On her first evening shift, Diana was greeted with a woman that had dark horns curving out of the top of her head and a thin tail that swished behind her like an aggravated cat.
“What’s wrong, newbie?” the woman asked when Diana stared at the horns a second too long. “Ever see a hybrid before?”
“Well, no,” Diana said. “Can’t say that I have.”
“You have now,” was the brisk reply. “Name’s Anita, the assistant manager of this joint. I’m from Dimension 33, a place where horns and tails aren’t the oddest things you’d see. Heard you’ve been doing well with the register and thought it high time that you start memorizing and making the drinks. You ready?”
“Good enough answer,” Anita said. “You should be more confident, though.” She motioned for Diana to follow, and the pair went behind the cash counter and toward the drink-making area. Diana waved to Ellie by the register, but didn’t stop to say hello. Anita’s swift steps ensured that Diana had no time to pause.
“You won’t be making too many drinks by yourself tonight, if at all,” Anita said. “We do have a guarantee that, if a customer does not like his or her drink, we’ll remake it for free. Don’t give the customers an opportunity to use that.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Diana nodded.
Anita pointed to a booklet hanging on the wall over one of the sinks. “This is our recipe book. It’s all the basics. Obviously, the majority of customers customize their drinks, so learn where all the syrups and flavored shots are. Every ingredient has its own place in this area. Do not mix them up. Drinks can be made faster when you don’t have to second-guess where everything is.”
Diana nodded again, her gaze flitting over the tubes of caramel, hazelnut, and cinnamon, among others. A large tub with a pump was labeled espresso and was next to even bigger containers named coffee and decaf. There was a refrigerator under the main cabinet that, upon getting a sneak peek at from Anita, revealed canisters of whipped cream, jugs of milk, and packages of cream.
“I’ll handle the register tonight,” Anita said after the tour of the mixing area. “Ellie will make the drinks and you’ll shadow her.”
The majority of Diana’s shift was listening to Ellie ramble back and forth about the drinks she was making and about gossip regarding customers from earlier in her shift. Diana watched Ellie carefully, seeing how she moved and barely looked at the ingredients she used to make the drinks correctly. The shift was steady with customers, not too busy. In fact, Diana’s shift felt as if it was lasting much longer than the usual four hours.
“Not many people want caffeine at this time of night,” Ellie said. “You still got a few, of course, that hop in between the crossroads and their own dimension if it’s morning where they’re from.”
“I think it’s funny,” Diana said, “that, no matter what dimension one is from, the love of caffeine seems to be universal.”
Ellie laughed and glanced at the screen for the next order in the queue. “Why don’t you try making this one, Hon?”
Diana saw the order, a medium hazelnut coffee, cream, extra, extra, extra light, and three sugars. She blinked. “Why all the extras for light? Does the customer want the low-fat version?”
“If they wanted low-fat, they would have said so,” Ellie explained. “Well, most would, if they had any sense in their heads. When a customer wants it light, they generally mean the amount of milk or cream in the drink. I usually leave about half an inch per ‘extra’ that the customer orders.”
Diana got to work, getting the medium sized cup and placing it under the coffee tank. Using the few seconds it took the machine to fill the cup with a couple of inches to spare, Diana grabbed the hazelnut syrup and cream. She gave the syrup tube a quick squeeze, mimicking the way Ellie had been working throughout the shift, and dumped the sugar in the drink before adding the generous amount of cream. Under her coworker’s watchful eye, Diana put the special lid on the cup and put it in the blending machine for a couple of seconds before bringing it over to the counter.
“One medium hazelnut with cream, extra, extra, extra light, and three sugars,” Diana called out. A man with an elongated face and other features of a horse grabbed the drink with a quiet word of thanks and a wave to Anita.
“See ya later, Bill,” the manager said as he went out the door. Immediately, Anita turned her attention to the next customer in line and growled. “You are only welcomed here if you are planning on paying for an honest drink!”
Diana, startled at Anita’s aggressive tone, looked up at the customer and shrunk back when she recognized him. Luke was glowering at Anita.
“Nadine doesn’t work here anymore, and with good reason,” Anita interrupted. “She has no clout here. Frankly, she never really did. Either show me money when you order, or get out.”
“He’s back again?” Ellie whispered from behind Diana. “Hon, you may want to get back in case Anita needs my help getting rid of him.”
Diana obeyed, but asked, “What can you do to help?”
Ellie grinned. “Honey, my home dimension is good, ol’ 52, where we’re descendants and relatives of dragons. If Luke really starts pushing Anita, I’ll just show you what I inherited from my great-grandmother.”
Diana found herself wishing that Luke did something stupid enough to get Ellie angry. Unfortunately – or fortunately, depending on one’s opinions – Luke took the hint and backed off, being sure to slam the door on his way out.
“Aren’t there other places he can get coffee?” Diana asked when Ellie and she returned to the mixing area.
“You ever explore the Dimensional Crossroads?” Ellie asked in return, not even looking at the drink she was mixing. “There’s not too much here, Hon. With so many different creatures passing through, not many businesses survived. Too much cultural differences. We got a few places for basics, some apartments, and then the dimensional portal station.” She shrugged.
“I guess I’ll have to go and sight-see one of these days,” Diana said, handing the chocolate drizzle to Ellie.
“Only if you got some skills to protect yourself,” Ellie said. “Where are you from, anyway?”
“Dimension 21,” Diana said.
“Which one is that?” Ellie asked. “Is that the dimension where everyone is British?”
“Uh, no,” Diana said. “I don’t even have that accent.”
Ellie shrugged again. “Sorry, Hon, I’m not too up-to-date on the dimensions these days.”
“No worries,” Diana said. “Dimension 21 doesn’t seem to have anything special about it, actually. I can’t really think of anything that would make it stand out. Not like dragons or hybrids.”
“I’m sure there’s something fascinating about it,” Ellie said with a smile before going to call out the drink.
Diana hung back and shook her head to herself, disagreeing with Ellie’s words entirely. There was a reason why she wanted the job in the Dimensional Crossroads in the first place.