Megan discovers she isn’t alone
The Sunday before the grand opening of The Daily Grind came round. The workmen had taken down the white boards and the coffee shop’s glass frontage was gleaming at us in a sinister smile. Too nice, much like Rick himself on first acquaintance.
I was still sitting at the counter supposedly taking orders, I could walk a ways with just my knee brace but Mattie usurped me by taking orders at the tables. When I ran out of paperwork and wasn’t tutoring Mattie in the art of making drinks I was sketching out ideas for social media graphics, at Mattie’s behest.
Technically, Mattie didn’t need to be there all the time anymore but, despite the cost, we hadn’t told her not to turn up every day and she kept coming in. Our little team seemed complete with her, if she decided to go to university I wasn’t sure what we’d do. But I wasn’t sure she would, as I understood it she should’ve gone already.
A shadow crossed my pad. I clapped my hands over it and looked up. ‘Oh, it’s you.’
‘You’re upset,’ Rick said.
The room took a collective breath and for a moment it felt airless, my head light.
Instead of his double denim he was wearing a suit so sharp it could’ve given someone a papercut. He looked good, all he needed was a black eye to finish the ensemble, and it was sorely tempting.
I exhaled and the solidness of the room returned. ‘Fucking Nobel Prize winner, ain’t you?’ I pushed my pen aside, lest I stab him with it.
The conversations had died down and all the regulars were leaning in our general direction. He glanced behind him and everyone looked away, except Mattie who might’ve needed divesting of her pen.
‘I was going to tell you,’ he said.
‘That would’ve been far more convincing if you hadn’t come a week after they put the sign up. And if you hadn’t waited for Jimmy to go for his cigarette break.’ I looked him up and down. ‘I don’t suppose you’ll be taking orders yourself.’
‘Typical man, failing upwards.’
‘That’s harsh, Megs.’ He gave me a look he used when he was fighting to intimidate his opponent, a glower and set shoulders using his height and muscle mass to his advantage.
A joint. His nose. His balls. A well-placed blow could knock him down however big he was.
I folded my hands on the counter. ‘A bit like trying to put me out a job.’
His jaw flexed as he fought the urge to snap at me, God forbid he seem unreasonable to everyone else. ‘I don’t want to put you out a job. I want to offer you one.’
‘What do you earn here? Minimum wage to do all the work?’ He leaned in, rested his arms on the counter, and lowered his voice, aiming for seduction, ‘I’m offering you a job training new staff, you’d make way more than you do now, you’d be in charge, and there’s a benefits package.’
There was a murmur at my deployment of the scathing sarcasm ‘oh, aye’, Excalibur of The North.
‘Maybe we should discuss this in the back.’ He threw a look around the room.
I matched his lean and lowered voice, ‘What were you thinking of saying no-one else can hear?’
‘Nothing.’ His expression said there was definitely something, I wasn’t sure I wanted to hear it but if it was particularly bad I didn’t want him to get away with thinking it. ‘This is private business.’
‘We don’t have any “private business”.’ I straightened. ‘We’re done.’
‘I’ll let you think about it.’ He drummed his fingers on the table and made no effort to move.
‘I don’t need to.’
He raised his voice enough for everyone to hear, ‘You deserve to be paid more.’
I tucked my thumbs in my belt loops. ‘You don’t know what I’m paid.’
‘You need money.’
‘I need a job that doesn’t make me miserable.’ I looked him straight in the eye. ‘I need a partner who doesn’t make me miserable.’
The regulars clapped and I arched my eyebrows at Rick.
He opened his mouth to say something ragey then closed it again. I stared at him, daring him to say whatever it was he was thinking. The ghost of him that haunted me was a cold horror, the reality of him was pathetic and grasping.
Devon put his hand on Rick’s shoulder and Rick almost jumped out his man suit.
Devon looked up at him as placid as a lake on a windless day. ‘Megan said she’s not interested. I’d be moving on, if I were you, young man.’
Rick frowned trying to figure out if this little guy, thirty years or so old than him could take him. Unless Devon was hiding secret skills he wasn’t a match for Rick, but I didn’t put it passed Devon to be hiding secret skills.
Vincent the much bigger and bulkier on the two perched on the edge of a table nearby and crossed his arms and legs. It hadn’t struck me before quite what impressive arms he had for a man of his age.
Rick considered the room, it wasn’t only a question of whether he could take us on it was the look of the thing too. Getting in a fight with two old black guys and a little woman so pale she looked like she was made of stilton wasn’t the best image. You couldn’t play the charming, benevolent man doing things like that.
He wrinkled his nose and tugged his suit jacket straight. ‘I’ll keep the position open, call me.’ He put his card on the counter.
I picked up the card, tore it in half and dropped it in the bin with looking.
His fingers tightened on his jacket with a crack, he sucked in a breath through his nose, then left.
Vincent and Devon waited until they were sure he wasn’t coming back then went back to their game of chess at their usual table as if nothing had happened.
Mattie came up to the counter. ‘Was that your ex?’
‘What an arsehole.’
I smiled. ‘If only I’d been as wise as you when I was younger.’
She patted my arm and gave it a squeeze then put her earphones in and set about clearing tables and wiping them down.
Arsehole was an understatement. I didn’t believe he was offering me a job because he was worried about my wage packet or thought I deserved better. If he thought I deserved better he’d leave me alone.
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