Pam was in such a daze as she walked up to the door at the Starbucks that she didn’t see the “Location Closed” sign until she was already tugging at the door. Great. This was just what she needed. It wasn’t hard enough being an aspiring freelance graphic designer working from (your parents’) home after a big breakup with your boyfriend of ten years (fiancé of three)—but now she didn’t even have somewhere to work.
Oh, sure, she could technically go work back home, but her mom and dad were both recently retired and that meant space was at a premium in the home: the breakfast nook had all her mom’s crafting supplies bursting out of it like the onions in the raised beds out back, and the den was not only already her dad’s domain but now had boxes upon boxes of fishing tackle piled on all the spare spaces that hadn’t already contained his seeming lifetime supply of Field and Stream. So there was really nowhere but the kitchen table itself or her once-and-former bedroom for her to work. The latter was too cramped for anyone over fourteen (ignore the fact that she’d lived there until eighteen and was living there again), full as it was of not only her own clothes and books and toys from childhood but all the spare things her mother had stuffed in there over the years, and the former…well, having her mother making excuses every half hour to come and check on her was more likely to make her tear her hair out in frustration than produce any actual movement on the website she was supposed to be putting together.
She could use Penny’s room when she was at her community college classes, she supposed, but ever since the perfume incident in sophomore year they’d had a tacit agreement not to occupy each other’s spaces any more than they absolutely had to.
So Starbucks it was.
Or rather, had been.
She leaned against the cool, closed door and thunked her head against the glass. What was she going to do now?
She thunked again, a little too hard this time, and opened her eyes in pain, only to catch a glimpse of a sign across the street.
“The Comedy Roasters,” it said, in big bold Papyrus font that made her cringe. “Wifi” it said underneath, in Comic Sans. It looked like the word “Free” had been crossed out, and then written in again in big block handwriting, then crossed out again and written in again.
Well, fifty-fifty odds weren’t bad—and since she felt a headache coming on, she could probably use the caffeine as well. Her mom kept slipping fives and tens into her pocket whenever she went out to work “just so you can get yourself something nice and not worry about invoices and things” so she had the money for wifi anyway, she suspected. As well as whatever they’d sell her that wasn’t coffee.
It was ironic that she spent so much time in coffee shops and hated the actual taste of coffee, but given that ‘coffeeshop’ was clearly just a stand-in for ‘place that will sell you non-alcoholic drinks,’ she wasn’t too worried. Even the ‘Roasters’ in the name didn’t mean they wouldn’t at least have tea.
She hefted her bag with her laptop in it, looked both ways, and darted across the street.
Whatever they had at “The Comedy Roasters,” it had to be better than sitting at home watching her mother crochet another grand-niece a blanket while openly inquiring about “whatever happened with you and Roy, anyway?”
She pulled open the doors and slipped into the surprisingly large and airy space of the other coffee shop.
Whoever owned the shop was clearly into stand-up comedy: there were giant pictures of Eddie Izzard, Eddie Murphy, Richard Pryor, and George Carlin, one on each wall, and the names of the drinks on the board, now that she glanced at it, were all clearly jokes of their own.
Well. Puns. Ish. On what she assumes are the owner’s or employee’s or someone’s names.
“The Schrute On Sight”
“The Great Scott!”
“The Halpert Helper”
“The Todd (Six) Packer”
“The Oscar Martinis”
The latter two names clue her in that this is that new-fangled sort of coffee shop that also has a liquor license. It’s no skin off her nose—she doesn’t really drink anymore (when she’s feeling nasty with Izzy or Penny she’ll joke that Roy got the alcoholism in the breakup) but she’s not planning to be here late into the evening when people are more likely to drink those drinks and get rowdy.
She’s just here for tea, wifi, and a space that isn’t full of a) her family, b) her family’s possessions, or c) memories she really doesn’t have time for right now.
This odd place seems to tick all those boxes, so she makes her way up to the front, where a tall, lanky man is leaning against the cash register, seemingly zoned out.
She wonders if she’s going to have to cough or tap on the counter or something to get his attention, but as soon as she walks within three feet of the register he swings up onto his feet—if she thought he was tall leaning, she now realizes he is more like a pine tree with a messy haircut—and smiles a smile that, if she were ten years younger and not relatively fresh off a breakup, would probably have had her swooning all over the gleaming wood polish of the front counter.
“Hi! Welcome to The Comedy Roasters.” Somehow she can hear the capital letters. “What can I get you?” A loud cough comes from the back somewhere—there are swinging doors to what she assumes is a stockroom or something—and he rolls his eyes. “I mean, what’s on tonight’s setlist?”
She can’t help it. She giggles. “I’m so glad you started with the first one, because I honestly would have no idea what you meant if you hadn’t.”
He grins again and she’s seriously considering that swoon despite everything. “Yeah, I know. But this place is my boss’s love child, so he wants everything done just so.” He leans slightly over the counter. “Just so you know, this is kind of a soft open.”
“What does that mean?”
He shrugs. “It means we’re open, but we’re not like open open.” He can clearly tell that this doesn’t mean anything to her, so he clarifies again. “It means we don’t have a full menu yet.” He gestures at the board. “What you see is what you get.”
“But what do I see?” She looks up at the board, which does not actually specify what any of these oddly named drinks might be. “What is a Schrute on Sight?”
“Ah.” He leans further over—now he might as well be whispering in her ear, and she finds she really, really does not mind it, even though she doesn’t even know this guy’s name—and says, with a hint of humor around the edges of the words: “You don’t want that.”
He cocks an eyebrow. “Beet juice, dark roast coffee, and simple syrup.”
She shakes her head. “You’re right. I truly do not want it. How on earth did you come up with it?”
“Thereby hangs a tale. You see, we’ve been open for three days, and we already have one regular customer.” He glances around at the empty shop as if making sure that said regular is not present. “That’s his regular order.”
“And the name?”
“He rejoices in the name of Dwight Kurt Schrute.” He grins again. “And before you ask why we have beet juice on a limited menu opening, he brought us a supply himself. Forty gallons worth. Apparently he owns a beet farm just outside town. Michael got a pretty reasonable rate, if there is such a thing as a reasonable rate for forty gallons of beet juice.”
“Michael?” She’s trying to hold onto this conversation with both hands.
“Oh, right! Michael’s the owner. I think you’re actually the first person other than Dwight who’s come in here and doesn’t know him personally.” He gestures at the board. “Oscar Martinez, the accountant at the company that owns the building who handles our account. Todd Packer, his best friend, who you should be very glad is not here. Jim Halpert, barista extraordinaire.” He winks at her, leaving no doubt as to who that is. “And of course, Michael Scott, owner/roaster.” He lowers his voice. “He insists I call him the roaster, even though I actually have to roast the beans myself.”
“A very humble man indeed.” She smiles back.
“Exactly.” They stand there smiling for a moment before she jolts into consciousness of how awkward it must seem that she hasn’t actually ordered yet. “Uh…do you have tea?”
He grimaces. “Next week? We have, uh…” he points at the board again as he lists options down the board. “Coffee, espresso, beer, gin. I guess milk? Oh, and beet juice.” He sticks a thumb behind him at what she sees is an array of syrups. “In multiple flavors. But the tea and the pastries aren’t here yet.”
“Oh.” She sizes up the menu again. “So the Halpert Helper is…”
“Four shots of espresso in a twenty ounce coffee.” She stares at him in horror and he has the grace to look ashamed. “Michael and I worked twenty-hour shifts to get this place open. He’s my dad’s best friend, so…” he shrugs. “It wasn’t always easy to stay awake.”
She nods. She can understand doing ridiculous hours of work for people she’s close to. “You mentioned milk? Can you steam that?”
“Yup.” He pops the p.
“And is that…cinnamon brown sugar syrup?” She points over his shoulder and he turns around to look, giving her a view of a very attractive back and ass.
“It is indeed.”
“Can you give me steamed milk with a pump of cinnamon brown sugar syrup?” She thinks for a moment. “Make that two pumps.”
“I can at that!” He doesn’t smile again, but the sides of his eyes crinkle upwards, and she still feels like swooning.