by Jake Christie

a story.

“I'm going to ask you to get me a small yerba mate,” said the man at the head of the line. There were six people behind him, checking their cell phones or craning their necks at the menu.

Sheldon stared at the man, whose face transformed from bemused patience to restrained anger.

“Hello?” he said. He waved a hand in front of Sheldon's face. Sheldon flinched and tightened his expression, like he'd just smelled something terrible. “I'm waiting,” the man said.

“Me too,” said Sheldon.

“For what?” asked the man. “An invitation?” He looked over his shoulder and rolled his eyes, as if to say, “Can you believe this? I'd apologize were it not so clearly somebody else's fault.”

“You said you're going to ask me to get you a small yerba mate,” said Sheldon. “I'm still waiting for you to ask.”

A small amount of color drained from the man's face, as if the universe had decided to water him down to fleece some of its customers. “You know what I meant,” he said. “Where's your manager?” He saw somebody behind Sheldon and reached past him to snap in the manager's direction.

The manager stepped to Sheldon's side, wiping a mug with a rag. “Yes?” he said.

“I asked this young man to make me a small yerba mate,” the man said, “and all he's done is stand here and stare at me.”

“That's not true,” said Sheldon, immediately. “He said, 'I'm going to ask you to get me a small yerba mate.'” He paused. “He still hasn't.”

The man spread his hands demonstrably, as if Sheldon's performance made the argument for him.

“I'm sorry,” said the manager, “but we had to cut colloquial phrasing and interpretation from our budget. We can only respond to orders literally.”

“That's ridiculous,” said the man.

“It's a tough economy,” said the manager.

“Get me a damn coffee,” said the man, raising his voice.

“Coming right up,” said Sheldon, straight-faced. The manager politely motioned for the man to step to the side.

“Next, please,” he said.

“Hi,” said the next customer. “Can I get a medium black tea, please?”

“I don't know,” said the manager. “Can you?”

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