The first day they met was an epic disaster.
Aleks cursed at the male barista behind the cash register for receiving the wrong coffee—decaf instead of his usual double shot espresso. He yelled so much that tears began to run down the young worker’s face before she appeared. In a flurry of wild red hair and jangling bangles, she swept the poor barista aside and stood firmly on the other side of the counter with a wide smile. “What seems to be the problem, sir?”
He yelled at her too. Something along the lines of “liquefied crap for coffee,” and “I know animals that are better trained than all of you!” She continued to smile and nod, her bracelets rattling when she lifted her arm to brush a red curl from her eyes. Aleks walked away with a free espresso to down on the long subway ride to his work and a scowl that dissuaded everyone from getting too close.
The second day they met was barely any better.
Aleks had been the unlucky customer behind the one that complained this time. He tapped his foot impatiently, checking the large face of his watch every ten seconds, while the woman in front of him screeched about having the wrong muffin. He had almost been forced to leave without his coffee when a red blur shot past him.
He blinked, and there was the young woman, smiling and gently pushing another barista to the back as she solved the problem. He stepped up after the irate woman left with a muffin to her satisfaction, and the red headed barista took his order with the same smile. He left the café without pause, hurrying to catch the subway on time.
The third day they met was on a good day.
Aleks had woken up when his first alarm rang; he had hot water to shower with instead of the perpetual cold; and no one had stopped him on the way down from his apartment to yell about rent.
He entered the café a full half hour early, when only the early birds managed to wake up enough to venture out for their morning cup of energy. She stood behind the cash register with a pen balanced in one hand and a notebook in the other.
She put them away and smiled when Aleks stepped up to place his order. He barely glanced at her as he rattled off his order, and he accepted the insulated cup with the same amount of care.
The tenth day they met was different.
Aleks stepped up to order his coffee when the red head said, “The usual, right?”
He blinked and stared at her, but she moved to fix his double-shot espresso without another word. He stood in silence and listened to her bangles while she flowed behind the counter. He paid for the coffee after her prompting and walked out without pausing to check if the order had been made correctly.
The twentieth day they met, he asked her a question.
“How long have you worked here?”
The barista continued to punch his order into the cash register, and Aleks handed over his credit card when she held out her hand. She swiped it on the machine and gave it back to him. “A year now. I need you to sign this.”
Aleks took the pen she offered and scribbled on the small slip of paper she slid towards him. “That’s not possible. I’ve never seen you before a few weeks ago.”
She took the paper and pen and stashed them beneath the counter. She slid his espresso across the counter for him to take and smiled, her bracelets tinkling together. “You just never looked.”
Aleks glanced down at the nametag pinned to her apron before he stepped aside for the next customer. Corrinne gave the same smile to that customer, and Aleks left to catch the subway.
The thirtieth day they met, Aleks used her name.
Corinne paused for a short moment, folding the slip of paper he signed to store it away. Her smile slightly fell before lifting again. “You’re very welcome, sir.”
“Aleks. You can call me Aleks.”
“Well then, you’re very welcome, Sir Aleks.”
Aleks almost missed the subway because he stayed for a second cup of espresso.
The forty-fifth day they met, it was at a different time.
Aleks arrived at the café much later than usual. His alarm had not gone off that morning, and he had been unable to visit the café for his usual. He had watched the clock all day and clocked out the moment it turned five o’clock. The subway had been cramped, per usual, but he had stepped off one stop before his apartment.
Corrine stood outside the café when he arrived and looked up at the sound of her name. She didn’t smile, and the bangles didn’t chime when she deliberately moved her arms to lock the door. Aleks gasped for breath, having run all the way from the subway, and he swiped a hand across his brow. “Sorry I’m late.”
The woman tilted her head to the side and crossed her arms. “I thought you had found a different café.”
Aleks smiled, which spurred a small smile to cross Corrinne’s lips. “None of the other cafes know my usual.”
The seven-hundred and fifty-fifth day they met, it was in a different place.
Aleks stood at the end of the long aisle and attempted to stand still. The high collar he wore itched, and the long sleeves of his suit jacket made the heat of the large room all the more uncomfortable. He could feel the eyes of everyone sitting on either side of the room on him.
They turned as the organ behind him began to play. Aleks stood straighter as the door at the end of the aisle swung open. Three couples walked down the aisle, but it was the last pair that held his attention. Corrine returned his large smile from the arm of her father as she marched down the aisle in time to the organ.
Aleks held out his hand when she reached him, and the colorful bracelets he had given Corrine over the past two years jingled.