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When I moved back to Oxford to spend a year earning my master’s degree, I shared a wee house in East Oxford with three English girls.

One of my new housemates, Lizzie, worked at Starbucks. In fact, the first time I met her, to introduce myself and pick up my house key, was at Starbucks on the High Street in central Oxford. I sipped nervously at a raspberry smoothie, studying the blue-eyed girl across from me, hoping she wouldn’t regret opening her home to an unknown American she’d met via Facebook.

Before long, Lizzie transferred to a new Starbucks shop in Headington, up the hill from our house. Despite my preference for independent cafes, I dropped by occasionally when she was on shift. I am not a coffee drinker, and I don’t particularly care for Starbucks teas (my usual drink of choice there is a chai latte). But in early December, I was hankering for a peppermint hot chocolate, so I stopped in and ordered one.

red cup with journal

The girl at the counter, one of Lizzie’s co-workers, stared at me in confusion. “We don’t have any peppermint,” she said.

I frowned. Surely she was mistaken? Even across the Atlantic, the red cups and red aprons had come out in November, and the board behind her touted various holiday drinks. And I knew from my own time as a barista that many cafes keep peppermint syrup on hand year-round. No peppermint? At all?

I shrugged. Perhaps they were out. “I’d like a regular hot chocolate, then.”

A few minutes later, Lizzie came over to the table where I sat, sipping my non-minty drink, and I told her they’d better order some peppermint, since the holidays were approaching quickly.

She stared at me with the same look her co-worker had worn.

“No peppermint? She’s mad! We must have a whole case of it in the back room!”

After another second or two, we both burst out laughing.

The next week, when I dropped by and ordered a minty hot chocolate, Lizzie stared at me with a straight face, her blue eyes dancing. “We don’t have any peppermint,” she said.

As her co-worker (a different one this time) stared at her as though she’d gone mad, we both cracked up again.

It’s been five years, but every time I order a peppermint hot chocolate, I think of Lizzie, and smile.

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