Eternal Summons of the Starbucks Line

ILM Starbucks | Dec 20 | 5:56pm

Venti peppermint mocha for Tyrell. Go to 1 Letterman Drive.

I knew what to expect from a Starbucks run. I did them every day, but Tyrell’s place was in a completely different part of the city. Then the second text came in.

order[779CE] !illegalaccess #Dude

The last time I saw that kind of message, it was a setup from Harry, but Harry said he was reassigned. Something weird was going on, and I wanted to check it out.

The coffee house was strange too. Industrial Light and Magic has a special Starbucks inside one of their buildings, but their view of the Presidio outside the giant windows was drenched in rain that day.

I waited off to the side for someone to call my fake name. Hidden speakers played some obnoxious, happy mess of Christmas and Auto-Tuned soulless Soul.

“He sees you when you’re sleeping. He knows when you’re awake…”

I could see three surveillance cameras from where I was. I looked down at the bobble-headed Star Wars figurines on the espresso machine and wondered what the Dude was watching right that second, how many cameras were in my apartment, if he knew whether I was bad or good. Then Joey Ramone’s Christmas song started, and I just felt sad.

The place was full of customers doing stuff on their laptops, focused as the people I delivered to, but they walked in and ordered for themselves like normal human beings, without someone telling them where to go every minute. There were loud conversations on cell phones and in person about whatever people talk about over coffee, and the chaos of overlapping words felt alive and foreign.

I usually never have to stand in line, and the drinks are almost always ready when I show up at those places. When I got there, the staff said my order was coming, but the timing was off. I kept waiting in the corner.

When they started serving people who weren’t even there when I walked in, I started getting pissed. I looked across all the new people waiting in line and swallowed hard when I saw one of them was my ex.

Alli’s body was turned away, half hidden behind the giant portfolio case over her shoulder, but I knew the snake tattoo on her neck and those ratty old combat boots, and her hair was still that delicious blue color of raspberry Jolly Rancher.

She was trying to ignore me. The last month I crashed at her place, she stopped looking at me, went on with her life like I wasn’t there. Then I moved into the storage space and started ignoring myself, hoping I would go away.

I walked down the line of people waiting to order coffee.

I wasn’t in that storage unit anymore. Everyone else working for the Dude could let the world pretend they didn’t exist. Not me. Not this time. I wouldn’t be coy or act surprised to see her. I would go straight for the jugular hidden under that epic snake tattoo.

“Wow, I didn’t think you’d get old so goddamned fast.” I smiled. I couldn’t not picture her firm tits pressing against layers of bra, shirt and jacket.

She turned and arched her bright blue eyebrows. “Well, I didn’t think alcohol poisoning could be airborne, but your breath says otherwise.”

A voice came from my left. “Winston.” Finally, the mocha was ready, but I was busy.

I pointed at the portfolio bag. “Working on assignment? Bringing your homework in to show teacher?” I was a head taller than her, but she didn’t care.

“They like my style. Sometimes they buy designs.” The line moved. She stepped forward. I recognized every hole in the jeans that looked so goddamn good draped around that tiny ass and toothpick legs.

The barista shouted. “Winston!” I ignored it.

I had to tell Alli it wasn’t losing her that broke me. She couldn’t have that satisfaction, so I shoved my accomplishments in her face. “I got this scam now with Harry. And a car. And a free apartment.” Everything I was so ashamed for taking sounded pretty good when I said it like that.

Her face went serious. “I guess the food stamp thing worked.”

I didn’t get it. “What thing?”

“You can file for food stamps from wherever, but the forms still showed up at my address. A couple months ago, I told them you didn’t live there, that you were a dirtbag scammer bag of crap.”

“That was you?” When the food stamps stopped I thought it was the Dude’s plan to keep me poor, but this wasn’t connected. “I almost starved.”

“You were just gonna rot in that place as long as you knew you had that handout.” She bit her lip like she always did when she challenged me, the look I could never resist.

The thing about Alli’s eyes isn’t just how their blue matches her hair that matches her eyebrows. It’s the way I can see in them everything that she’s feeling. That’s why she stopped looking at me. The people I see through my work are so closed off, they can’t be feeling anything anymore, but Alli is more like Casimir than I want to admit. What those eyes don’t ever show is fear. I felt alive just from seeing that type of courage, and I wanted to grab her, have it out right then and there.

“Oscar?” The barista called me again.

“I think your coffee’s ready.” She bit her lip again. There was nothing like a fight with Alli to get my blood pumping, but I broke eye contact, because there was no way the barista could know my real name.

Behind the counter, a guy in a green apron shouted. “Anyone here named Oscar?”

I cut in front of the line. “I’m Oscar.”

“What did you do to our registers?” Behind him, the rest of the Starbucks employees stood together, staring at me.

I leaned across and looked at the touch screen register. There was a message on it.

You never emailed me
I need to reach you
Don't use the company phone

The register went back to normal, and the employees all looked at me.

I turned around, but Alli was gone. I saw her through the glass doors leading deeper into the building. I picked up Tyrell’s mocha and looked around at the surveillance cameras. Everything was still strange, but it was back to the normal kind of strange.

I still need to figure out what the hell was up with that message. It has to be connected to the messed-up text, right?

The text had the Dude’s name, but I don’t suspect him here. He’s the one behind things the rest of the time. He doesn’t need to send me to the wrong place to get me a message.

Maybe it’s Harry setting me up again, except there’s no followup text to brag about it. Not his style.

No, wait. There’s someone else who knows my real name and might know how to send a message through the register like that. I also never emailed her, but I still don’t have a computer.

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