slightly. "Maybe so."
"So...?" I prompted.
The man finally raised his head, and I got my first proper look at him. His skin was bronzed, and his grey hair was peppered with black. On his left temple, a tattoo of some sort had been etched in blue, a simple design that didn't seem to represent anything in particular as far as I could see.
He sighed heavily. "Ever been in love?" he asked quietly.
"Once or twice," I replied cautiously.
"Once, I was in love. Or I thought I was." He looked at me helplessly. "I haven't quite worked that bit out yet, sorry." He didn't seem to expect any answer to that, so I stayed silent. He continued. "She was amazing. Auburn hair, eyes of fire and ice, smile that used to dazzle me... I loved that smile. I know I loved her smile." He fell silent for a minute, as if to gather his drifting thoughts. "Then, one day, she just... left. She left me! She left me alone..." Tears started to fill his eyes and he took a long sip of the tea, as if to calm himself before he continued. "God, I loved her. We stayed on a planet once. Just us. Then we came home, and I told her I loved her. She said she loved me too... I thought we were going to stay together!" Taking another sip of the tea, he continued. "Who does she think she is, anyway! Leaving me without an explanation like that?" He looked at me as if I held the answers he seeked.
For once, I didn't know what to say. I'd never seen someone get this wired on tea before. Coffee, sure, I was used to that. We had all the caffeine addicts in here, the ones who come in tired with a pile of PADD's and consume about fifty cups in eight hours, eventually leaving, bleary-eyed, at two in the morning, wired but work done. We have one Starfleet Admiral that comes in regularly, a woman of about sixty to seventy, I'd say. Quite pretty for that age, with auburn hair and eyes that... eyes that make you look twice... pretty smile...
Something clicked in my brain.
"Have you tried getting in contact with her?" I asked sympathetically as I tried to wrap my mind around the idea. The same person?
"I tried her at her office," he said, his voice becoming dreary and some of his words began to run together. "No answer..."
I reached across the table and put a reassuring hand on his shoulder. "Did you keep trying? Do you know why there was no answer?"
"She doesn't want to talk to me!" he burst out. "I've tried so hard! I want to make everything up with her, but she won't listen..." He stopped and looked at me again. "I came here because I thought she might be here... she loved coffee. She really did." He looked at the half-empty cup of tea on the table in front of him. "I was hoping she'd be here. Have you seen her?"
He looked up at me with puppy-like eyes so hopeful that I wanted to reassure him and tell him that everything would be fine, that she would turn up in a moment and then everything would be fine between them.
I glanced at the chronometer. Five to six. Would she appear at the time she normally did? Could I help them resolve their differences if she did? Or would my meddling and matchmaking make things worse?
It wouldn't be the first time.
"I - I don't know."
His head dropped back into his hands, forlorn look on his face. "I don't know what to do, I really don't."
"You asked me if I had ever been in love. I was. A youngish Starfleet cadet. Came in here everyday for coffee and to - to see me." I sighed in recollection. "One day, he actually worked up the courage to ask me to go out with him."
"What did you do?" the man asked, his expression slightly curious.
I shrugged. "I panicked. I was afraid of how I felt. All I wanted to do was let myself love him, but I was too scared of losing control. So I said no." I looked away, my own eyes blinking back tears. "Now, I could kick myself for doing that to us. For letting my fears stand between us."
"Didn't you ever try to find him?" the man asked curiously. Though it was painful for me, the story obviously seemed to intrigue him. Dare I hope that it was striking a chord somewhere? Or was I just making things worse?
"I - I didn't, no," I admitted. "I was young and stupid. We should never let fear stand in our way."
"You should try. Maybe the magic will still be there..." he suggested.
I shook my head. "It's been eight years. He'll have left the academy, and I never knew anything more than his first name."
Chakotay placed a reassuring hand on my arm, mimicking my earlier action. "Something will work out one day. It might not be what we expect, but everyone does find happiness for a while."
"Clich?," I smiled softly.
"Maybe. But true..."
The door opened, letting wind gust through the shop. I looked up to see who it was, and was excited to see the Admiral, still in uniform.
"Excuse me," I murmured to the man and stood up, heading for the door, leaving him with his face in his hands.
Walking up to the Admiral, I put on my politest smile. "Good evening. The usual?"
She nodded, a slight incline of her head. I'd never really thought about it before, but now I could see that she must have been devastatingly beautiful when she was younger.
"I'll be right back. If it's not too much trouble, could I ask you to take table 12? We've got a booking for later this evening, and that's going to be one of the few free tables, and definitely the comfiest..."
"That'll be alright," she smiled, and headed for the table.
I dashed out to the kitchen, crossing my fingers in anticipation. Opening the old-fashioned service hatch a crack, I looked out.
The Admiral and the man had noticed each other... now, they seemed to be talking without speaking, holding each other's gaze in a pure battle of wills. Mentally, I urged them to talk to each other, to work this out.
Lauren called me from the other room, and I reluctantly headed through the door.
"What's up?" I hissed. "Things were just getting interesting!"
"Things?" she asked curiously. "What things?"
I dismissed her comment with a wave of my hand. "Oh, just - things..."
She eyed me seriously. "Have you been playing matchmaker again?" she asked severely. "We're here to serve coffee, not mess up people's personal lives."
"Oh, puh-lease, I haven't messed up anybody's life." I noticed her expression. "Well, not tonight, anyway," I amended hastily, then rapidly changed the subject. "What did you want to see me about then?"
"I've got to go home now. Charlotte will be in in ten minutes - can you hold the fort until then?"
I nodded eagerly. "You bet!"
Lauren sighed. "I was afraid you'd say that," she shuddered.
I looked put out. "And what's that supposed to mean?" I asked playfully.
Lauren just shook her head in despair and walked out. I followed her, remembering to pick up the Admiral's coffee as I went.
Walking quietly, so as not to disturb them, I placed the cup of coffee on the man's table in front of her.
"Coffee, black," I said.
However, I think she was a little too involved in kissing the man to hear me.
I love my job.