That short man who walked with his belly thrust forward as if he had a body to be proud of was her most hated customer. He had smooth dark hair. The skin around his lips stretched too far trying to cover his oversized teeth, making him look as if he was about to vomit. His condescending attitude invited her to smack him.
He treated her like his personal assistant. “I so appreciate your expert touch on my cappuccinos, Angela.” He said it every day. As if he’d read a book instructing him how to make the people who waited on him feel valued.
Working in a coffee shop was humiliating enough, she didn’t need his attitude. Not that there weren’t any humiliations when she had a well-paid corporate job. Those humiliations were small and forgotten now. She hadn’t thought it was a big deal to enjoy a little E — everyone else at the trade show party was oozing with alcohol. She didn’t think they’d notice, and if they did, they wouldn’t really care. She was wrong. And now she got to mix coffee drinks and wipe down brushed steel machines for a living.
The man strutted directly to the coffee delivery area. “Angela, you gave me the wrong change this morning.” He waved two five dollar bills and a few singles at her. “I gave you a fifty, this should have been two twenties.”
“No, you didn’t.”
“Yes, I did.”
“I leave the large bills out before I make change. Besides, you would have said something.”
“I was on the phone.”
“You gave me a twenty.”
“It was a fifty.” He waved the bills again, as if he was passing a flag in front of a bull’s face, enticing it to charge.
“I gave you the right change, sir.” She leaned hard on the S as she said it, but he didn’t seem to notice. Too busy being right.
“It’s easy enough to look in the drawer, see if there’s a fifty.”
“I’m not on the register now, I’m serving drinks. I know I’m right.”
“Should I call your manager?”
She looked at his smug face, his up-tilted chin. She wiped her hands on her apron. She went the register and told Danny she’d take over again. Danny moved to the coffee area and she opened the drawer. She could feel the man watching, that pulled skin over his teeth, stretching his face into an oblong shape. She lifted the cash tray to check underneath where all the bills larger than twenties were kept. There was a lone fifty dollar bill.
No one was waiting for coffee. She stepped away from the register and turned her back toward the coffee shop. She stood close to Danny and spoke softly. “Did anyone give you a fifty today?”
“I don’t think I’ve ever even seen a fifty. I would have remembered.”
Angela walked slowly back to the register. The man had moved closer, one soft, white, female-looking hand pressing on the counter as he tried to assume a casual pose. “Well?”
“I guess I made a mistake,” Angela said.
She opened the drawer and took out a twenty and a ten and held them out to him. “Here you go.”
He didn’t take the cash.
“Here’s your change,” she said.
He reached out and touched the bills. “My correct change.”
“Yes. I said I made a mistake.”
He smiled triumphantly and pulled the cash slowly from her fingers. “Don’t look so worried. You’re still my favorite Barrista.” He shoved the bills in his pocket. “See you tomorrow when it’s time for my cappuccino.” He left.
Angela signaled Danny that he could resume his place at the register. She walked to the drink prep area and put her hand in her pocket. She fingered the tablet of E wrapped in plastic. She was pretty sure a cappuccino was strong enough to hide the bitter taste of E.