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The door bell jingled. Justin glanced over from the espresso maker. "Hi Tiff," he called out, as one of his regulars shuffled through the door, yawning, her MacBook clutched under a thin arm. "Be with you in a second."

"Yeah huh," Tiff replied—barely—with another yawn and a half-wave. She meandered around the small two-seater tables until she found her usual corner spot butting up against the counter. She plunked the computer then plunked herself, less sitting in the chair than dropping straight down. With a low groan she draped over the computer, her hair spilling out from her messy bun over the table.

Justin handed the finished Americano over to one of his other regulars, a tall thin engineering student who didn't speak much English but who came in every day, same as Tiff. "Long night?" he asked the hair, resting his arms on the edge to peer down over the counter.

With extreme effort, the PhD student pulled herself up, nodding slowly, her face more bags than features.

"Your usual?" Justin prompted.

Another glum nod.

She was cute, Tiff, when she wasn't exhausted by studying, and he admired her and the other student-regulars for being so driven. Focused. He handed her the double-shot latte, the first of many she would consume over the course of the day. Tara wasn't in yet and he was feeling chatty. "How's it going?"

She stared up at him, like an owl, blinking in too-bright sun, wondering where it was. "It's... going." Each syllable was dragged from depths unknown, while she wrangled her hair into a stricter ponytail. Her computer chimed.

"Great. That's... um... that's great." He left her to her latte, which she didn't so much drink as simply pour down her throat. If caffienated IVs were available (more to the point: legal) Tiff would be first in line for one.

Back behind the counter, he kept a tab for those that were in every day. Some regulars preferred to pay for each order separately; others, like Tiff, simply handed over a credit card as they left. He supposed they were possibly writing the coffees off as some sort of expense. Life support, maybe.

He leaned on the counter, remembering his own long-ago college days. He'd put himself through school with a combo of loans and savings, and had done well, but he mostly remembered it as a time of penny-pinching and bad beer. He certainly couldn't have afforded several lattes a day. But that was his experience. "Takes all kinds to make a world," he thought, belatedly realizing he'd said it out loud with both Tiff and the engineering student staring at him in confusion.

He smiled and waved it off, as an awkward joke; they turned back to their screens, Tiff staring just a beat longer as though she wasn't sure who he was.

Dating customers was probably a bad idea.

Especially PhD students.

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