Listen, this isn’t going to be a popular statement.
Let’s get it out in the open.
I hate coffee.
After a day in the shop, I can get used to the smell. But the taste? I’ve tried a hundred different roasts, it’s all bad.
I’m also not a morning person, which probably won’t be as controversial. I loathe the predawn hours. Nobody should ever be awake for them unless they’ve stayed up all night at a great party. I did not stay out all night for a great party. I went to bed early because I had to be up early. Them’s the breaks when you work at the only coffee shop in town.
You think my life doesn’t make sense? You don’t make sense. Also, you’re right.
The damp summer air settles over my shoulders like the hands of a customer who wants to ask me on a date but shouldn’t. I shrug down into my hoodie once more. It’s soft and comfortable, like a bed. I would give anything to crawl back into bed. But the shop opens in half an hour, and I’m the only one to run it, so all naps are postponed until further notice.
I take a final cleansing breath of the lightly scented air in my car. It’s creepy out there, and dark, so I remind myself again how much I love and adore my aunt and uncle, Lakewood’s beloved Lisa and Fred.
One, two, three. I grab the handle and jump out like I’d jump into the lake if I was the kind of carefree person who’d leap in like that.
They’ve been waiting for me, the regulars. Their early morning lives are so devoid of other rituals that all they can do is get into their cars and cruise down the silent streets of Lakewood toward the shop. Sharks. Sharks in the night who’ve scented blood. Coffee blood.
Maybe not sharks. I’m still half-dreaming.
In my wildest dreams, Medium Roast is a well-maintained paradise. By paradise, I mean that it’s stocked with all the things you need to run a coffee shop. Top of the list? Coffee. If you give a barista coffee, she’ll ask you for some decent to-go cups in different sizes. If you give her those to-go cups, she’ll ask you for lids to match the cups. Then you can laugh in her face, because what kind of coffee shop has all those items at the same time?
Not Medium Roast.
I know what you’re thinking. How could a coffee shop run out of coffee?
It’s not a riddle, but I still don’t know the answer. It’s probably filed away with the answer to how could I end up running a coffee shop in Lakewood instead of doing literally anything else with my life?
I love Medium Roast. I love it almost as much as I love my aunt and uncle. I’d do anything for them, which is the truth behind the question. I run this shop because I owe them one. I owe them several. What’s six months of putting off my illustrious career as a photojournalist to keep this store above water for my favorite relatives? Nothing, in the grand scheme of things.
Not like I can pursue that career. Not after what happened. Not now, at least.
Across Main Street a car’s headlights flick on, illuminating the empty spots in front of him. Lou Brewer is parked in front of the storefront that’s been under construction at least six times since I was in school. A fresh round began a few months ago. He’s not here to rubberneck at the new drywall.
“Yeah, I see you,” I grumble under my breath, and reach into my purse for the keys to the shop.
* * *
The morning standoff begins.
The regulars, out there in their cars, stalking the perimeter, want me to open the shop early.
I want to open the shop at six-thirty. That’s what the sign on the door says.
They never want to respect the sign. That’s what coffee does to you. Eventually, you need it so much that you’re willing to park in front of a shop and watch a woman inside try to brew coffee in the dark. Turn the lights on early? Oh, no. That’ll have them over here even faster.
I lock the door behind me and take five big, deep breaths. Might as well get the acclimation process over quickly. Okay—it’s not so bad when it’s in the air and the bags of roasted beans. But late at night, when I get a whiff of it in my hair despite having washed it twice after I close? Gross.
First, grind the beans, shattering the silence of the shop. Outside in their cars, the regulars are probably sniffing the air. It’s coming. They sense it.
Tip the grounds into the filter. Filter into the brew basket. Turn it on.
My aunt and uncle would have thrown the doors open early. I’m a good person, but here in Lakewood, they’re revered as saints. You’d have to be one to let people into your shop at the asscrack of dawn because they flick their headlights on and off a few times.
I dig my phone out of my purse and perch it on the counter, in a back corner where I can still see it. Six twenty-eight a.m.
The coffee starts to come through the filter, layering Medium Roast with that freshly brewed scent. I can see the appeal. I, too, am addicted to things. Like Netflix, library books, and never knowing quite how to act.
The car’s headlights go back off. Six-thirty, on the dot, that’s when Lou’s hand will be on the handle of the door. Walt O’Hannigan, who’s probably locked and loaded for his daily gossip rounds, will be right behind him. And Mary Marshé will be here either before or after her yoga class. Probably both.
I spin a portafilter into my hand and lift my chin, stalking toward the door with my head held high.
For one more moment, it’s dark. I breathe it in.
We are all frozen, waiting for the battle horn to sound.
I bring my hand up, flipping on all the switches for the lights and the signs. Light explodes out onto the sidewalk. I’m the first shop on Main Street to open on the last day before all the tourists start arriving for the summer.
Let the onslaught begin.