Lucy got out of her minivan 30 seconds before the Buick Riviera turned the corner. Even in the pre-dawn darkness, she recognized Nicholas in his land yacht. She grinned at being earlier than him for once and wracked her brain for the appropriate pop song for the moment.
On her first day when Nicholas had trained her, he looked askance at her and said “Lucy? As in “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds?”
“Guilty as charged.”
“When were you even born?”
His question struck her as interested and not impertinent, so she replied, “In the summer of ’69.” And they were off and running. Among the college kids who worked the bar, they shared a common cultural landscape and that was enough to bond them.
But 5:00 a.m. is no time for cleverness, so all she could come up with was “You left me standing in the rain.”
“First off, it’s not raining any more. Second…Husker Du? Really?”
“I got nothing. Espresso first, then witty repartee. Hey- hit me with your best shot!”
“No. You are forthwith banned from puns and lyrics until 6:00 am.”
“Grouchy. Wake up on the wrong side of the bed?”
If only he had been to bed. Nicholas loved wordplay and Lucy, but hungover didn’t begin to describe his mood. Sometimes he’d like to tell Lucy about his other life, the one that ended as the coffee shop opened, but she wouldn’t understand the darker aspects. She would think less of him and their friendship was the only thing that got him through the morning rush. “I’ll be fine once I’m caffeinated.”
Lucy was concerned for her friend. He smelled of stale cigarettes and he loathed smoking. He was also a little too musky for working in a dining establishment. She winced inside, why was she always jumping to conclusions and searching for the worst in people. Perhaps, dealing with so many benevolence concerns in New Orleans had jaded her. Everybody had a hard luck story or a gimmick to get you to part with church funds. It was her job to be a good steward and be skeptical of conmen. Nicholas didn’t know any of that. She had worked hard to let herself be “normal” here. She knew missions groups and pastors recognized her as they passed through the line, but she fought to keep the pedestal from rising up under her. Sometimes, she felt guilty and subversive, but mostly she liked having the freedom to just be “Lucy.” Her other ‘hat’ was so unnecessarily formal, that she rather liked the baseball cap she got to hide behind a few hours a day.
Morning rush was in full swing when the caramel macchiato incident occurred. Lucy had thinned the counter line to the point that she could duck over and get the syrups started on the cups she’d written. She had three cups ready as Nicholas turned back toward the syrups to do the top drizzle for two caramel macchiatos as the bottle at the espresso machine was empty. At 6’3” he didn’t see his tiny friend helping. He hit her at shoulder level, but the drinks both sloshed down her front. He let loose with his basso profundo laugh and they both lost it. Lucy had a great throaty giggle and together they were the picture of joy.
“She’s hot…sticky sweet.”
“From my head to my feet. So nasty!”
“So you’re a nasty girl?”
“All right, nutball, let me run and get a new apron from the back.”
As soon as she saw the hooks where fresh aprons usually hung, she remembered seeing Crud’s name on the schedule for closing last night. His name was really Craig, but he was dubbed Crud for trading his skanky aprons for clean ones leaving funk and patchouli behind.
Lucy walked back out front and raised her eyebrows at Nicholas.
“Crud.” they said in unison.
The line, always long before 8:00, stretched well beyond the pastry case. 17 she guessed as she hopped back to her spot behind the register.
“I’ll have a large latte. 5 shots. Half & half.” said her first customer.
Of course, he knew the real drink name, but didn’t feel faux Italian was quite manly enough for a construction foreman. As cold and wet as Lucy was, her head wasn’t in the game. “Venti, 5 shot latte. Recall. Venti, 5 shot breve…”
“I know, Lucy- Quinte venti. It’s ready.” Nicholas, as usual was on top of things.
“Yada, yada, yada, $5.72.”
Lucy smiled at one of her favorite regulars and took the cash.
They ran through the line like the well-oiled machine they were.
“Do you have an extra apron, Nicholas? C’mon and cover me.”
“In my car.” He had 3 cups lined up and he was steaming milk.
“I’ll go get it. Can I see your keys?”
He lifted them out of his apron pocket to show her, then dropped them back in.
“Ha, ha. Seriously, this is gross. Let me run and get it.”
“I’m only 3 drinks back, I’ll get it.” He knew that if Lucy caught sight of the other things in his trunk, their playful banter would be over. Lucy joked about being the white sheep in her family of misfits and malcontents. Nicholas was definitely the black sheep in his. He liked having a moment in his day where he could be fun and light and goofy. He only stayed awake to open if Lucy was working.
“I’m shivering. I got chills. They’re multiplyin’.”
“This much is true.”
“Please hurry!” She saw he wasn’t handing over the keys. What the heck could be so bad that he wouldn’t let her see it? She imagined size 14 stilettos or a case of duct tape and a ransom note. Lucy knew he was officially in New Orleans to take care of his grandmother, but based on the people that recognized him from at work, she knew he got out plenty, and with some interestingly disheveled guys. Artfully downmarket, poor-geoisie. She loved to make up stories about how they knew one another. One thing was certain, there was more to Nicholas than pop songs and coffee. “I ask myself, who’d watch out for me, my only friend, who could it be?”
“I hate to say it, I hate to say it, but it’s probably me.”