All Jaden wanted was a coffee. Black. No sugar. Straight caffeine-jacked, high-octane java.
Jaden was one of those people. The talk to me before coffee, and I’ll knock your teeth out, people.
Jaden was also one of those people. The I have my favorite coffee shop, and it’s everyone else’s favorite coffee shop, but I refuse to go anywhere else, people.
The line snaked out the door. Morning sunlight slashed across the people, leaving them zebra-striped.
Jaden jabbed his sunglasses back up his nose. He tapped his fingers inside his elbows, arms crossed.
The aspen leaves twinkled like coins of confetti in the breeze.
“Excuse me,” said Jaden to the white-haired lady in front of him. “I was wondering– would you mind if I went ahead of you? It’s my daughter’s birthday, and I always bring her a coffee. But I’m running so late.” A lie, but who was this lady to know?
“Oh– oh, yes. That’s okay. You go ahead, honey.”
Jaden slipped up, adjusted his glasses again, and, encouraged by his first success, proceeded to weave his way up the line until he was inside the shop.
By that point, his nonexistent daughter was a wheelchair-bound double-amputee whose reckless mother had left them both heartbroken after the accident.
Truthfully, though, Jaden wasn’t late for anything– not even work. He didn’t work on Tuesdays.
Even inside the coffee shop, he adjusted his sunglasses and tapped his toe. The nutty smell of ground and freshly brewed coffee did nothing to cut the edge of his maniacal need to get to that counter NOW.
Only the second person away now, and just before he could ask to skip again, the person in front of him got called up and embarked on an interminable order. Jaden listed to the blah, blah, peanut recital and felt his temperature rising.
“Figures,” Jaden muttered under his breath. “People like you always take up all the air in the room.”
The middle-aged man turned his head and his paunch to see who was talking.
“If you’ve got an order like that, you should call ahead,” Jaden muttered again. “They’ve got an app for that.”
The coffee shop fizzed and frothed. The blender ground and the air became supercharged with tension. The barista flicked quick glances at Jaden, and the middle-aged man in front of him kept rocking on his heels.
“That’s all you people do– suck up all the stuff and leave nothing for the rest of us.”
The barista placed each of the drinks carefully into two carriers. She raised an apologetic face to the middle-aged man as he took out his wallet.
“And now, the rest of us can get the crumbs,” Jaden muttered to the man as he carried his load past. The man nodded at him and smiled.
Jaden stepped up to the counter, adjusted his sunglasses again, and was greeted by a blank stare from the girl.
“God,” Jaden said. “Don’t you just hate boomers who can’t grasp technology?”
The girl raised her eyebrow. “What’ll you have?”
“A privileged person-free day.” Jaden laughed. The girl did not. “16 oz. Black with a shot of espresso.”
The girl pierced him with another dead stare and then raced to get his order.
Jaden flashed his card at her when she didn’t ring him up. She gave him a limp smile as she set out his drink.
“The gentleman before you paid for your order.”
Jaden’s brows shot up into his forehead. “Really?”
The girl’s eyes glinted. “I didn’t know you had a daughter.”
Jaden frowned and picked up his drink. He turned to retreat.
“Enjoy your privileged person-free day,” the girl called sweetly as Jaden crashed into the zebra-striped sunlight.
© 2023 Katie Baker