A Black Cappuccino and a Hot Punani
by David Heulfryn
Monday’s are never busy, but for the past month, we have been dead nearly every day. Even on Saturdays, we have never been full. The boss tried to brave out the slowdown, but in the end, he bowed to the inevitable and was forced to let everyone go. Well, almost everyone. I was the only one he kept on. I suppose it’s because I can produce a perfect cappuccino or latte on demand, either that or because of the tight black trousers I have to wear and the half-opened shirt that masquerades as a uniform. I’ve caught him looking my way many times.
He was close to tears when he gave the others the news in the tiny back room, there was only another full-timer like me and several part-time casuals, but he considered all staff to be his friends. He promised that they would hear from him the moment things were back to normal. He would continue with his fight for compensation from the Council.
Ray had barely noticed the letter from the Council that dropped on his doormat several months ago. It said they would be doing some works to pedestrianise the main high street and replace the cracked and uneven pavements. He read the letter and thought it a great idea, great for trade. He imagined putting out some tables and chairs on the front in the summer, giving the place a more continental feel. His head brimming with ideas, but his brain didn’t take in the rest of the leaflet. It was a major renovation of the high street and would take nearly six months to complete.
As the work started, the reality began to sink in. The outside of the coffee shop resembled a building site. The pavement had disappeared and was now just sand and gravel. The shoppers had gone to the other end of the high street where they could walk on solid ground and not have their ears assaulted with the din of the shovels and drills.
Nowadays, Ray left me to look after the shop while he stayed at home to write his letters to the Council and juggle his finances to keep the business afloat.
I can’t remember when ‘Café Au Naturel’ opened; it had probably been around for a few years before I heard about it. Ray was trying to tap into a gap in the gay market. He left flyers in all the gay pubs and clubs around the town. It was great to have a gay café in the town, and my mates and I would often hang out at the place. It was also a great place for youngsters to come who were too young to go to a pub. It would have been great if this place existed when I was sixteen as I got tired of being chucked out of pubs and clubs. And when a job at the café came up, I jumped at the chance to trade in my job at a pub with its unsocial hours and the reek of stale beer to the fresh smell of fresh coffee and more reasonable hours.
It was mid-afternoon when Ray came in to check up on me. I was sitting behind the counter on a small wooden stool which saved me from being on my feet all day. As I heard the tell-tale bell ring, I slowly rose to my feet and put on a broad smile to meet what I thought was a customer. As I saw Ray come towards the counter, my smile disappeared.
“Only about a dozen customers today, Ray.” I sighed. If things stayed like this, I feared he would let me go.
“Don’t worry, Callum, I think I’m getting somewhere with the Council. But they want a sack full of paperwork and up to date accounts and projections. I dread to think what my accountant’s bill is going to be at the end of this.”
“So, are you checking up on me or just popping in for a coffee?”
“Large cappuccino, please. But I really only came in for the till rolls from the weekend trade.”
He picked up the till rolls as I made the coffee machine spurt and splutter to make a couple of cappuccinos. I walked around the counter and nodded for Ray to follow me.
“If people see us, they may want to pop in,” I said, placing the two large cups on a table by the window. “People hate being the only ones in a shop.”
“And I thought I only hired you for your good looks and cute arse.”
Ray liked to flirt with me like this. We both knew it was innocent and would lead to nothing. I never asked his age, but he looked to be mid-fifties, and age did not suit him. He probably spent too much of his youth drinking and smoking; his skin was sagging and wrinkled beyond his years. When I started working here, Ray had had a long term boyfriend, I don’t know how it ended as Ray never spoke about it, but he took it very badly; now he’d been single for a couple of years. He tended to flirt with everybody, young, old, even butch lesbians.
We sat and talked, both of us looking out the window to see if there were any potential customers we could attract inside with a little eye contact and a smile. But of the few people we saw, there were no takers.
“What about the workmen?” He asked.
“No luck there. I don’t think we’re their type.” I winked at Ray. “Although some are certainly my type.”
“Rough and ready, eh.” He said. “But don’t any of them want coffee?”
“Oh yeah. But not at these prices in a fancy coffee shop. They’re happy with a mug of strong instant with a side order of a bacon sandwich. Give them a macchiato and a biscotti, and they’d look like those chimps in the film ‘2001’ when they see that obelisk.”
Ray chuckled. He knew I was a film buff and enjoyed my metaphors.
“But there was one smart arse that came in here and asked for a black cappuccino and a hot punnai, he was showing off to his workmates. I let him know that I didn’t find it funny, but after he’d gone, I did laugh.”
“Where have you been, Ray? Punani, a slang term for…” I cringed as I said the words. “women’s front bottom bits.”
Ray laughed. I think more at me not being able to describe those parts of a lady.
“I’ve not been able to eat a Panini since.”
“Well, you never were into Panini, were you?”
“If you mean punani, then no. Most definitely not! When I delve into that area, I want to feel something, not find empty space.”
“So how’s it going in that area? Felt anything lately?”
“Nothing I haven’t felt a thousand times before. And frankly, it’s getting boring.” I’d been single for a couple of months, and no one new had come into my life yet. And with an empty shop, I didn’t hold out much hope of finding anyone soon.
“Sorry about that,” Ray said. “But I don’t think the council will give compensation out for that.” He knew that my last two boyfriends were customers.
“That’s a shame. I’m sure some nice young clerk in the council offices would do just fine.”
Ray slurped the last of his coffee and slid his chair back to stand.
“Well, I gotta go.” He picked up the till rolls from the table and put them in his pocket. “See how it goes later. If it doesn’t get busy, then just knock off at sixish.”
Ray gave me a final smile and left. I was now alone again. With little else to do, I washed our cups by hand; there was never much reason to use the dishwasher these days. I then set about cleaning the coffee machine again; it had never looked more immaculate than when it was first delivered and unwrapped from its protective plastic.
Once clean again, I made myself an Americano to get the smell of hot coffee back into the shop. As I sat on my little stool sipping from the mug as it was still far too hot, I heard a rumble of thunder. I looked out into the street, and the skies darkened as another rumble rattled the window. A few seconds later, the skies opened, and rain started pelting down.
I looked out expectantly. It would be now or never if anyone caught in the flash storm would come in for shelter, warmth and a hot coffee to wait out the rain.
Five minutes passed, and no one came in.
My welcoming smile drifted from my face, and I sat back to nurse my Americano.
The storm didn’t last long, ten minutes at most, I guessed, and the dark clouds broke, and clear sky could be seen. The sun’s rays created sheets of light as they emerged from gaps in the now grey clouds, and a faint rainbow rose from the rooves opposite.
I went to the door and opened it. I took in a deep breath; there’s nothing like the smell of the clean air after it had rained. I peered up and down the street and couldn’t see anyone; even the workmen had disappeared. After another lungful of fresh air, I shut the door and went back to my stool. I was beginning to feel like an ornamental gnome sitting on a toadstool; all I needed was a short fishing rod for the tableau to be complete.
Finally giving in to boredom, my eyes slowly closed, and my mind cleared of any thoughts. I could have fallen asleep. Half my brain stayed awake to keep me upright while the other half slept.
My falling head nodded me awake, and I looked out into the empty shop. I considered cashing up and closing a couple of hours early, but as Ray stated six, I thought it best to wait until then before leaving. I checked my watch, it was just after four.
I was just about to let out a long, loud sigh when the door opened. I didn’t see anyone walk past the window, so the young man must have come from the other direction.
Swallowing my sigh, I was about to put on my best welcoming smile when I recognised him.
“Sorry, we’re fresh out of punani.” I scowled at him, not in the mood for having my job mocked again.
He flicked his head to the side to get his fringe from his eyes, it was damp from the rain, and tiny drops of water flew aside, no doubt landing on the tables, which I made a mental note to wipe down after he’d gone.
“Don’t have a cow, man. It was just a joke.”
I folded my arms and glared at him. I grew tense. This was a well-known gay establishment, and I suddenly felt a little vulnerable with this grunt coming towards the counter. I expected a group of his mates to come in any second.
“What do you want?” I was terse.
“No wonder the place is empty if that’s how you treat customers.”
I didn’t take my gaze from his eyes.
“Ok, how about a skinny decaf latte?”
“Large or small?” I didn’t bother with our coffee shop terms.
“That’s four quid.” I didn’t move.
He waited a few seconds and realised I wouldn’t do anything until he paid. It was not the usual routine, but I didn’t trust him.
Tugging out his wallet from his dirty, stained and scuffed jeans, he handed me a five-pound note. “Keep the change.” He smiled at me.
I rang it in the cash register and slid the pound coin change over the counter to him. No way was I going to accept a tip from him.
Cautiously I fired up the machine and started to make his latte.
“Look, man, I’m sorry. I’m not really into punani anyway.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him go to a table, take off his yellow fluorescent vest and put it over the back of a chair. He sat at the opposite chair to his vest so he could watch me.
I placed the tall glass on the counter. “One skinny latte.” I noticed the pound coin still on the counter.
“I was hoping for waiter service.” He smiled.
He looked different now; his body asked the question. Hoping.
Picking up the coffee and the pound coin, I went to his table and placed both in front of him. Before I could turn to leave, he asked if I would join him.
“I have to clean the machine,” I said.
“Surely that can wait.” He looked up at me with soft eyes. “Please.”
“Ok.” I sat opposite but immediately regretted it when I felt the damp vest on the chair wet my shirt.
“I’m Michael. Mike.” He quickly corrected himself. “We knocked off early cuz of the rain. We’re making good time, so it ain’t a problem. Don’t hold me to this, but we might actually be finished early.”
I looked at him.
“I walk past here every day and see you just standing, hoping someone will come in. All the shops are empty on this side of town now. It’s a shame as I used to come here a lot.”
I looked down at my hands which were resting on the table.
“What’s your name?” Mike asked.
“Callum,” I said.
“Do your friends call you Cal?”
“Pleased to meet you, Cal.” Mike held out his hand.
I reached out to shake hands. Mike had a firm grip, but his skin felt soft, not the callused skin of a workman.
“You don’t recognise me, do you?”
“Sure I do; you’re the jerk that came in a couple of days ago with a load of workmates and took the piss.”
“No from before that.”
I furrowed my forehead. “No.”
“I’m hurt. You used to serve me and always gave me the sweetest smile.”
“What here?” I asked.
“Yes. I found this place about a month before the work started. It’s a shame as I enjoyed meeting people here. I don’t drink, you see, so I always feel awkward in pubs. I would always be asked if they could buy me a drink, and when I would ask for a coke, their eyes would look at me all funny, like I wasn’t normal.” He looked at my eyes. “Yeah! Just like that!” He laughed.
I couldn’t help but smile.
“I really don’t recognise you,” I said.
“I’m not surprised.” He stood up and gestured with his hands up and down his body. “I don’t usually look like this. I do scrub up pretty nice, you know.”
“Perhaps I’d recognise you out of those clothes.”
Mike raised his eyebrows, and I turned bright red.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean it like that.” We both giggled.
“I wouldn’t mind seeing you out of those clothes.” Mike almost whispered.
“Are you hitting on me?” I blushed again.
Neither of us spoke for a few seconds. I’d been hit on many times by customers, but I guessed they mainly were chancing their luck. I didn’t really take many up on their offers, but some I did. Those whose smiles made my stomach leap.
Mike didn’t make my stomach leap, but he sounded sincere.
“You know I’m out? I don’t hide who I am.” I told Mike, who looked confused.
“So, I didn’t think you weren’t. I’m out too.”
“Even at work?” I asked.
“Oh.” Mike sighed. “You do realise that not all workmen are chauvinist, misogynist homophobes? Those guys out there are a good bunch.” He gestured out the window at the unfinished pavement and non-existent workmen. “They have my back, every single one of them. Sure they tease me, but I give as good as I get. We have a great laugh. It makes the work easier.”
“Sorry, Mike.” I shrank in my seat.
“So you should be, spouting your ill-informed and outdated ideas of construction workers.” Mike grinned at me, telling me he wasn’t really telling me off.
I sat up straight again. “So why haven’t you been in since you are working virtually outside?”
“The guys bring flasks with them. Some of them don’t like paying the high price for a proper coffee.” Mike took a long sip of his latte. “I would love to get a taste of this at the end of a hard day. But I’ve not managed to convince the others.” He paused before adding, “yet.”
“I’ll tell you what. I’ll have a word with the boss, see if he’d let me just do boring filter coffee at a cut-down price and let me get some bacon rolls in. Would that tempt your mates in here?”
“They’d fucking love that!” Mike got excited.
“Slow down, buddy. I’d have to run it by Ray first. I hope he’ll agree as at least he will get some money in his tills.”
Mike’s face lit up, and he showed me a wide, sweet smile. I felt my stomach leap.
“Sod it.” I threw caution to the wind, “get your guys in here tomorrow, and I’ll lay on coffee and a bacon roll for four quid a head. If they want anything else or a fancy coffee, they pay full price.”
“Deal.” Mike reached over to shake my hand.
As our hands clasped, I felt a shudder go down my spine. Mike pulled me so that we were both leaning over the table. His face was so close to mine I could feel his breath.
I opened my lips slightly, expecting him to kiss me. If he did, I wanted to be ready.
But instead of a kiss, Mike whispered, “give the guys bacon, but I prefer a nice, long and hot sausage.”
He said it so seriously I just burst out laughing. He released my hand, and I leant back on my chair. Mike chuckled as he watched me recover.
“It’ll take more than a handshake for me to slip you some sausage.” I smiled.
“Perhaps soon, once we get to know each other better. What do you say?” Mike swallowed another long mouthful of his cooling coffee. For the first time, I sensed some nerves in him.
“I’d like that.” I looked him in the eye.
We stayed in the café for hours, just talking, getting to know each other. He made me laugh with his corny double entendres, and he said how cute I looked when I laughed.
I should have shut up shop an hour before we finally left. Mike slipped his high-vis jacket back on, and I went to the door with him. He leant forward and pecked my lips, a tentative and questioning kiss. I didn’t flinch or push him away, so he came in again. We were joined for a few minutes as we said goodbye.
Our first kiss gave me an aching erection. I wanted to take him back to my flat, but I didn’t think the time was right yet.
After Mike left, I turned off the lights and locked up. I had to get things sorted for tomorrow; some fresh bacon for a start.
I opened the café as normal the following day. As expected, no one came in; the high street was empty. I could hear the sounds of concrete mixers, shovels scaping and metal clanging further down.
I smiled, knowing that Mike was one of those guys working. He did look sexy in his work clothes, tatty, worn, ripped and stained with all sorts of strange stuff.
I was excited as I waited for them to arrive. Mike promised he would get them here.
They downed tools at ten. The high street was now silent. I kept an ear out, and I heard the chatter get louder as they got closer.
Mike was first to walk through the door; I came from behind the counter to greet him. Behind him, a group of rough men appeared, I was going to give him a hug, but I hesitated when I saw his workmates.
“It feels so great to see you again,” Mike said to me.
He grabbed my shoulders and pulled me in for a passionate kiss. I felt his hands roam down my back and grab my buttocks. He pushed them forward and ground his crotch into mine.
I felt my cock go hard again.
Mike released me, and we parted. “I’ve wanted to do that to you since I left last night.”
I didn’t care that his mates were behind him. I brought him in for another deeply passionate kiss.
“Come back after work. I’ll stay open so we can have a second date.”
Mike grinned, “I was hoping you’d say that.”
Behind him, one of his workmates nudged Mike and told him to put me down. The guys were starving and were demanding their bacon butties. I went back behind the counter and busied myself. Mike sat down with three guys; the other guys scraped chairs along the floor as they pulled them out to sit. The chatter began, and the noise level increased. I’d not seen the café this busy in a long time, even if it was full of high-vis jackets.
As I worked, making the coffee and building the bacon butties, Mike kept glancing over at me.
Each time he smiled, my stomach leapt.
I loved the feeling of starting a new relationship. My head felt high, and I couldn’t stop smiling.
I had a good feeling about Mike.
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