Authors: Brad Boney
“It takes a long time to become young.”
flushed the urinal and returned the toilet brush to its bucket. He knew there were better ways for a grown man to spend a Friday night, but he hated getting dinged on Yelp for not having clean bathrooms. He bent his knees, checked himself in the mirror, and fluffed his thinning hair. His beard looked a little scraggly, and he hadn’t been to the gym in over a week. For a man on the brink of forty, he needed to do better.
Ian returned the cleaning supplies to the utility closet and then slipped behind the counter to check on Matthew, a college senior and his newest employee. Ian found him fumbling with the espresso machine while three people waited in line.
“Let me handle that,” Ian said. “You take the orders. What is this supposed to be, anyway?”
“A single decaf soy latte, for here.”
“Then why do you have the regular milk out?”
“I couldn’t find the soy.” Matthew turned to the first person in line and said, “Welcome to La Tazza Magica. What can I get for you this evening?”
Ian swapped milks and went to work. He placed a shot of decaf espresso into one of La Tazza’s tall, stainless steel glasses and added the steamed soy milk. He set it on the counter, and a young woman stepped forward to claim it. She nodded to Ian, as if to say “Thanks for saving the day.” Matthew relayed three more beverage orders, and Ian expedited them in quick succession.
As a young man in a Killers T-shirt picked up the last drink, Matthew turned to Ian and said, “Sorry about that, boss. I don’t think the machine likes me.”
“I should be the one apologizing. I’m sorry I snapped at you. I know the machine is temperamental, but it makes the best cup of espresso in Austin. You’ll get the hang of it eventually. Remember, when your line gets to three, call for help.”
“I did, but you were cleaning the bathroom with the door closed. I don’t think you heard me.”
“Okay. Well, that’s my mistake, then. No harm done. Could you bus and wash the dishes now?”
“Sure thing.” Matthew pulled out his phone and scrolled through his notifications screen. Ian saw how many text messages he had, at least ten. On a good day, Ian felt lucky if he got one or two. Matthew plugged his phone into the sound system. “This is the new Dime Box album. I downloaded it this morning. Did you know the lead singer is gay?”
“No,” Ian said. “What’s his name?”
“Topher Manning.” Matthew left the bar area and began collecting cups, plates, and glasses. Ian looked at the clock. Almost seven and a customer occupied every table, except for the large one in the corner with a “Reserved” sign on it. Ian did that for a freshman study group that came in every week. He scanned the room and thought about the day five years earlier when he bought the building that would become La Tazza Magica.
Located north of the UT campus on one of Austin’s main thoroughfares, the former thrift shop proved to be the perfect size for a European-inspired café. With its vaulted twenty-foot tin ceiling and expansive windows, Ian transformed the space into a haven for students, writers, and the occasional chess player. In one corner, he set up a small living room with two identical black sofas facing each other and a red Queen Anne-style coffee table in between. In the opposite corner, he installed a dessert case and wooden bar, for an old-world pub feeling. A fifteen-foot wine rack stood like a tower behind the bar, and Ian suspended another rack from the ceiling for glasses and beer mugs.
He filled the central seating area with a variety of tables, both large and small, some regular height and others of the taller bistro style but all made of dark wood. He painted the plaster walls a deep mahogany and trimmed the windowpanes in black. He updated the electrical system and tripled the number of outlets, in order to accommodate laptop and phone chargers. He found a vintage corner bookcase at an antique fair and stocked it with classic literature and board games like Monopoly, Life, Risk, and Trivial Pursuit. He hung paintings of Italian cafés on the slivers of wall between the windows and surrounded the building with a U-shaped stone patio for outdoor seating.
For food, Ian designed a simple menu of sandwiches and salads, with an accent on seasonal, fresh, and local. He served wine, beer, and the best espresso in town. He named the place after his favorite café in Florence, La Tazza Fresca, but changed the adjective. Most nights he had a packed house, and at peak times, Ian would introduce strangers to each other and encourage them to share a table. He posted his prime directive on a sign above the east door:
Stay as long as you want
Don’t be a dick
The barista on duty always had the final say over music selection, but Ian encouraged an eclectic and low-key atmosphere. During job interviews he grilled potential candidates about their musical tastes, so as not to hire a Belieber or anyone with a Wagner obsession. What he ended up with surprised him—anything from Johnny Cash to Billie Holiday to Justin Timberlake to Mozart to the Carpenters to this new band called Dime Box.
The freshman study group burst through the east door and waved hello. They removed the “Reserved” sign and claimed their table. The same five students came in every Friday night, and Ian knew each of them by name—Jessica, Tyler, Ashley, Emily, and Quentin, the ringleader who had been coming into La Tazza since it opened.
“Hey, Ian,” Quentin said as he approached the bar. “Nice tunes.”
“You should tell Matthew. He’s the DJ tonight.”
“Thanks for saving the table.”
“You’re welcome, Q, as always. What’s on the agenda tonight?”
“Econ and our Shakespeare survey course. Finals start in two weeks.”
“I’m a B minus student with an A plus personality. That’s gotta count for something, right?” Quentin pulled out a credit card and set it on the bar. “Let’s open a tab, since Ben still pays my American Express bill. How about five bottles of ice-cold Shiner Bock?”
“Nice try, buddy, but you’re not twenty-one yet, and your brother will sue me if he finds out I’m serving booze to minors.”
“Hey, it was worth a shot. Let’s start with the usual, then.”
“Skim lattes for Jessica and Ashley, a skim mocha for Emily, and straight espressos for you and Tyler.”
“You’re the man.”
Ian swiped the credit card and handed it back to Quentin, then crossed to the machine and prepared the first drink. “Have you decided on a major yet?”
“No,” Quentin said. “I have another year. I like my art classes, but it doesn’t seem practical as a major. Ashley thinks I’d make a good counselor, but I hate listening to other people’s problems. I’m way too self-absorbed for that.”
Ian finished the second latte and started on the mocha. “I saw Ben on the news the other night. Something to do with a death penalty case?”
“He loves playing the big shot, doesn’t he? Thirty years old and already arguing in front of the Texas Court of Appeals. Frankly I think they should fry the dude for what he did, but big brother says the state shouldn’t be in the business of killing its own citizens.”
“He’s got a point.” Ian finished the mocha and set it on the counter, then turned back to the machine to make the espressos. “How are Travis and your other brothers doing?”
“Jason’s freaking a little because his boyfriend’s moving to New York in the fall. And it’s baseball season, so that’s pretty much all Cade and Travis talk about. Speaking of Cade, we’re having a huge blowout at the house for his sixteenth birthday. You should come by.”
“When is it?”
“Memorial Day weekend. I can text you the details closer to the time.”
Ian pulled out his phone, unlocked the welcome screen, and handed it to Quentin. “Put your number in there and then call yourself. That way you’ll have mine. How are things with you and Ashley?”
“Awesome,” Quentin said as he typed in his information. “She finally met my big gay family last week and loved them. She and Jason are going shopping tomorrow, and she wants Travis to teach her how to make chicken and dumplings.” Quentin tapped the screen and put Ian’s phone to his ear. After a few seconds, he said, “Hey, douchebag. Stop watching so much porn and get some studying done.” He turned off the phone and handed it back.
Ian laughed as he put it into his pocket. He placed the five drinks on a tray and slid it across the bar. “There you go—two skim lattes, one skim mocha, and two espressos.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“Will the Walsh clan be joining us for Jeopardy Pursuit Night next month? You boys have a title to defend.”
“We wouldn’t miss it. All I have to do is whisper ‘returning champion’ into Ben’s ear and he’ll be there.”
Quentin picked up the tray and carried the drinks to the group’s corner table. The north door opened, and Bartley James, another of La Tazza’s regulars, walked in. Bartley was Ian’s customer crush, but with his all-American good looks and clean-cut appeal, he was also out of Ian’s league—or at least that’s what Ian believed. His nerves kicked into high gear as Bartley approached the counter.
“Hi, Ian. Can I get a double skim, please?”
“For here or to go?”
Bartley brushed a lock of golden-blond hair out of his eyes. “I need it to go tonight. I’m heading back to the office to finish the blueprints for the new house. We’re breaking ground tomorrow.”
“This the house you designed for the couple in Westlake?”
“One and the same. I’ve finally graduated from being an assistant to a full-fledged architect.”
“Sounds like you’ll need some food, then. Let me throw a sandwich together for you.”
“I only brought in enough cash for the latte.”
Ian turned to the espresso machine to make Bartley’s double skim. “The sandwich is on the house. You’re in here almost every day. It’s the least I can do to help celebrate your big project.”
“Well, thanks. I suppose food would be a good idea. I’m used to running on caffeine at times like this.”
“You ever have our Pilgrim sandwich? I got the idea from a deli in P-town. You ever been there?”
“Provincetown? Mason and I went last summer, before everything fell…. Never mind. I need to stop…. What’s on the sandwich?”
“Turkey, dressing, and homemade cranberry sauce. It’s like Thanksgiving dinner.”
“Sounds good,” Bartley said. “But how do you get all that onto one sandwich?”
“Well, it can be a little messy, I admit, but it’s bloody delicious.”
Ian cringed. This was usually the part where he started blabbering about something of no importance. All his attempts to be cool around Bartley ultimately ended in failure. He knew he should shut up, but instead he launched into the inevitable explanation. “I’ve been watching this British soap called
. Twenty-three minutes a day, five days a week. Totally addictive, crazy show, and I’m not exaggerating. Half the characters belong in a mental institution. One of them named his kids Lucas and Leah. You know, after the
characters? There are these five insanely hot Roscoe brothers. The two things I’ve picked up are ‘bloody’ and ‘sort it.’”
“What do you mean by ‘sort it’?”
“Well, in Texas, when we have a problem, we fix it or handle it or deal with it. But in England, they sort it. I swear to God, they’re constantly sorting things. And if you go to court, you don’t testify, you give evidence.”
“Hmm. What made you start watching a British soap opera?”
Ian finished the latte, handed it to Bartley, and then turned his attention to the sandwich. “It has a lot of gay characters. I’m a little obsessed with gay stories on television shows.”
“Did you find it on BBC America or something?”
“No, YouTube. That’s where all the good stuff is. People edit together the gay storylines from European soaps and add English subtitles. They’re called ‘trims.’ Max and Iago from
El Cor de la Ciutat
. Lenny and Carsten from
Gute Zeiten, schlechte Zeiten
. Christian and Oliver from