Dragon Fire Chapter 5
The Unruly Customer
Today was such a lovely day! Allie got to do her favorite job, working behind the bar. Dale was at the cash register, while Randy and Kyle handled the customers. There was a steady flow of customers coming to the bar today, and Allie couldn’t be happier! She loved serving the people tea and talking with them. Thanks to Opal and Randy, she even managed to improve her tea making technique. Allie had worked in some form of service all her life, but never really even thought about serving a cup of tea. That is, at least, until Dale came to her convenience store.
A customer broke her concentrated lost in thought, “So Allie, what do you think I should do?” That’s right, she was talking with him! A young boy, maybe fifteen years old. It was his first time in here, but Allie couldn’t help but notice his slumped shoulders once he sat down. At first he didn’t want to talk, but eventually he did! That made Allie so happy! His issues were nothing uncommon; he had feelings for a girl, but didn’t know how to tell her. Like everyone else, they thought their situation as somehow different and unique. But Allie was twenty three years old, and despite being two years younger than everyone but Kyle, she had heard her many fair share of stories. Details may be different, but the problems told to her, from an outsider’s perspective, always seemed so silly. So Allie loved helping people see just how silly they were being.
“If you like her so much, why don’t you just tell her?”
“Like I’ve already explained, I can’t! What if she doesn’t feel the same way? What if it ruins what we have already?” Allie put one finger on her lip, and looked up while thinking on this.
“That’s true, but what do you think will happen to you if you just stay like this forever?”
“Huh? What do you mean?”
“Well, say you never tell her. Those butterflies in your stomach, that feeling in your chest, those nights where you just can’t sleep…how long do you think you can go on with those bothering you? They’ll only grow over time if they’re not addressed.” The boy seemed even more wracked with desperation now. Young love is always so cute!
“But what’ll happen if she refuses to talk to me after that? Won’t I just feel worse?” Allie tilted her head in confusion.
“How long have you known her again?”
“Since we were ten! We’ve spent so much time together, that’s why I don’t want to go ruining it!”
“Has she ever done anything to make you think she’d be the type of person to never speak to you again if you told her?”
“She…I don’t know.” Allie smiled and half closed her eyes as she gave him a motherly look.
“It sounds like you do know. And you just don’t want to admit it to yourself on the off chance you were wrong.” All the boy could do was look away. It was a silly worry, but Allie understood. “How about this? Bring her next weekend. Have her try some tea! And I’ll take a look and see how she acts around you. If I get any feelings that she likes you, I can let you know.”
“Y-you’ll do that?” Allie closed her eyes and smiled.
“Of course! Why wouldn’t I?”
The little boy had gone, and there was a momentary reprieve before another customer came by. Allie was putting away some cups when she heard the sound of the chair scraping against the floor. When she turned around, she saw an old, familiar face.
“Millie! Welcome back!”
“Hello, child.” Millie gave a nice, soft smile. Millie was an elderly woman had been a regular customer since the store opened. She was always so fun to listen to! She had the best stories, and was always willing to share. But something seemed….different today. Allie couldn’t quite figure it out. It wasn’t anything she was doing, but rather what she wasn’t doing. She wasn’t talking like she normally would. Every time she would come in, she would get the same order of English Breakfast tea, and Allie had been conditioned to make it every time she came in. When she handed Millie the cup, she hoped to also find out what was bothering her.
“Here you go, Millie. Uhm, if you don’t mind me asking, are you alright?” Millie was about to bring the cup up to enjoy the pleasant aroma, but stopped halfway through as she looked up at Allie. She sighed and gave another sweet smile.
“With how much seems to get past you, dearie, I’m surprised you noticed.” Allie wasn’t sure what she was talking about, but she continued to listen. “It’s my son again.” It was a common story at this point for Allie. Millie recounted stories of when she was younger and raising her son. She wasn’t the best mother. There were stories Allie hoped to not have to recite in her mind again, but the important part is after her son had moved out and her husband died, Millie felt alone. She had hoped to reconcile her relationship with her son, but after so much history, he seemed to not want to do the same.
Allie listened in as she told her new tale. It seems her son had gotten a girlfriend – two months ago, even – and never bothered to tell her. When Millie made a joking quip about helping raise the grandchildren, her son made a bitter remark about not letting her mess his kids up like she did him. Millie was awfully hurt by this, but didn’t know how to respond. And truthfully, neither did Allie. She doesn’t have kids, much less grandkids. Her upbringing was kind, and she had wonderful parents. She didn’t know of anyone in a similar situation. She had no advice to give.
But that’s alright. It wasn’t really advice Millie was seeking. Poor old girl just wanted someone to listen to. Short, whitening hair, her wrinkled brown skin showing the mileage in her life. Allie doesn’t really know what kind of person she was in her past, but through their conversations, she could tell that she had learned the lessons, and become a better person for it. She just wishes that her son could understand that. Allie momentarily glanced towards Dale before returning to the conversation. By the end of it, Millie took in a deep breath, and sighed before taking a sip of her tea.
“Thank you, dearie. The tea is delicious as always.”
“I don’t think its right.” Millie wasn’t expecting those words out of Allie’s mouth. Nor was she expecting the sad, frustrated look in Allie’s eyes. “Why does he have to be like that? Sure you’ve made some mistakes in the past. You’ve hurt him in ways you probably don’t even understand how. But you’ve learned, haven’t you?!” As soft as Allie’s voice was (or maybe because of its natural softness), her raising of her voice surprised Millie. It even caught Dale’s attention, who turned his eyes towards the bar from the cash register.
“I just don’t understand,” Allie continued, “How are you supposed to show him that you’ve changed if he doesn’t ever give you the chance?!”
“How is anything supposed to get any better if they won’t at least let you make amends for your past?!”
“At a certain point, it’s him who’s being a big oaf, not you! I-“
“Allie, my child!” Millie was finally able to cut Allie’s flow. Allie was breathing hard, before she realized how upset she was getting. She put her hands over her mouth. She was out of line, she thought to herself.
“I’m so sorry, I…” Millie just gave a light hearted laugh.
“No no, it’s alright, I understand.”
“I shouldn’t have been so mean to your son like that.” Millie got up, getting ready to head out, the calm smile never leaving.
“Right, my son.” She left her usual tip, and headed for the cash register. Dale had already begun ringing her up as she began walking up to him. She handed him the singles, and he handed back the change he had already prepared.
“Thank you for coming again,” Dale said with one of his rare smiles.
“You heard the story, didn’t you?” Dale nodded.
“I’m sorry about your son.”
“And?” Dale looked at her with slight confusion.
“Oh, uhm…sorry for Allie getting upset. But I think she’s right. Your son should learn to give you another chance.” Millie smiled at his words. But as she looked into his eyes, her smile slowly faded.
“You really don’t get what just happened, do you?”
“Uhhh….” Millie shook her head side to side, feeling a sense of internal agony at the stupidity of the situation.
“You and Allie have at least one thing in common, I’ll tell you that…” she left the store, shaking her head all the while.
The evening had come by, things were winding down a bit. One more customer had just come in. Randy exited the back room, saying he was finished packaging for the day, and Dale asked him to see if Kyle needed any help with anything. Allie was wiping down the bar, when the customer came and sat down at it. It was a new person Allie hadn’t seen before. Dressed in a very fancy suit, his complexion seemed a bit pale, and he had a funny smell to him. Allie was pretty sure it was alcohol.
“Hello sir! I like your suit!” The man gazed up at her from the corner of his eyes, his expression not changing. “What can I get for you?”
“Oh, uhm, I’m sorry, we don’t serve coffee here.”
“What? What kind of a tea shop doesn’t serve coffee?”
“Oh, uhh…the tea kind?” Allie smiled, but it seemed not to have much effect on the man.
“Then just get me something strong smelling and with a lot of caffeine.”
“Oh, I’ve got just the thing! This black tea here is really fruity!”
“Fine, whatever, just make it.” The man hiccupped as he rubbed his eyes with his thumb and index finger. He didn’t seem too happy, but hopefully Allie could fix that.
“So I haven’t seen you before, are you local?”
“The hell’s it to you?” The man barked back, which caught Allie off guard. She wondered if she had accidentally been a little rude.
“Oh, I’m sorry. My name’s Allie, what’s yours?”
“The hell you asking me all these questions for?”
“I didn’t come here for you to try and bullshit your way into a tip, I just want some damn coffee.” The man was getting a bit irate, but it’s not the first time Allie has had to deal with such a customer.
“I’m sorry, but it’s not coffee I’m making, its tea-“
“Whatever!” he snapped at her, slamming his hand on the bar. This caused Allie to flinch back from being startled. The man laughed a little to himself. Between preparing the tea and talking to the man, Allie didn’t see when Dale left the cash register, but Dale had pulled up a chair, and sat down next to the customer’s left. His mammoth size made the man appear almost cute in comparison. Allie looked over at the register to see Randy behind it, and Kyle leaning over, both giving a side eye to the situation. Oh no, Allie thought, I hope I’m not causing a bad scene.
The man looked over at Dale with a look of annoyance, and spoke to him in a way that clearly showed he didn’t understand the difference in stature. “Hey, buddy. How ‘bout you go sit somewhere else? I don’t need you cramming me.”
“I’m fine right here,” Dale said, as he reached his giant arms over the counter and picked up a cup of tea. Hey wait a minute, Allie thought, that’s the man’s tea!
“Oh, uhm, Dale? That tea’s actually-“
“Don’t worry, Allie, I got this.” He didn’t even bother to look at her, he just looked at the cup.
“Wait, that’s my cup? What the hell ya doin’ then?” Dale ignored him. He pulled the cup up to his nose and took a giant whiff.
“This is some really good stuff. I think I can taste the strawberries just from smelling it.” Dale put the cup back down. “I’m not sure if you’ll be able to appreciate it.”
“Appreciate what?” the man asked, confused at the situation. “Just piss off and give me my cup.”
“Need to sober up?”
“What’s it to ya?”
“Just answer my question, I may be able to help.”
“Yeah, now give me my-“
“Over on the corner of Cypress and Ashland, they’re doing some construction. Well, they’re always doing construction there. I should know, I used to do a lot of construction.” Allie was confused as to what Dale was doing. He was speaking in such a calm voice. Maybe he wasn’t aware of what was going on and was just trying to make friends.
“Who the hell is this guy?!” The man seemed to be getting irate, looking at Allie, then back to Dale. He put one of his hands on Dale’s bulging right shoulder. It looked like he attempted to move him. “Shut up with your-“ The man was cut short after Dale grabbed his wrist with his right hand, and squeezed. The man didn’t let out a sound – he seemed too uncomfortable to do so. Allie was getting scared.
“Tomorrow morning they’ll be laying down some concrete into a hole. It’s a big hole, meant to be the foundation of a new building.” Dale finally looked over at the man, and his look combined with his tone of voice left no question to the implications. “Would you like to go see it?” It was one of the rare times Dale showed subtlety. Allie looked over at the Cash register, with Randy smirking and Kyle looking a little uncomfortable.
Dale was right, he helped the man sober up quickly. Everything about his demeanor changed. “No, that’s alright, I got it.”
“Good.” Dale let go of his arm. The man leaped out of his chair looking to leave, but Dale grabbed him by the shoulder and forced him down with ease. “Sit.” Dale slid the cup over to him. “You haven’t even touched your tea.” The deadpan voice was unsettling. The man looked paralyzed, unable to move his legs anymore. He reached over, hands shaking, and grabbed his cup. His trembling hands was making a rattling sound with the cup and saucer. What neither him nor Dale expected, however, was Allie’s hands reaching over, and being placed on top of his. The shaking stopped and made way to surprise.
“You’ll spill your tea like that, Mister.” He man looked up to see Allie’s kind, gentle face, giving him a sweet smile. “Just relax. The tea will help with that too!”
“I….I haven’t had tea before, I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry,” Allie continued, “you came to the right place, then! Here, I’ll help.” She put one hand on the bottom of the man’s hand, and the other on the bottom of the cup. She gently helped him lift it to his nose. “First thing you’ll do is smell the tea. Isn’t it nice?” The man looked hopelessly confused at the unusual situation.
“Y-yeah, it actually is pretty nice…”
“I didn’t know tea could be so wonderful until someone showed me, too.” Allie glanced over at Dale. Dale glanced away. The man glanced at both of them, his mind unable to wrap itself around the implications of this awkwardness. “Now that you’ve had a smell, you can have a sip. Don’t gulp it down, it’s not coffee. You want to really taste it.” Allie slowly removed her hands away from the man and the cup. He looked at her, back to the liquid, and back to her. Allie nodded her head up and down, her hair bouncing along with her eager expression. The man did as he was told. His demeanor changed once again, this time to a pleasant surprise.
“Wow, this…is actually pretty good.”
“Of course it is,” Dale spoke, “Allie made it. The girl you were so rude to-“ Dale was cut off by an agitated Allie slapping his hand. Dale went wide eyed with confusion.
“You stop it! What are you doing trying to scare the poor man?!” Dale opened his mouth like he was going to talk, but nothing came out. “Can’t you see he’s had a long day?! Now go away!”
“Shoo!” Allie made a motion as if she was trying to scare away a cat. Dale did as he was told, sulking and defeated. Randy made some kind of quip that Allie couldn’t here, and Dale looked ready to lunge at his throat as Randy burst out laughing.
“I…I’m sorry.” Allie’s attention went back to the now apologetic looking man. “I’ve been not having a good time.” As he was speaking, Randy walked up to the bar now. It’s alright, Allie thought, Randy is not one to be all mean like Dale.
“What’s been going on?” Allie’s caring voice seemed to drive the man on the verge of tears, like that sound of care is all he’s been craving.
“A downward spiral, that’s what. Work has been going terrible. I try to go to the bar to unwind. This angers my wife, who says I’m not home enough and I reek of beer. We stay up late to argue. I come in to work exhausted. Underperform. The spiral continues on down.” The man chugged the last bit of tea he had.
“Oh thank goodness,” Allie said, putting her hand on her heart.
“I…excuse me?!” The man felt like the care he had received was just ripped away from him.
“Oh no, I didn’t mean it like that! I’m sorry, I just thought you were mad at me!” That statement seemed to shock and fluster the poor man. It was as if his alcohol began to flow through him again.
“Y-you thought-“ He put his head on the tea bar, as those words seemed to burden his whole body. Randy came up and put a hand on the man’s shoulder.
“You had a bad day. We get it. The big guy over there has had a horrible week, and was taking it out on you.”
“I haven’t had a bad week.” Dale whispered to Kyle over at the register.
“Randy’s trying to prevent a lawsuit. He also said he’s going to strangle you later.”
“I’m sorry,” the man said as he lifted his head up, “I really am.” Just then, his phone started to ring. He pulled it out and looked at the caller ID. His face sunk. “My wife…”
“What’s your name again, friend?” Randy inquired.
“Earnie.” Before Earnie could realize what’s going on, Randy swiped his phone and answered it. Earnie looked as panicked as he could be. Allie looked horrified along with him. What rudeness these boys have! Randy started talking to the wife.
“Hello there, who am I speaking to? Oh, Lucy! You must be Earnie’s wife! Don’t worry, he’s not in trouble or anything, he’s currently in the bathroom. A bar? Don’t be silly, this is Dragon Fire! Yes, the tea shop that opened up, I’m glad you’ve heard of us! Gorilla? No that’s just Dale, anyway, Earnie’s been trying to find a good tea to bring home to you, and well, we have sort of been keeping him away. But he just got out of the bathroom, so I’ll hand the phone back over to him!”
Randy handed the phone back to a dazed and confused Earnie. Their conversation unfolded in front of Allie in the most beautiful way! Earnie began to make amends with Lucy for his past behavior, and he made plans to bring her to the store. He talked of Allie and how she reminded him of their daughter. Then they continued to speak of some more private matters, as Allie decided to make him another cup of tea on the house.
Another hour passed, well past closing time. Randy said to keep the store opened for a bit longer, so they can all enjoy the moment. Once Earnie was nice and sobered up, he headed off home. Kyle wished him goodbye, strategically staying in front of Dale’s death stare.
“Well, that was an adventure,” Randy said as he adjusted his hat. “Everything’s finished for the night, so let’s clean the bar up and go home.” Dale headed on over to help, and when he was within distance, Randy grabbed a wet rag, twirled it around, and whipped Dale right in the elbow. Dale let out a yelp as he looked both surprised and scared.
“What was that for?!”
“You don’t threaten to murder customers you idiot!”
“He was being rude to my employee!”
“Then you ask him to behave himself! That’s the kind of thing that can really come back to bite you, Dale!”
Dale crossed his arms and pouted as he looked to the side, “I don’t think I did anything wrong…”
“I told you buddy, leave the sensitive customer interactions to me.”
“It’s alright,” Allie chimed in, “I know Dale was just trying to protect me. It’s not like this is the first time he’s come to my rescue, right Dale?” She beamed him a smile. It wasn’t a massive ear to ear grin. If anything it was a little bit subtle. Even so, everyone felt the nostalgic weight behind it. Even Dale seemed to give a little smile, as his eyes softened up. He looked to be a bit lost in nostalgia as well. Allie giggled, “My hero.”
Allie said those words to Dale hoping to continue the feeling of nostalgia and happiness. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem to have the effect she wanted. Dale’s smile slowly lifted, and his eyes flowed from happiness, to a quick moment of sadness, to annoyance.
“Hurry and clean up.” He said, walking away from everyone. Kyle was left feeling confused, as he glanced over to Randy for some answers. But Randy seemed to be giving an annoyed side eye at Allie, who picked up on it. She sighed, and began to clean.