Cornelius leaned against the counter. It was a cold morning, the clouds dark and swollen with thunder and rain. He huffed, sending up a lock of hair. His joints were stiff, so he stretched, but it did no good. He looked around, the cafe void of life save for their usual customers–the man with the broad hat and Sherri’s cat. There was the sound of the man clacking away at his old laptop, accompanied by the occasional, irritated huff he would give out. Cornelius eyed the man at his table. Papers were spread all over it, pens and highlighters of various colors scattered across the mess. The man’s mug of coffee sat on the papers, leaving rings wherever he set it down. They were always fresh rings, which meant, somehow, the man processed through the work and produced more each day. His laptop sat atop it all, boxy and with a dull sheen on the screen.
The young man had tried to catch a glimpse at what the man worked on. But apparently they made screen protectors to fit the behemoths of the 90s, and the man’s handwriting was a mess. Besides, Asher was annoyed Cornelius had tried to sneak a look anyway. What good did it do them to scare off what few reliable customers they had?
Cornelius sighed and looked at the Greyhound schedule they had pinned behind the counter. It was going to be making a stop soon, which meant all the crazies, weirdos and displaced were showing up in an hour. Asher was supposed to be back from his break by then, and Sherri and Marcelo were supposed to be clock in before that, which would mean he wouldn’t be alone for the chaos.
The bell tinkled, snapping Cornelius from his brooding thoughts and stance.
“How can I help you?” He relaxed, realizing it was Sabrin.
The young man held up his hands. “Whoa, now.” He crossed his arms. “Can I get a bit more doom and gloom in that please?”
Cornelius snorted and reached for a tray. “Here to pick up orders for Nick and Oceana too?”
“You got it.”
The man in the corner coughed. It echoed.
“Anything good come in lately?” Cornelius asked over the roaring hiss of the steamer.
“Nope,” Sabrin sighed. He slipped his hands into his pockets. “Unless you’re a highschooler.”
“Yeah. We got that stuff.”
“I’ll pass,” grumbled Cornelius. He grabbed the whip cream. “Is Oshi gonna want extra too or is she actually cutting back this time?”
Sabrin snorted. “Customers were shitty to her today. Give her extra.”
Cornelius grabbed another large cup. “Pretty sure they treat her like crap cuz they know she’s actually from over here.” He grabbed the tube of sprinkles while coating the bottom of the cup with cinnamon-flavored syrup.
“Oh, probably. Doesn’t help she knows how to act like the kinda clientele they want. So, y’know, that probably pisses them off more. Us lowly, poor folk knowing how to blend in.”
“Can’t have that, can we?” Cornelius rolled his eyes.
“How’re classes?” Sabrin asked, clearly changing the topic.
“Eh.” He shrugged, handing Sabrin the first drink. “Papers are due, tests are coming up. The usual.”
“Any idea where you wanna transfer out to?”
Cornelius let out a sharp laugh. “Got any idea what I’d be good for other than brooding behind counters?”
Sabrin looked up. “Could take the circus class and try the rafters.”
Cornelius poured the milk. “Wait, they’re offering actual circus classes?”
“That’s what I hear–are you actually considering it?”
The student shrugged. “Like I got much else going for me?” He topped the drink with extra whip cream. “Might get me outta here. Never know.”
“Hey, don’t give me that look. Unlike you, I was kinda born here y’know.”
In the corner, the man let out another cough. Sabrin turned to look at him this time. “Hey, mister, you alright? That sounded chunky.”
The man looked up at him. “I’ll be sure to get cough drops,” he said drily.
Cornelius rose an eyebrow.
Sabrin leaned over. “That guy gives me the creeps,” he whispered.
“He’s not that bad,” Cornelius replied. “C’mon. Stick around for the real show. Bus is coming by today, y’know.”
“It’s not that bad, you know.” Sabrin said, straightening up.
Cornelius pushed down on the peppermint pump. “It’s gonna rain. They’re gonna be here all day and it’ll be a pain to close.”
“But you aren’t closing today.”
“I might if they end up shorthanded.”
Sabrin frowned again. “I’ll see if Amelia can get you a ride, then, so you don’t have to use your bike.”
Cornelius’s cheeks heated up. “That’s not necessary–”
“Dude, I don’t feel like having somebody mess up my drink tomorrow.” He then grinned.
“Oh my god. And here I thought you cared about me.” Cornelius topped the drink off with maple leaf shaped sprinkles. “There. Take your diabetes tray.” He handed the drinks to Sabrin. “It’ll be thirteen-twenty.”
“Aww, you do care–discounted still.”
“Yeah, yeah. Careful or else everyone here’ll find out I’m not a heartless bastard.”
Sabrin reached into his pocket and pulled out his beaten wallet. He flipped it open, his driver’s license on one side, a picture of him, Oceana and Nick all piled onto a poor Santa’s lap. “I see the tip jar’s been decorated for the season. The bats are a cute touch.”
“Thanks. Marcelo’s idea.”
Sabrin threw in a $5. “See ya later.” He pulled up his hood as he walked away.
The bell tinkled again.
Cornelius watched him through the fogging windows. He sighed and leaned against the counter again, trying to fend off the feelings that were bubbling beneath the surface.
He shook his head. The man was an idiot. Who the hell comes to this town to live? Especially this part of town. Hell, they were all idiots. Admittedly Cornelius couldn’t think of a time when Nick and Oceana hadn’t lived in the area, but Sabrin was new. Somehow. Cornelius wasn’t sure, but somehow he could just tell that man wasn’t supposed to belong yet did.