Zoe doesn’t come to the coffee shop the next day. Or the next day. Or the day after that. And it’s not just that she’s not overlapping with Andi’s shifts — she’s not coming at all, at least not to pick up her letter. Alex’s to-go sleeve with the letter folded around the inside is still there on the shelf every time Andi checks. By the end of her shift on Tuesday, another shift that has been notably Zoe-less, Andi makes a decision. She stops behind the counter on her way out and is in the process of slipping the to-go sleeve into her bag when a voice from behind her says, “You’re weak, Grenowitz.”
Resisting the urge to curse, Andi turns and straightens. Eddie’s caught her red handed. She should be ashamed. “Come on, Eddie,” she pleads. “I’m just gonna slip it to her at school tomorrow.”
“You’re weak,” he repeats.
“It’s not weak, it’s noble. I refuse to let this friendship end for want of a cappuccino!”
“Your shit,” Eddie says slowly, “is weak.” He holds out his hand expectantly.
“You just want to see Zoe drink a cappuccino because you’re sadistic.”
“I just want to maintain our policy of noninterference that you instated,” he corrects. She glares at him for another moment, and finally he says, “If she hasn’t come in by the end of the upcoming weekend, I will look the other way.”
“Magnanimous of you, oh Ruler of the Afternoon Shift,” she says sarcastically, but she hands him the to-go sleeve. Eddie gives her his trademark half-a-grin.
“And don’t you forget it.”
But she doesn’t need to worry. Zoe comes in the next day after school, heads straight for the counter, and says, “Okay. Give it to me,” like she’s asking to be punched in the face. Andi can’t help but laugh a little.
“You know it’s just coffee, right? It’s not poison?” But she makes sure to tease gently, in case Zoe’s bad day is still lingering.
“Says you,” she quips with a theatrical shudder, and Andi smiles, relieved to have the old Zoe back. “But I’m ready. Lay it on me.”
“Gotcha. One boring cappuccino coming up!”
Zoe groans. “Ugh, I regret that comment so much,” she bemoans, but she’s grinning.
“I’m supposed to insist on an apology, but I’m willing to let it slide.”
“No, no. I’m committed to the bit,” Zoe insists. “Alex says I must deliver an apology, and so I shall.” And without any hesitation, much to Andi’s shock and delight, Zoe pulls an empty chair over and stands on it.
“What are you doing?” Andi asks with a laugh. Zoe grins.
“Might as well go all out, right?” Then she turns and addresses the entire coffee shop (which, granted, is approximately ten people right now, counting the baristas, but still). “Attention please, attention please,” Zoe says in a clear voice. “The majority of you probably don’t care, but last week, I did something awful. I called the cappuccinos of Cuppa Joe’s boring. My comment was not meant as an insult or a slight against this fine establishment or the coffee connoisseurs who create works of art on par with the masterpieces of Italy. I was merely trying to call out a friend on the drabness, the dreariness, the flavorlessness, if you will, of a continued selection of cappuccino when there are so many fine beverages to choose from, and so many delightfully flavored syrups to put in them.”
Andi watches Zoe from behind the counter, shaking her head even as she grins up at the younger girl. One thing she’s always admired about Zoe Ballard — the girl is not afraid to put herself out there and risk looking silly.
“Nevertheless,” Zoe continues, “though unintended, I offered insult to you, the baristas of Cuppa Joe’s.” Here, she turns and gestures to the four baristas currently working, who have all gathered to watch her declaration. “And so to you, I most heartily and heartfeltly apologize. That is all. Thank you for your time, and have a wonderful day.”
She hops lightly to the floor while Benji and Violet and Andi applaud. Eddie, eyes shining with amusement, says, “Someone’s gonna have to clean that chair, you know.”
“Give me a rag and I’ll do it myself.”
“I’m not sure you could clean it up to health code standards.”
Zoe pretends to look affronted. “I work in the food industry, Mr. Gillespie. I know how to sanitize.” Eddie grins. “Okay,” Zoe says on a sigh. “Let’s have it.”
While Zoe was quipping back and forth with Eddie, Andi prepared her cappuccino and slipped it into the special sleeve. “Here you go,” she says, sliding it across the counter. “I even made you a leaf. Not one of my better pieces of cappuccino art, but I was working fast.”
“Well, that’s beautiful!” Zoe says, sounding genuinely delighted. “Will it make this taste any less coffee-gross?”
“Nope,” Andi says with a grin. “It’s just pretty.”
“I was afraid of that. All right. Let’s do this.” She takes a deep breath as if steeling herself. “Three sips, right? When I gave Alex a drink, that was the deal. That deal still holds, yes? Three sips?”
Andi says, “Sure,” just as Eddie says, “Nope. Whole thing.”
Andi turns to glare at Eddie. “Eddie!” she scolds.
“Look, I don’t make the rules!” he insists. “Alex gave the instructions.”
“Alex’s instructions weren’t that clear,” Andi argues.
“Alex’s meaning was clear.”
“Alex’s meaning is up for debate.”
“He said she could have the next part of the letter when she drank the cappuccino. That means the whole thing. Sorry, Zoe, but I have to stand my ground on this.”
But when they turn back to Zoe, she doesn’t look like someone who has just been told she’ll have to drink an entire cup of coffee. She’s got a soft little smile, and she looks pleased. “He?” she repeats. “Alex is a guy?”
Eddie freezes, eyes wide as he realizes what he inadvertently revealed. Andi turns toward him slowly, glaring for all she’s worth as Eddie tries to stammer out that when he said he, he didn’t necessarily mean he.
“We had two jobs, Eddie,” she says in a steely voice. “Deliver the letters as instructed and do not reveal Alex’s gender!” On each of the last four words, she smacks Eddie’s arm.
“Ow, ow, ow, ow!” Eddie complains, hunching back to get away from her. “Geez, Grenowitz!”
“Guys, it’s fine,” Zoe says with a laugh. “He was telling me himself in this letter. I needed to know for my project.”
“Then Eddie isn’t too much of a screw up,” Andi says, still glaring at Eddie.
“She still has to drink the whole thing,” Eddie says stubbornly, and Andi is about to argue the point further when Zoe interrupts.
“No, no,” she says. “I’ll do it. I accept my punishments and challenges. Just, can you brew a big mug of peppermint tea for me for after?”
“I’ll even put in two teabags,” Andi says, and Zoe looks resigned.
“That’s not boding well for me,” she mutters, then picks up the drink and takes a tiny, tiny sip. The face she pulls is hysterical. “Ugh, that’s awful. This is gonna suck.” Then she takes another deep, steeling breath, and downs the cappuccino in one go. When she’s finished, she makes a sound like a wounded, dying donkey and shudders with her whole body. “Oh God. That was disgusting.”
“That was metal,” Benji says, staring at Zoe with something like awe. “How hot was that drink?”
“I was hoping that if I scalded my mouth, I maybe wouldn’t taste the coffee as much,” Zoe admits. “But it didn’t work, and now my tongue hurts. Where is my tea?” Andi hands it over wordlessly. She takes a big sip and grimaces slightly. Then she turns to Eddie. “Okay. I apologized, and I downed one of the grossest things ever. Letter please.”
With a half smile, Eddie hands over Alex’s part two. Zoe takes the half-sheet of paper with bewildered dismay. “What?” she asks them. “All that for this?”
“When you read to the end of that,” Andi says, “please remember to be angry at Alex, not us. We are merely the messengers.”
Zoe’s eyes narrow in suspicion, but she scans the half-page quickly. When she gets to the bottom, her mouth and jaw set themselves in irritation, but her eyes are still twinkling, which Andi takes as a good sign. “Alex Whatever-your-last-name-is, I swear to God…” she mutters. Eddie opens his mouth, and Andi elbows him hard in the side before he can reveal another piece of Alex’s identity.
Zoe removes the sleeve from the empty cappuccino cup and sighs in exasperation. “Awesome,” she says, rolling her eyes. But she’s smiling, so Andi’s smiling. It’s good to have the old Zoe back. “Okay, thanks guys,” she says, picking up her tea and Alex’s letter and retreating to a table in the corner. And the coffee shop goes back to normal, the excitement for the day probably over.
But as Andi wipes down the counter and cleans the steamer wand and straightens the back shelves, she keeps finding her eye drawn to Zoe as she reads her letter. Her eyes go wide at one point. A few seconds later, she grins, looking positively delighted. Andi sees her roll her eyes and shake her head, then turn thoughtful, then light up as she finishes and immediately pull out a notebook and start to write. And Andi’s mind is working overtime. Because never, not once through the whole letter, was Zoe not smiling. And then there was that look on her face when she found out Alex was a guy . . .
Andi is jolted out of her thoughts as a voice in her ear says, “So . . . Alex and Zoe. That’s happening, right?”
Andi turns, grabs the wipe-down rag off of Eddie’s shoulder, hands it to Violet as she passes by, and says, “Take your break and come with me.”
Eddie’s eyes narrow in suspicion. “Why?”
“Because we need to talk. Meet me outside.”
Moments later, she is sitting on a stone bench outside the back entrance of Cuppa Joe’s, reveling in the sunshine. “You know,” she hears Eddie call as the door swings open and he joins her, “I’m six years older than you. I’m your boss. And yet, for some reason, I can’t help but follow the orders you give me.” He takes out a cigarette and holds it between his lips, fishing in his pocket for a lighter. “How do you manage that?”
Andi makes a face. “Okay, first of all, this?” She snatches the cigarette from him, throwing it in the nearby trash can. “Is gross.” He pouts, which is not attractive on a 23-year-old. “Not to mention life-threatening, and it’d be great if you lived past 40. And second, you’re not my boss, you’re my shift manager, sometimes. There’s a difference, even if you won’t acknowledge it. Third, that’s some soul searching you’re going to have to do on your own, given that you’re the one who comes when I call. But fourth, we are not here to talk about any of that. We are here to talk about Alex and Zoe.”
Eddie loses his pout and straightens immediately. “That’s happening,” he says, looking to her for confirmation but making it clear that regardless of her answer, he’s sure of that one fact.
“That’s totally happening,” Andi confirms without hesitation. The conversation that follows happens in rapid succession.
“It shouldn’t work.”
“It absolutely should not.”
“I don’t understand how.”
“Neither do I, they should drive each other nuts.”
“But they don’t.”
“They fit really well.”
There’s a long period of silence, then Eddie asks, “Do you think they know?”
“Oh, God no,” Andi says immediately. “They have no clue. That’s part of what is making this so fascinating to watch.”
Eddie frowns at that. “You think we’re just seeing this because we’re seeing both of them?”
“I don’t think we’re seeing anything that’s not there,” she says with certainty. “But I think we’re seeing it and they’re not because we’re seeing both of them, yeah. I mean, Alex Carter has been smiling at me. Like, genuinely. And have you watched him when he reads Zoe’s letters?”
“Are you kidding me? I watch both of them, except I don’t at all, because that makes me sound creepy.”
Andi grins. “You are a little creepy, dude. I can get away with it because they’re my peers, but you?” Eddie shoves her, and she laughs.
“Okay, so what are we talking about here?” he asks then. “Setting them up?”
Andi shakes her head. “Oh, no,” Andi says with a conspiratorial grin. “We don’t need to set them up. We’re not talking about whether this happens, Eddie. We’re talking about when.”
Andi spends most of her time thinking of Eddie with fond annoyance, a pretentious hipster who drives her nuts most of the time but for whom she holds a reasonable amount of affection, even if she has to forcefully remind herself of that on a regular basis. But then there are times like this conversation, where they get on the same page, and she remembers exactly why she likes him. Because his eyes glint and narrow and a smile creeps across his face and he says, “Why, Andrea Grenowitz. Are you thinking what I think you’re thinking?”
“Benji and Violet have both asked me if Zoe and Alex are dating,” Andi says by way of reply. “Hector made a comment last week. Joanna hasn’t said anything, but I catch her watching them. Everyone’s waiting for it to happen. So why not—”
“Set up a friendly wager?” Eddie finishes. “A barista betting pool, if you will?”
“You in?” Andi asks with a grin.
“Definitely.” The gleam in his eyes is positively frightening. “So what are you thinking? Have people play odds?”
“What do I look like, a bookie?” she asks him. “No, I have something simpler in mind.”
Ten minutes later, they have the Ground Rules in place.
They shake on them and head back in, to quietly spread the word through the employees (and implore everyone to please, for the love of God, keep this from Rachel). By the end of the week, the rules of the agreement are typed up and hidden on the shelf next to the letters, two months’ worth of dates have been claimed, and the pot is up to $86.
And the baristas of Cuppa Joe’s watch and wait.october-20-part-2