Erik yawned and rubbed his eyes as he fit the key into the lock of the back door, dragging his feet to his little office and dropping his briefcase on his desk before going to the safe and checking through the starting bag from yesterday, organizing the deposit bag to bring it to the bank later. 5 might be his normal time to come in, but damn it, it was fucking early. It was amazing that even after so many years at this early bird business he had yet to actually become an early bird. It made him wonder why he didn't just listen to Emma and have one of the managers open the place up in the mornings.
He checked the schedule to see who he was working with today: Hank. Excellent. He hated talking in the morning (or any other time of the day), and Hank was so intimidated by him that he could barely get his voice box to work in his presence, so it would be a nice quiet Monday. If only everyone else would take a page from the dork's book and clam up when he was around.
"You hate people," Emma had told him when he had first decided to start this business, nearly seven years ago. "Why on earth would you set up a place for people to come to? I don't think you understand what a cafe is."
"It's a place to drink coffee," Erik had answered, rolling his eyes as he studied the paperwork on the building he had just laid down his life-savings for.
"It's a place for people to drink coffee. Don't you think you'd be happier as...I don't know...like one of those bookkeepers that lives in the basement and only interacts with people via email?
But Erik didn't want to be caged away with numbers in a basement for the rest of his life. Emma was overreacting: Erik didn't hate people. Well, okay, he did. But he wanted to hate them where they could see him, not hate them like a slug in the dirt-hidden away and ignorable.
"I don't have to hang out with anyone: I have people for that. Or, I will have people for that," he had replied, and gone ahead and done it anyway.
"What does Magda think of all this?" Emma had drawled, but it took Erik another week to tell her that he and Magda had split up. He didn't want to talk about that.
Back in the present, Erik heard the bell of the back door go off and eyed the hallway keenly to see whoever it was when they came around the corner.
"Oh, hi, Mr. Lensherr," Hank squeaked, eyes lost behind the glare of his glasses under the fluorescents.
"Hello, Hank. Here's the starting bag. Go set up the till," Erik said, tossing him the bag. Hank flinched and missed, then blushed hard before picking it back up and going to the front of the house, flicking on lights, turning on the point of sale machine.
When Erik finished up at the back he started his coffee ritual: lovingly starting the drip coffee to roast, refilling the espresso machine, organizing the wares, spot-cleaning where he thought it necessary.
At his cafe the espresso machine was treated as befit a god: carefully cleaned every single day, no matter what. The last person who had forgotten to retool the steaming wand at the end of the day had been forced to go through the whole machine with nothing but toothbrushes and Q-Tips. That had been two years ago, and Erik had never had to repeat the lesson.
Erik and Hank went around the cafe, taking down mismatched chairs, pulling back the curtains from the wall-to-wall windows. Erik was very happy with his cafe, even seven years after opening. Right on the corner, just two blocks from the university, busy, but busy with respectable, quiet people. The first year had been the hardest, not for business, business was booming (you couldn't expect less on the edge of a campus with only shitty mainstream cafes on hand, the two Starbucks on the street both only offering about twenty chairs between them. Erik offered plenty of space, plenty of power outlets, and plenty of coffee, and only needed to open his pocket when the money came pouring in. No, business hadn't been the problem at the start. Getting the right customers, now that had been the problem.
Most kids on campus had thought that the new cafe down the street was going to be a great extension to their dorm-rooms: hang out there till midnight, tell loud stories, cackle endlessly as you came down from whatever high you were on.
Erik had had to put a stop to that immediately.
Nowadays kids understood that Cafe Haifisch was not for the flippant coffee goer. If you wanted a topup on your way to class? Come on in. Had an essay to write? Perfect, enjoy your caffeine. Wanted to study quietly with friends? No place finer. Wanted to burst in in drunken glory on your way back from hitting up every single party on Greek Row? I hope you're sober enough to duck some blows, because Erik Lensherr just plain isn't going to tolerate any shit in his establishment.
He was actually well-known on campus for his menacing nature: ever since he had opened his doors and started busting loud frat-boy heads they had named him The Shark-it was the main reason he had changed the name of the cafe. Although he couldn't get rid of his German roots quite enough to call his sole business something so English. Shark Cafe also sounded like a beach moniker, so he preferred his German spin anyway.
Erik was happy, thinking of how far his establishment had come in the last few years, and whistled as he worked, which had the added pleasure of setting Hank completely on edge. Erik knew that the kid was hard-up for cash, had to be, a Senior with a full coarse load, internship on the side, a Biology major for Chrissake, working during any free time he might have had; but the kid must have been especially desperate to work with a man who apparently terrified him daily. Thank goodness the kid was good with coffee, and numbers, or his constant flinching would have forced Erik to fire him already, and tough as he was he really hated firing people.
It was just that the kids were such good kids, hardly aggravated him at all, the way most of humanity did. Sean and Alex were idiots, especially together, but they were good idiots: funny and hard-working. Angel was a step up: smart and tough as nails, was rude to customers and God did Erik love her for it. Janos and Az were his little managers, and they did a fine job of it, even if Janos was perhaps too friendly with the female customers, and even if Az had a habit of disappearing suddenly-and reappearing just as suddenly right when Erik was about to start shouting about his disappearance.
Still, Erik couldn't deny that he missed Armando a bit. He was sad that Armando had had to go and graduate, and even sadder that the idiot had decided to turn his studies into a career instead of working for Erik at a campus cafe for the rest of his life, like a good kid should.
"Time to open," Hank coughed, avoiding Erik's gaze as he jolted him out of his reveries.
Erik grunted in return and went to unlock the front door, turning the closed sign to open and standing back as the first two customers rushed in, desperately needing coffee before whatever godawful thing had gotten them up at 6am.
Erik helped out at the counter until 8 when Janos came in. If he could avoid it, Erik tried to never work alone with Janos. It probably would have been enough just that the boy was naturally talkative, and that he was even more talkative in Spanish, which Erik understood but couldn't speak. Janos did not care that Erik couldn't speak Spanish. That he could listen in Spanish was all that affected Janos. But even if this chatty behavior hadn't put Erik incredibly off, there was also the fact that Janos was convinced that Erik wanted to sleep with him.
All Janos had needed to sustain this fact was the understanding that Erik sometimes, sometimes, slept with men. From that moment on, Janos was absolutely sure that Erik was pining for him, and would never stop pining for him until Janos gave in, or until Erik died, and maybe not even then.
"You understand, Mr. Lensure," Janos said, the same way Janos always said his name, no matter how Erik tried to correct him. "I work for you. It would not be appropriate."
Erik had tried to explain at the time that even if Janos didn't work for him, Erik would never ever sleep with him, or even desire to sleep with him. Janos had pretended he hadn't understood. Things had gone on much the same way for the next four years they worked together.
The problem was that Janos knew exactly how good he looked, and, knowing this, could not believe that someone with eyes in his head and a taste for men would not want to sleep with him. It didn't help that Erik couldn't explain it to himself either. He acknowledged that Janos was attractive, that if he saw Janos in a fashion magazine he wouldn't think it remiss, but that did not translate into wanting to sleep with him.
So when Janos walked through the back door at 8 on the dot, Erik gave up the reigns to the coffee machine and went far away from him to bus tables and keep things tidy.
The morning didn't even start to get strange until he found himself standing at a table after wiping it down, staring out the window, wondering "Where? Where?" as he scanned the crowd walking the sidewalk. Then he saw him under the edge of an umbrella and with the wave of familiarity he realized he had been seeing the man for weeks, maybe even months: the floppy brown hair was commonplace now, the rosy mouth officially run-of-the-mill, the strong cheekbones with the tapered jaw now routine, and all of it striking in its direct translation into familiarity simultaneously by his head and heart.
The eyes though, when they glanced up at the clock above the drugstore across the street, would never be ordinary no matter their familiarity: a sunny, almost electric blue.
Just as quickly as he came into Erik's view he was soon out of it, and Erik was left wondering when exactly he had first seen the brunette, when he had started looking for him, and when he had managed to memorize every aspect of him.
Erik took a deep breath, a hard swallow, and checked his watch: 8:09. He would be sure to be here tomorrow at the same time, too. He didn't want to miss the only man he had looked twice at (or twenty times) in nearly a year.