May I Help You?

By Lisa Rodriguez

Leah’s first year working at Mocha Cow flew by with lattes and chicken salads. The second year was decent, although not as smooth. Now at the start of the third year, Leah woke up to an itch at the nape of her neck. Like everyone else would, she ignored it and was ready for her shift by 11 am.

“May I help you?” She asked her first customer of the day, a lanky, gray-haired man.

“House, two shots.”

“Can I interest you in a new Christmas coffee flavor?”

“No, just the coffee.”

“How about a grilled cheese?”

The man’s nostrils flared. “I want my coffee without being interrogated.”

Leah’s left eye spasmed for a moment. “Of course.” She poured the coffee and added two shots.

“Here’s your damn two shots!” Leah threw the scolding drink in his face. It sizzled on his skin like an egg in a frying pan, the sound matched by his agonizing screams. Blood spots formed. Watching, her lips curled into a smile.

Leah blinked, breaking her stare.

“Have a pleasant day, sir,” she said, handing him his drink. Turning his nose up, he left, and Leah reached around and scratched the nape of her neck.

“Excussseee meeee,” the bushy-haired woman said, tramping through the store about mid-day. She stared at Leah under fake lashes.

“Can I help you?” Leah asked.

“Do you have anything low cal?”

It’s possible to make any drink with low fat or fat-free milk.

“Uhhh, what do you suggest?”

“Did you want a coffee base?”

The customer stared at Leah again.

“Well, how ‘bout a nonfat mocha latte?”

She shook her head.

“A blended coffee with light milk?”

She crinkled her nose.

Leah glanced past the woman. The line was growing. “I’ve had customers ask for the Honey Berry Cold Brew, and it’s only 120 calories.”

The woman pretended to shoot a gun.

“Coming right up ma’am.” She poured the drink, making it extra frothy.

“That’ll be $5.80.”

“I’m not paying. It’s ice cold.” She used her long nails to push it away. “I wanted a hot drink.”

“But I said it was Cold Brew.”

“Just give me a Flat White and hurry. I’m gonna be late.”

Leah bit her lower lip. A slight metallic taste entered her mouth. “Right away.”

After adding the coffee, Leah turned to the milk steamer. Her left hand automatically fell to the temperature knob. Without hesitation, she adjusted the temperature until the side display showed 193 degrees and then finished the hot drink.

“Here you are.” She put the lid and sleeve on the cup. “Sorry about the mix-up.”

The woman snatched the drink. “You should be.”

Leah watched the woman leave the café with her cup before she reached around and scratched her neck again. Something wet touched her fingers. She pulled her hand back to see a few droplets of red smeared on their tips. Leah gasped at first, but then smiled and washed her hands. No more blood.

“Five minutes left,” Becky, Leah’s coworker, said from over the counter.

Leah stopped sweeping. “Go ahead. It started snowing. Ella will wander where her mommy is.”

Becky nodded. “I owe you. I put away the food and the coffee and tea makers are clean. You should be good.” She hung her apron, clocked out, and put on her coat. But stopped at the door. “You okay, Leah?”

“Yeah, why?”

Becky shrugged. “It was a rough day, so checking on ya.”

Leah nodded. “Nothing a little extra sleep won’t fix, and a shot of vodka.”

“Right!” Becky laughed and left for the night.

Three minutes later, a stocky guy dressed in layers opened the door. Leah checked her watch: 7:58.

“Can I help you?”

“Yeah love, a Cuban, halved.”

“We close in two minutes, sir. I’ve already put up the food.”

His eyes narrowed. “That’s two minutes to make my Cuban, isn’t it?”

Leah groaned and walked back to the fridge, grabbing what she needed for the sandwich. The man made himself at home, taking a seat at the nearest table and propping his feet up.

“Pimp-Dad, how’s it hanging?” The customer chatted on his phone. His back towards her. “Yeah, just grabbing a bite. Some dump of a diner.”

The toaster oven dinged, and Leah grabbed the sandwich, placing it on a plate to cut.

“No, totally not. More like homely. She’ll probably poison me. I made her do her job.”

His hyena laugh filled the empty café as Leah switched the neon open sign off and walked to his table. Her right hand, with knuckles turned white, still held the 10-inch chef knife she used earlier. Her neck, free of itches. She closed her eyes. She always hated the sight of blood.

                                                   *   *   *

Lisa Rodriguez lives with her family on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, in Washington. Although a new author, she has enjoyed writing thrilling stories for her friends for a while. When not traveling due to the military, she likes to drink coffee, travel and watch horror movies.

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