It’s all but dead now, that first wave of excitement. I remember it fondly, though that’s about all I can amass these days. I’ve long since stopped trying to dredge the feeling back to the surface of my memory. Stopped trying to keep it afloat. Which seems strangely fitting, considering that I’m standing on a sodden carpet with an inch of water at my feet and a plumber in my ear. It was two years ago when we first started to seriously discuss it. Sue and I were still together at the time and as always on a friday night we had Mike and Stuart around for dinner. A little tradition that started back when we were all still at University. The four of us were well into the third bottle of Pinot and just finished playing our favourite game of whose job sucked the most.
“We keep talking about it. Why don’t we actually just do it. Between the four of us it would work. I mean think about it. Sue, I know you hate the kitchen you work in right?”
“More than life itself.”
“Exactly, so we open a little coffee shop. Serve sandwiches, panini’s, bagels you name it, the menu’s yours. You get to cook the kind of food you like cooking. And Rory can it really be that much more different serving people coffee rather whatever the hell it is your shop sells?”
“Ok first things first, I work in a bar, we sell alcohol. Secondly, did you miss my five minute rant on why I hate customers, I should not be serving people things. Thirdly I do a lot more than just serve people things. I practically run the place.”
“That’s perfect, we won’t have you on the counter then. You can do the day-to-day running of the place, the accounts, the ordering. You know all the boring stuff. You might as well use that degree for something. Right?”
“I do enjoy boring stuff.”
“Stuart, you could be on the counter then. You’re a natural people person. I’ve see you on a night out, think of all the pretty girls you’ll get to flirt with.”
“Well that’s me convinced.”
Stuart had said it as joke, but in little over a month Mike had found a location and we had been approved for a small business loan. By the time next month rolled round The Bold Baristas was open for business. It was fun at the start, everything we thought it would be. We had a steady flow of customers going in and out. All of them commenting on how quirky and charming our place was. How they loved the mismatched sofa’s with no two pieces of furniture the same or the bookshelves filled with classics. We even had our photos taken for the front of the shop. That was Sue’s idea, we had them done in that faded slightly yellowed nineteen hundreds style. Each of us in our uniforms, right underneath the arched gold lettering of the sign, striking some pose we thought at the time made us look poised and dignified. Heads pointing up to the sky telling the universe look at us we are the bold baristas, we four friends working for no one but ourselves; or at least that was idea. That was then and this is now. One of the photos have been taken down and the shelves are all but devoid of any books, with what few that remain a tattered mess with pages missing. The mismatch sofas are splashed brown by clumsy drinkers. That small business loan has turned in to a dark cloud above our heads threatening to drown us all.
Maybe Sue was right to leave when she did. Maybe I should have been the one to go, to have asked to be bought out. At the time it just felt like another betrayal, another kick in the gut. Just her way of letting me know how far our relationship had fallen. Business had still been pretty steady at that point, but after she left something was different. It was as though we had lost part of that quirky charm our customers loved so much to talk about. It wasn’t long before the thought started to creep in that maybe the problem isn’t the new chef, maybe what made our place special was the idea on which we built it. The idea of friends coming together. Sue’s last words,
“Its over”, swim towards my mind along with the overweight plumber’s.
“It’ll only you cost two hundred quid to fix the tank.” Right then and there I did’t know whether to laugh, cry or grab him by his overalls and scream, abandon ship. She’s gonna sink. I settle for a silent sigh, held under my breath and instead wade over to counter to write a cheque. What’s another couple hundred in the thousands we already owe? Nothing but a spit of rain in the Sea. Truth be told though, we’re already sunk and the lifeboats drink at Starbucks. A burst tank is just another in a long line of problems that washed on board when Sue left. I hand the plumber the cheque and reach for the bucket behind the counter.