Page 52- Our One Year Anniversary Special Edition!

Despite protestations from Junie, Elliott had managed to barter a few bags of coffee for a suite of rooms for the night. It was a nice hotel, and the rooms were clean and spacious. There weren’t enough beds for everyone to get one of their own but they could make themselves plenty comfortable. Another bag of coffee, which had to be snuck out while Junie was chewing out the barista downstairs and then flat out taking over the operation of the espresso machine, had earned them an entire keg to themselves.

Roger was conscious in only the strictest sense of the word, lying face up underneath the spout, presumably for ease of refilling and also catching any drips. Junie was still away, apparently having the time of her life providing coffee to the masses. Elliott had positioned himself where he could stare at Shavian without making it obvious he was staring at Shavian.

Fipps looked around, wondering at the strangeness of falling in with a group like this during the end of the world. They were good folks, but they seemed an unlikely group of friends, almost like someone was deliberately assembling a group of disparate people to make for more interesting reading… or something.

“So,” he said, “how did you guys all meet anyway?”

Roger sat up, suddenly sentient once more. “Well, it all started at the mall…”

Sitting back in his chair, Roger looked over the resume a second time.
Mike Springfield. High school graduate, currently taking classes at Tacoma Community College. Nineteen years old, and just lost his job at Ballden books when it had closed, another victim of Whamazon.

Lowering the paper he looked the kid over, with his neat-cropped hair and ready-to- please expression.

No wonder the company went under.

Roger had been working in retail long enough to know it was employees like him that cost companies money: so willing to go the extra mile for the customer, they might as well be giving product away. His resume also sported such details like 3.8 GPA, Spelling Bee finalist, and Varsity Football.

“Let me guess, you had a paper route too didn’t you?” Roger said, not bothering to keep the distain from his Scottish accent.

The boy leaned around to glance at his resume. “Umm, yes,” he said in an awkward voice. “It’s in my employment. I had my neighborhood paper route from when I was fourteen till I graduated high school.”

Roger frowned and looked, turning it over in his lap then back again: sure enough, the T-Town News paper route was there in the past employment complete with contacts to the front office and his supervisor’s desk. When Roger was applying for his job he didn’t even have a resume. With a put upon sigh Roger put the resume on the desk, slapping it down. They were in the manager’s backroom of Deek’s Sporting Goods, the dirty white walls covered in motivational posters that said such things as, Just don’t sell it! Win it!
It’s only victory if you can do it as a team.

Most of these posters were hidden behind overflow product they couldn’t find room for on the show floor.

“I’m not one for the small talk, Mike. I’m just going to cut to the chase,” Roger said, leaning forward in his seat.

“Alright,” Mike said timidly.

Roger could smell his fear. “Mike, are you a part of the Communist movement?”

“W-what?” Mike said, clearly taken back.

Of course he would be. Roger thought, He didn’t think I could sniff him out, but it’s easy when something is just too good to be true.

“It’s all about the Chinese, Mike, first they think it’s okay to make our stuff, then they start to lend us money. But it’s not just any money, Mike.”

“It’s not?”

“No! It’s the money we gave them. They’re just giving us back our own money and saying it’s theirs,” Roger said and crossed his arms, looking triumphant.

“Didn’t we… pay them for their goods?” Mike said trying to understand his brilliance.

“You see, this is why I know you’re with them, Mike. The goods made by the Chinese were stolen from us as well!”

“They are?”

“Of course! All of it’s just pirated, crappy versions of the original. That’s not what we paid for!” Roger pulls his chair closer, the wheels squeaking in protest. “What makes you think that we should hire you, a known Communist sympathizer? ”

“I played football in high school,” Mike said, clearly not sure where this interview was going.

“So?” Roger rolled his eyes.

“I’m an athlete, an American athlete. My experience can better help Deek’s customers.”

Roger frowned and pulled his resume back over to read it one more time. “Puyallup High? We went to the same school, that means your coach was Jim Katz.”

“Oh, yes, he’s still there.” The poor schmuck actually sounded hopeful, like that might win him points or something.

Roger smirked and sat back, tucking his thumbs into his ever-expanding beltline, his belly getting softer with each year. “Coach Katz always liked me, I heard that he liked to use me as an example in his conditioning programs.”

“I heard that you spent most of your time on the bench for anger issues and being too lazy during practice, “ the boy said, flushing.

“Coach always misunderstood,. Roger shifted perception without even blinking. “I always played hard, and I wasn’t lazy! I was busy coaching up my teammates! That’s called teamwork, my boy! Something you know nothing about!” Roger growled. “I think this interview is over, I don’t think you are going to fit in here…”

“Roger!” The words came booming at him from the door. Snapping around in his chair Roger found the manager watching him, not looking happy. “What are you doing back here? I thought I told you that display of baseball pants needed to be reorganized.”

“Yeah, well, I thought, you know… It was more important to make sure we had the right fit for Deek’s.”

“Wait,” the boy said. “This isn’t the interview?”

Turning back, Roger mumbled, “This is more like a screening process, to see if you are ready for a full…”

The manager shook his head vigorously. “Roger!” he bellowed and pointed to the door, “get out there and make sure it’s done before I leave this room.”

Grumbling, Roger passed other workers on the floor or, as he liked to call them, “sports sales lackeys.” At the front where the baseball uniforms were on display, Roger found another surprise; there pressed to front window was Elliott. He stood between two mannequins looking like a frightened little chipmunk, watching out over the mall.

“What are you doing, my boy?” Roger said while examining the baseball section; baseball pants were tossed everywhere, most of them on the floor. It was a right mess. Good thing the manger could see Roger’s skills at supervising would get this fixed.

“Sandy!” he called out and the girl behind the register looked over and scowled.

“I already told you Roger, I’m not going to dinner with you.”

“No, no, you see I don’t mix business and pleasure, and this mess of baseball pants is all business.” He waved to it dismissively and walked to the glass to look out with Elliott. Behind them Sandy started picking up the pants and grumbling about how she was going to slash Roger’s tires after work.

“I did it again, she talked to me and I couldn’t say anything. I just turned and walked away!” Elliott said in such a panic that he was slapping the display glass. Roger made a note that Sandy was definitely going to need to clean this glass before closing.

“Who? What?” Roger frowned and looked out over the hall.

“That girl, that gorgeous, amazing girl.” Elliott pressed himself to the glass, and with the expression he had, Roger was afraid he was going to lick it.
With a sigh he looked over the room and it took another point by Elliott to finally see her.

“What? The scrawny Irish girl?” Roger had to admit she wasn’t hard on the eyes… for an Irish. But there just wasn’t enough of her. And, also Irish: two strikes.

“Scrawny?” Elliott chirped. “She’s beautiful, and she just got hired at the new clothing store that’s opening next week. She told me and all I could do was sound like I had something caught in my throat.” He slapped his forehead. “God what is wrong with me?”

“You’re young, boy!” Roger said reassuringly.

“You’re only three years older that me,” Elliott said.

Roger continued, “Let me show you.” He walked out the door and into the hallway, Sandy calling after him; he needed to be checked before he could leave on break.

Stepping right up to the red-headed girl, she turned and jumped back a step or two, large brown eyes getting even larger. He could see how his athletic presence was affecting her.

“No need to be afraid,” Roger held up a hand. “I couldn’t help but notice you from across the hall. Let me buy you a cup of coffee, and you can get to know me better.”

Her brown eyes went from large to narrowed.

“I have a can of military grade pepper spray in my purse. I’ve been told it might be against the Geneva Convention. Want to find out?”

“Now, really, there is no reason to…”

“I think you’re giving me a reason.”

Roger cleared his throat. “I bid you good day,” he said and turned back for the safety of Deek’s where Elliott still watched from behind the pepper-spray-proof glass.

“So, what did she say?” Elliott said looking to be on pins and needles.

“My boy, that one would break you,” Roger said, red-faced, heading for the safety of the firearms counter.

Shavian jumped up from her seat and pointed at Roger, “That is so not how it happened!” She walked across the bed and hopped to the floor before Roger. “You totally came up on me like some kind of creepy uncle. I never said anything about any tear gas like pepper spray!”

She turned, looking to the room. “Come on, no one thinks I’d say something like that… do they?” Looking about, no one would make eye contact with her. Not even Higgins. She was about to say something when the door opened and Junie walked in, balancing a pile of paper coffee cups, all of them full of fresh coffee.

She was handing them out when she paused at Shavian and her crossed arms. “What happened?” Even oblivious in the company of coffee, Junie could tell something was up.

Shavian took the drink Junie dangled before her. “Roger says I threatened him the first time we met,” she said, looking glum.

Fipps, looking much happier now, said, “Well lets ask Junie then.”

“Let’s ask Junie what?” Junie said looking around.

“Why don’t you tell the story of how you all came together,” he said.

“Oh.” Junie handed a cup to Fipps and kept the last, taking a sip. “Let’s see…”

Seven Years Earlier…

Dr. Jules Abel sat down at his desk, ignoring the only other person in the room. He opened the tagged medical file he brought in with him and began to peruse its contents.


It made for fascinating reading: addiction at an early age, otherwise happy home, self-admittance to rehab at the age of twenty-


-Complete recovery so it would seem, very few withdrawal symptoms, which was medically unusual-

Slurp, slurp, squelccccccccch.

Dr. Abel closed his eyes, took a deep breath and smiled peacefully. The cup was empty; quiet at-


He opened his eyes; the girl sitting across from him had a second cup of coffee. He stood and leaned over his desk as she looked at him quizzically. On the floor next to her chair was a drink carrier with two more coffee cups stuck in it, little stickers over the holes in the lids to keep the warmth from escaping. She didn’t offer him one.

He sat back down and looked her over. She stared back at him, her blue eyes open and focused but sort of vague. Her blonde head was tilted to one side as she stared back at him, her long messy ponytail falling over her shoulder. She pulled her knees up under her chin but she didn’t look defensive or scared: she was just making herself comfortable.

She had been cooperative and willing in every aspect of her rehabilitation. She was friendly and quiet, with occasional bouts of excitability that were infectious rather than disruptive. Everyone liked her.


There was always a tone people used when discussing Junie Harkness. No one would come right out and say it, but this girl was a few waves short of a shipwreck. If Dr. Abel was basing it strictly on a visual examination he would have bet his medical license she was still on something, but he had verified the results of her most recent tox screening personally… and repeatedly. She was clean, no traces of any illicit drugs, just as it had been for the last several months. There were just absurdly high caffeine levels. Like, keep-a-bull-elephant-awake-for-a-week levels.

“You seem to have made a good recovery, Junie,” he said experimentally. “You’ve been clean for months.”

Junie nodded with a small smile. “Yeah, I feel good,” she admitted. She took a sip of her coffee, polishing off the second cup and reaching for a third. She didn’t even have the jitters. It wasn’t uncommon for an addictive personality to simply replace one addiction with another but her change from heavy drug use to caffeine seemed more than a simple switch- it was destiny.

“Then let me be blunt,” he said. “Why are you here?”

She cocked her head to the other side like he was a sideways painting she was trying to see properly.

“You haven’t released me,” she said simply.

Dr. Abel blinked at her. “Junie, you were here voluntarily. You can leave any time.”

“Oh. Okay.”

Junie stood up and walked out of his office, both of the remaining coffee cups in her hands. A glance out the window showed her striding down the driveway.

Dr. Abel shook his head and was glad he’d filed the release paperwork that morning.
Five Years After THAT…

Junie sat at the Badger’s Hovel, happily sipping her third mocha of the hour. It was a Saturday afternoon and the North Valley Mall was busy, which meant the Hovel was too. People bustled in and out, holding their coffee cups over the heads of the other patrons to avoid jostling while simultaneously chatting on their phones and ignoring the actual living human beings around them. The bright sun filtered in through the skylights and made little puddles of summer in the halls.

Junie had come to love this place, with its mismatched chairs and tables, its darkened corners, the one wall of art from the local elementary school children

Today there were three people behind the counter, Joyce, Phillip and Rhonda, scrambling frantically to keep up with the orders. Rhonda kept glancing at the clock, pursing her thin lips in consternation each time she did: Becky should have been here to relieve Rhonda fifteen minutes ago.

Becky had grown more and more irresponsible as the weeks wore on; she hadn’t been on time once in the last couple of weeks. Finally, at twenty five minutes late, Becky swooped in, blathering an apology as she ran behind the counter and took over at the espresso machine. Rhonda said nothing as she slipped her purple apron off over her head.

Joyce and Phillip both gave her the silent treatment as she began to pull shots and steam milk. The crowds had thinned down a bit in the coffee shop and Joyce had time to bring a fresh mocha to Junie’s table.

Joyce was the owner of the Hovel and she and Junie had come to be friends over the last few months. Junie offered her a seat but she declined.

“I figured you’d want one of these pretty soon,” she said, smiling tiredly; running this place was hard enough, but Becky was making it far more difficult on her.

Joyce departed and Junie lifted the cup to her mouth; just before the first sip, she paused. She took a deep breath and frowned at the cup. This smelled… wrong. Too much chocolate; the shot was shocked, probably poured directly over the ice. Junie turned a baleful glare at the girl behind the espresso machine.


Junie approached the espresso machine, trying her best to keep her voice polite.


Becky, who had her phone out and was doing nothing work related, sighed in exasperation and gave Junie a bored look. “Yeah?”

“Could I trouble you to remake this? You shocked the shot, and the chocolate to coffee ratio is all off.”

Becky rolled her eyes. “Seriously? Fine.” Every movement she made was tinged with belligerence: the button for the espresso hopper was pushed harder than necessary, the portafilter cranked into the espresso machine like an angry race car driver shifting into second after being cut off by a Nash Rambler, the ice scoop wielded like an axe.

Junie leaned over the counter. “You need more espresso in that portafilter,” she said. Becky drew in a deep, belabored breath and huffed it back out.

“Do you want to do this yourself?” she demanded, holding the portafilter out to Junie angrily.

Junie blinked at her good luck. “Yes,” she replied.

She came around the counter, ignoring Becky’s surprised look. Junie took the portafilter and examined it; she dumped out the grounds and ran the filter under the hot water from the espresso machine.

“You had mushy grounds from the last shot you pulled still in there,” Junie said absently. “Ew.” She pulled the lever to dispense fresh grounds, tamped it down, and brushed the rim free of loose grounds. She pressed the brew button and counted silently. Junie poured the shot into the milk, then that mixture over the ice.

“Why did you pour the shot into the milk?” Becky demanded. Junie closed her eyes but didn’t bother with a response.

“I can’t believe you had to ask that,” said Joyce from behind them. Junie hadn’t even heard her emerge from the back room. “I trained you better than that.”

“It’s just coffee,” Becky whined defensively. Seeing the look on Junie’s face at this, Joyce gently steered her away from any potential weapons.

“Becky, there’s no such thing as just coffee. There’s also no such thing as ‘just an hour late.’ Late is late. Fired is fired.” That last part was very specific, and even Becky got the hint. Huffing and grumbling, she tore off her apron and tossed it a bewildered Phillip who was just emerging from washing dishes in the back. As the apron landed, still a little damp from some recently spilled milk and covered in coffee grounds, right on top of his tray of freshly washed mugs, he sighed dejectedly without a word and returned to the kitchen to rewash them.

Joyce watched Becky go, then went behind the counter and inspected the little puck of grounds in the portafilter. “That’s a perfectly pulled shot, Junie. I happen to have an opening. Interested?”

Junie smiled, and said, “Absolutely. Bob, what do you think?”

Three Days After That…

“Junie,” Joyce said, “your background check came back fine. Policy, you understand. But I have to ask. Who is Bob? And… why aren’t you allowed to have pets?”

Everyone in the room stared at Junie. If blinking were a noise, the room would be downright cacophonous, because that’s all anyone was doing. At least until Fipps broke into delighted laughter so hard it left him wheezing and holding stomach. Higgins was smirking and shaking his head fondly.

Junie smiled beatifically at them all. “What?” she asked.

“Junie!” Shavian said exasperatedly. “That didn’t answer the question at all! That didn’t have anything to do with anything!”

“Yeah, that really just posed more questions than it answered,” Roger said.

“Yeah, exactly!” Shavian agreed. “And seriously… why can’t you have pets?”

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