It won't be long, now, before Stevie & Mack, Barista Boys #2 will be released so I thought now was the time for a taster. Here, you'll find the first chapter, where Stevie makes his dramatic entrance at café.
The boy sipped his coffee. He'd made it last for almost an hour and it was cold. He didn't care, it wasn't the coffee he was here for.
The place was packed, the queue at the counter never ending as the baristas fulfilled one order after another. The waiting staff were rushed off their feet, buzzing around with loaded-up trays. The sight made his mouth water. Fresh bread, toasted cheese, butter-soaked teacakes, vanilla, sugar and chocolate all underscored by the ever present rich, nutty aroma of good coffee. It was sensation overload and his stomach growled.
The boy gripped his mug with white-knuckled intensity. He was putting off what he had come here to do. Just yesterday, he'd stared in through the window at the heaped-up display. Once, he could have walked into a place like this and settled down with a double shot and a plate of sweetness that was little short of heaven. But once was not now. Now, he'd had to dig through his meagre belongings for spare change. There wasn't any, of course. Instead, only hours before, he'd counted out the money for the coffee - the smallest and cheapest on the menu - from the discarded coins that had been scattered around the passed-out man sprawled next to him on the floor of the squat. If he were to succeed, he’d told himself, he had to have the price of admission. You're stealing, the voice had whispered in this head. No, it's survival. But it was semantics. He was stealing, he was stealing to finance a larger theft.
Theft. He'd done worse things, but still the word made him cringe. Cut it anyway he wanted, that's what it was. Which made him a thief. But pilfering a few coins meant that he'd be able to eat for a couple of days. He'd share his haul with the man. Whoever the man was, he’d turned up late the previous night, smoked stuff chased with cheap spirit and then passed out. Not a word had been exchanged. He hadn't moved when the boy had rifled through the scattered money. The man could have been dead for all he knew. More for me then. The thought, unbidden and selfish, made the boy's eyes widen. Had it really come to this? Did he wish a stranger dead because then he wouldn't have to share his soon-to-be stash of stolen food? Yes, it would appear it had.
He pushed his fingers through his hair, but his progress was impeded by the mass of knots and tangles. He hadn't brushed it in days. It was a bit difficult to do that when he didn't have a hairbrush. He hadn't had a wash, either. Washing wasn't easy when the dilapidated, boarded-up squat didn't have any running water. He'd tried washing in public toilets, but the cold stares and the muttered comments had put him off. Easier, then, to stay grubby.
The boy shook his head. He was letting his thoughts distract him. Fill his bag, and get the hell out. And not come back. He threw back the last of his coffee. He pushed himself up from the small table, tucked in the corner yet commanding an unhindered view of the whole café. At once, three men bore down upon him. His stomach somersaulted. Nausea bubbled up into his throat. Sweat beaded his forehead, and trickled from his armpits. They knew what he was about to do. He'd failed before he'd even started.
“Are you leaving?” The question, from a besuited middle-aged man, was accompanied by a hopeful smile.
“I think we were here first.” Another man, scowling, as the third stood behind him holding two steaming mugs.
He nodded and slipped past them. They could battle over the table, it wasn't his problem. If they started arguing it would provide a further and welcome distraction for the already harassed staff. He edged through the maze of small tables, towards the plain door with the Staff Only sign.
It wasn't the door next to the end of the counter, the one that the white-aproned waiting staff rushed back and forward through. It was the door next to it, the one he'd spotted when he'd peered through the window the day before. Then, it had been wedged open. Oven-gloved staff had slotted mesh trays onto cooling racks. Baked goods, savoury and sweet, fresh from the oven. He'd almost passed out when he'd seen them, waiting their turn to make it to the display at the counter. Yesterday had been a bad day, he hadn't eaten in forty-eight hours. He had stood and watched as food was delivered to the counter, its place on the cooling racks taken by trays fresh from the oven. All in a steady flow. Steady, not constant.
It had been what had given him the idea. In the lunchtime press he could slip in unseen. It would be a matter of seconds to fill his bag with enough to eat to make him not to have to make choices about how he was going to survive another night. Today, though, was different. The door was closed. He prayed it wasn’t locked. If he tried to push open an unyielding door the staff would see him. They would know what he was going to do and would shout thief. Everything would stop, go still and quiet as everyone, customers and staff alike, turned and looked at him with contempt for the dirty, stinking lowlife he was.
The boy licked his dry lips. He could turn and go, forget the whole plan. But if he did, what then? Another day and night without food. He was starving. He wasn't just hungry, his belly didn't give a low level rumble because he was a bit late eating. He was starving. His stomach was hollow, he could count his ribs jutting through his pallid, sickly skin. He had small cuts and scratches that wouldn't heal. In this wealthy, vibrant, cold and cruel city he was literally starving. If he was going to make it through another day, he had two choices. Steal food to survive, or go back to what he was running from. Choices? He had none. He cast a final look around the café. Nobody was taking any notice of him. Jeans, trainers and a navy hoodie, threadbare at the edges, he may as well have been a ghost for all the attention he aroused.
A quick push of the door and he was through.
He stood for a moment in the low light, panting hard and sweating with fear. Voices wafted in from the kitchen next door, men’s voices laughing and joking. They were only a few steps away. If they came in, he’d be trapped like a rat. He took deep breaths to try to calm his frantic heartbeat. The thump in his chest slowed. He was alone, in the gloom, with food for the taking. His body jerked forward, his one thought to fill his bag as quickly as possible and be gone. He didn't know what he grabbed. Soft sponge, crusted bread, sweet and savoury. The boy didn't care as he raided the racks knocking and spilling the goods over the floor in his frenzy. Just one more, just another piece, each taking him a step further from having to make the terrible, frightening choices about getting through another day.
The boy dropped the bag as strong arms grabbed him from behind. Stolen food tumbled out, the evidence stark and undeniable. He struggled, but it was no use. The arms that held him tight were a vice, forcing the air from his lungs. He was gasping, begging to be let go between each weak breath. The voice from behind him was loud and angry. The room burst into light, the harsh fluorescent strips hard and searing after the gloom and the boy squinted. Another voice joined the one that still boomed from the man who was holding him with such force the boy thought his ribs might crack.
“Dirty little thief. I knew he was up to something, I just knew it.”
As suddenly as he'd been grabbed from behind, the boy was pushed forward and out of the man's arms. He fell to the floor, landing heavy amidst the spilled food. Under the glare, and with raised voices ringing in his ears, he hugged his knees to his chest. He squeezed his eyes closed and wished to God he'd never been born.
A E Ryecart
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