It took Gayle an embarrassingly long time to realize that something was off about a certain customer at the coffee shop where she worked.
It should have been rather obvious. For one, the man, Craig, spent time every day in the shop, but he didn’t drink any coffee. Craig carried a silver travel mug with him, but he never bought anything to go in it. He didn’t even use the free creamer like a lot of rude people did, bringing coffee from home just to help themselves to what extras the shop put out for free. In fact, Gayle had never actually seen him take a drink from his mug.
For another thing, Craig didn’t talk to anybody. That in itself wasn’t so strange, some people just weren’t social. But it was also the case that nobody ever talked to Craig. When people sat at the table he was occupying, no one ever said Excuse me or Mind if I sit here? And if Craig continued to sit by them instead of moving, they completely ignored him. Gayle only knew his name because she’d tried to strike up a conversation once. He’d given her a bit of a surprised look and introduced himself, but he hadn’t seemed to want to talk to her either.
And finally, Craig was dressed like someone who was employed— nice slacks, dress shirt, and a tie— but he showed up in the coffee shop at all kinds of weird hours, and he never brought any work with him, not a computer, or notebook, or even a phone. He just sat in a chair, usually the one by the window, with his mug in his hand, and watched people.
Even with all that, it still didn’t dawn on Gayle that the man was dead. It took her co-worker Maggie mentioning the coffee shop ghost for Gayle to finally put it all together.
“What ghost?” Gayle asked, as they were cleaning up after closing.
“Oh, I should have figured you hadn’t seen him,” Maggie said, with a dramatic sigh. “You don’t have a psychic bone in your body, I can tell.” She pointed to the table by the window. “I saw him, right there. Wish I hadn’t, though. He’s bad luck. Right after that I broke two china mugs. Jess saw him and she twisted her ankle on her way home. Grant dropped his phone and cracked the screen. It was a couple of days later, but it still counts.”
“What’s he look like?” Gayle asked.
“Nothing scary. Just like a customer. Brown hair, brown eyes. Handsome. Grant saw him twice, and says he carries a silver mug. Nobody ever sees him come in or leave, he’s just in here sometimes.”
“So how do you know he’s a ghost?” asked Gayle.
“Because he doesn’t order anything, doesn’t work on anything, and doesn’t talk to anybody.”
“Oh,” said Gayle. “Huh.”
Maggie went into the kitchen then to mop the floor, and a voice spoke up behind Gayle. “The ankle and the phone weren’t my fault. But I may have been responsible for the mugs. I don’t like Maggie. She always makes the half-cafs full-decafs.”
Gayle turned around to see Craig sitting on the counter she’d just cleaned, his mug beside him and his feet swinging in space.
“You, on the other hand,” he said, “I like. You only sabotage the orders of rude people.”
“Huh,” said Gayle, again.
“Want to know what happened?” Craig asked.
“I had a heart attack.” Craig pointed to that table by the window. “Right there. Five years ago, before you or Maggie started here. I never saw it coming. I was an athlete, ate a good diet. Maybe I drank too much coffee.”
“You do look healthy,” Gayle said. “I’d never have guessed you were dead.”
Craig nodded. “I was wondering how long it was going to take you to figure it out.”
Maggie hollered from the kitchen. “Who are you talking to out there?” She poked her head out into the seating area. “You better not have let in a customer—” She looked around— counters included— and apparently saw no one.
“Just thinking out loud,” Gayle said, and Maggie went back into the kitchen.
“Nobody sees or hears me as well as you do,” Craig said. “Not a psychic bone in your body, my ass.”
Gayle started cleaning the glass display case. “So how come you didn’t pass on? You know—” She waved her hand. “Go upstairs? Downstairs?”
“No grander purpose? Unfinished business? Didn’t commit some atrocity and get damned to stay here until you make amends?”
“Huh,” said Craig slowly. “I didn’t think of that last one.” He slid himself off the counter. “I mean, it wasn’t an atrocity.”
“What did you do?”
Craig put his hands up sort of defensively. “Well, look, nobody died. But I may have… possibly… robbed a bank.” Craig looked slightly remorseful.
“You robbed a bank,” Gayle said.
“Well, I worked at a bank. Made it easier. I just used a computer program.”
Maggie came out from the kitchen. “That’s good enough. Let the morning shift handle the rest.” She frowned at Gayle. “Are you okay? You don’t usually talk to yourself about robbing banks.”
Craig popped up again the next Saturday morning when Gayle came in by herself to start the baking. He appeared by the oven, wrinkling his nose at the orange-cinnamon scone batter. “I never liked those,” he complained. “So how does one make amends?”
Gayle gave him a surprised look. “Why are you asking me?”
“Because there’s literally no one else I can ask.”
“Well— I guess you apologize to the bank.”
“Can’t. Most people can only see me for a few minutes at a time, and nobody can hear me except you.”
“Well, then you swear not to to it again.”
“Can’t do it again, I’m dead. What would I even do with money now?” Craig scowled at a platter of blueberry muffins. “This doesn’t make any sense. If I’m supposed to make amends to the bank, why am I not haunting the bank?”
“It does seem like poor organization,” Gayle agreed.
Craig looked thoughtful for a moment, and then he said, “Well, maybe I’m supposed to help you. Since you can see and hear me so well. I mean, you don’t want to work in a coffee shop all your life, do you? You’ve got to have dreams.”
“Oh, I do,” Gayle assured him. “One of them is owning this place. I’ve always wanted to have a coffee shop. I’m going to school for my MBA right now.”
Craig stared at her a moment and then said, “Huh.” He seemed to sort of phase himself through the counter until he was sitting on it again.
“I’ve already included you in my plans,” Gayle said. She pointed out toward the seating area. “When the shop is mine, I’m going to put a sign on that chair you like— Reserved for the Ghost.”
“A haunted coffee shop?” Craig said, looking rather impressed.
“If we get TV crews in, could you give them a bit of a show?” Gayle asked.
Craig nodded. “I can do stuff like with Maggie and the mugs if I try really hard.”
“I’ll probably have themed drinks, too,” Gayle mused. “Ghost white. Phantom Frapp. Dead eye already works.”
Craig cocked his head. “That all sounds nice, but I have to say that helping you make money doesn’t really seem like a good deed on my part. Not exactly making amends.”
Gayle frowned. “Well, I was thinking of having a policy of giving all my day-old food to the needy.”
Craig snapped his fingers. “That could work.”
Gayle paused halfway through filling a muffin tin. “Do you think you’ll move on, then, when I’ve got it all set up?”
Craig shrugged. “I guess we’ll see. I’d almost hate to, though. Sounds like it would be fun. So how long do we have to wait for all that?”
“Well, I’m almost done with school. But I’m going to have to save up enough to buy the place.”
Craig looked thoughtful. “You know— I might know where you can get the funds.” When Gayle raised her eyebrows at him, he said, “The bank never caught me! I died before they could. Money’s just sitting around in an account I set up and nobody even knows about it.”
“Well,” said Gayle, “it’s certainly not doing anything sitting around in some account, is it?”
“Definitely not feeding the needy,” Craig agreed.
The door to the kitchen banged open as Maggie came in. “Sorry I’m late,” she said. “I didn’t want to be here. Are you talking to yourself again?”
“No,” said Gayle. “I’m talking to the ghost.”
Maggie gave her a confused look. “Don’t try to be funny. You aren’t.”
That day Maggie broke three mugs.