Happy Returns

It was mid-afternoon and not too busy at Floggin’ Brews. I was taking the opportunity to clean off and restock the liquor shelves behind the bar. It was tedious work, but a chore I enjoyed: the shelves were lit in a way that made the bottles glow, and the arrangement of shelves and bottles always looked like an abstract mosaic. Placing the bottles just so was like working a giant jigsaw puzzle.

“Don’t Beat the Girl Out Of My Boy” by Anna Calvi was playing as the big blue front door opened.  I turned around to great our latest guest. It was a teenager with dark hair who looked a bit familiar.

“Welcome!” I put down the bottle I was wiping off. “Can I get you something?”

“A root beer, please.”

“Which one? We have five on tap.”

“Do you still have Americana?”

And then I remembered. “I thought you looked familiar – were you in here a couple weeks ago with a friend?”

That got a smile that looked half-embarrassed. “Yes, you gave us Poptarts.” A hand came out. “I wanted to come back and say thanks. My name’s Brita.”

I shook her hand. “You’ve had a haircut since then.” I remembered her with an asymmetrical cut that was growing out. “Oh, sorry, that was kinda rude.”

“No worries.” She ran a hand through her short hair, sat down and put her backpack on the stool next to her. “And yeah, I didn’t know if you’d remember me.”

I poured her an Americana root beer in a tulip glass and put it on an Orca Beverage coaster on the bar. She dug in her backpack and produced a five. I got her change and she gave a single back to me. “Thanks!” I put it in the tip jar. “So, how are you doing? And your friend?”

Brita took a drink of her root beer before answering.

“She’s good – she’s staying with an aunt in Northeast. Switched schools, her folks leave her alone.”

“And you?”

“I’m staying with a host family near Prospect Park. They’re super. Oh, there’s the cat!”

I looked up to see Boss approaching from Her perch above the door. Brita turned to watch. “She’s so pretty.”

Boss stopped in front of Brita, who climbed down off the stool and squatted down to offer a hand. Boss sniffed and then pushed Her head against Brita’s hand.

Hmm. Boss is almost never that friendly. Not to someone new.

I went back to cleaning off the bottles. After enjoying some scritches and strokes, Boss took Her leave and strolled back to the office where Mikhel was working. I checked the clock.

Yup, time for Boss’ mid-afternoon tea.

Brita seems to have something on her mind, so I asked a few questions. She was in high school, a junior, liked her math classes but not English, missed her little brother but didn’t miss her parents, who kicked her out when she came out as trans. She was staying with a lesbian couple who shockingly had no cats yet but there was a stray in the neighborhood that Brita fed. And she was looking for a job but so far no luck. She was hoping to work in a coffee shop but didn’t have any barista experience yet.

At that, there was a pause in Brita’s story. I’d finished a row of bottles and decided the rest could wait for now. Boss had reappeared and pushed against my ankle. I looked down, and Boss looked at me, and then walked over to the broom and looked at me again.

I try to be a quick learner, so I took a risk.

“We’re looking for someone here.”

Brita’s eyes got big. “You are?”

“It’s very part-time. We try to do more cleaning on Sunday and Monday evening and could use some help. I’d have to run it by management but you could fill out an application.” Boss rubbed against my ankle again.

Brita exhaled. “Oh, could I? I can fill it out now. But I don’t have a lot of experience. . . .”

“Not required, I’m talking about brooms and trash cans.” I gave her a smile. “I’m sure you could figure it out.”

I went and got an application from the office while Boss kept an eye on the bar.

Mikhel was working at the desk. “That kid came back, yes? Have you offered her a job yet?”

“How did you know? And no, I’m just getting her an application.”

“By all means, have her fill one out. And have her start next Sunday.” He turned back to the invoices.

“How. . .? Oh.” Like I said, I try to be a quick study. “Boss told you?”

“Yes.” He gave me a look over the top of his glasses. “She says the kid’s better at chess than I am.”

“I wouldn’t know,” I said and left before the conversation got any stranger.

Brita filled out the application with admirable thoroughness, and agreed to return on Sunday. After she left, I turned to Boss, who had found a shelf near the till and was licking one paw. “I assume You’ll tell her about the Theatre?”

“I think we’ll have her work the front of the house,” said Mikhel.

How long has he been there? Why is he quieter than Boss?

I suspected that Brita would be fine with the Theatre, but I wasn’t going to argue with that.

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