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If You Don't Know Me By Now

If You Don't Know Me By Now

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If You Don't Know Me By Now

298 pages
4 hours
Jul 2, 2015


What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?

Imogen has come to London to make it as a writer. At least, that was the plan. Finding herself in a dead-end job serving coffee to hipsters was not on her to-do list. And even if gorgeous colleague Declan does give her more of a buzz than a triple-shot cappuccino, Imogen can feel her dreams evaporating faster than the steam from an extra-hot latte.

Until her anonymous tell-all blog about London’s rudest customers goes viral – and suddenly, Imogen realises that landing the worst job in the world might just be the best thing that’s ever happened to her! As long as she can keep her identity to herself…

Jul 2, 2015

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If You Don't Know Me By Now - A. L. Michael


Chapter One

‘So, Imogen … why should I hire you?’

Darrel, the manager of BeanTown, was the sort of man who polished his name badge. His knobbly elbows stuck out from his branded short-sleeve shirt, and he was wearing a baseball cap that proclaimed ‘It’s all in the beans!’ He tilted his head to the side, his body relaxed into the plastic chair. The posture of someone drunk on the power he had been given.

‘Because … I’m desperate,’ Imogen said staunchly, bitter enough about having to apply for the damn Mcjob in the first place.

‘And do we think desperation is a qualification, hmm?’ Darrel raised an eyebrow infuriatingly, that smarmy grin on his face.

Imogen was not going to waste the same answers she’d been giving for the last two weeks: she was enthusiastic, she was hard-working, driven, passionate, eager to succeed, a team player, a solo player … she was a performing monkey who just needed a damn job.

‘Darrel,’ Imogen leaned in, swiping a strand of dark hair behind her ear so she could focus on him intensely. Her dad had always said once she set those hazel eyes on someone, they’d cave. He never said if it was out of appreciation or fear, but she suspected the latter. ‘Desperate people are in the unique position that they will do anything, and I mean anything, to keep their jobs.’

Shit, that sounded like a proposition. She back-pedalled.

‘What I mean is, that because I am so very eager for this job, you can be guaranteed that I won’t slack off. I’ll be here on time, I’ll be willing to work, I won’t complain. You catch me complaining and you can fire me on the spot,’ she promised with a wide grin.

Imogen sat up straight, head held high, like she was a prize beagle showing off her skills. Please, please, please …

‘All right, let’s give it a go. It’s true what they say about northerners being ballsy. Walking in here and telling me you’re desperate wouldn’t have got anyone else a job!’ Darrel laughed, a single hoot.

Probably because they’ve all still got their self-respect in existence and their self-esteem intact, Imogen glowered, but turned all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed as Darrel shook her hand and told her she could start a trial shift tomorrow, and to be there by five a.m.

Imogen let the door slam behind her as she walked out onto Holland Park Road. It was drizzling, and as she pulled her hood up it seemed like every single person walking down the pavement bumped into her. What was it with Londoners? Did they have to get everywhere in a hurry? She passed four other cafes that had turned her down, and the pub on the corner that said she didn’t have enough experience. She’d worked in a pub for five years, she argued. Yes, but not a London pub, they’d replied. That always seemed to be the catch.

She trudged along, down the huge wide lanes with the multi-million-pound mansions, counting the sports cars and guessing how many bedrooms each property had.

The point had never been to do pub work anyway. Moving to London to work in a pub … well, she could have stayed in Doncaster. As her father had frequently reminded her five times this week, when he called to see how the job hunt was going.

‘You could still come back,’ he had said softly, and she could imagine him scratching his bald head and walking around in circles, getting tangled up in the cord of the house phone because he refused to buy a wireless one.

‘I thought Babs had turned my room into an office?’ She tried to say it without malice.

‘It’s actually a bedroom for Chico,’ her father whispered, ‘and a mini-gym.’

Babs was a five-eight, size-eight, forty-two-year-old divorcee who was just head over heels for her dad. Which Imogen hadn’t bought for a second, because her dad was a fifty-nine-year-old, five-foot-five, balding, pot-bellied Greek Cypriot man who worked in a butcher’s and had a hairy back. Something was rotten in Doncaster.

But she had to hand it to Babs. In six months she’d got Costa walking five nights a week, cutting back on the red meat and the salt, going to salsa lessons, and had a waxer on speed dial. She was working with raw materials and getting decent results. It was just that she was so … loud about it all. Their house had been so quiet all those years, just her and her dad, reading companionably, sharing meals, drinking Greek coffee. Occasionally the big family would descend upon them, and it would be music and parties and too much food, but for the most part they had a quiet little life. Imogen thought he’d been happy with that.

‘She turned my bedroom into a playpen for her chihuahua?’ Imogen had scoffed, but if she was honest with herself, Babs moving in meant she could move to London and pursue her dreams without worrying over whether her dad knew not to shrink things in the tumble dryer. She was free. It was just a shame that she was free to serve people coffee.

She pounded down the soggy streets until she reached a busy road, all cramped terraced houses leaning on each other out of desperation. She climbed the stairs, opened the door and followed the narrow stairs with the mildew carpet up two flights. Home.

When she’d told her cousin, Demi, about the studio in West London that she was moving to, she’d made it sound exotic and sophisticated. In fact, she was paying an eye-watering amount for a cupboard, with a tiny bathroom and a microwave oven with two hob rings on top. London life was a little depressing.

She flopped onto the bed and opened her laptop, too desperate to even bother taking off her wet shoes. It had seemed fated, this move to London. Her big adventure, after years of saving, staying at home, going to a local uni, working three jobs. Imogen had always known this was her dream, cliche or not. She was going to live in London and write. She didn’t even care what she wrote; she wasn’t the hard-hitting news sort of girl – it made her feel angry and helpless. But writing copy for a charity, writing articles, reviews? Something that could put some positivity out in the world, make people laugh, effect some change. Everything had seemed like it had fallen into place with perfect timing – Imogen had reached her saving goal, Babs had decided to move in, and a friend from uni, Saskia, had given her a heads-up about an internship at her magazine. Which, of course, had fallen apart the minute she got within the radius of the M25. Everything in London seemed to move twice as fast. She’d found a flat, tied up her life and moved down in two weeks – but it wasn’t quick enough. The internship was gone. As was, apparently, every writing opportunity in the city.

Surely one London paper, one tiny magazine or agency would take on a English graduate? Surely someone could do with a fairly intelligent person fetching their coffee? Surely one person out there could say, ‘Oh, hey, she was the editor of her uni paper, and she’s done a Master’s degree in fairy tales – cool!’

Apparently not. But at least she could afford to stay. For now. And how hard could serving coffee be?

Chapter Two

‘You. New Girl. Come here.’ Agnes beckoned her behind the bar with a crooked finger. She dumped the tray she was using to collect soggy napkins and set her jaw. Agnes was terrifying. Terrifyingly efficient, but still plain terrifying. Her round face should have had a softening effect, but her stern features seemed to be sharp within their doughy edge. Her eyes were small and darted about the cafe, the captain in charge of her ship.

‘It’s Imogen,’ Imogen said brightly, with a smile, tapping her name tag.

‘Whatever. You will learn to make a cappuccino properly.’

‘Okay …’ Imogen swallowed, recovering her smile. ‘I’d love to learn that.’

Agnes rolled her eyes. ‘What you’d love to do does not concern me. Watch carefully. Most people get the foam-to-milk ratio completely wrong. That is not acceptable.’

Imogen blinked, and watched as Agnes steamed milk, tilted the silver jug, swirled and ground and pressed buttons, pouring until there was a perfect cappuccino with a heart on the top.

‘You try.’ Agnes gestured towards the machine, turning her back. ‘You stay here and keep trying for the next forty-five minutes. I will return.’

Imogen was sure she could do it. In forty-five minutes she would wow Agnes and win her everlasting respect. She would.

Forty-five minutes later, Imogen was angry at herself. She’d burnt the milk, burnt herself, got coffee grounds everywhere, sworn at the machine, accidentally started a cleaning cycle, and made everything but a cappuccino. Damn foamy bastards.

‘She freaked you out, no?’ A tall young black man with his hair tied back in a bun grinned at her, tying up his maroon apron and pulling on his baseball cap.

‘She could freak out world leaders. She’s wasted here,’ Imogen breathed, still fiddling with the milk jug.

‘If Agnes wanted world domination, she would have it. Sadly … she only wants the coffee shop to be efficient. And free whipped cream,’ he winked.

‘I’m not even going to ask,’ Imogen laughed, holding out her hand. ‘Nice to meet you. I’m Imogen.’

‘Emanuel.’ The man smiled, his French accent acting as a balm. ‘Would you like me to teach you how to make a cappuccino?’

It took most of the day, but Imogen finally figured out how to make a cappuccino. And a latte. Mostly she cleaned, and listened in awe as the customers demanded things she didn’t even know existed.

‘My usual,’ was the cold-voiced demand she heard most; no please or thank you, or acknowledgement at all.

‘What’s his usual?’ she whispered to Emanuel as he started making the drink.

‘Large whole milk, triple-shot, extra-hot, extra-dry caramel latte,’ he shrugged, swirling around to reach for ingredients like a possessed dervish.

Imogen blinked, looking around for another example. ‘What about hers?’

‘The redhead? Small black decaf Americano, extra shot.’

‘The guy with the tattoos?’

‘Medium mocha, extra caramel, extra cream.’

Emanuel didn’t bat an eyelid, just grinned as she looked at him in awe.

‘You’ll pick it up quicker than you realise.’

‘Doesn’t it feel like a waste of brain space?’ she asked, before realising that was a pretty damn rude thing to say, especially to someone who was helping you.

Emanuel just quirked an eyebrow. ‘What else am I doing? Becoming a brain surgeon?’

‘Why not?’ Imogen shrugged, cleaning down the surfaces as Agnes gave her the evil eye across the cafe.

‘I like this. Some of the others, they are nurses, students, artists, musicians. But me, I’m not here for a career.’

He poured two creamy coffees and handed her one, lifting up his cup and tapping it against hers.

‘So what are you here for?’ Imogen took a sip and had to admit, the man could make a decent cup of coffee.

‘Ah, but of course,’ he gestured at himself. ‘L’amour.’

‘You came here for love?’ She smiled to herself as Emanuel chuckled.

‘Yes, and then she left. And I stayed for another. I always stay for another. Something about London girls … they’re so disinterested. It’s almost French.’

Imogen had to admit, as she hobbled home exhausted, feet aching, the faint aroma of stale coffee beans clinging to her skin: it was exhausting, and confusing … but it didn’t suck.


Imogen was wrong, of course. It did suck. Which she learnt when she was finally allowed to use the till and serve her very first customer.

‘Good morning, welcome to BeanTown, what can I –’

‘Oh. My. God.’ The pretty Indian girl plastered in Marc Jacobs burst out laughing. Imogen froze, blinking, waiting for an explanation.

‘I didn’t think you were going to speak English!’ the girl explained, still smiling. ‘No one in the service industry speaks English. And you look so foreign!’

Imogen looked at the Indian girl, honestly stunned.

A bunch of responses appeared in her mind, including:

‘Well, so do you.’

‘Yes, I do appear to have a tan, madam, you’re very astute.’

‘What the fuck?’

Instead, she settled for retaining a cheerful expression and simply shrugged. ‘Well, appearances are often deceptive – what can I get you?’

Life went on. The day passed in a flurry of rudeness, casual racism and coffee grounds. Agnes seemed to inhale whipped cream in times of panic, but even she had looked over at Imogen’s stoic responses and nodded in approval.

The trick, Imogen realised as she rubbed at her red eyes in the mirror of the disabled toilets, where she had barricaded herself for the thirty minutes of her lunch break, was not to let them get to you. Or if they did, not to let them know it. Which was why she was making it through with the odd lip wobble and ‘something in my eye’ until she made it to her break or the flat.

The pub had been bad at first, too, she had to remind herself: the shouts of ‘oi darlin’’ and the bum pinches, the insinuations that she’d sleep with them and the comments about her boobs. But no one had ever made her feel like an idiot before. The pub lot had never shaken her.

She took a deep breath, fanned her eyes and stepped back outside again.

A small woman with owl-like eyes behind square glasses stared up at her.

‘I need the bathroom code,’ she demanded.

‘X4093,’ Imogen rattled off thoughtlessly.

‘And what if it doesn’t work?’ The woman crossed her arms.

Then you try it again until it does? Imogen raised an eyebrow.

‘If it doesn’t work, madam, feel free to come and bother me with it.’

‘Excuse me?’

I won’t complain, I won’t complain. I said he could fire me on the spot if I complained.

‘Oh so sorry, madam,’ Imogen sighed and hated herself for what she was going to do, ‘my English not very good. Come get me if there’s a … problem? Not bother, I meant no bother to you. I wouldn’t want to cause you bother, you see?’

The woman raised an imperious, thinly drawn eyebrow, but seemed satisfied and walked away.

‘You’re English is not very good?’ Emanuel smirked as she returned to the bar and commenced making her tenth espresso of the shift.

‘Of course not, I’m foreign.’ She rolled her eyes and threw back the shot.

The nights in the little flat were starting to get to her, too. She’d lie there, still hyper from all the caffeine she’d ingested that day, her mind going over and over the horrible things the customers said:

Are you stupid?

How did you even get this job?

Is there anyone here who isn’t completely incompetent?

What colony are you from?

What is wrong with you people?

Was it worth it? Was it worth it, just to have enough money to live in a tiny box room where the walls were starting to cave in? She was exhausted, too stressed to write anything. The only creative work she was doing was imagining all the witty remarks she’d wished she’d made to those horrible people. But what was left for her back home? Going back to her dad and Babs, cuddled up on the sofa while she tried not to remember her mum sitting in exactly the same spot? Watching as her home slowly became their home. She’d needed to get out before that happened; it was too hard to watch all those memories get painted over as if they didn’t matter.

‘It’s not so bad,’ she told her cousin, holding the phone with her shoulder as she watched bright blue lights chase across her dark room. She held her breath – seconds later the ambulance sirens blared. She hadn’t thought to check if her ‘perfect London flat’ was on a main road.

‘Then why are you calling me at midnight?’ Demi yawned. ‘Happy people tend to call to comment on their happiness when it’s light out. Unless you’re waking me up to purposefully gloat, in which case: fuck you.’

Imogen sighed. ‘Okay, it’s crap! It’s horrible! The flat is awful, I’ve eaten toast for dinner every night this week, and I’m getting fat from all the paninis and cake I’m eating at work just to give me enough energy to get through the day!’

She heard her cousin stifle a laugh. ‘Go on.’

‘The job is bad, worse than bad. People are mean! And it’s not like they’re sad because they have sad lives! They’re rich and have everything and are still dickheads! This woman screamed at me today, actually screamed in my face because I forgot that she wanted extra whipped cream. I gave her a normal amount and she freaked out.’

‘We all scream for cream,’ Demi laughed, ‘but at least you know they’re ridiculous. How’s the writing going?’

‘Too exhausted. And emotionally deadened.’ Imogen stretched, rotating her shoulders to release the kink in her neck. She lifted up a hand to her neck in dread, wiping it. ‘And I’ve just found mocha sauce on my neck.’

Strangely, it was this that made her almost burst into tears.

‘Dirty bitch. You’re wasting your time being single if that’s the fun you’re getting up to.’ She could hear Demi’s wicked grin in her voice, and suddenly missed home fiercely.

‘Maybe I made a mistake,’ she said quietly, as if the London Dream that had brought her this far could hear her failure.

‘Nope.’ Demi’s voice rang out too loudly, and Imogen winced. ‘You, Imogen Cypriani, are a freakin’ badass, and if it’s too hard for you, then it’s too hard for me. And seeing as I need to escape this hellhole, I refuse to accept that. Pick yourself up and go kick some arse.’

Imogen grinned to herself, tugging on her dark braid.

‘Besides, it’s been weeks. Maybe all this talk of home and work and careers and creativity is putting you off your game. Find some pretentious London wanker to have sex with, and everything will fall into place.’

‘Oh yes, you’re so wise. I’m a run-down exhausted mess of a human.’

‘I thought you said you had chocolate sauce on your neck, you smelled like coffee, and you had free access to whipped cream? Start playing to your strengths, bitch.’

Chapter Three

Imogen was feeling surprisingly chipper. Things could be worse. She didn’t have to hear Babs’s nasal whinnying every night (as well as worse noises) from her father’s bedroom any more. She had free access to caramel macchiatos, and Agnes had patted her shoulder this morning when she weighed her cappuccino to assess the foam-to-milk ratio.

‘Passable,’ Agnes nodded and marched off to the back office with her tiny espresso cup swirled up with cream like a mini Cornetto.

‘That was a big deal,’ Emanuel winked at her. ‘She doesn’t give away such praise every day.’

‘Passable is praise? What happens if she says I’m good?’ Imogen grinned, refilling the espresso machine.

‘I will fall down in shock,’ he snorted, then pointed at the twitchy businessman walking up to the till. His tie was askew, his jacket creased and his face crinkled with strange lines. ‘Prep his usual – a red eye.’

Imogen raised an eyebrow. ‘That’s not on the menu.’

‘Black filter coffee with a shot of espresso in it,’ Emanuel replied, going to put it into the till wordlessly, nodding at the zombified businessman.

‘Two shots today,’ the man yawned, and Imogen pressed the button, wincing at the anticipated taste. She passed him the drink and he saluted her with it.

‘What’s it called when it’s got two shots of espresso in it?’

‘A black eye,’ Emanuel said, deadpan.


‘Why not? It’s the same as a punch in the face, no?’

All in all, not a bad day. Customers had been rude, but unmemorable. There had been a lot of tourists, which meant a frustrating number of gesturing, umming, and awwwing, as well as some mis-made drinks, but she’d made it until three p.m. and there wasn’t a wobbly lip in sight. The sound system, which usually repeated the same African-themed versions of Paul Simon songs all shift, had a new CD, and Chuck Berry’s ‘You Never Can Tell’ came on. Emanuel even jived with her behind the bar when there were no customers around. She was just cleaning the filter machine, planning what she would write when she got back to the flat, and the actual food that she might make for dinner after stopping at the shops, when an Irish voice bellowed across the cafe.

‘Oi Miss Barista. Get your cups out fer the lads! I like ‘em large!’

Imogen whirled around to face the door, an eyebrow raised at the tall, brown-haired man with the scraggy beard and bright eyes. She watched with some satisfaction as the smile fell from his face, and his eyes widened.

‘Oh no, no, no!’ He stepped forward, hands raised. ‘I thought you were Liza …’

‘Who?’ Imogen frowned, arms crossed.

‘No, you don’t understand,’ he said, his Irish accent emphasised as he moved swiftly across the cafe, unbuttoning his coat. Some of the customers looked up with interest.

‘What are you –’

‘See?’ The man pulled open his coat dramatically. To reveal a maroon BeanTown apron. ‘I’m a member of the resistance,’ he whispered dramatically. ‘I’ve been sent by HQ to procure more drinking receptacles. The plan for world domination via caffeine is going better than expected.’

He leaned in on the counter, grinning at her expectantly, his eyes a deep blue in contrast with the reddish tinge of his brown stubble. Here was a

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