It had been the busiest day Miranda could remember.
There was nothing particularly memorable about it; no parades, no Olympic torch relays, no NASCAR derbies going on in the next town over. Yet somehow they’d made a bucketload of cash from several busloads of patrons, and her boss could only have been happier if Miranda had told her she was a lesbian.
Which she wasn’t, of course. That could only hurt her chances with Dirk if he ever found out.
She stood at the main register, counting out what seemed like a thousand twenty dollar bills. The two secondaries were being unloaded and banked by her co-workers, who were as elated and worn out by today’s business as she was.
“Was it the Napuccino that did it?” Jervis asked. “A recent study pointed out that most businessmen these days are sleep-deprived, and we got predominantly males, so maybe they were in need of a sleep aid?”
Berry shook her head. “Nah, it’s totally the Long John Black. Rum coffee’s always a hit when the weather gets a little cooler.”
Jervis seemed unconvinced. “Are you insinuating that our customers only want our coffee coz it’s cold and they need booze to keep warm? Coz that’d mean most of our clientele are closet alcoholics, and I’m pretty sure the health department would frown on us promoting alcoholism so flippantly. Besides, vodka’s the one that warms you up, not rum.”
“Have you ever had rum?” Berry asked, sounding affronted. “One time, over in Silk Valley, I got stuck with my boyfriend Terrence coz of a landslide near Providence-On-Black. All we had was a bottle of Australian Bundaberg that he’d brought back from Melbourne.” She winked knowingly. “We kept ourselves warm after that.”
“Because you screwed him in a prop tent?” Jervis asked scathingly. “The rum made you drunk enough to fuck, it didn’t make you warm by itself. Vodka is the one to do that. Why do you think the Russians have adopted it as their national mascot?”
Berry’s voice took on a very pissed-off quality, one that Miranda recognised as the ‘you’ve just accurately pointed out that I’m an idiot, but I’m still going to argue with you anyway’ tone. “If Russia had a mascot, it’d be that stuffed Lenin corpse they’ve got in Red Square. Wasn’t he, like, their version of Santa or something?”
Before Jervis could shoot back with a venomous retort Miranda stepped in. “Have you ever noticed that all our coffee names are just puns on coffee that most people probably find horribly cheesy?”
The two bickering co-workers stopped dead in their tracks to look at Miranda as if she was crazy. Berry looked murderous. “You mean the names that won us national coffee awards, like the Peppermint Peach Potbrew and the Coco Loco Mochachino? Those cheesy names?”
“But they’re so obvious!” Miranda protested. “I mean, Espress-To-Go is kinda cute, but why are we ploughing on with names like the Jumbalino Frappucino or the Cunning Lemon Linguist? I mean, are we meant to be a serious coffee shop or a comedy store?”
“A little of both, I’d think,” Berry argued. “If you need proof that people love stupid puns, just check this out.” She held up her hand, clutching a wad of greenback as proof.
Jervis took on a mocking tone. “You know what it is?” he said, his tone scandalous. “Miranda’s worked here too long. The puns are bleeding into her Harvard English-Speaking Skills, or whatever it is she studied –”
“Critical Discourse and Language Specialist,” she interrupted, cutting Jervis off from further mangling the name of her degree.
“Whatever it was,” Jervis continued, “it’s become infected by years of constant worldwide punomenons that have pervaded her precious, pretty little head. So now she can’t take one more customer asking her for a Ginseng Rinsing. She won’t be able to brew one more Caramacchiato with the knowledge that she’s directly supporting the horrid, despicable puns she’s come to loathe, hate, despise and detest with every fibre of her being.”
He raised a dramatic hand into the air, his voice going quite Shakespearian. “Damn the money! Damn the regular work! Damn the neverending supply of free coffee whenever you ask for it! Miranda Dillinger, the puns have invaded your life for too long! Will you finally free yourself from this torture, and abandon the independent coffee shop you helped build from the ground up? Will you cast off the shackles of the business you aided in toppling the local branches of Sundeers and Estefan Corduroys?” His hand dropped down, pointing an accusatory finger at her. “Will you yield your job and leave us forever?!”
Inside, Miranda was laughing her ass off.
Outside, she merely nodded grimly, her expression downcast and forlorn. “Yes, Jervis Baker, you’re right. I am so dissatisfied with my life of puns, I’m just heading off to Spectre Point to commit sepuku and cast my lifeless body into the shadowy abyssal maw below. I cannot live with the knowledge I’ve fostered such puntastic behaviour.”
Jervis nodded, his expression equally defeatist. “I know, sweetie. It’s a hard admission, but we all come to it at sometime.”
He held Miranda’s gaze for a moment, as they both looked at each other in grim assurance of Miranda’s sealed fate. The air became like dampened electricity, with the two coffee workers watching like mournful vultures circling the abyss below. Miranda heard a slow, funeral-like dirge playing slowly in her head, minor key in full force and piano meshing beautifully with deep horns.
Jervis was speaking the truth.
“But you can’t die! You’re my friend, and I’d be sad!”
Miranda and Jervis turned their heads slowly to regard Berry, her expression horrified and her hands lowering from her mouth towards her chin in shock. The young girl’s pale grey eyes were wider than Miranda had ever seen them.
There was a pause, then the laughter that Miranda had felt when Jervis accosted her exploded outwards in a wave of hilarious reaction. Jervis joined in, laughing jovially and squinting his eyes shut as they burst out into jolly sounds. Miranda haphazardly put down the bills she’d been counting and walked over to Jervis, giving him a hug and still laughing herself sick.
It took Berry a few seconds to work out that she’d been duped, at which point she fixed Miranda with an icy, decidedly un-joking glare. “That wasn’t funny.”
“Are you kidding?” Jervis shouted through laughs. “That was the best thing I’ve heard all day!”
A shrill cry rang out from the back of the shop, where Mildred was running up EFTPOS receipts. “What’s going on out there?”
Miranda and Jervis turned and answered in unison. “Nothing, boss!”