The Navy NASA Hoodie
“Nathan! Your spiced cider is ready!” I yelled as I set the cup on the counter.
A man in a business suit walked up, grabbing the cup and briskly walking away, muttering a slight “Thanks.”
A young girl, probably about 15, with short brown hair walked up to the wooden counter. She wore a navy blue, NASA hoodie. She had her arms crossed tightly over her chest, quietly looking at the menu.
“Good morning! Welcome to Craters of the Moon Coffee, what can I get started for you?” I asked, trying to be cheerful and seem approachable.
“Uh... a small milkshake... please,” she said nervously.
“What flavor?” I asked grabbing a cool drink cup and a sharpie.
“What do you have?” She asked, refusing to make eye contact.
“Well, we just started our autumnal collection so we are introducing our frozen hot chocolate. For our other-“
“I’ll take that.”
“Sounds good!” I said, writing that down. “Whipped cream?”
“Okay,” I said writing that down too. After quickly typing on the tablet I said, “That’ll be 3 dollars and 57 cents.”
She put her card into the scanner. Her hand start to shake when she reached to pull the yellow card out. She grabbed onto her hand to try and steady it.
“Can I get a name for your order?” I asked, ignoring the one that the computer had pulled off of the credit card.
“Leo...” she said after a deep breath.
“Sounds good, man!” I said writing his name on his cup. “I’ll have it out for you in a second!”
I smiled the entire time I was making his drink. I felt honored to have someone who was trying to find a new name come to this shop to see if it felt good.
I doodled a smiling face on the cup and wrote a message on the cup that read “I’m proud of you, Leo!”
I poured the plastic glass and threw some whipped cream on it and sprinkled it with chocolate shavings.
“Leo!” I said, and the boy in the navy blue NASA hoodie came to the front, a small smile on his face.
“Have a good day, Leo,” I said as he took his coffee.
I grabbed a rag to go clean up the tables and I stepped out from behind the counter.
I heard sniffles and I turned around to see Leo standing where he had grabbed his drink, reading the message on his frozen hot chocolate.
“Is everything okay, man?” I asked walking over.
He turned around and walked into me. I immediately wrapped my arms around his back and rested my head on his, letting his tears stain my yellow uniform shirt.
“Hey...” I said softly.
“Thank you,” he whispered. “No one has said that to me before.”
I held onto him even tighter. “You deserve to hear that people are proud of you. You deserve to hear it every day. I’m proud of you, Leo.”
Every day for the next two months, Leo came into the coffee shop, sometimes not wanting anything but to talk with me.
But today, he hadn’t come in yet.
As I closed the door behind me after finishing my shift, I felt my hands start to get cold with anxiety.
“He’s okay. He’s okay,” I said to myself, trying to override the bad feeling in my gut.
I was walking over the bridge when I saw someone sitting on the edge of the bridge. I saw his messy brown hair before and my body moved faster than my brain.
My brown bag hit the ground and I was sprinting to the boy on the railing of the bridge.
When I reached him, I stopped and wrapped my arms around his back.
“Leo, don’t scare me like that,” I said.
He turned to look at me, tears streaming down his face, the cleaned cup from the first time we met.
“I’m so sorry,” he choked through his tears.
I put my hand under his legs and pulled him to the other side of the railing with me.
I put him down on the cool pavement and sat with him.
“Do you want to talk about it?” I asked.
“I’m sorry,” he said, clinging to my yellow shirt.
“You’re still here, Leo. I promise you can always talk to me about anything.”
He sniffled before looking back at me, and under the light of the sunset, I could see bruises on his face.
“Who did these to you?” I asked quietly, though I could feel rage pent up in my chest.
“Some kids from school ganged up on me after school today. This happens every week. I can’t ever make them stop-“
“What have your parents done?” I asked.
“They kicked me out of the house the first day I came to the coffee shop...” he admitted.
“Wha- Leo! Why didn’t you ever tell me? Where have you been staying?” I asked.
“A few friends from school let me go between their houses,” Leo said, starting to cry again.
“Would you feel comfortable staying in my guest room?” I asked.
“Absolutely,” I said hugging him tighter. “You can stay with me as long as you want.”
And he did.
He lived with me for six months before I officially adopted him.
A few years later. I watched him look at his reflection in his mirror.
Ever since we had got him started on testosterone, he had gotten a little taller, he had put on some muscle he had grown facial hair, and his voice had deepened. He was a different man from when we had first met. He was a happier man, just about to graduate college.
I tightened his tie and straightened his cap and gown.
“I’m so proud of you, Leo,” I said, kissing his forehead.
I drove him to the college where he got out to join his friends.
“Thank you for everything,” Leo said before he closed the car door behind him.
As he walked away, a warm tear fell from my eye. I saw a flashback from the very first time we met when he was 15: the day he was wearing his navy NASA hoodie. And the day I knew I would take care of him for the rest of my life.