Atsumu hated those hipster coffee shops with their stupid dangly Edison bulbs that hit him on the head whenever he stood up. He hated the stiff IKEA-looking chairs and benches, hated the way the walls were always blank except for a black-and-white letter board menu behind the bar. He hated the way that no matter how neatly the letters were pinned to those damn things, he could never decipher what the hell any of it meant. What if he just wanted a latte? What then?
Atsumu happened to work next door to one of those shops, a complete contrast to the jungle of a flower shop he and his brother owned. Hanging baskets adorned the entryway, vines of exotic plants climbing the walls and trailing from the ceiling. Flowers bloomed in every vibrant colour of the rainbow from desk to door, and Osamu sat in the middle of the organised chaos, tying up a complex flower arrangement with petals in his hair.
It was all very cliché, really.
“‘Samu, if a bouquet just happened to disappear this afternoon, would ya mind?” Atsumu asked, leaning over the desk to watch his brother’s handiwork from up close. Osamu shoved him back with a shoulder without even bothering to acknowledge him otherwise.
“If they do, they’ll be for yer funeral,” he replied, snipping a piece of twine. “Go for it. Finally, I’ll be an only child.”
Atsumu poked at one of the blossoms and was smacked away again. “C’mon, don’t be a dick. It’s for the shop next door. They look like they could do with a bit of colour, dontcha think?”
“Not our problem.”
“But think of the business opportunities!” Atsumu insisted. “I give them flowers, eventually they’ll feel guilty enough to give us coffee.”
Osamu looked up from his creation to fix Atsumu with a resigned glare. “Ya mean they’ll give you coffee. And since when is this gonna be an ongoin’ thing?”
He was already scouring the display for the colours he wanted, waving Osamu off. “Me, you, us—whatever. Free coffee is free coffee.”
A mixture of yellow roses, geraniums, and meadowsweet made up the bouquet Atsumu decided on in the end. He counted out fifteen, an apology for the shit taste of whoever designed their shop. Perfect.
Osamu called out that this is coming from yer damn paycheck, ‘Tsumu as the stained glass of their door swung shut behind him. To make the interior design of the coffee shop even worse, a bell chimed a tinny rendition of the Westminster Quarters right into Atsumu’s ears as he stepped into the thoroughly air-conditioned room. A guy with a tiny ponytail and round eyebrows the diameter of ping pong balls stood behind the bar, fumbling to hide the fact that he’d clearly been playing on his phone when Atsumu walked in. He broke out into a cheery smile, waving him over.
“Ah, you must be one of the twins who works next door!” Eyebrows greeted him. “It’s nice to finally meet you.”
“What gave it away?” Atsumu teased, lifting his bouquet.
The barista smiled even wider. “The soil on your nose.”
Atsumu gawked and swiped at his nose with his sleeve, watching it come back clean with some confusion. Eyebrows was laughing. “Just kidding. I’m Komori Motoya, I’m the co-owner.”
“Miya Atsumu, my pleasure,” Atsumu said through a smile of gritted teeth. “Just wanted to drop these off for ya, a goodwill gesture from one local businessman to another.”
Komori took the proffered bunch of passive-aggressive flowers with a look of polite surprise. “Wow, you really shouldn’t have! Thank you, Miya-san.”
“Don’t mention it, and since we’re friends now, call me Atsumu,” he schmoozed, not-so-subtly eyeing up the menu on the wall as Komori flitted around, looking for a receptacle for his Trojan horse. “How much is it for a latte these days?”
“Uh, £2.50 usually, but I’ll make you one on the house in return for these,” he said. “Just one moment, please.”
Internally, Atsumu was rubbing his hands together with glee. “Such incredible customer service, Komori-kun. Yer too kind.”
Komori’s bashful laugh was drowned out by the hiss of the coffee machine as he started up the steam. Atsumu leaned his elbows on the bar and watched the milk froth and swirl into a whirlpool at the centre of the steel jug. When the milk was hot and the espresso was golden, Komori mixed them together in a cardboard cup with a little flourish, clipping a lid on top. “There we go. Can I get you anything else, Atsumu-san?”
Atsumu snatched up his beverage from the counter and thought briefly of Osamu. He would’ve asked for one for him too, but since he was being an ass, he could go fuck himself. “Nah, that’ll do. I’d better be goin’, flowers to pick, plants to water and all that.”
Komori waved at him as he opened the door to that shitty little jingle again. “No problem. See you soon!”
When Komori said ‘soon’, Atsumu knew he didn’t expect it to be the next morning, peach coloured rose in hand. However, Atsumu didn’t expect to see his bouquet split across each of the tables, all neatly trimmed and displayed in latte glasses in lieu of vases. It was actually rather tasteful, all things considered.
“Nice job with the flowers, Komori-kun,” he commented as he approached the bar. “Much more welcomin’ in here now there’s some colour.”
Komori nodded enthusiastically while polishing a cup with a cloth. “Mm, but I can’t take credit for the idea. It was my cousin Kiyoomi who did it last night.”
“Ah, another family business?” Atsumu asked, plucking a latte glass from the top of the coffee machine by the handle. It was spotless, and the distortion made Komori’s eyebrows look even rounder.
“Yup. He’s a bit of a control freak, so he runs most things. I just make a mean cappuccino,” he joked. Cup polished, he set it back on top of the machine and glanced down at the rose Atsumu had gently plopped into the glass on the counter. “Another latte, I assume?”
By the fourth day, Komori had his order ready by the till with a knowing grin. A few of the customers were admiring the fresh flowers on their tables over their flat whites and likely overpriced pastries, so Atsumu felt a bit of satisfaction buoying him even as he took a sip of his drink and immediately scalded his tongue.
On the sixth day, Osamu asked him to switch shifts and work through to the evening. He said Atsumu owed him one for the leftovers missing from the fridge that morning, which he really, truly, had no involvement with. Atsumu grumbled but accepted the swap anyway. Lates always bored him, mostly populated by young girls who just wanted to coo at the succulent display in the back window and leave without buying anything. He wondered when Komori’s shift ended, hoping he could still squeeze in some free caffeine to carry him through the monotony.
The usual chimes were silent when Atsumu strolled into the coffee shop. Somehow, it was even more jarring than when they were present. At the bar stood who he assumed was Kiyoomi, focusing very intently on wiping down crumbs from the inside of the cake display. Atsumu twirled the medium pink rose he held between his fingertips as he leaned on the counter, watching the man work. Only when he was satisfied that he’d obliterated every crumb of coffee and walnut cake from the case, Kiyoomi stood up to his full height and turned to Atsumu who promptly dropped his flower on the floor.
He leaned over to watch Atsumu scramble to pick up the rose without pricking himself on a damn thorn. Kiyoomi was clearly amused when he finally surfaced, plant in hand. If it was missing a petal or two, nobody had to know. “Motoya told me to expect someone with frosted tips to come in and try to mooch off of me. I assume you’re Atsumu?”
Atsumu wanted to melt at the sound of his name in that rumbling baritone, but he snapped out of his stupor when he recognised what else had been said. “Wha- frosted tips? That little prick, I don’t even have roots yet!”
Kiyoomi plucked the rose gingerly from his fingertips, placing it next to the sink with a judgemental expression. “I would suggest not insulting my cousin when the only reason I’m making you this latte is because he insisted on it.”
The buzz of the burr grinder cut Atsumu off as he tried and failed to backpedal. Kiyoomi ignored him anyway, running through the motions of producing something drinkable from milk and pummeled beans. He worked differently to Komori, Atsumu noted. Where Komori would almost bounce from grinder to machine to knock box and back again, Kiyoomi followed the procedure smoothly and diligently, not a single motion wasted. It was kinda cool, actually. Atsumu could really see him being one of those baristas on YouTube with the fancy art and—
Kiyoomi dropped the cup in front of him and pushed it across the counter with the tips of his neatly manicured fingers. When he turned to take his jug to the sink, Atsumu blurted, “Are ya free on Saturday night?”
“No,” came the immediate reply. Ah, fuck.
“Worth a shot, I guess,” Atsumu laughed, trying to hide the fact that such instant rejection stung like a slap to the face. He grabbed his cup, feeling his usual confidence wash down the drain along with the excess milk Kiyoomi was pouring away. “Nice meetin’ ya. Thanks for the coffee.”
The next morning, Atsumu dragged his feet into the coffee shop, that stupid fuckin’ bell screeching at him once again. He cursed Osamu for many things, but particularly for making him work a closing then an opening shift. His eyelids were being held open through sheer force of will, nothing more. Komori slid his drink over the counter, and Atsumu dropped the purple rose onto the faux-marble in return.
“Rough night?” he asked hesitantly. Atsumu glared at him, but Komori didn’t even have the decency to flinch.
“‘Samu put me on a nasty shift,” he explained, sipping the blessed beverage. The stinging of his tongue was a familiar comfort now. “Yer cousin told me what ya said about my hair, by the way. Those in glass houses, Komori-kun. Yer eyebrows are probably visible from space.”
Komori raised one of the aforementioned brows, leaning with one hand on his hip. “Yeah, he also told me that you asked him out. How did that go again?”
Even to his incinerated taste buds, that last sip of coffee was bitter. Atsumu narrowed his eyes over the rim of his cup. “Touché. I leave the eyebrows alone, you leave that alone. Deal?”
“I can do you one even better,” Komori said, smirking. If he raised his eyebrows any higher, they’d actually be in space, never mind just visible from it. “You bring me a houseplant for the office, and I’ll put in a good word for you.”
Atsumu was somewhat surprised by the firm grip Komori had on their handshake. He really needed to stop underestimating this guy.
Osamu collared him in the stockroom when he was trying to sneak out one of their larger marantas. Atsumu started to explain, but Osamu cut him off with a smirk.
“I know about yer little deal, ‘Tsumu,” he taunted, waggling the iPhone in his hand. “Yer not the only one gettin’ freebies from Komori-kun, y’know.”
Betrayal stung almost as much as rejection. He went and shoved the prayer plant at Komori with a scowl anyway. He accepted it gratefully with a smile, the sneaky bastard.
Another purple rose was in his hand when Atsumu entered the coffee shop in the morning, and the chime was absent once more. Kiyoomi was watching him from over the coffee machine, startling him. It was eight in the morning, not the evening, right? He checked his watch, even though the bright sunlight outside made the time blindingly obvious. The customer in front of him took her drink with the usual pleasantries, and it was Atsumu’s turn to face the handsome barista. Kiyoomi had his drink at the ready, and held out his hand silently for the exchange. Atsumu dropped the flower into his palm, watching him curl his long fingers around the softest parts of the stem. Nobody was queueing behind him despite the busy atmosphere of the shop, so Atsumu lingered for a moment as Kiyoomi took a pair of scissors, swiftly de-thorning and trimming the stem to fit into one of the latte glasses scattered across the tables in the shop.
“Uh, thanks for the drink,” he started, the barista glancing up for a second before going back to work. “What’re ya doin’ here, though?”
“Trying to work.”
Atsumu internally kicked himself. “Well, yeah, but I mean in the mornin’. Dontcha usually work lates?”
Snip, snip. “Motoya said it was very important that we swap shifts this week, so here I am.”
Komori, what a guy. Atsumu tried not to sound too enthusiastic with his response. “Oh, so you’ll be on earlies all week?”
“That’s generally what a shift swap means, yes,” Kiyoomi sighed and stepped down from behind the counter to fit the rose into a glass alongside two pink ones. Now, all eight of the tables had three flowers decorating them.
Even on the same level, Kiyoomi stood a good few inches taller than him. That was pretty hard to do, and it was also very, very attractive. He didn’t comment, but he did ask, “What’s yer favourite colour?”
The question seemed to catch Kiyoomi off guard, because he looked at him quizzically before answering. “Green. Why?”
Atsumu grinned. “No reason. Guess I’ll see ya tomorrow then, Omi-kun?”
Kiyoomi’s protests went over Atsumu’s head as he waltzed out of the shop with his free latte in hand, whistling a merry tune.
Eight on the dot, Atsumu entered the shop to yet another blissful day of no damn doorbell, and held two roses in his hands. Kiyoomi tried to look at both at once and almost went cross-eyed. One was white, and one was, well—
“Neon green?” Kiyoomi spoke his statement like a question. His lips were curling into either a smile or a sneer; Atsumu wasn’t quite sure. He hoped it was the former.
“The dye took a bit quicker than I expected,” Atsumu explained with a short laugh. “But yeah. Ya said green was yer favourite colour, so I brought one for the shop and one for you.”
A small ‘oh’ was all that came from Kiyoomi’s mouth as he took the flowers to be trimmed. Atsumu didn’t know if it was just his wishful thinking, but it seemed like he took even more care than usual when making Atsumu’s drink. Kiyoomi gave the jug a little wiggle and a flick of his wrist before popping on the lid, pushing it into Atsumu’s hand with a self-satisfied nod. It was cute.
By the end of the week, the older yellow roses, geraniums, and meadowsweet were replaced by pristine white blooms. Atsumu didn’t know where the green ones had disappeared to, but each day he watched Kiyoomi prepare them for display just as carefully as the others. Komori was there to meet him on Tuesday morning, holding a latte in front of him as always. For once, though, it didn’t have a lid. Atsumu marveled at the intricate pattern produced in the milk, asking dumbly, “Whoa, what’s that ‘sposed to be?”
Komori traced the pattern with a finger hovering a few centimetres above the foam. “It’s a swan! Here’s the head, the body, and the wings.”
Atsumu stared at it like a novice would stare at tea leaves in the bottom of a cup. “Nope, I’m not seein’ it. Sorry, Mori-kun. Looks neat, though.”
Komori deflated. “Aw, man. You’re spoiled by all of Kiyoomi’s latte art, aren’t you?”
“Wait, Omi-kun can do this stuff too?” he asked, intrigued.
Komori’s eyebrows told Atsumu that he was disappointed. “You’ve seriously never looked under the lid?”
“I didn’t know I was meant to!” was Atsumu’s weak defence. “I just thought coffee was coffee.”
This time, Komori’s deep sigh left no doubt that he was more than disappointed. Pained, even. “Next time, open the lid. I’ve got none left for today though, so try not to spill it on your way out.”
He didn’t spill it on the way out, but he did trip on a vine in his own shop and lose half of the drink to his calatheas. He hoped plants couldn’t be lactose intolerant, or Osamu would skin him.
On Wednesday, Komori was once again replaced by his cousin. Atsumu felt his heart leap into his throat with anticipation. He held another pair of roses behind his back, one green, one white. He greeted Kiyoomi in his usual friendly way, and traded the roses for coffee. Atsumu didn’t miss the fond look given to the radioactive blossom, and kept a close eye on the process of crafting his beverage. Bang, flip, tamp, twist, wipe. At this point, he was sure he’d be as at home behind the bar as he was in front of it. Kiyoomi swirled the espresso in his cup and held it at an angle, bringing the milk jug closer as the liquid level rose. At about the three-quarters mark, he lifted and dropped the jug a few times in quick succession, turning the cup as he did so. Finally, he finished off with a pour and a flick, ending with the opaque plastic lid as always.
For the first time, Atsumu opened the lid to look inside. The smooth hazelnut coffee crema mixed with the froth of the milk to create a sepia canvas, dotted with crisp splashes of white. Four symmetrical rows of splashes formed a wreath of leaves around the edge of the cup, and right in the middle was a layered white heart. The incredible artwork was hidden once again when Kiyoomi suddenly slapped the lid back onto the cup.
Atsumu looked up to see his barista’s face schooled into a mediocre attempt at neutrality. The way he refused to let their eyes meet gave away his embarrassment, and a smile crept onto Atsumu’s face.
“I put a lid on it for a reason, idiot,” Kiyoomi snapped, his attempt at malice falling flat.
The smile grew and crinkled the corners of Atsumu’s eyes. “To hide such a beautiful display of affection, Omi-kun?”
“I’ve just been practicing my art,” he said stiffly. “At least I have the decency and self-awareness to be subtle anyway, unlike you with dozens of roses.”
Atsumu was practically vibrating when he saw the admission dawn on Kiyoomi’s face. “Ya call a massive heart subtle, huh?”
Kiyoomi shoved his hands in the pockets of his apron and somehow made an ugly scowl look stunning.
“So, are ya free on Saturday night? I dunno, we could maybe grab a coffee or somethin’,” Atsumu joked, leaning an elbow on the counter and blowing on his drink.
The tiny snort that left Kiyoomi’s nose made the flower shaped hole in his paycheck worth every penny.