Limp, the arms of George Harrister hung by his sides in defeat. It was 8:00 AM (the glaring red numbers from the Mr. Coffee machine made sure we all remembered) and we had yet to fill our mugs with the bitter caffeine that would carry us through the rest of the workday.
“Have you tried unplugging it?” George asked.
“Of course I’ve tried unplugging it!” Ben snapped back.
Ben is the kind of man who would have a “Don’t Talk To Me Until I’ve Had My Coffee” t-shirt and actually wear it because he thinks it’s funny. He is also assistant manager, thus used to more kiss-assery than backtalk. He was said to have once been a brilliant worker, but was passed over for a big promotion and became the brute he is today. Even George in HR had little power over him, and moved to drop down into a seat at the break room table. Ellie leaned over from her place at the table and patted his hand consolingly. Ellie is young and wears unnecessarily large glasses and too many rings. She works in customer service, and is good at situations involving feelings.
“What about Starbucks? There’s a Starbucks down the road!”
George groaned. Ben looked ready to tear his hair out as he rounded on Newton, our intern, who had a knack for suggesting the most undesirable solution.
“I want coffee! Not a glorified milkshake served by some kid who calls me ‘Been’!” he barked. He turned back to Mr. Coffee and began mashing buttons with his thick fingers. It was entertaining, really, to see all of my coworkers lose their sanity over something as simple as a morning drink. I was here more for the show than the promise of coffee. I didn’t need it.
“You all should really try tea. It’s very relaxing and good for your aura,” Ellie suggested with a wave of her bejeweled hand.
“Ellie, you don’t like tea, you like the idea of liking tea! You bring a thermos from home with coffee!” Ben was dangerously close to shattering the pot as he twisted the machine around, looking for god knows what.
There was a thunk as Ellie shoved something suspiciously thermos-sounding into her bag and glared at Ben.
“Fine, then I’m with Newt. Let’s go to Starbucks. They have muffins.”
“How would you know unless you’ve been there?” George asked, a light returning to his eye that had not been present for years, even during what I assume was some lackluster lovemaking.
“THEY SELL TEA AT STARBUCKS.”
“They’re known for coffee.”
“Tom!” Ellie targeted me in a rare acknowledgement, “What do you think? Starbucks?”
“Uh, if Newt wants to go to Starbucks, I won’t stop him. He’s the intern.”
“Then I’m going!” Newton declared, “I know everyone’s drink orders. I’ll be right back and you’ll see how good it is!”
We all lulled into silence in his absence, aside from the occasional rattle as Ben tried to coax Mr. Coffee into operation. The screen displayed 8:12 AM. It was almost mocking. I could imagine a hidden smile behind those numbers as Mr. Coffee watched us struggle, toying with us. Man made Mr. Coffee, and now Mr. Coffee controls man. What if I were to shatter it? Throw it, as Ben seemingly wanted to do, at the wall and watch it die? Would I be a hero? A villain?
The sound of the footsteps woke me from my daydreams. Newt paused in the break room doorway. He was pale and sweaty. He was a man changed.
“Some old lady stole our drinks. When I tried to get them back, she said they had written ‘Nancy’ on the cups and that’s what her friend calls her, so it must be hers. She then screamed that I was harassing her and I got thrown out.”
There were scattered eye rolls, and an audible snort from Ben. Newt faded into the background as he was wont to do, but I had an idea. Operating on the hunch that a beast like Ben would not have really tried more patient approaches, I approached the outlet. I unplugged Mr. Coffee, and plugged him back in. Ben nearly yelped in surprise as he set the machine down and it immediately began brewing. George leapt from his chair with a speed that could have been valuable to the aforementioned lackluster lovemaking.
“Good job, Tom!” Ellie exclaimed, offering me a smile.
I had done it. I watched my coworkers one by one fill their mugs and walk joyously to their offices. Ellie didn’t even pretend to hide the fact that she poured some into her metal thermos. I was a hero. I took my time filling my own mug, leaving just enough room for cream. Pulling the container from the fridge, I popped the lid off with a flourish and began to pour. And pour. And pour.
And nothing came out.
The cream was empty. Someone had used it all and not followed the office policy of replacing it, like some kind of savage. I could feel a slight headache begin to form, no doubt from lack of caffeine. In desperation, I threw the creamer aside and grabbed the milk.
It could not be. It could not possibly be. The milk was gone too. All gone! Was I to drink the coffee black, like Ben the animal? No! Outwardly, I threw the milk to the ground. Inwardly, my headache intensified, hooking into my brain, proclaiming it was here to stay.
I sank to my knees on the break room floor. Mr. Coffee stared down at me. 8:21 AM. My first phone call was scheduled for 8:30. At least my coworkers had been saved. I, alone, suffered, but at least they were free.
I have no milk. And I need cream.