This is 100% Lilfluff’s fault and probably won’t go any further.
“The Mountain is following us, I swear.”
Aran wiped down the espresso machine for the third time. He’d been like for days, ever since the coffee chain The Mountain had opened their nearest branch down the road from them.
They were still plenty busy; they hadn’t — yet — seen an appreciable dip in business. The Mountain couldn’t do baked goods like they did, and they didn‘t do personal service and comfortable atmosphere the way they did.
(Personal service was a bit of a thing for them…)
Still, every time they had a lull, Aran started getting nervous.
“Let’s be realistic.” Nikol took the cleaning cloth away from him. “We’re too small for the Mountain to notice.”
Aran glared balefully at her. “Two weeks ago were were the burr in their saddle. Can’t have it both ways. ”
“I can if I want to…. Partner.” She smiled brightly at Aran. “But honestly? I think we can irritate them to death before they really notice us. We have a lot of allies, after all.”
He grimaced. She thought he might hate being called partner more than he hated the Mountain, and that was an impressive level of hatred. “Allies. Is that what you call them.:
“You know, you didn’t have to take my offer.” There was no point in standing around, so she pulled out the supplies for a batch of scones. “You could’ve fallen contentedly into debt fighting the Mountain on your own.”
“Fuck y— good afternoon!” He switch gears sharply as a pair of college kids came in. “Come on on, take a load off, find a seat. Let me know what I can get you.”
The couple, looking befuddled, picked a small table near the back and proceeded to fill it with textbooks and notebooks.
Nikol caught the eyeroll Aran aimed away from the students and wordlessly added another tick mark to her whiteboard. He didn’t like handling the sit-there-for-hours students, but the Mountain wasn’t the only reason he’d been close to shutting down when they joined forces.
It took the kids a moment to get settled, and Aran another moment to head over there. She thought about putting another mark down, but the truth was, he did better with a relatively long leash.
While he took their order, she mixed scones and thought about the Mountain. The problem was, Aran had a good point. The Mountain was closer than they ought to be.
Nikol had been their regional manager when the Mountain had opened up a branch across the street from Aran’s family coffee shop.
He wasn’t the first local shop the Mountain had put out of business or even the first she’d helped with, but she’d gone to a regional meeting and left with a sick taste in her mouth.
The Mountain had seemed like just another corporation. Now she was pretty sure they actually were evil.
Three weeks later, she’d made Aran an offer he really could have refused.
But he hadn’t.
And now he, and his business – relocated to a spot where, up until Monday, they weren’t at all close to a Mountain location – belonged to her.
She finished the scone mix and got them into the little pans she preferred for afternoon scones, cleaned up her station, and headed out to the counter as another set of customers, and another, and then three singles, came in, the bell on the door never stopping ringing.
The first single looked straight at Aran and winked. “A little bird told me you had the best coffee in town. And muffins to die for.”
This time, Aran’s smile was genuine. “One Peace Prize Coffee and a murder muffin, coming up.”