Leslie Knope unlocked and moved the gate in front of her coffee store, carefully folding it back inside the storage space on the wall.
Well, technically it wasn't her coffee store, it was her boss, Ron Swanson's, but they both knew who really ran the place.
Ok, Leslie knew who really ran the place at least.
As usual, she was the first to arrive to the store that morning. In fact Leslie was the first person to arrive in the entire building, the Pawnee Shopping Centre. Like most other store managers she had access to the Centre around the clock, and often she arrived before the security guards that technically were supposed to open the building before anyone arrived.
Her – whoops, Ron's – coffee store, Perks, was located in the food court of the mall, along with the usual mixture of fast food outlets (Paunch Burger, Big 'n Wide, Fat Sack, Colonel Plump, Slop Trough) and mom and pop diners. One of the latter was actually named Mom and Pop's, although Leslie seriously questioned whether its proprietors were a.) really a couple, and b.) actually a mother and father to anyone.
Their main competition came from the only other dedicated coffee shop in the mall, namely Caffeinenation. It was almost directly across from them, in fact, on the opposite side of the food court, next to Paunch Burger. They got a lot of foot traffic their way accordingly, but Leslie was always quick to point out that Perks was much closer to the food court entrance of the mall, which was a much better spot and how dare anyone suggest otherwise.
Aside from being the only other coffee outlet in the mall, Caffeinenation was also owned and operated by people from Eagleton, Pawnee's neighbour and eternal rival. Its manager was Ingrid de Forest, whose seemingly polite manner and friendly attitude drove Leslie crazy. It was a ruse, Leslie knew, it had to be, the only question is when the other shoe would drop.
Looking across the food court as she continued to set up the store for the day, Leslie smirked when she saw that no one was setting up at Caffeinenation yet. A quick check of her watch told her that it wasn't quite five am yet, but still, what a bunch of slackers.
Her eyes then fell over the one empty stall in the food court, lot 48. It had previously been a Pita Pit, run by the Sullivan brothers, but it had suffered severe damage due to a grease fire – just how a grease fire broke out in a pita store only underlined the fact that Pawnee was fourth in obesity in the country, sadly – and had remained vacant for quite some time now. Lot 48, or the Pit as people still often referred to it, was rumoured to have a new proprietor interested in it, but just who or what that might be was a mystery kept well under wraps.
A door behind her opened and broke her out of her thoughts. Leslie turned and smiled as Tom Haverford dragged himself through the doorway.
“Good morning Tom!” she sang.
“Ugh, Leslie.” Rubbing his eyes, Tom slammed his travel mug on the counter. “What are you doing here, I thought you were supposed to be off today?”
“I am, grumpy pants, I just thought I'd come in to catch up on paperwork for a little, that's all.”
“At five am? Seriously?” Tom shook his head as he took off his coat and headed back behind the counter. “I probably shouldn't be surprised but it's too early to think for us normal people.”
“Wait, why are you here at five am yourself?” Leslie frowned and checked the time once again. “You don't have to be in until six for an open.”
“Yeah, well, uh.” His reply was difficult to hear over the loud sound of clanging dishes and glasses from behind the counter. “The funny thing about that – and you're gonna love this – is that I sort of didn't clean up last night. I mean, I did a little, but-”
Before Tom could even finish his sentence Leslie had bolted across the floor to look behind the counter. She gave a sharp intake of breath at the sight she found – while it was far from a disaster it was nowhere near acceptable by her standards. Dishes were piled into the sink, unwashed, and several pitchers were also still dirty next to them on the counter.
“TOM WHAT DID YOU DO.” she demanded, not even bothering to make it a question.
“We were just trying out some new drinks, take it easy!” He was furiously filling up the sink with hot water, pouring dish washing liquid into it at the same time. “I'm cleaning it up now, it'll be ok. I just didn't have time to clean it up last night before I left. It's fine, relax.”
Leslie covered her face with both hands and took a deep breath before speaking again. “Tom. I know you want to invent cool new things and I applaud your creativity and ingenuity, however we've discussed this many times before. You can't keep doing this at work, Ron doesn't buy all those supplies-”
“Ron doesn't care, Leslie! He's never once told me to stop working on our store's secret drinks menu!”
“That's because he doesn't know we have a- no, wait, scratch that. That's because we don't have a secret menu.”
“But Star-” started Tom before Leslie raised her index finger.
“Do NOT say that name, Tom.” She shook her finger back and forth. “You know we have to say They Who Shall Not Be Named, just like He Who Shall Not Be Named in the Harry Potter books.”
“You mean Voldem-”
“DON'T SAY THAT EITHER TOM, GOD.” Leslie sighed and shook her head some more. “Just finish cleaning up your mess then, please, before April arrives.” She knew that April wouldn't help at any rate, and likely would only create a further mess. “I'm going to go back and work on our order, and I want this cleaned up by the time I get back, ok?”
“Yes, Leslie.” Tom said, turning off the water now that the sink was good and full with suds. “Sorry.”
“It's ok, just don't do it again, ok?” Leslie smiled. “Hey, look, any time after work you'd like to meet up somewhere and pitch ideas or try things out, just let me know. We just have to do things the right way.”
“Work after work? Ugh, thanks but no thanks.” Tom said. “Unless you want to pay me overtime...”
“Nice try, kid.” Leslie said with a chuckle. “Alright, I'm out back if you need me.”
April showed up for her shift shortly before six am and helped Tom with the rest of the opening setup tasks. Leslie managed to restrain herself and didn't pitch in to help, remaining out back and working on the order like she told Tom she was going to do. When she came out shortly before seven things looked much better than they had earlier.
Noticing her boss, April crossed her arms and scowled at her. “You're not supposed to be here.”
“Good morning to you too, April.” She was their newest employee and still on probation accordingly, and despite her attitude something about her told Leslie she belonged there. She wasn't quite sure what, exactly, but for now she was willing to give the younger woman a chance.
“Does this mean I can go home?” she countered, arms still crossed. “I mean, it'd be a waste of resources or something to have three of us here when there's only supposed to be two.”
“That's an excellent point, and since I earn more than you do it makes much more economic sense for me to take my leave of you both, which is exactly what I'll do.” Leslie ignored the curse words April let slip and headed for the exit. “I'll be back later this afternoon to meet with Ron, if anyone's looking for me.”
“THANKS FOR CHOOSING PERKS, HAVE A GREAT DAY!” April yelled after her in a fake sweet voice, even putting a smile on her face for fake emphasis.
Later that afternoon Leslie returned, finding that April's shift had ended and instead Tom was joined by Donna and Jerry. The store was buzzing with activity, as was the rest of the food court and the mall in general. There were long line ups everywhere, though she was focused on the one in front of Perks, and, more importantly, how fast the line was kept moving by her employees. They were doing a great job, with people moving through the line much quicker than the customers at Caffeinenation appeared to be, which was excellent news.
Leslie walked down the line and checked in on customers while they waited their turn. A lot of them she recognized, thanks to her uncanny ability to recall almost every customer she ever served by name, and many other details as well – what their order was, where they worked, when they last stopped by the store. There were a fair number of them that remembered her, too, and she said hello and made small talk with a number of them as she made her way along.
“Leslie! Hi!” sang out a voice from near the end of the line. Leslie grinned at the sound of the voice, recognizing it immediately.
“Ann Perkins!” she sang back in reply, skipping a bit faster to the source of the voice. She stopped when she reached Ann, who was standing in line along with her boyfriend, Andy Dwyer. “And Andy, hi there! How are you guys doing?”
“Great, we're just stopping in for a coffee before hitting the stores.” Ann said. “We're, uh.”
“We're shopping for break up gifts, it's gonna be totally awesome!” Andy explained.
“Break up gifts?” asked Leslie. “Is that... what... I think it is?”
“It's a long story-” Ann started before Andy jumped in.
“We decided... well, ok, Ann decided that I was too immature to be in a relationship with and we had to break up. So I insisted we at least give each other a gift first.”
“Ok, it's not that long, I guess.”
“Break up gifts. Huh.” Leslie frowned and shook her head. “I guess if you're both ok with it then... no, I'm sorry, that's still weird. What?” She turned to Andy for an explanation, knowing she'd likely regret it but she had to at least attempt to wrap her head around this strange arrangement.
“Well, presents are usually exchanged to celebrate stuff, right? And we've been together for, what?” He started counting on his fingers. “...two, three, four...”
“Two years.” Ann interjected.
“Ahh, ok, I was trying to count it by how many times we went out to a nice restaurant together. Fancy stuff like that, you know?”
“We never really went anywhere, though, which is one of the reasons-”
“Nuh uh! There were at least... crap, where was I?”
“Four.” Leslie added.
“Four! Thank you, Leslie.” Andy said, nodding in thanks to her. “Four trips to Chuck E. Cheese for various meals and Mouse Rat shows, so, that's something.”
“Ahh, I think I see how this ended up where it is.” Leslie said, giving a sympathetic smile to Ann.
“It's ok though, I totes understand.” Andy replied. “And besides, with Mouse Rat about to blow up, well.” He chuckled as he gestured towards his shirt, which proudly displayed his band's logo. “There's gonna be, like, a ton of groupies and stuff so this is probably for the best.”
Ann just shook her head and didn't respond to him. Instead she turned to Leslie and tried to appear too embarrassed at her soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend's comments. “So, what's new with you?”
Leslie walked further up the line with them as people continued to place their orders and get served in a timely fashion – she was checking her watch every now and then to ensure that was still the case, of course – before replying. “The usual. I'm actually off today but Ron asked me to come in and meet with him so here I am.”
“Oh, that seems weird.” Ann commented. “I mean, it's not bad news, is it? He wouldn't invite you in for that, I don't think. Would he?”
“It could be good news.” said Andy, then his eyes went wide. “Dude maybe there's going to be a surprise party for you at Chuck E. Cheese! Oh I wanna go if that's it, can I? Can I, please?”
Leslie just rolled her eyes. “Yes, yes, if that's what it is but I highly doubt it. You'll be the first to know if I'm wrong though,” she added after seeing his crestfallen look. “but it's probably just something to do with our order, or maybe a potential new hire.” She waved a hand dismissively, although her mind had been trying to figure out just exactly what it was all about ever since she'd first been asked to come in.
They reached the front of the line, where Donna was the next available barista to serve them. Leslie watched the other check out where Jerry was ringing someone in, and grimaced as he dropped their change while handing it to them.
“Jerry!” she yelled.
Her shout made him drop it a second time, some of the money falling form his hands and into the little tip jar they kept on the counter. Leslie audibly groaned and reached over, taking the money out and giving it to the customer. “I'm so sorry sir, here you go.”
“Sorry Leslie, but you know loud noises startle me.” Jerry explained, closing the cash register and rubbing the back of his neck. “Someone dropped something and it spooked me.” The next customer came up to him before Leslie could say anything else, so she just shook her head and turned her attention back to Donna as she served Ann and Andy.
“Mouse what?” Donna asked. Ann was just covering her face with one hand while Andy was trying to explain his band's name to the barista.
“Rat. We're gonna be huge, and really soon, so you should totally come and check us out this weekend. We're playing at this house party, I don't think there's any, like, mandatory cover charge which is awesome for people coming to see us but not so awesome for us getting a cut at the door. I mean, we're getting 10% right now, which I fought tooth and nail for, so that's a start, right?”
“Ok, well.” Donna said, raising a hand to get Andy to stop talking. “But my question is what can I get you today?”
“A large dark roast, two milk and two sugar, and a large hot chocolate, extra whipped cream and chocolate sprinkles.” Leslie said, knowing their usual order like the back of her hand.
“Gee, I wonder which drink belongs to who?” Donna muttered as she turned around to make their drinks.
“Thanks, Leslie. We'll see you later I guess, good luck with your meeting.” Ann said as Leslie made her way to the back of the counter.
“Thanks Ann, and good luck to you both with your...” She waved her hands around as she sought out appropriate words for their situation for a few seconds before coming up with absolutely nothing. “whatever your thing is.”
“Break up gifts.” Andy pitched in, hoisting his hot chocolate to Leslie in a salute as he took a big sip, pulling it away from his face and leaving a large whipped cream mustache under his nose. “See ya Leslie!”
Leslie just shook her head as she closed the counter door behind her and turned to Donna. “Is Ron in yet?”
“Yup, he's in the back with Tom.” Donna replied while finished off Ann's coffee. She placed it down in front of the other woman and took her payment from her. “He wanted to talk to Tom too, I think, so they're waiting for you.”
That threw Leslie for a loop for a second. “Oh, uh, ok then. Well I'm heading back, be back in a bit, I guess.” She gave a little smile to Ann and Andy and waved to them before spinning on her heel and heading for the back room. Whatever it was Ron had wanted to talk about apparently involved Tom, her shift supervisor, as well, and that bit of information left her even more perplexed than she'd previously been.
Walking inside the back room, she saw that Ron and Tom were sitting at the lone table in the room, which ran the length of the back wall of the room, already in conversation with one another. They stopped talking when she entered and Ron stood up, waving her over.
“Leslie, there you are. Have a seat here with Tom and I.” He waved to a vacant wooden chair next to Tom, who was seated in a similar one, opposite the more comfortable computer chair Ron had been sitting at when she'd first entered the room.
“Hi what's going on here why wasn't I informed that Tom was going to be sitting in on this meeting what's wrong oh my god I'm getting fired aren't I?” Leslie rambled as she took her seat, clearing her throat once she'd done so. “I'm sorry, I have a few questions that I'd like to ask before we begin, if that's ok?”
“You're not getting fired, Knope.” Ron said, ignoring the rest of her questions for the time being. He gestured towards a piece of paper laid out on the desk in front of her. “Read that and it should explain everything.”
Taking the piece of paper up with both hands, Leslie read intently while Ron and Tom looked at each other. It didn't take long for her to finish reading it, which she announced by slamming the sheet down on the table with a loud thump.
“What the frick is this?!” she exclaimed, looking to Ron for an explanation.
“It's a notice from the mall that they're planning on renovating Lot 48 and turning it into a, well. You know.” said Ron.
“A Starbu-” started Tom before both Leslie and Ron held up their hands to make him stop mid-sentence.
“Dammit, man, you know the rules.” Ron said before Leslie could admonish him. “Anyway, we got this yesterday, and-”
“We can't let this happen, Ron. This will absolutely kill our business!” Leslie yelled, cutting him off.
“I know, which is why I'm calling this meeting. And why I included Tom.”
“I can help, you know. I've got an idea that-” he started.
“Not right now, Tom, this is an emergency!” Leslie interrupted. “We need to come up with a plan to save the store!”
“Yes but I've already-”
“I got it!” she interjected once again. “It'll be painful and difficult but I'll go and talk to our rivals at Caffeinenation. If we merge, no matter how hard and challenging that'll be, then just maybe, maybe we'll have a chance at besting you-know-who.”
“Leslie, what Tom is trying to say is-” Ron started.
“THERE'S NO TIME RON I HAVE TO ACT NOW!” Leslie ran out of the office and bolted out across the food court towards Caffeinenation. She pushed her way through the lineup and panted as she reached the front counter.
“I need... to talk to... your manager,” she managed, out of breath. “It's an emergency!”
A familiar face appeared over the counter, none other than Ingrid de Forest, her hair perfectly done and immaculately dressed to the nines. She rolled her eyes and crossed her arms when she saw who it was demanding to see her.
“Oh, yay, it's you. What do you want, Ms. Knope?”
“Ingrid... we have to... team up,” she managed. “Or else we'll both... we'll... say, can I please have a glass of water or something?” Leslie asked, leaning heavily against the counter. “Man am I out of shape.”
Sighing, Ingrid reached down below her counter and produced a bottle of water for her adversary, handing it over to her without a word.
“No, tap water is fine, really.” Leslie said, eyeing the expensive bottle of water.
“We don't serve tap water here.” Ingrid replied with a disdainful look on her face. “Honestly, who would voluntarily drink water from the tap anyway?”
“Oh my god there's a million and one things I want to say to that,” Leslie said, thinking about the environmental issues, the financial ones, and a whole host of other reasons. Instead of arguing however she opened the bottle, took a sip, then continued. “but first this is really important. It's about Lot 48.”
“Oh, so you've come here to gloat. I see how it is.” Ingrid said, snatching the bottle of water back from out of Leslie's hands.
“What? No, I... what do you mean?” Leslie replied with a frown.
“It's already been bought, everyone knows that. You of all people are aware of RS Holdings Inc., the company that purchased the space,” She pointed to the 'For Sale' sign in front of the lot and the large 'Sold!' sticker that proclaimed its sale and its new owner in large, bold letters. “and you have the nerve to come over here and rub it in? That's pretty low, even for someone from Pawnee, Leslie.” Ingrid said before storming off.
“I... am so confused.” Leslie said, turning around as someone put a hand on her shoulder.
“Here, let me explain.” said Ron, turning her around and walking them both back towards Perks. “As long as you promise not to run off like a crazy person again, ok?”
“I make no promises.”
One month later the grand opening of the food court's latest addition, Tom's Bistro, took place. Leslie was there for the ribbon cutting ceremony – which she had insisted upon having, of course, and for which she'd supplied both the ribbon and the comically oversized scissors – and the vicious rumours of you-know-who arriving in the mall came to an end.
“I sure am glad you bought this place, Ron.” Leslie said.
“I didn't, I invested my money into Tom's business like he asked me to, once I reviewed his business plan and the like.” he replied, arms folded as he took in the store front. “I still can't believe he did it, to be honest, but I am pleasantly surprised.”
Tom was behind the counter, taking orders and helping his new employees during the busy grand opening sales the Bistro was offering. He looked over and saw Ron and Leslie, giving them a quick wave before diving right back into it.
“He really has come a long way, hasn't he?” Leslie said aloud. “Though of course now we're down a body at Perks, when we could've already used some more help as it was.”
“I'm on that too, Knope.” said Ron with a grin. “Meet our two new hires, Chris Traeger and Ben Wyatt.” He waved to two guys standing behind them, one dressed sharply in business casual attire and the other slouched over in a hoodie with a Letters To Cleo t-shirt on underneath it. The former waved ecstatically and had a huge smile on his face, while the latter just shoved his hands further into the pouch of his hoodie and grinned awkwardly.
“Well, alright then, I guess we're just see where this goes.”