The Other Kind of Coffee

A Short Story — Part 2

Ronaldo Arthur Vidal

Dominic James looked at the time on his wristwatch. Yup, to be sure, it was coffee o’clock, right on the dot. By habit, he peeked over the top of his computer monitor to where Janet usually sat, but she hadn’t come in to work today. Dom shrugged and disengaged from his workstation. The office was unusually quiet without her around.

The hallway lights were dimmed to save electricity. Oversized framed pictures of men and women in neon reflective vests, hard hats, and earplugs lined the way to the break room. Undeterred, Dom pulled at the cuffs of his off-white Kooples shirt and began to strut. Weekend memories of movie night with Cheryl curled his lips into a soft smile. They’d agreed to watch Saturday Night Fever after Cheryl confessed she’d never seen it. Dom hummed the chorus to a disco tune.

Coarse laughter erupted from the vicinity of the break room. Dom slowed his gait to a crawl. There must be some kind of training module happening today, Dom thought.

“I gotta say, I’m a bit surprised that one tall drink of water ain’t here,” one of them said.

“Ahh yeah,” a chorus of voices agreed.

“She’s got lips so fine they’ll give your cock a shine,” one chimed.

“God Bless that sweet ass of hers.”

“And that sailor’s mouth too.”

“Careful, fellas. Cougars are known to bite.” Another round of guffaws concussed the air like cheap fireworks.

Dom squeezed his hands into fists. He knew Janet could eviscerate these sexist losers with one well-placed remark.

Rather than facing the crowd, Dom ducked into the bathroom. Jonas, in HR, had his sleeves rolled up and was removing sheet after sheet of paper towels from the dispenser. Dom gave a slight nod and went to the urinal, even though he didn’t need to pee. He waited until Jonas had finished and left, then he went to examine his face in the mirror. He took out his phone to check for any messages, then sent a quick one to Janet.

The door swung open and a hirsute man wearing wraparound Oakley shades perched up on his bald head entered and went straight to the toilet. He telegraphed his urgency by already plucking at the button of his jeans. Dom pocketed his phone and figured that was his cue to leave.

He cut around the corner to the coffee machine. A group of five guys were standing around the oval table in the middle of the room. The blue carpet was clotted with dirt from their boots.

“Gentlemen,” Dom said by way of greeting.

A couple of them nodded their heads, one said hello; another may have muttered “fag” under his breath. Dom swiped his badge at the machine and ordered a latte.

As his drink was being prepared, Dom looked out the window. The sun shined, the skies were blue. He considered it a crime that he had to spend the day indoors. Even the old ficus in the corner of the room stretched its leaves to catch the incoming rays of sunshine.

“Training today?”

“Yeah, team leader exercises,” one of them griped.

The machine chirped and Dom took his latte. An awkward silence filled the air. Cloud cover outside shifted and enveloped the room in shadow. Dom didn’t know these guys, but he felt sure they knew him. Or presumed to know him. God only knew what they might say behind his back. He could imagine well enough. Still, it wasn’t in his nature to judge. Surely they weren’t so bad, right? Dom supposed they were family men by the cut of their jib, laden with wives and children. He could easily envision them having mistresses on the side and drinking at sports bars in the evening.

“Say,” the one with a blond buzz cut said. “Ya want some dip?” He proffered a round tin of Skoal dipping tobacco. Dom had tried that once in college and felt literally green afterwards.

“No thanks,” he waved a hand in appreciation. “I’m good.”

Just then Liz and Deb in the IT department appeared. “I swear to God he’s worse than the Cookie Monster,” Deb said, seemingly out of the blue.

“Oh, hi Dom!” Liz turned on the facial pyrotechnics for his benefit. They’d gone out for coffee once, though nothing ever came of it.

“How you two girls doing?” He knew how to put on the charm in moments such as these.

“Oh, me? I’m peachy keen,” Liz said.

Deb rolled her eyes and thrust out her hand. “Dominic.”

“Deborah.” The formal handshake was their own kind of inside joke. Deb, he knew, liked to troll people on 4chan and play board games on weekends.

Hirsute Sunglasses then exited the bathroom and the group of trainees slinked together like metal shavings on a magnet.

“Boys,” Liz said. Her blond locks illuminated her radiant smile.

“Ma’am,” said one as he passed, tipping an imaginary hat.

Dom sipped his latte, which had dipped a few degrees below scalding.

“Who were those hombres?” Deb asked.

“Beats me,” Dom said. “ One of ’em said they were doing team leadership exercises.”

“Oh, that’s right!” Liz said, biting into a Twix. Her next words were a muddle of chocolate and caramel.

Dom nodded like he understood and that it mattered.

“Where’s Janet at?” Deb filled up her water bottle and then sprayed a few squirts from a sample of J’adore she kept in her handbag into the room. The floral, opulent scent almost lifted Dom off his feet with its tendrils of golden magic.

“Did she call in sick?” Liz added.

“I couldn’t say,” Dom admitted. “Could be her little boy.”

“You know, I remember the first time I met Janet,” Deb said. Her voice lowered to the level of conspiracy. You never knew when someone else might be listening. “Back before the razzmatazz, the sass, and the long black dresses, the Queen Bitch of Coffee was as gentle as a butterfly. Reminds me a bit of that one girl, what’s-her-name, in accounting.”

Dom played dumb, because he knew opening his mouth could get him in trouble.

Liz licked the melted chocolate from her fingertips. “Oh, like Cheryl? She’s super nice.”

The phone in Dom’s pocket vibrated three times in rapid succession. Speak of the devil, he thought. He forced a smile and sipped his coffee. “We’ve spoken a few times,” he said quietly.

Liz turned to Deb. “So…” the two of them transitioned to technobabble about work.

Dom took the opportunity to dig his phone out of his pocket. Three messages, sure enough, all from Janet.

“Bye Dom,” Liz and Deb said in unison, starting the trek back to their office.

“Farewell, ladies. Talk to you soon.”

He unlocked his phone and read:

Hey
I’m in the hospital — don’t ask
Just bring me a coffee after you’re done with work, okay?

Dom finished his latte and started to tap a concerned-sounding response. Should he tell Cheryl? His phone buzzed again.

And not the shitty kind of coffee either, Dom. Bring me the good stuff.

To be Continued…

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