With a lot of hard work, Aspen Ferris’ dream of owning his own coffee shop has finally come true. Unfortunately, renovations are almost complete on a nearby mall that will house a chain coffee establishment. Not only that, Christmas is a few weeks away! When the electricity goes out at the mall, the construction company’s owner visits Asp’s store. Insulting the pushy brute gets Aspen thoroughly told off and… kissed! A kiss he can’t forget.
Dandridge St. Clare speeds to his worksite to handle an electric outage and misses his morning coffee. Locating a place to grab his caffeine fix, he’s offended by the barista at Your Coffee Cup. Anxious and upset, Dan pulls the man over the counter and can’t resist kissing the handsome jackass. On top of that, he enjoys the best cup of coffee ever. More unsettling still, he can’t erase the taste or feel of the man’s mouth. Dandridge returns for more of both.
The holidays are approaching and neither man expects much. Both get more than they bargained for.
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A Barista for Christmas
J. Hali Steele
All rights reserved.
Copyright ©2023 J. Hali Steele
Three stores from the corner, a wall of plate glass gave Aspen Ferris a great view all the way to the end of the block. He removed his net cap as he watched a big silver pickup emblazoned with a Rayburn & St. Clare Construction logo tool around the corner, causing a car to slam on brakes in the intersection. Tires screeching turned pedestrians’ heads. “Did you see that?”
“Wow!” Eric Winters, Asp’s oldest friend and partner, gawked over the counter. “Close call.”
“Animals. They’re animals.” Asp finished restocking the sugar packets in the ceramic bowls on each table, checking napkin holders and filling glasses with wooden stirrers as he made his rounds.
“Asp, don’t stoop to the level of name calling.”
“It’s true.” His mood darkened under Eric’s scolding. “They’re stone-aged he-men.”
“For goodness sakes. Stop.”
Almost complete, the renovations to the stores in the nearby strip mall included competition Aspen resented. The Bean and Leaf had already opened, and they were hanging dreadfully festive Christmas decorations all over the damn store. Aspen hated Christmas. Morning rush at his shop, Your Coffee Cup, had dwindled to a crawl. Staring out the window brought him no comfort. “Can you believe The Bean and Leaf is already prepared for the holidays? Thanksgiving is less than two weeks away and I haven’t even purchased decorations.” Malls nearer the city were probably alight with holiday cheerfulness and teeming with shoppers Asp had no wish to join. It seemed a trip to Walmart was in his future as he’d volunteered to shop for decorations, thinking it might help him get a handle on his angst regarding Christmas.
“At least business was brisk this morning.” Air huffed from Eric’s mouth. “Get prepared, Asp. It is our first winter open and people will decorate all around us. I know it’s not your thing.”
Not anymore. Aspen ignored his partner’s hint. “Traffic is picking up. It looks like the whole town is heading to grab a fancy cup of coffee and factory-produced pastry.”
Eric wiped around the coffee pot he had filled before coming to stand at a table near Aspen. “Most travel past here to get on the highway into Philly. You know that.”
“They’re going to kill our business just when we hoped to hire permanent staff.” Open twelve hours a day, six days a week, Aspen and Eric took turns working Saturdays with help of part time high school students. Sundays they were closed. “If we only had a few more months to get established. Why did the section of the building housing The Bean and Leaf have to be finished with its renovations before other shops?”
“Asp, Rayburn & St. Clare Construction provides jobs for struggling families in town.”
“We can’t compete with chain shop prices.” Asp sat on the windowsill. Pulling his legs up, he tucked knees under his chin.
“Don’t put your dirty shoes up there!”
“Sorry.” He settled his feet back on the floor. “Our coffee is better. Richer.”
“More expensive. Lowering prices, we might scrape by until people discover Your Coffee Cup serves the best in town. For now, Asp, we could buy pastries in bulk and forego homemade from the bakery across town. Maybe we should consider staying open later.”
“Your Coffee Cup is not a restaurant, Eric. We agreed six in the morning to get the early traffic and close at two. Now we’re coming in at five to set up and staying after five cleaning up since we serve food until four.”
“Business is better.”
“I yielded to your suggestion of salads and sandwiches along with a soda fountain, but this is a coffee house and we’re green. Doesn’t the environment mean anything?”
“Adding food, I don’t know if we’re just a coffee shop anymore. Our bottom line has improved with regular customers stopping in for meals to take home.” Eric sighed. “Hell, I don’t know if the idea of serving only coffee was ever feasible.”
“Our salads have become popular and most folks seem to appreciate our meats are sliced fresh for each sandwich.” Shaking his head, Asp added, “They’ll want french fries and a pickle next.”
“You’re right. We better order potato chips.” Eric laughed so hard, the table he rested his hip on squeaked against tile.
Eric sighed. “If we had a dime for every time someone asked for a carryout coffee cup…”
“Your coffee cup. Bring your favorite travel container or we provide mugs they can use should they remain on site. And we do have carryout cups.”
“Go-green paper cups which sometimes spring a leak before they get out the door. And I’m doubling them to alleviate complaints.”
“I hoped we could make a difference.”
“I hoped to entice more of the workers from the site to at least see what we have to offer,” Eric shot back.
“Last thing we need. A bunch of rowdy construction workers tracking in.”
“If I recall correctly, big with an air of rowdiness is just your type. Anyway, they’ll be gone soon enough.” Eric winked. “Your loss. You need to get laid, my friend.”