4 comments

Fiction

It had been ten minutes, perhaps longer. 

The man shifted impatiently and glanced at his watch. Yes, ten minutes. And still no sign of his drink. Well, what could you expect? The cafe was clearly swamped. He should have come earlier, not now. He had forgotten, this time was always busy.

He craned his neck over the waves of people, flowing and humming and shifting in a dizzying pattern, trying to see the counter. No small pumpkin spice latte with coconut milk and natural sweetener. Yes, there were other drinks there; he could see them, their clean white faces gleaming in the light, faint wisps of steam rising with the luscious smells….But not one of them his own.

The door opened, and the breeze that wafted in stirred up the already overwhelming scents of coffee and spices and chocolate and cream until his nose fairly ached with the opulence.

He shifted again, funny how stiff you got after standing on one leg so long, and his stomach growled. He glanced around self-consciously, but no one seemed to have heard. The talking, rustling, scraping and general bustle that permeated the air of a small coffee shop on a Friday afternoon had drowned out all other noises. 

Just then, he straightened and looked ahead expectantly. There was a cafe worker walking over to the counter, she had a drink in her hand, it looked to be about his size…

Yes, yes it was! She had called his name, she was setting it down...

The man stepped forward, his tongue already anticipating the sweet, rich flavor, when the world suddenly pushed him off balance. Before his astonished eyes, a little girl, hardly more than ten, darted forward and snatched his drink. With barely a ‘thank you’ to the worker, she turned and headed for the door, the purloined drink in her hand. 

For a moment, the man could only gaze after her stupidly. Then he came to himself with a jolt. No, this could not be happening! He had waited so long, and he definitely did not have time to get back in line! It could take another twenty minutes….

He glanced at his watch, at the retreating figure of the little girl, back at his watch, and took off in pursuit.

****

He caught up with her in the park across the street. Once out of the cafe, the girl had slowed to a walk and the man had slowed down too; he didn’t want to come too close until that last possible moment. Even from this distance, however, he could see her nonchalantly scooping out all the whipped cream with the straw. His whipped cream. He sped up again.

The girl was so absorbed in her drink that she never heard him coming up behind her. Never aware of the man at all until she felt his hand on her shoulder. She gasped audibly and turned around, even though it was clear she knew who was behind her.  

Up until this point, the man had been so annoyed that he hadn’t really thought about what he was going to say to the girl. Now, at the sight of her horrified face, his mind suddenly went blank. He felt almost as if he had been the one to commit the crime, and the girl the victim.

The girl was quick to spot his hesitation, and instantly a mask fell over her face. All traces of fear were suddenly wiped away and hidden under a look of hard defiance and contempt. 

“Alright, so you caught me. What are you going to do?”

Completely unremorseful - that hard, careless attitude adults so hated to see in children. And yet-

Was it only his imagination, or did something flicker under the eyes? Something that showed she was not quite insensitive to the situation?

Her eyes reminded him of something. He could not think what; it slipped away like a fragment of a dream or the name of an old friend…

No, he could remember. It had happened years ago, a memory buried so deep he had all but forgotten it. 

It had been summer then. A sweltering day, heavy with moisture and drenched in heat. He remembered how the fabric of his t-shirt had clung to his back, causing him to scratch and scratch and scratch again. He was tired, and hot and his mouth was so dry…

He remembered, too, walking down some city street, alone, and tempting himself with the shop windows. Remembering, how he longed for something cold and sweet...

He walked up to a CVS, hesitated a moment, and then ducked inside. After all, it could do no harm to look. Once he had walked in, however, he wished he hadn’t. Why did the ice cream bars look so delicious just then? Why did he suddenly feel so much more thirsty and hot than before? He could almost taste the cold, sweet ice cream melting on his tongue, the chocolate drenching his taste buds in its rich flavor…

There was no one around; no one would know. Just this once... this store would never miss a single candy bar and he was so hot and tired... 

Almost before he was aware of what he was doing, his hand had reached down and grabbed hold of the nearest candy bar. For a moment, he felt a rush of pleasure. He could almost taste the ice cream now...then he suddenly felt afraid. No one could have seen him, but still-

He turned around and crashed headlong into a store employee. 

“Oh, I’m so sorry, honey! I didn’t see you there! Are you alright?”

He looked up, his heart in his mouth. She wouldn’t suspect him, would she? He hoped not. He liked her face-it was warm and sweet and sympathetic. He tried to meet her eyes, all shining with laughter, and found he couldn’t. She reminded him of his own mom. His mom-what would she say if she found out? She would be so disappointed…

The store clerk must have seen something of what was running through his mind, because a slight frown appeared between the lines of her forehead. Then her face suddenly relaxed into a smile again.

“Honey, if you want, I can pay for it.”

The boy looked up again, incredulous, but there was nothing but absolute seriousness in her face. She knew what he was trying to do, and yet she did not condemn him. 

Something hot welled up inside him and he realized he was almost crying. And yet, he didn’t mind if she saw. He couldn’t speak for the lump in his throat, but his eyes told the store clerk how intensely grateful he was.

She understood. She had understood so well that the boy never forgot that day. It lived before him again in a series of quick flashes that passed almost before it had begun. 

“What are you going to do?”

The girl’s question sounded in his ears again, bringing him back to the present with a start. He looked down at her, seeing a representation of his former self in her eyes...remembering the guilt, the fear, the shame…

The man straightened suddenly. He knew what he would do.

“You know, I have time. I’m going back to buy another.”

The girl stared at him.

“Seriously?”

He nodded, hardly able to keep a smile off his face. She looked so surprised.

And he didn’t mind giving it up at all. It was wonderful to see the look that came flooding over her face-the mask completely melted away and he realized how beautiful she was when she smiled. She didn’t quite thank him, but that was alright too; her eyes had said enough.

As the girl walked away, he glanced down his watch. He had lied, he didn’t have time.

But there would be other days…and at least somebody had enjoyed the whipped cream.

He smiled, and walked away whistling. 

October 14, 2020 21:45

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

4 comments

John Del Rio
15:55 Dec 08, 2020

So well written. I enjoyed it immensely. I didn’t know where the tale was going: that’s what is so great about these story prompts. They give you the seed and you make it grow. I like that the Man was jolted back to a time where he shar3d circumstances with the coffee thief, and was given the opportunity to “pay it forward”. I will keep enjoying your stories as long as you keep writing them.

Reply

Grace Larson
16:22 Dec 08, 2020

Thank you so much for the comments!! They really mean a lot to me:) I'll check out your stuff too if you want!

Reply

Show 0 replies
John Del Rio
18:56 Dec 08, 2020

That sounds great. I appreciate feedback. I have several stories with "Day" in the title, and they are all about the same couple.

Reply

John Del Rio
18:02 Dec 09, 2020

The stories about the couple set in a post apocalyptic setting all have "Day" in the title and are chronological starting with "Just another day"

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 2 replies