They arrived at the top of the hill and found the boutique coffee shop that Mrs. Dob preferred. A clump of people stood inside. Jack supposed the clump would have formed a line if it had been temperate outside. Jill pushed her way in, causing grumbles from the group as she held the door open, allowing winter and Jack in.
One poor, frantic barista scuttled from cash register to coffee pot or espresso machine to the pick-up area and back.
Once Jill reached the counter and started to order, the barista, whose bushy red hair made him even more squirrel like, blanched.
“Mrs. Dob?” he asked, almost cowering.
Jill smirked and nodded. She didn’t have to finish detailing the order. The man turned and started his preparations.
Jill pulled Jack out of the clump of people to hover near the pick-up area.
“Does she always get tea and coffee together?”
Jill nodded. “A cinnamon chai latte with a double blast of whipped cream and a shot of espresso.” She added, “The cinnamon has to be freshly ground, the espresso made with distilled water, and the whipped cream really whipped – not out of a frozen carton.”
Jill went on, showing an unexpected glimpse of humanity, “When I first started, Henry – my predecessor – sent me here alone without specific instructions. Mrs. Dob railed at me for days for putting stale cinnamon on top of her chai latte. The fact that I brought her a separate espresso probably saved my life.”
“Does she want this every day?”
Jill gave Jack a pitying look. “Only on days that end with Y.”
He should have been thankful for Jill’s insistence that she accompany him to get coffee, but really he just felt annoyed: three and a half years of school to become a coffee gofer. Somehow Jill had moved up to junior ad exec, replacing whomever Henry was, so he could too. If it meant taking that hill everyday in whatever weather and harassing the barista, so be it.
Jill whipped out a soft lunchbox-type cooler from somewhere under her coat, which she wrapped carefully around the hot drink. She illustrated how Jack should hold it and passed it to him. She purchased a coffee for herself – not offering one to Jack – and they went back out into the cold.
The storm seemed to have settled in for the nonce, the street and sidewalk now covered with unploughed snow. After stepping carefully for a few minutes, Jack wished for a snowboard 0r skis, even a sled would have been better. Carrying the precious drink in both hands made balancing a challenge.
A rumbling sound made Jack glance back at the top of the hill. He expected another snow plough but an Escalade careened over the crest of the hill and slid down at luge speed. Jill, not paying attention, sipped her coffee and muttered about her car. The driver lost control and the heavy SUV headed directly for them.
All considerations of coffee forgotten, Jack grabbed Jill’s arm and pulled her out of the way just as the vehicle crashed into the light pole she’d been about to pass. They landed on their backs on someone’s stoop, glass, snow and ice falling about them like confetti.
“What the hell, Jack?” she asked, her eyes wide. She struggled back to her feet and brushed futilely at the coffee stain on her coat.
Jack climbed to his feet, rubbing his hip. He started to move to check on the driver when Jill’s hiss stopped him. She pointed to his feet.
The lunchbox container that held Mrs. Dob’s holy grail of coffee had been flattened by a piece of debris.