The Doctor was weird. The polite word to use was eccentric, or even quirky. But Fitz was rarely polite. No, the man was weird. For fuck’s sake, the man was only known as ‘The Doctor’. At first, Fitz was tempted to do some amatuer sleuthing to find his real name, but even after almost a month working at ‘The Space’, calling him anything else was an uncomfortable thought.
Though the Doctor couldn’t be older than 35, he also just had one of those youthful (and handsome) faces, so Fitz wasn’t entirely sure. And the way he told story after story of his travels across the globe were outlandish tales that were borderline possible. But others sounded impossible as if the Doctor caught them on the telly the night before and his memory soaked it up like a sponge.
Then some mornings he’d come barreling behind the counter with some dream he’d had for a new menu item and pull them all into chaos. If this had been any other place, any other owner, it would be a disaster. Instead at The Space, time was meaningless. Sense was too. And everyone from customer to employee seemed to revel in it. Because with the Doctor it was somehow...admirable. Yeah. That's the word for it.
Still some of the Doctor’s habit of bouncing from one thing to the next had created an infinitesimal problem. One that Fitz had noticed when he had first arrived at The Space. The speciality drink menu was tiny. Hot coffee, iced coffee, even cold brew were straight forward and popular items, but anything espresso related seemed to be ignored.
During his training, he’d asked Sam, pointing at the menu.“But what about the Gallifre-whatever latte?”
“I wouldn’t worry about it,” said Sam with a shrug. “All your shifts this week are with me, and I’ll handle it if anyone orders it.”
“And if you’re on break?”
Sam clapped him on the back, “The recipe is in that drawer, but trust me. No one would dare. Who can even pronounce that?”
Fitz was tempted to protest, but if she wanted to take on more work, he’d let her. He had a system to maintain.
Of course, this meant the one time Sam was on her 15 minute break, someone would decide to order it. The start of his troubles began with an unfamiliar face and long legs striding toward him. Fitz dragged his eyes back up to the pinched look on her face. At first, he assumed it was because he’d checked her out, but no, she was just trying to read the menu.
“Uh hi, how are you?” said the woman with an American accent, which made Fitz fall in love with her a bit more.
“Great now that you’re here,” Fitz said, deepening his voice. Some lines didn’t work, but there was usually a 50% chance with American birds. It was all in the accent, and his chances were looking very good because she actually giggled.
“I know, I was dying for a coffee.” Her face scrunched up again at the menu and then smiled. “I’ll have the uh, Galli latte. Sorry, can't say that first part.”
Fitz leaned back to glance down the hall looking for one of the tell-tale signs of Sam. Not a flash of blonde hair or a white t-shirt in sight. Nothing.
Clearing his throat and smiling, Fitz decided a small lie couldn’t hurt. “Might be a bit of a wait. Espresso machine is acting up. How about—?”
“Waiting is totally fine.” She said cutting him off and then leaned forward softly adding, “especially if you’ll still be here.”
Fitz Fortune strikes again.
Fortune is a liar and Fitz can only strike out like some cursed baseball team. After ten minutes of waiting, struggling to keep his voice sultry smooth, and a bad joke too many, Cindy the customer really needed to go.
With no Sam in sight, Fitz started digging through the drawer Sam had pointed out during training. Finding the recipe was easy enough, but deciphering whatever the hell a Gallifreyan latte was in the Doctor’s cursive and trying to replicate it was the real problem. Fitz’s nerves skyrocketed realizing Cindy was watching him.
The latte was a strange reddish hue after using some spice from the list that was tucked away on some shelf. It might be an unnecessary amount of additives for a latte and as Fitz looked at the cup dubiously, he had to have faith. Everything that the Doctor had come up with so far was delicious. The man had the Midas touch when it came to selecting quality products.
So when Cindy took a single sip and her entire face scrunched up in what might be pain, Fitz knew something had gone horribly wrong. She slammed the cup down, ignoring Fitz’s number scrawled across it and strode right out of the shop with those long legs. Such pretty, pretty legs.
“She didn’t fall for the Fitz charm, huh?” came Sam’s voice beside him, her fingers reaching out to turn the cup and snickered at his number.
“Shut it. I was doing fine till she tasted that latte from hell,” said Fitz pointing an accusing finger at the recipe as if it had somehow personally harmed and owed him damages.
“Why didn’t you get me?” Sam’s face paled as she saw the paper laying on the back counter. “Or just make a plain latte?”
“I could handle making a latte.” Fitz crossed his arms, miffed at the whole situation. “What could be so bad about this anyways?”
He should have known. Just the way Sam casually handed him the cup with a blank expression and a mumbled, “see for yourself.” It was like a dare he couldn’t refuse. That Cindy chick must have been exaggerating there was no way….
His body seized up as the first sip reached his tongue. As he ran for a faucet to stick his mouth under, Sam’s hysterical laughter echoed behind him.
It took an hour and a cup of milk before Fitz was ready to talk to the Doctor about the latte incident. He was eccentric and weird that much was obvious, but not totally out of touch to have created something so horrendous.
The Doctor had an open door policy unless he was out or playing the violin. He didn't know much about the Phantom of the Opera but there was some kind of synergy when the Doctor would shut the door and saw away at the strings like a man possessed. Usually they'd shut off the music and let the muffled notes spill from the hallway and across the room. It was eerie, but strangely comforting.
Then there were the rare occasions the Doctor would get frustrated with a piece and the sudden screech would make everyone cringe. He’d even dropped a mug once when it happened. It was just another one of the Doctor's many quirks.
Since Fitz didn’t hear the violin and knew the Doctor was in, he continued down the hallway and found the door open as expected. What was unexpected was the beautiful woman with smooth brown skin dropping a pile of papers in front of the Doctor. The Doctor raised a timid hand, mindlessly shuffling through them as his frazzled expression grew.
"And another thing—," said the woman, as she reached for a folder brimming with receipts sticking this way and that on the Doctor’s cluttered desk. Fitz took one look at the situation, spun on his heel and was ready to leave right when the Doctor spotted him with a desperate look. Fitz knew he was a scapegoat immediately.
"Fitz! Come in, come in. Fitz Kreiner meet Anji Kapoor." He looked between them. "Wait, have you met before? I'm having an awful case of deja vu."
"Lovely to meet you," said Anji with barely a glance at Fitz before looking back at the Doctor. "Can we get back to discussing your horrendous bookkeeping, please?"
"It's not! I'm wonderful with numbers."
“Maybe,” said Anji as if she doubted it very much. "But your record keeping is shoddy."
The Doctor looked at the papers then at Anji then at him. His blue eyes were wide. Pleading. "Fitz, what did you need? Should I step out front and help?"
There was no way he was getting in the middle of whatever this was. "No, nothing like that. Sorry to interrupt, just wanted to talk about changing up the lattes and such."
"Wonderful idea!” The Doctor shot to his feet as if a starter pistol had gone off. “We were just discussing diversifying my portfolio. Best way to start is with the menu"
"Stocks. We were discussing your stocks. Which is part of my actual job." Anji took a deep breath, and Fitz could tell she was counting down from five. "As I've told you before, you need a proper bookkeeper.”
Anji reached for her purse on the counter and started for the door. And then the Doctor did something Fitz couldn’t believe; he gave this woman the saddest puppy dog eyes imaginable. “Anji, please, your help is so valuable.”
“This was a one time favor. And speaking of lattes, I’ll go get one on the house...one of many." Her cold gaze swept back to the Doctor. "And when I’m back, I'm not leaving until the financials are in order for the last six months."
The door slammed behind her and the Doctor pinched the bridge of his nose. “I know a threat when I hear one,” the Doctor said, letting out a pitiful sigh. "Unfortunately, she's right. Are you good at record keeping, Fitz?"
"No," he scoffed. "I make music and coffee. Sifting around all that would make me sick."
The Doctor gave a knowing smile, "I can't help but agree, but I suppose it's all part of the job...." He trailed off and looked at something on his bookshelf before continuing, his tone brighter. "What are your thoughts on the specialty drinks?"
Fitz took a seat in one of the plush chairs across from the Doctor. It still surprised him how big this office was too. It reminded him of a proper lord's study in one of those drab period dramas his mum, when she was on an upswing, still got teary over. Yet, with the Doctor looking snug in his chair, he made the office seem more homey than foreboding.
“Well, I’d like to suggest some other options. The ones up there aren’t...great.”
"I suppose. Charley had dared me to put something up and I meant to go back and tweak them.” The Doctor blew at a pile of receipts that cascaded to the floor. “But things came up. And really, I don't like overly complicated espresso drinks. Not often anyways."
"This is a coffee house," Fitz said slowly, trying to wrap his head around the fact that the Doctor didn’t like coffee and not this ‘Charley’. Or for that matter, who he was to the Doctor.
"Yes, I very well know. But we serve more than that. You did see the wall of teas, didn't you? Of course you did, and the tea blend I created this week is outstanding."
"Yeah, I get that but people are coming in for coffee? More than half the people out there are ordering something heavily caffeinated and sugary."
"And that means having a selection. The regular coffee and espresso itself is excellent. Brewed to perfection."
"But the latte? The Galli-thing? Hideous. I don't know how espresso disguised in milk and a few add-ins could be so bad. But your recipe called for 6 tablespoons of that red powder."
“Oh, yes, the paprika,” said The Doctor with a sage nod and then he laughed as he finally processed the rest of what Fitz said. “You didn’t really put 6 tablespoons in though, did you?”
“Right. Definitely on me for following what you wrote down. It’s not like this is your coffee shop or anything.”
The Doctor was staring at him. Not in disappointment or anger. Just studying him and Fitz wanted to squirm.
"Sorry—,” Fitz started speaking right as the Doctor had begun as well.
"Nothing to be sorry about.” The Doctor smiled. “This is one of the reasons why I hired you. Now I prefer the natural taste of the espresso to still shine through, so keep that in mind."
"Go ahead and change the specialty drinks! Perfect the recipes! Then we'll go from there."
"Really? I mean, I just got here. Shouldn't Sam or someone else work on it?”
“No, Fitz.” The Doctor waved a hand brushing the question away. "You're the one who found my mistake and I’d like your help to fix it. I want you to."
Fitz spent the next few weeks staying later after his shift, much to Sam’s surprise. Eventually, she stopped teasing him about it since she benefitted by becoming his caffeine guinea pig or as she put it: the official specialty drink taste tester. The next time Anji stopped in and he provided her with a raspberry mocha latte (on the house of course), he wasn’t entirely sure if she was more happy with the drink or the fact that the Doctor finally allowed her to buy more stocks or whatever.
It was strange. Fitz had never experienced pride in his work. Getting up on stage and playing his heart out to a crowd, sure. But never for a job to scrape by. And when the Doctor gave a tiny sigh of pleasure as he sipped on the lavender latte that Fitz had made especially to appeal to the man’s sweet tooth...why did it make him feel content?
"Since my last suggestion was pretty good..."
The Doctor glanced at Fitz before taking another sip of the latte with a delighted hum. "Go on, I'm listening."
"Well, what if we changed the music up once in a while? How about some classics like the Beatles?"
The Doctor gently placed down the mug with a forlorn expression as if saying goodbye to a lover. "I think the suggestion box is closed for now."
Fitz couldn't stop himself from laughing as he walked back to the front. It was worth a shot.