Stacey didn’t go out as much now as she did when she was younger. Just deciding what to wear was stressful. It wasn’t worth the aggravation. Besides, most people went out on Friday’s and Stacey’s diet started on Monday. By Friday, Stacey was frequently huffing and puffing just putting on her shoes, little black dresses were somewhat of a way away. So, for peace of mind and a quiet life, Stacey just avoided the whole going out debacle. This week though, she couldn’t. Her BFF, or whatever moniker they had assigned to each other through whatever instant messenger they were using that week, had a birthday. It was a big one, 30. This meant two things to Stacey, one; she could not cry off going out, BFF status would instantly be rescinded. Two, Stacey would be 30 too, in less than a month. Staying in was simply not an option.
Joanna had organised a pub crawl, the order of the evening was something like this; shots in Rev, cocktails in bar Cuba, Wine in the C bar, Prosecco at the Penthouse bar and finally something to eat at any venue that wouldn’t throw them out. There were 12 other BFF’s making the pilgrimage from bar to bar. After cocktails at Bar Cuba, Stacey wasn’t feeling it. A testy week had been finished off with some HR unpleasantness (the worst part of owning your own business), and though she had this Saturday off, her bed was calling. Like a dodgem car, Stacey bumped through the crowd at Bar Cuba and found Joanna. She cupped her mouth and leaned in to bark into her ear, “I feel rank babes, I’m going to head home.” She lied. Joanna hugged her and pulled an over exaggerated sad face, then turned back to the others and sank the dregs of a Moscow Mule.
When she stepped out of the bar, Stacey took a deep breath and looked at the night. It was summer, the sky not quite dark carried colours beamed from bar signs and street lights. There were one or two who’d had too many to drink already, and there was about 50 yards up the road, a fight. The doorman nodded good night, and on her seven-inch mini stilts, Stacey began to totter towards the cab rank dreaming of a hot drink, her pyjamas, and a square or two of Tesco’s finest dark chocolate. Stacey passed shops barred against the revellers, she passed the boutique, her boutique and she passed ‘The Genuine Coffee Shop.’
Stacey did a double take. Was it? ‘No, it couldn’t be, it was almost ten o’clock.’ No, it was. Stacey was sure it was open. Well, there was someone inside at least. Probably stocktaking. Yeah, because people do that at ten on a Friday night, jeez the arseholes who run this place must be proper bastards to get the staff stock taking on a Friday night. About three million other thoughts flew through Stacey’s head as she approached the shop. Lights were on, the whole place looked like a fairy tale cottage, enveloped in a dark wood made from bars and take away’s instead of gnarly trees and foreboding undergrowth. Stacey squinted and peeped in. Mitch was there, he was pacing and agitated, he looked upset. Stacey tried the door, it opened. Mitch looked up, startled then relieved, then more agitated. “We’re not open.” He said.
“Oh,” said Stacey, “Are you ok? You look a bit upset,”
“Kasia, the manager she left at three, and she took the keys. She was supposed to leave them.” Mitch said, all the time fidgeting and not knowing where to look or what to do with his hands.
“Can’t you call her? Or have you already?”
“Yeah, I called her, I’ve been calling her since five, she has switched her phone off. Daryl, he’s on holiday. He’s a key holder. The owners are in Scotland playing golf. I don’t know what to do.”
“Well, what other options are there? I mean, is that all the key holders? Is there no other way of securing the door?”
“No. That’s why I’m here. No one can help. If I leave the place and the bars and clubs turn out, oh my God. The whole place will get ruined.”
“Well, there is a good chance, that if the lights are off and it looks closed, then it’ll probably be alright.”
“Don’t be fucking stupid! I’m sorry. I’m stressed. I just want to go home, but I can’t leave the shop.”
“It’s alright. You look open.” Stacey paused, she looked around the place. It was peaceful, a little oasis of reclaimed wood and flash coffee making kit, in a desert of two for one drinks and fat drenched fast foods.
Stacey looked at Mitch, he was nibbling his fingers, his anguish not abating. “I’ll tell you what. Firstly, get the lights off. When the pubs kick out, and that cab rank fills up if the place looks open people will come in. So, switch them off, and we’ll lock it from the inside, you know? With the bolts?” Stacey said in full managerial mode. “If you make me a coffee, or four, I’ll stay and keep you company. If anyone comes, or you have any trouble. I can call the police.” Stacey smiled, Mitch just looked at her. “Go on then get the lights off, and I’ll have a large coffee, nothing flash just coffee with milk and sugar.” Stacey said still smiling. “We can make a comfy little den at the back, no one will be able to see us, but we’ll see everything. If anything kicks off, we’ll swing into action.” For the first time possibly ever, Mitch smiled. In all the time Stacey had been coming here, she had never seen Mitch smile. Not once.
Mitch switched off the lights. It wasn’t quite dark inside. The sodium street lights flushed the place with a glowing light not dissimilar to embers. Stacey got busy making a small encampment at the back of the shop. During the day two fat leather sofas sat in front of the fireplace. Stacey hoofed them to the back and made a long table from three small coffee tables. She toyed with the idea of a table light, but the glow from the street, mixed with passing shadows was soothing. Mitch brought over the drinks. He settled on the sofa that faced the window and looked at Stacey’s mini living room. “Thanks,” he said, “no problem, this is quite cosy isn’t it?” Stacey said. Mitch nodded and took a long pull on his coffee. “It looks like it’s going to be a long night, typical, I had a long shift already today. I was supposed to do a six, six. It’s my day off tomorrow too.”
“Do you have any plans?” Stacey asked.
“Well, now it looks like I’m going to spend the day sleeping.”
“Don’t be mardy, this will be fun. It’s like that Lionel Richie song, ‘All Night Long.’ We can drink coffee and watch the world go by.”
“Thanks for staying, you didn’t have to.”
“It’s alright. So, what’s your favourite film then?”
Mitch looked puzzled; he had always thought that the favourite film question was a stupid one. But, Stacey was keeping him company, so he didn’t want to upset her. Mitch would play along. Well, he thought he’d play along. His mind was blank. ‘Shit. What is my favourite film?’ he thought. This was bad. Mitch was not sure that he even had a favourite film. In the end and through fear of looking very dull indeed he blurted out “Pulp Fiction.”
“Hmm. I love Casablanca.”
“Isn’t that old? Like black and white?”
‘Yes, but it’s lovely.”
“Well, we are all entitled to our own opinions, aren’t we? But mystery man, you interest me, what do you think makes it shite then?”
“Erm, just it’s old and black and white and just crap really.”
“You haven’t seen it have you?”
“No.” Mitch blushed he had been well and truly busted.
“Oh dear you can’t judge what you don’t know, and if you did watch it, you would see that everything from James Bond to Star Wars has borrowed from it. And Bogarts’ Rick is the best anti-hero ever to grace the screen. Oh, and it’s so sweet at the end when he sacrifices his love for her for the greater good.” Misty-eyed Stacey took a sip of her drink and looked at Mitch who seemed almost hypnotised by her appraisal. “I’m being silly. But I do love that film.”
‘It’s not silly. To be honest Pulp Fiction isn’t my favourite film I can’t really think of one. It might be Withnail & I. I dunno. I’m more of a music man. I love music.”
The unruly and unwashed poured from the clubs and bars that surrounded ‘The Genuine Coffee Shop.’ The lights in the shop were off, and from their small base at the back, they watched as merry and mad people filed by. The taxi rank was close by, and they watched and giggled at the spectacle of town at kicking out time. Mitch was stoic and observed silently. Every now and then Stacey would giggle. Inside though she was thinking about how she looked when she made the whole night out. As Joanna’s birthday party arrived outside the shop, Caitlin hitched up her skirt, she leaned back against the wall near the shop window, pulled her pants aside and pissed on to the pavement. Stacey winced with embarrassment, and Mitch just looked on.
The scourge of Nottingham’s nightlife calmed. Mitch and Stacey punctuated silence with small conversations about music, life, and travel. Stacey told Mitch about her ambitions to travel, and Mitch came alive. Mitch was more animated than she had ever seen him. He wanted to go to Colombia. He wanted to meet coffee farmers and roast some beans straight the plantation. Stacey was tempted to take him up there and then. She held back.
The dark burgundy of a summer sky in the city soon morphed into a dull white sky with creases of blue between the clouds. Some small trucks and lorries passed, as did a bakers van and a milkman. The city’s heart was beginning to beat.
Stacey had fallen asleep, and Mitch had cradled her. Coffee and her scent kept him awake. She smelt nice, like peaches and blossoms. His shirt had picked up a war wound, some of Stacey’s make up had rubbed off on to him. She stirred. He looked at her cheek and the line of her jaw. He knew that she was beautiful. He’d just never allowed himself to fully acknowledge it.
It was 530 am. Stacey woke with a start. “Oh, mornin’. I’m sorry, I fell asleep. I was supposed to keep you company.”
“It’s ok. Thank you for staying. I appreciate it.”
‘It’s alright you’re good company.” Stacey looked at Mitch, he looked her in the eyes. He didn’t twitch, move or break the gaze. Mitch looked at her and smiled. “Do you want to do something later?” he asked.
“Yeah, sure. What are you thinking?”
“I think I should take you for dinner, I reckon I owe you.”
“You do and yes you can.”
“Ok. I’ll pick you up at about half seven is that ok?”
“Yeah, that’s fine.” Stacey took a napkin from the counter. She dug into her handbag and removed a pen. She scribbled her address on to the napkin and passed it to Mitch. “Don’t be late.”
“I won’t.” Mitch looked again at Stacey. He moved forward then rocked back. He was still looking into her eyes, he moved again but jittered. “Just kiss me will you?” Stacey said as she slid her hand around his neck and pulled him close to meet her lips. It was soft and maybe a little awkward. Both of them thought it was nice. Stacey looked at Mitch, “I’ll see you later.” Mitch smiled, and Stacey turned and left the shop, leaving the scent of peaches and blossoms on Mitch’s shirt.
To be continued…
This is a short story by Nick Mann, if you liked it, you can find more of the buggers here. Otherwise, if you have enjoyed it please consider sharing it – Karma and my badself will thank you for it. The buttons are on the right, thank you kindly.