Kassandra turned from the espresso machine at the sound of the bell that hung over the door, and saw Alison enter. Although they were in different departments at the university, the two had a nodding acquaintance on campus, and were friendly at the coffee shop. “Hiya,” Kassandra said, relieved to have a customer. She didn’t loathe cleaning the grinders and machines, but she didn’t love those tasks, either. Not the way she loved interacting with her regulars. “Need a caffeine fix for that thesis?”
Alison nodded. “Um, sure. Caffeine, definitely, anyway. The thesis? Maybe not.”
“It is an awfully nice day. Hard to focus on something that requires a lot of reading.” Kassandra rarely challenged her customers to feel or think in ways other than they appeared to want to feel or think. This ability to harmonize with their desires was one of her secrets to keeping them as regulars. No one wants a dose of judgement with their coffee and pastry, Kassandra thought. “What can I make for you?”
Alison’s eyes flicked to the menu, as if to check the options, though she ordered one of the two or three drinks in her regular repertoire. “Chai tea, I think.”
“Spicy or sweet?” Kassandra smiled, knowing the answer.
“Spicy, please.” Alison returned the smile.
Most of Kassandra’s regulars were like Alison: they ordered the same things, came in around the same times, wore the same winter boots or spring scarves. Kassandra loved their predictability. She knew their attitudes were predictable, too. One would be grumpy in the morning, sweet in the afternoon. Another would never be satisfied with the first drink, always returning it as “not quite right.” Most would be distracted with their thoughts or their smart phones, rarely making eye contact with their barista. A few would hold long conversations, ostensibly with her, but in reality, with themselves, while she listened and smiled.
Occasionally, a regular would surprise her. Kassandra loved this, too. In her eyes, human beings were infinite in the ways they could entertain her.
She felt this surprise now, as Alison walked to the stand holding free publications, and picked up a glossy local real estate magazine to peruse while she sipped her spicy Chai tea.
I never would have guessed that, Kassandra thought, I had her pegged for getting out of town as soon as she graduates and that boyfriend of hers finally pops the question.