Loyalty Love – a short prize winning story about a guy falling in love with a coffee stall barista

a couple of years ago

Loyalty Love is a short story about a guy who falls in love with a coffee stall Barista. But disaster strikes with every stamp of his loyalty card. This story won the Cazart short story competition.

The station platform was crowded. The pigeons in the rafters cooed above an ant’s nest of early morning commuters weaving a pattern of winter coated confusion. In the midst of the workers was a young man on a mission. Brian was in love. In love with a beautiful barista who served him coffee with a smile from the Espresso Booth on platform nine. He didn’t know her name. He hadn’t told her his. He hadn’t plucked up the courage to utter anything more than his order. But today was different. Today he would speak. He would ask her name.

As he joined the coffee queue, he could see her smiling at every customer in turn. His glasses began to steam up from his hurry through the crowd and his burning need to make himself known to this girl who filled his dreams night and day. His turn had come, it was now or never.

“Latte, please. Large one.” It was all he could manage.

“Do you have a loyalty card?” she said with practiced patience.

This was it, Brian’s chance to speak.

“A what?” was all he could manage.

“A loyalty card?” said the blonde barista with her best customer service smile, “collect all the stamps for a free coffee.”

Her soft green eyes patiently waited for their answer behind a veil of coffee scented steam.

“No, I’m sorry I don’t have one.” He vaguely patted his pockets.

She dealt Brian a loyalty card from the dispenser like a croupier dealing a winning ace and stamped it with the authority of a border guard.

She dealt Brian a loyalty card from the dispenser like a croupier dealing a winning ace and stamped… Click To Tweet

Brian remained transfixed, until shoved out of the way by the next caffein starved commuter, a suave City type, all Armani and iPad.

“Grande Latte as skinny and hot as your sweet self, babe,” said Slick Suit.

Brian was still clutching his love at first loyalty card, unable to take his eyes off the young lady who had just served him. Slick Suit waved his hand in front of Brian’s face.

“Hello, anyone there?” he said with two lumps of sarcasm.

“I’m sorry.”

“Yes, I think you are.”

Brian was about to reply when the public address announced that he would miss his train if he lingered any longer.

“Next,” called the girl.

 

The following morning, scrupulously shaved and scented, Brian scuttled bright eyed along the station concourse, loyalty card burning a hole of anticipation into his sweaty palm. Today he would definitely ask her name. As he turned onto the platform he could see the beautiful barista in her coffee booth, shining like a freshly baked pastry. She was the yeast in Brian’s dough and he was desperate to rise to the occasion.

The customer in front of Brian moved away and she beamed a ‘you’re next’ smile in Brian’s direction. Completely under her spell he failed to notice the old man who had strayed innocently between him and the counter.

“Excuse me young man, is this the platform for the City?”

“Er yes, yes it is.”

While Brian’s eye was momentarily off the ball, Slick Suit appeared, as if beamed down from the planet Pin Stripe, and slipped in front of Brian.

 

“Skinny Latte, babe,” and turning to Brian, “sorry old man, frightful hurry, big meeting, don’t mind do you?”

Brian couldn’t explain just how much he minded, before Slick had swept up his cup, slipped a silent tip into the gratuity bowl and slithered away to the waiting 07:30.

“Next,” came the Siren call.

Regaining his crumpled composure, Brian smiled, hoping to see a response that broke the mask of her well worn routine. But all he got was a hiss of scalding steam.

“Large latte please.”

“Anything else with that?”

Desperate to make conversation and sensing behind him the hot breath of the impatient queuers, he scanned the counter for inspiration.

“Chocolate bar,” he blurted.

“That’s £4.99,” she demanded, offering a delicate but coffee stained palm for the cash.

Brian slipped a fiver and his loyalty card across the counter.

“Put the penny in the cup.”

“Why thank you,” she replied with what Brian thought was just a coating of sarcasm, but she stamped his card like a teacher giving a gold star. “And don’t forget your chocolate,” she pushed the card and the chocolate towards Brian.

“Oh no… that’s for you,” he said, pushing the confused chocolate bar back towards her, “I’m sorry I don’t know your name?”

“Why thank you,” she said in a softer tone, flashing slightly embarrassed, long lashed eyes at Brian. “That gets you an extra stamp.”

“Oh I wasn’t angling for…”

He stopped mumbling as she reached for a small card. She wrote her name on the bottom and his composure dissolved faster than a marshmallow on hot chocolate.

“Would you fill in the online customer service survey for me? That’s me, Suzie.”

“Er yes, sure… Suzie.”

A loud whistle blew time on Brian’s bumbling as the train guard called him back to his senses and he dashed for the nearest closing door. Brian couldn’t see, but her gaze lingered on his train as it clanked out of the station.

“Next.”

 

As the sun rose on the following day, it burned through the glass of the station roof and glinted from the shiny pinnacle of Brian’s freshly gelled hair. Buoyed by the previous day’s extra stamp of encouragement, he had brewed a plan to give the gorgeous girl his phone number. He shuffled forwards in the coffee queue and nervously extracted the paper with the phone number from his wallet. Brian had never given a girl his number before but the sight of Slick Suit one step ahead of him, already waiting for his order, stiffened his resolve.

A train pulled in to the platform and with a whoosh of pneumatic doors disgorged a torrent of humanity. Jostled by the crowd, Brian lost his grip on the precious note. It fluttered through a forest of marching legs like an autumn leaf. Slick Suit, noticing Brian’s loss, stooped down and retrieved the phone number and slipped it into the pocket of his silver threads.

Unconscious to all but the latte in hand, the queen of Brian’s heart had her back to the counter, searing milk with scientific precision. With her attention diverted, Brian seized the moment and scribbled his phone number hastily on a serviette.

 

Turning to deliver Slick Suit’s Skinny Latte, she recognised Brian and slipped him a two shot smile that boiled his blood hotter than a Mocha.

“Grande Latte?”

“Please.”

Slick lingered at the counter, casually pocketing his own loyalty card and stirring his drink with a thin wooden stick. As she handed over the drink Brian passed her the serviette. Her red finger nailed hand reached out to take it.

“Ow what do you think you are doing?” she squawked as Slick knocked his scalding Skinny all over the counter, engulfing the soft paper, washing out Brian’s number and expectations in one go.

“Oh sorry babe, clumsy of me, here let me make it up to you,” he slipped his business card over the counter.

“Dinner on me. The least I can do. Call me.” He looked triumphantly down his nose at Brian and slithered off.

Inattentive and unaware, the never ending queue of coffee zombies lumbered forward, blocking Brian from the tiny serving space of the coffee booth counter. Love’s labour was lost on a frothy cappuccino sea leaving Brian stranded on the tide line of hope.

“Next.”

 

All that day, Brian stared at the loyalty card propped against his computer screen. The coffee company stamps dissolving into the face of the woman who squeezed his heart in a panini press of infatuation. As he stared, her lovely face morphed into the sickening sneer of Slick Suit. The vision of his arch enemy knocked him off the battlements of his castle-in-the-air making Brian thump the desk with his fist so hard his Gonk fell off the computer monitor and into his coffee, like a green haired plastic Acapulco diver.

 

“That’s it,” exclaimed Brian in a louder than expected voice.

 

An array of heads popped up from the surrounding cubicles like curious Mere Cats. Brian smiled self-consciously and got back to his work.

 

Next morning, thunder rumbled ominously above the glass roof of the station, rattling the pigeons off their perches and trumpeting Brian’s arrival at the coffee booth. The shock of Slick Suit’s blonde hair was already ahead of him, floating in the queue like a slice of lemon in a cup of Earl Grey. His love rival was obviously anxious to press his suit before Brian had a chance. But today, Brian knew he could trump any suit with his secret weapon.

“Say it with flowers,” murmured Brian to himself, and Brian’s eloquence ran to roses. Well, one rose. A pink rose. Pink to make a girl wink.

Slick Suit, picking up the scent of competition, suddenly turned. They locked eyes like rutting stags, neither giving way. Love fight at the coffee corral. Brian knew this time he had the upper hand. There was no way she would prefer pin stripe to pink rose. Quick on the draw, Brian produced his rose like a proud peacock. But his display turned to dismay as Slick Suit in return raised a dozen red roses, like the captain lifting the cup.

With Brian’s prospects crushed beneath the weight of overwhelming flower power, he sadly pulled the loyalty card from his pocket and stared dejectedly at it. His hopes of love now seemed to dissolve like sugar in hot water. He was about to rip it up when the voice of the barista raised him from reflection.

“Are those for me?” said an unfamiliar voice with a harsh Australian accent.

Slick, with all his attention on getting one over on Brian, hadn’t noticed the usual blonde had been replaced by a dreadlocked brunette wearing a less than fetching hairnet. Caught between a rock and a hairpiece, thrown out of his swaggering stride, Slick was transfixed with indecision. A gathering crowd of coffee customers were also peering at him curiously. The silent moment cranked up the pressure on the usually urbane Slick and forced to him to declare his intentions.

“Er… yes. Yes they are.” He handed the flowers over the counter, biting his bottom lip, face reflecting the rosiness of the roses.

“That’s so lovely, thank you.” She gathered the blooms in stunned appreciation.

The crowd murmured a restrained acknowledgement of Slick’s apparent generosity.

“Well, got to go. Important meeting.” Slick mumbled, quickly making for the next train and away from his embarrassment and frustration.

She leaned over the counter to get a better look at his quickly receding pinstripes and when she recovered some composure, turned to the next customer, who was also watching the departing Slick.

“Oh my God” she crooned, “is that for me too? Is this my lucky day or what?”

Brian, in his preoccupation with the turn of events, was still holding out his pink rose.

“No,” said Brian.

She looked disappointed.

“No, er…” he hesitated. Brian was sinking fast and clutched desperately to the only lifeline in reach.

“No… it’s for her,“he gestured with the rose to a ragged, head-scarfed woman, sitting cross legged on the platform nearby, nursing a polystyrene begging cup.

“Yeah, that would be right,” she said with quickly readjusted composure.

Improvising without thinking he ordered a small tea and added, “that’s for her too.”

“I wish all our customers were as thoughtful,” she said passing him the chalice of hot comfort.

 

Brian offered her a handful of change.

“On the house,” replied the replacement with a smile.

Brian self consciously handed the rose and tea to the bemused beggar and wandered sadly along the empty platform. While he had been busy unfolding his drama, the train had left without him. Late for work and lost in love, a familiar voice behind him halted Brian in his tracks.

“Did you forget something?”

He turned and there was his latte love holding out a cup of steaming coffee and a fresh new loyalty card.

“That’s your free one,” she said with a smile. “I saw what you did, it was very sweet.”

As if reading Brian’s mind she added, “I was coming back from the stockroom.”

“Well actually…” spluttered Brian, his sentence drowned out by the squealing brakes of a fresh train pulling in to the platform.

“I know,” she said, and Brian knew that she knew.

As the incoming and outgoing swell of travellers weaved between the adorer and adoree, she quickly passed Brian a serviette.

“You might need that.”

Then she was gone; lost in a sea of bobbing heads and briefcases. The guard’s whistle herded Brian unthinkingly onto the train, like a shepherd gathering his flock. He shuffled aboard in a daze but lingered in the doorway. The doors closed with a whoosh and nudged Brian’s cup scalding him back to reality. He quickly dabbed the serviette on the spillage. A serviette which had a look of familiarity. This wasn’t the first spill it had mopped. There beside his washed out phone number was a sharp new number. The train roared into life and lurched forward. Brian looked up and there, alone now on the platform, was his angel, sending him off to heaven with a wink. Brian pressed his face against the window as the train left her behind. When she disappeared out of sight he looked down at his new loyalty card and covering all the stamps was a fresh lipstick kiss.

 

 

 

 

 

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