The Ultimate Customer

It’s 12:20pm and time for the lunch rush at the coffeehouse, usually a two or three person job (bare minimum) but it’s change-over weekend (between sessions) on campus and raining out, so my boss bugged out early and I’m all alone. I’ve been on the clock all of twenty minutes and that’s when the rush starts. Ninety minutes, $250 in sales, and fifteen sandwiches later, I seem to be in the clear for the lunch orders but the line’s building up again for drinks.

I’m still having fun but I’m crudely aware of the fact that I need to eat my own lunch, or put some sugar in my body quick, or else I’ll be bitch-barista in T-minus fifteen minutes and counting. And that’s when I hear it, a crackly edged voice like no other—some customer shouting at me from the middle of the line. My back is turned when the woman first starts talking, my hands busy pumping syrups for a blackberry-lime Italian soda.

“Excuse me. EXCUSE ME!” I hear her shout. The hair on the back of my neck stands up on end.

“Excuse me! Can I get an iced DECAF coffee?” Her voice again. This time, like nails on a chalkboard.

I sense a collective wave of chi-shock spread throughout the room and even before I turn to face the perpetrator, I’m counting to ten under my breath. No one, I mean no one, speaks in that tone in this coffeehouse. Not at the craft school. Not on this mountain. Not to our staff. Ever.

But when I turn around, all I see are the quick moves of a woman darting from the line, around the display case, and behind the counter. She leaps into my arms all laughter and green eyes, and that’s when I realize her joke.

It’s Amy Jacobs! A former core student at the craft school who I haven’t seen in two years. Our last occasion for a beer together after hours? When we both received our acceptance letters to graduate school, mine in Oregon and hers a full ride to a top Chicago art school plus an assistantship and stipend. She’s back on campus for two weeks and there is so much to catch up on!

The customers in line laugh with relief as they realize the rude woman is actually my friend and not rude at all, her face lit with nostalgia and her great, great smile just like I remember. Quickly, she hops back into the line so I can serve the waiting crowd, but when she gets to the counter again, she doesn’t even have to order. I remember her drink with pride: iced coffee with an inch and a quarter of room for cream, to go, please.

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