It had been a while since I had been to Budapest. I had forgotten the magic of Europe in general. And this city—scene of so much of history—had its own magic to it. Two cities combined, Buda and Pest, separated by the Danube river.
I stumbled out of my hotel in the glorious castle district, still jet-lagged but needing to write. If that was going to happen, I also desperately needed caffeine.
The cafe I found was quiet, intimate, lovely. Comfortable furnishings in an old-world building, with a giant brass espresso machine dominating the bar, all curves and pipes and steam. The aroma of freshly roasted coffee mixed with the smells of old wood, spice and history. Liquor bottles lined the mirrored wall behind the bar, a reminder that cafe culture in Europe isn’t just about the coffee.
I ordered my drink, paid, and started to settle into a cozy table in a corner where I could work, plush armchair, spindly but serviceable table and space away from the rest of the café. Behind the bar, the espresso machine hissed and clunked, pouring the first shots of my drink.
I glanced up to realize that the person that took my order was not the same person as the barista now behind the machine. In her late twenties, dark hair pulled firmly into a ponytail, tight black t-shirt revealing both strength and softness. I squirmed. I know as gospel that you shouldn’t flirt with the barista. Being nice to you is their job; that doesn’t mean they have any interest in you whatsoever. More people need to learn that lesson.
And yet… she was so very much my type. Confident, focused, somewhat stern, lips pursed in concentration while she made my drink. I caught myself in an involuntary shudder as my mind strayed. Blaming sleep deprivation, I reminded myself to behave as I went to fetch my coffee.
“Nicola,” crooned the barista, her voice a lower register than I anticipated. Twitch. “It’s a nice name. Easy to remember. It’s mine, as well.”
She slid my drink towards me across the bar. I went to take it, but she retained a firm grip. She looked me in the eyes.
“You ordered extra hot, no whip. We don’t do that in Europe. It destroys the milk. I made you a regular one. It tastes better. You will like it more.”
I stumbled out a thanks, flustered, and tried to turn to go. She still firmly held my drink in her grasp. She looked amused now.
“Are you sure you don’t want whip? It’s a specialty of mine.”
Gulp. I looked at her in panic, trying to process the words, the meaning. My brain had nothing. I must have looked completely lost, blushing.
I managed to stammer out, “Not my kind of whip,” and immediately cringed. My sleep-addled brain was going to get me in so much trouble.
A glint in her eye. “If I had a different whip, would you still want it extra hot?” She held my gaze for far too long, interrupting only when the front door opened and another customer walked in. A glance away, and back to me, still holding my cup, before finally letting go. A glimmer of a grin.
“Enjoy your coffee, Nicola.”
My hands were nervous and sweaty as I made it back to my seat, my mind racing, trying and failing to process what had just happened. I tried to relax, sipping my latte, appreciating how delicious it was compared to what I got at the chain back at home.
Every once in a while, I would glance back at the bar, quizzical, curious, hopeful. Each time, she was focused and intent, busily attentive to the machine in front of her or cleaning up behind the bar. Trying to work, I wrote off our interaction as her making fun of cultural differences with the tourist. Don’t flirt with the barista, I reminded myself. Don’t read anything more into it.
I managed to focus for a period, until I became aware of a presence behind me. A flute of champagne slid into view beside my laptop. A post-it note on the base had a series of numbers.
A dusky whisper in my ear. “If you’re serious about taking this further, text me your hotel information. Leave a key at the front desk. Go to your room, strip and wait. Kneeling, thighs apart, hands behind your back. How wet you are when I arrive will determine what happens next.”
Prompt: You are a stranger in a strange land, and you seek out a cafe in which to write. The barista is flirtatious and has the same name as you. What happens next?