Chapter 6:

Wednesday Evening- The Barista Makes a Grave Error

Cafe Abri

15… 14… 13, Goddammit.

Hal heard the bell above the front door chime softly around the fourteen-second mark and looked up to see who had come in. Before her stood a scrawny looking teenager with torn jeans and a zipped-up black hoodie with the hood up, coming into the cafe mere seconds before it closed. She noted the way he wore his hoodie even in the summer heat, but brushed it off as a common loitering teenager trait. Even if the kid was doing anything shady, the least Hal could do for him was give him a good drink. She just hoped his order would be quick.

“Welcome to Abri. What would you like to drink?”
The kid gave no response, choosing to sit in a corner of the cafe, away from the window. Hal sighed.
Great… This is why I hate teenagers.
Hal called out to the kid again.
“Hey, sorry. We’re closing soon so if you don’t have an order and are just here to relax, I suggest you find a different place.”

The kid didn’t move.

Geez, I didn’t think they were that braindead.
Hal moved from behind the counter to tap the kid on the shoulder.
“Did you hear me? We’re closing. Other places have air conditioning too, you know.”
Right before Hal could reach him, the kid finally spoke.
“Milk. Just get me a glass of cold milk.”
His voice was deep, almost artificially so, like someone suffering from a cold. And when he spoke, he kept his back facing Hal, which annoyed her to no end.

“And your name?”
“My what?”
Hal enunciated each syllable slowly and irritatibly.
“Your. Name.”
The kid scratched his chin before answering.
“Call me Barb.”
Hal walked over to the fridge, grabbing a clean glass and a carton of milk. She poured the milk into the glass and filled it just a smidge lower than she would usually, her own customer service-y form of spite. She walked over and loudly thunked the glass onto the table. Barb looked up at Hal in surprise.
“Alright. Pay up.”
Barb hurriedly grabbed the wallet in his pocket before realizing he had no bills. He was then forced to do the unthinkable- pay completely in change. Milk wasn’t exactly expensive so there weren’t actually that many coins, but that didn’t stop Hal from clicking her tongue loudly in annoyance. She went back behind the counter and waited for Barb to finish his drink.
He drank slowly, annoying Hal further, but it wasn’t long before her attention shifted elsewhere.
Barb had drained about half his drink when the bell chimed softly again and Hal smacked herself for forgetting to hang the ‘closed’ sign on the front door.
“Sorry, we’re closed. You’ll have to go somewhere els-.”

Hal paused, realizing that the one who opened the door was a little girl with a backpack, no older than eight. The girl looked confused, scanning the cafe before making wide-eyed contact with Barb. Barb pointed to the girl as he turned to Hal.
“She’s with me.”
“Listen, we were supposed to close fifteen minutes ago-”
“Please. This’ll be quick.”
The expression on Barb’s face almost made Hal feel bad about not filling his glass all the way up. She crossed her arms and blushed a bit.
“Well I guess if it’s quick…”
“You heard her, Rue. Sit down over here.”

Rue timidly took a seat, putting her backpack on her lap. As she slowly zipped open her backpack, Hal could hear a quiet, adorable voice come out of her.
“You promise not to tell my parents?”
“Of course not. You have the money?”
Hal watched as an adorable scene turned horrifying in a matter of seconds, as Rue gingerly produced a bill from her backpack and Barb slid her a few small packets.
Hal was a blur, sprinting at full speed towards the table. Rue screamed and covered her head with her hands, but Barb just looked confused. Disgusted, Hal shot a finger out at Barb.
“YOU! What the hell are you doing, selling-”
Hal forcibly grabbed and held up one of Barb’s packets.
“-these illegal…”
Hal turned her head and looked at the packet more carefully. She began sweating profusely, realizing what she was holding up.
“Porkymon… Cards…”
Hal stood there lamely at the table for a second. She looked at Rue, who was now loudly crying. She looked at Barb, who looked at Rue crying, then at Hal, appalled. Sweat was now pouring down Hal's face as she silently placed the Porkymon booster pack back with the others and stepped away from the table.
“Never mind…”
For the second time that day, Hal wished to die. She tried to quietly walk back to her place behind the counter, but Barb called out to her before she got too far.
“Wait! Can you at least try to fix your mistake?”
Barb sternly looked at Hal, pointing to Rue, before going over to kneel next to her in an attempt to comfort her. Hal was still too shocked by her own actions to utter a single word. Instead, she ran behind the counter.
Hal quickly scanned through the fridge and cupboards, before finding a half-used chocolate bar and returning to the scene of crime. She extended it towards Barb, who gave her a curt nod and snatched it from her.
“I u-used it in a drink the other day. So the chocolate should still be fresh.”
Barb kept his eyes on Rue. His tone shifted to a higher pitch as he talked.
“You hear that, Rue? It’s good chocolate!”
Barb broke off a chunk and put it near Rue’s face for her to see. Rue smelled the chocolate before she saw it, taking in cocoa goodness as she tried to sniff back in the snot running down her face. She slowly opened her eyes, then delicately took the piece of chocolate out of Barb’s hands and into her mouth. Barb smiled and nodded.
“It’s good, right?”
Rue softly smiled back and Hal breathed a sigh of relief. The tears had finally stopped.

“Okay, I think we should explain ourselves because it seems like someone didn’t get it.”
“G-go ahead…”
Hal sat awkwardly at the table with Barb and Rue. Rue didn’t seem to be paying very much attention, too busy eating her chocolate bar to look up, but Barb was staring Hal right in the eye. She couldn’t shake the feeling that Barb was giving her a hard time for more than just making Rue cry.
“You know Porkymon, right?”
“Of course I do. I even have a Chonkachu plush at home.”
“Did you ever have any Porkymon cards growing up?”
Hal paused to think.
“Not that I can remember. I think they were pretty big in elementary school, though.”
“Exactly. Porkymon cards are hot ticket items at Rue’s school. Or were, I should say.”
Barb ruffled Rue’s hair and Rue laughed, trying to push his hand away.
“This one happened to get them banned.”
Hal looked inquisitively at Barb.
“You wanna tell her, Rue?”
Mouth still full of chocolate, Rue mumbled in a way that Hal still considered quite adorable.
“Jamie stole one of my cards and wouldn’t give it back, so I punched him.”
Barb laughed loudly, though Rue was quiet.
“That’s right. And when her parents heard about this, they grounded her and confiscated all of her cards right away.”
“And you know all of this because…”
“I babysat her like, a week ago. Her parents are crazy strict about this kind of stuff.”
Barb picked up the booster packs and examined the art on the foil package.
“Since her parents wouldn’t buy any more cards for her, I told Rue that I could buy them for her if she just gave me the money for it afterwards. Her house is near this cafe, so I figured it’d be an easy place for us to meet without parental supervision.”
Barb chuckled to himself.
“Hopefully they haven’t freaked out about Rue disappearing yet. This was supposed to be a super quick thing.”
Hal watched Rue finish her chocolate bar and passed Barb a napkin to help Rue wipe away the bits around her mouth. Barb attempted to put the napkin to Rue’s face, but Rue pushed him away with an “I can do it myself!” Rue ripped the napkin out of Barb’s hands, making Hal smile at her tenacity.
“You think this a good idea, though? I mean, shouldn’t you just leave the punishment up to the parents?”
Barb sighed.
“You’d do the same if you babysat her that night. It was all she talked about. It was all over her walls, it’s all she wanted to watch, she even has a chubizard toothbrush, for crying out loud!”
He quickly turned to Rue, reminding her to put the booster packs safely in her backpack.
“It could just be a phase that she’ll grow out of, but then again, maybe it’s not. I honestly don’t really care either way.”
Hal took a good, long look at Rue one more time. Then she headed back behind the counter to print out a receipt for one order of milk. She handed the receipt to Barb.
“Here, take this. In case you need to prove that you were actually at a cafe with Rue.”
Barb looked surprised.
“Thanks. Let’s, uh, hope it doesn’t come to that, though.”
He stood up and kicked Rue’s leg lightly.
“Come on, we’re going home now.”
Rue jumped to her feet and headed out the front door before being dragged back inside by Barb.
“Wait. Remember, what do you say to the nice lady who gave you chocolate?”
Rue rolled her eyes and looked at Hal.
“Thaaaaaank you.”
Hal smiled and waved.
“You’re welcome!”

As Barb and Rue left the building, Hal washed the last dishes and swept up the chocolate bits on the floor. She grabbed her things, locked the building and headed home. It was still quite bright outside, but as far as Hal was concerned, sleep was imminent. She didn’t even want to think about dinner as she casually jaywalked across the crosswalk and nearly got hit by a car. The car loudly honked their horn at her and Hal shouted obscenities back. She angrily muttered to herself despite being completely at fault, and walked the rest of the way home with little incident. 

Cafe Abri