couldn’t tell if the barista was flirting

I’ve got a crush on this tall slim tattooed barista who works at the coffee shop I visit every day where I order a double espresso and a cup of water with no ice (they always put the ice in anyway; server’s reflex). This past Saturday the barista in question said hey to me in a very familiar-sounding way when I approached the counter. Like we were old friends. Then, when I tried to place my order, she said, “Don’t worry, I got you,” and for a minute I didn’t know what to do—I’d pulled my card out but she waved it away and turned around to the espresso machine.

            I didn’t know if that meant the coffee was free. And if it was, could she get in trouble?

            Years ago I would visit a Starbucks in Palmetto Bay every morning for my double espresso (sidenote: the manager was a wonderfully sweet fretful woman named Reggie and when I asked her one day, “What’s the most dangerously caffeinated drink you’ve ever prepared for someone?” Reggie lowered her voice and said, “That’s not the kinda thing we disclose, cuz we have so many regulars, but there’s a man who comes in here every afternoon and he orders nine shots of espresso in a single cup,” which I thought was pretty intense; then a few months later I’m sitting outside that Starbucks with my good friend Bob, and his uncle walks out—with nine shots of espresso in a tall cup).

Anyway. One day my old friend Jessica from high school started working the register at this Palmetto Bay Starbucks and after her first couple weeks on the job she stopped charging me for the espresso.

            Free coffee every morning after that. Very nice.

            But after about ten days I said, “Jessica, I feel like a criminal.”

            She gave me context by saying that every morning, just to check that the machines are pouring espresso at the right speed, Starbucks baristas run about ten shots’ worth of coffee down the drain.

            I said, “My conscience in that case is unscathed.”

            But my friend Neil, for instance, is married to a guy who owns a few coffee shops in Fort Lauderdale and Neil’s husband says that the first five or eight cups of coffee he sells in a given day will only cover the cost of paper cups, lids, straws and napkins and spoons that’ll be used by customers that same day.

            Incidentally: I visited his store one time and they were serving gourmet coffee in rocks glasses (a novelty bordering on heresy). The barista there encouraged me to try an exotic espresso and then served it in a rocks glass and I took one sip and winced. He asked me what it tasted like and I sipped again and said, “Discontinued currency.” He nodded and smiled and said, “Right?”

            I stuck with Starbucks after that.

            But when my coffee was ready this Saturday, the one I got for free from the very attractive wiresome tattooed barista, she came over to my table and set the cup down and I thanked her and asked her name.

            She told me her name with what I think was a smile beneath her mask.          

            Then I told her my name, and said, “nice to meet you,” and she said the same words back to me without inflection and turned away because a line had formed.

            For hours afterward I asked myself, Was that a flirt?

            Likely not.

            The coffee, however, was great, and it only cost me several hours of worry.

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