The first customer that morning, the one Kassandra smiled and welcomed even though he arrived half a minute before the coffee shop truly opened, was a tall, angular young man she did not recall serving before.
A new neighbor, she pondered, or someone passing through?
The young man brushed wet snow off his jacket and smiled at her in a way that made her want to harden her own. Kassandra knew people, or so she flattered herself, and something about this person put her guard up.
“Well,” he said in response to her inquiry, “I can think of many things I’d like to try.” Kassandra flicked her eyes to the big chalkboard menu, hoping he meant items on its list. “What would you recommend? Is there a specialty of the house?”
Most of the time, if a new customer asked a question like that, Kassandra would respond with a variation on her theme: our specialty is making the drink you want, or we specialize in service with a smile. But she didn’t want to engage this new customer that way, and Kassandra had learned to trust her instincts.
“Our dark coffee is nice – really rich, but smooth, too, not too bitter.” Kassandra held his gaze without giving away her inner discomfort. Or so she hoped. It was rare that a customer triggered this kind of business-like demeanor in her. She wondered why he had.
“Then I’ll have one,” he answered. “The largest size you have. Do you call them large, or grande, or something else? It’s always tough for me to learn the language of a new barista.”
“One large dark drip, coming right up. Here’s the cup, and you can fill it over there,” she pointed to the drip station. “Cream, milk, almond and soy, if you want, and of course lids and sleeves.”
The angular young man filled his cup and did not dilute the dark brew with anything. He sipped from the cup, holding it without a sleeve. Kassandra knew how hot it was, and realized he was sending a message.
“Perfect,” he said, with the same unsettling smile. “I’m glad to know the barista in my new neighborhood is so good.”
As he exited, Kassandra made a mental note. Twice he’d referred to the “barista” instead of the coffee shop. She turned to see if her co-worker had seen the interaction, but Melissa was just then coming out of the store room.