I breathed that word in my mind. People would stare at me funny if I spoke it aloud. They’d look over their hot cup of something wake-me-up and wonder if I was one of them. And by them, I mean not the regulars whose clothes often sport a label far above my pay. It’s the old man who spreads his blanket behind the coffee shop and says thank you to me when I hand him a cup of coffee—black. No sugar. No cream. His breath smells like the street after it’s been tarred. He’s one of them. I don’t know his name. He doesn’t know his name. I call him Billy.
“Cappuccino.” I ordered and handed the frowning clerk behind the counter a wrinkled ten-dollar bill. The clerk wasn’t one of them. The apron fit snugly over her waist. Her hair sported expensive highlights and she plucked her eyebrows.
Mama said I should get my eyebrows plucked. Eyebrows on a woman, she said, were supposed to look dainty. I have manly eyebrows. A giggle escaped my lips. The clerk looked quizzically at me.
“Sorry.” I nodded.
In the year since I walked through these doors that clerk has never said much. I’m one of them; an outcast like Billy. I waited in an overstuffed chair and rested my chin in my hand as I stared at the wall of laptops in front of me. Intense eyes darted back and forth. A symphony of clicks added a lighter note to the screeching wail of the espresso machine. Some people read keeping their eyes on their books and ear buds in their ears.
I hear my drink called and walk to the crowded counter, but it’s gone. “Where’s my drink?”
The barista squinted at me. “What was it?”
“You just called it a minute ago. It’s a Cappuccino.”
“Oh. I saw someone pick it up.”
“Who?” So much for a relaxing few hours!
“A blonde.” He shrugged.
I was one of them. My slacks came from Kohls. My shirt from the Goodwill, from their fancy rack—you know the one (or maybe you don’t). I didn’t wear 9-inch heels. Comfortable flats from Payless were more my style. The blonde probably wore those 9-inch heels from Nordstroms.
“Well, I still need my drink.” And I sat down again.
I went to the bored female clerk. She had no one in line.
“Could you get me a small black coffee to go?”
“$2.00.” She frowned.
The change fell out of a hole in my wallet and splattered all over the counter. The laptop people stopped clinking.
“Sorry.” My hands shook.
The clerk didn’t smile.
I counted out $2 in quarters and dimes, then swept the rest into my palm depositing it into my pocket.
I practically ran stepping in front of a man in a business suit. With my Cappuccino and regular coffee in hand, I walked outside and turned left, going around the side of the building to the back.
My face fell. I felt like a fool standing in the sunlight holding two cups of coffee—a fancy for me and a plain for Billy. His blanket and few belongings were abandoned. No one noticed. Billy was gone. Why would anyone notice?
“How do you know him?”A man’s voice interrupted my thoughts.
I hated his interruption. He walked quietly like a cat.
The man looked like a million dollars. He probably had a million dollars. Was that Armani? “He’s a friend. I usually bring him coffee the same time every day. He’s gone.”
The man had a cup of coffee in his hands, too. Black. No cream. Presumably, no sugar either. “I bring him coffee, too. I’m a little earlier today than usual.”
His eyes reminded me of fall—an earthy brown full of compassion. He had white teeth and a clear complexion. Character was etched in the fine lines around his eyes. They were laugh lines. He smiled. “Maybe you can join me—right here?”
To my surprise, we sat on Billy’s blanket for hours; me shining in the presence of someone noticeably accepted in this crowd and him, sitting with one of them—me who lives in an apartment not far from here who drives a 1980 Chevrolet hatchback.
Billy never returned.
One of THEM was submitted in February to the Women on Writing Flash Fiction Contest for Winter, 2011. It beat 200 other stories in the first round of judging, but failed to make it to the Top 10. Congratulations to those talented writers who made it to the top 10! You’ve earned it!