Fitz had a system.
He showed up to work fifteen minutes late on principle. Drank coffee and lazed behind the counter instead of “looking busy” as his manager always harped on about. Now Fitz did water the plants on schedule only because it wasn’t their fault he had to deal with stupid people. And when no customers were around to rat him out, Fitz would sneak a smoke in the back under the busted detector or call his mother to check in if he was up to it. He played the part of a good retail worker when he had to, got his paycheck, bought a pack, and headed home to strum at his guitar. It was the system. The Fitz system.
No customer had been immune to his apathy until he walked into his life. It happened one morning while Fitz sipped on the last of his coffee. As he wondered if he could sneak away to get a fourth cup before 11 am, a man approached. The first thing Fitz noticed was the wilted, red begonia cradled in the man’s pale hands. The second thing was his eyes.
Not that Fitz was interested or anything, it’s just everything about the customer seemed ethereal. If the man had been taller with those elfish features, Fitz could easily imagine he’d stepped right out of Mirkwood and the pages of Tolkien. The only thing that seemed real about him was his blue-eyed stare.
“You want this begonia?” Fitz asked breaking eye contact to turn and place his large styrofoam cup with the rest on the back counter. One of the begonia’s petals answered with a crunch as it fell next to the register. “But it’s nearly dead.”
“I know,” said the man with a surprisingly deep voice. He gave a small smile and looked up from the begonia and directly into Fitz’s eyes. “And I intend to rescue it.”
Of course, the man proceeded to use that rich, velvety voice to try haggling the price down to a pound. And of course, Fitz didn’t care enough to fight for long. It’s not as if the begonia wouldn’t have ended up in the compost. Still, it was annoying. As the man turned toward the door, Fitz was ready to say good riddance under his breath, but then the velvet coat tails spun and that blue, unnerving stare was back.
“Do you like coffee?” questioned the elfish man.
Was he...asking him out? What could possibly make him think he wanted coffee? With him? Panic. He had pretty eyes, but no it wasn’t like that. A dash of more panic. Did Fitz look like he was into blokes? Panic! The hurricane of questions and statements and denials continued as Fitz tried to find an answer. Luckily, the man was nice enough to interrupt his incomprehensible stuttering.
“It looks like you do,” the man gestured with the plant at the three large coffee cups on the back counter, another leaf falling from the begonia as he did. “What I should be asking is—are you any good at making it?”
Fitz struggled to find his voice, which came out squeakier than he’d have liked. “Uh, yeah. Maybe. Worked at a caff before, yeah."
It must have been a good enough answer because Fitz had never seen another human being become so animated. It was like someone winded up an invisible gear and everything about him screamed ‘I'm alive’. Especially those eyes. The man reached into his pocket which in hindsight seemed impossible as half his forearm disappeared inside. After a moment of wrestling around, he whipped out a card and slapped it onto the counter. Fitz stared at the scrawling gold script, bursts of stars, and creative coffee rings across it.
“I own a coffee shop called The Space. I know not the most original. I’m still disappointed in myself about it, but I promise it’s wonderful.”
“And you’d like to have me stop by and have a cup with you, is that it?” questioned Fitz finally getting some control over his tongue.
It was the man’s turn to look taken aback and Fitz felt a little smugness rise in his chest. “We can if you’d like, but...I’m offering you a job.”
“Me? A job? I already have one,” he sweeped a hand in a mocking grand gesture. Though he hadn’t even touched it, now another wilted begonia petal hung for dear life on it’s stem.
"It's lovely, really it is,” said the man with a hum that meant it was anything but. His gaze took in everything around him once more before pointedly landing on Fitz. They stood in silence for a moment, the question hanging between them before the man smiled and continued. “Come see it. Can’t hurt. And when you do make sure to ask for me. I’m the Doctor, by the way."
Before Fitz could even process any of this, or the woman waiting with a glare, ‘the Doctor’ was already walking away. In the vacated spot, the newest customer from hell plunked down her basket of flowers, but Fitz ignored her. He couldn’t take his eyes off the green velvet getting closer and closer to the door.
The shout of his own name came rushing out without a second thought. it was unneeded, and Fitz was as surprised by it as the bewildered customer in front of him.
‘The Doctor’ paused at the door. “I know. Your name tag is quite large. See you soon, Fitz!” The Doctor’s laugh was soft, yet travelled across the store as if he was standing right beside him. The door chimed and then the glimpse of green velvet was gone.
Fitz's shoulders slumped with a sigh as he dragged the waiting customer’s basket over. Weirdly enough, she was making strange noises in her throat as he rang up the petunias.
“Bless you and that’ll be 8 pounds and 20 pence,” said Fitz and then he finally looked at her.
He couldn’t recall ever seeing someone so red in the face in his entire life. He should have expected it, but her voice was nails on a chalkboard as she spoke through gritted teeth. “I’d like to speak to your manager.”
As his manager wrote him up for the second time that week, Fitz was so indifferent it went beyond his usual system to true apathy. He could beg, make amends. Promise to take on more shifts and stop sneaking off for a smoke on the hour, every hour...but he couldn’t be bothered.
Another week went by and as Fitz prepared for a gig, tuning his guitar again for what was probably an inadvisable amount of times, he could practically feel the Doctor’s card burning a hole in the pocket of his leather jacket.