Ground Zero

Ground Zero

“Dylan! We’re running low on filters!” yelled Dan from behind the dark oak coffee bar.
“Roger that,” replied Dylan, grabbing a fresh box on his way back from cleaning the front patio.

The sun was beaming in through the coffee shop’s huge floor-to-ceiling windows, rendering the two ceiling fans almost completely useless. The good weather seemed to lift the mood of the customers who always left bigger tips on days like this, and the smell of freshly roasted Colombian coffee filled the air.

Dylan was a big fan of the sunshine but, as an outdoors man, being stuck at work felt particularly cruel in this weather.

With a mop in one hand, a bucket full of dirty water in the other and the box of filters balanced loosely under his chin, Dylan dropped the box and kicked it in perfect timing over towards the till.

“Heads up!” he shouted, as the box flew through the air. Bang. It hit Dan right on the back of the head.
“Show off,” smirked Dan, bending down to pick it up from the floor, “Stick to your day job, yeah?”

Dylan loved working Saturday shifts with Dan, mostly because they had more in common than most other Ground Zero employees, but they had undeniable rhythm too. Dylan was a natural with the customers, his good looks and school boy charm played a big part in selling more muffins, and Dan’s trademark was his comedy and expert timing. He was impressively organised when working his way through complicated orders and multitasking whenever there was a long queue. He was an all-round excellent Goose to Dylan’s Maverick, and the days would fly by when they could talk Fantasy Football and sing Bob Dylan during their shifts. Anybody who knew Dylan knew where he got his name from, his dad was Bob Dylan’s absolute biggest fan. In fact all his siblings shared their names with famous singers. Dylan considered himself lucky, his brothers were landed with ‘Elton’, ‘Bowie’ and ‘Cash’. No kidding.

“Dude, why’s it so quiet today?” asked Dan, casually, as he leaned back against the bar and picked out the coffee grounds from under his nails.
“I bet it’s the heat,” said Dylan, “I’d be out in the sun too if I could…”
“Speaking of which, I’ll go grab the empties!”
Before Dylan could object, Dan was already halfway to the door. His frame might be stocky but he sure was quick. Dylan watched his friend bask in the July sun and couldn’t help but smile to himself. He tried to remember what life at Ground Zero was like before Dan joined the team, work had felt much less like work with him around.

As Dylan put his mop and bucket back in the store room, a bead of sweat dripped down the back of his neck. For a few seconds he pressed his face close up to the rotating fan on the counter and daydreamed that his head was sticking out the sunroof of a speeding car. Whilst following its mild breeze around the room, Dylan lifted up his shirt to air out his toned torso, trying to cool it down.

Suddenly a loud knock on the window made him jump. Dan was grinning and pointing towards to the till mouthing, “Customer!”

Dylan had been too mesmerised by the fan blades to notice. To his horror, there was a familiar face waiting for his attention by the till, a brunette that he’d had a huge crush on for months. His face flushed in embarrassment as he pulled his shirt back down, but he tried to pass it off as mild heat stroke.

“Wuh, what can I get you?” asked Dylan, clearing his throat and trying to remember how to move his tongue when he talked. Behind her head, Dan was licking his lips seductively and pushing his loose pecs together behind the glass window.
“Just an iced latte please,” she replied, fiddling with the hemline of her short summer dress. Dylan gave her a receptive, nervous nod and tried to ignore the fact that Dan was taking selfies outside, pointed in their direction. He had better not be Snapchatting ‘Dylan’s awful attempts at flirting’ again.

Dylan lifted a fresh carton of milk from the fridge before glancing back towards the till where the brunette was waiting patiently, watching him.
“Don’t worry, if you want to take a seat I can just bring this over!” he said, trying to ease the pressure he felt.
“Oh, thanks so much!” she replied, turning and then hesitating for a moment. Ooh, is she about to ask me something? Dylan thought to himself, hopefully.
“On second thoughts,” she said, walking back towards the till, “Can you make that two iced lattes please?”
Dylan’s heart sank a little, but he gave her a polite thumbs up. Smooth. She nodded her appreciation and made her way towards a clear table outside, sliding her sunglasses effortlessly over her eyes as Dan passed her through the doorway.

“Dude, what the fuck?” he said to Dylan, whipping him with his cleaning rag. “Could you be any more of a tool? I’ve watched you fail to hit on this girl for six months now.”
“Yeah, well, I don’t think your running commentary and mime skills help me very much!” Dylan joked, elbowing his friend as he poured milk into the two large glasses. Dan tamped the fresh coffee grounds flat and continued to laugh at Dylan’s terrible advances.
“Dude,” said Dan, putting on a camp Italian accent, “You’s going to be single forever, darlink. And you’s too pretty to let all that go to waste…”

The sound of a girl clearing her throat caught their attention again. The brunette had returned.

“Sorry to interrupt,” she said, Dylan noticed she was blushing this time. “Can I pay for these now? Because otherwise Liz will insist on it, and it’s totally my turn to pay!”
“Liz?” Dan asked, without thinking more than out of curiosity.
“Yeah, my friend Liz will be here in a second…” she explained, but was greeted by a blank expression on Dan’s face. “Liz Bell? I think she follows you on Instagram actually. ElleBell?” There was nothing but awkward silence between them as Dan stared blankly at her delicate freckled features, pouring the espresso shots into each glass without ever breaking eye contact.
“So, you’re not meeting a boyfriend then or anything?” Dan finally responded, not as casually as he’d hoped.
“Here are your coffees!” Dylan interjected, trying to diffuse the tension created by the blunt question, sliding the glasses across the counter. Ice clinked loudly through the otherwise silent room.
“Erm, thanks,” she replied, pushing a ten pound note towards the till. “Keep the change.” Dylan raised the note politely in his hand before turning to punch Dan in the arm. They both smiled to mask the tension (and pain) until the brunette was safely behind closed doors.

“Dude!” he hissed, “That was so obvious.”
“Shh,” replied Dan, getting out his phone from his short’s pocket. “I totally don’t know who ‘ElleBell’ is on Instagram, but I bet your ass she follows her best friend on there.”
“Oh my God, you’re a genius,” replied Dylan, suddenly desperate to know this girl’s name.
“Yes! Here it is. ElleBelle! Ha, Liz’s profile isn’t even private!” exclaimed Dan, he’d clearly done this before.
As Dan scrolled casually through Liz’s recent pictures, Dylan’s mind wandered to his next move. Even if Dan found this brunette online and he finally got to know her name, where exactly would that get him? He couldn’t just go up to her and say “hello” after all these months. Although, it would help him out to have more of an insight into this girl’s interests and to see if she’s even single. Modern dating was so incredibly difficult. Women wanted to be romanced but not stalked, they wanted someone confident but not rapey, they wanted to be treated like a princess but also like an independent woman. He felt more beads of sweat drip slowly down his back and lifted his t-shirt away from his skin to let it breathe.

Dan was still lost in a sea of blonde selfies as Dylan’s eyes moved over to the window. He focused his eyes and leaned forwards on the counter top. Liz still hadn’t arrived. As if struck by a bolt of lightning, Dylan felt suddenly very energized. He decided to do something very out of character. Without overthinking, he jumped over the oak counter and strode confidently towards the door. He was going to talk to this girl, without stalking her first.

As Dylan approached the table in the sunshine, his heart began to race. There wasn’t time to change his mind now. She slid her sunglasses back on top of her head and smiled at the sight of him.
“Hi,” he said, forgetting what words usually follow.
“Hi,” she grinned back in response.
“I just, I guess I just wanted to apologise for my friend. He’s totally harmless, you know, once you get to know him. He’s also totally inappropriate but it’s all part of his charm.”
She giggled up at Dylan and fiddled with a loose dress strap, “That’s okay. Thank you for coming over to say ‘Hi’, I’m glad you did.”
“Any time,” Dylan replied, smiling shyly and looking down towards the floor. He briefly caught sight of her long, smooth legs and then quickly shot his eyes back up to meet hers again. “I’m Dylan,” he said, reaching out a hand towards her.
“I’m Megan,” she replied, pursing her lips into a beautiful smile and slipping her hand into his.
She opened her mouth as if to say something else, but Dylan could barely hear anything above the sound of his own pulse.
“Enjoy your coffee, Megan,” he said, releasing her hand and taking a very awkward bow as he walked away.

Dylan closed his eyes tightly and didn’t open them again until he reached the safety of the coffee bar. He slid his back down behind the coffee machine, until he was sat on the floor with his head tilted back in disbelief. Hiding. “Did I just bow?”
He couldn’t believe that he found the courage to do any of that. His smile could have lit up the darkest of rooms. Dan joined him on the coffee-stained floor.
“I’m so proud of you dude,” he said, ruffling up his ridiculously thick hair, “I, erm, I almost don’t want to show you this.”
Dylan’s heart sank.
“Boyfriend?” he asked, through genuine, distressed eyes.
“Worse,” replied Dan, holding out his phone.

As Dylan studied the profile of the stunning ‘Megatron91’, he could hardly believe his eyes. Not only did Megan appear to have a long distance, long term boyfriend, but he recognised his face immediately. His heart hit the floor. There, on Dan’s phone screen was Cash. His older, guitar playing, womanising brother, kissing the cheek of the girl he’d been dreaming about for months. Cash always seemed to get there first.

Dan patted his friend on the shoulder as pulled himself back up to the bar, leaving Dylan to stew in his own disappointment on the floor. As he started to empty the coffee trays he glanced outside to Megan’s table, her face was searching the shop and looked similarly full of disappointment. Was she looking for Dylan? Dan looked down at his friend with a new found hope, perhaps it wasn’t ‘game over’ after all.