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He took out his wallet while he ordered –his small voice pointed at the counter barely audible to her.
“I’ll have a tall double cappuccino with a shot of, uh, vanilla and whipped cream instead of foam,” he said quietly.
“For here or to go?”
“To go, and can you put it in a double cup?”
He paid, his fumbling hands fighting their way through clingy bills.
She stepped down the counter to the cappuccino machine and began making his drink.
He followed her down the counter, and leaned briefly on the counter with one elbow, then the other. He accidentally put his elbow in chocolate syrup, and awkwardly grabbed a paper napkin to wipe off his coat.
She began the second shot of espresso.
He turned around backwards to finish cleaning his coat, and balled up the napkin in his pocket. He returned to the counter and looked briefly at her ponytailed hair and porcelain skin as she bent, working.
He took a deep breath, cleared his throat, and twisted the ring on his finger.
“You said whipped cream instead of foam, right?” she asked without looking up.
He looked downward again. “Uh . . . yeah.”
She walked away from the counter for a moment and his eyes followed her feet, predicting her path and envying it. He rested one hand on the counter, crossed his feet at his ankles, transferred his weight to one side, then the other. Satisfied with his level of comfort, he looked up at her, now back from the other side of the narrow kitchenette.
He exhaled deeply and opened his mouth to speak just as a blast of steam powered its way into a stainless steel pitcher of two-percent milk, drowning out even the Thelonious Monk in the background.
He gritted his teeth. And waited.
“Where do you go to school?” he said when the milk was foamed.
“Central,” she said. “I’m graduating at the semester.”
“You don’t go to State?”
“No,” she tilted her head to the side and smiled. “I’m still in high school.”
He nodded and looked around the room.
She carefully measured a shot of vanilla syrup and added it to the drink. She covered the top with whipped cream, which immediately began to melt, then added more vanilla syrup.
“Do you want a lid?”
He stared at her fingernails for several seconds.
“Uh, lid? No. No thanks.”
“Okay,” she said, and extended the drink to him.
He took the drink and cleared his throat again.
“Thanks,” she smiled broadly. “Have a great night.”
“Uh, thanks,” he dropped his head as he walked out. “You too.”
He turned the corner outside the deli and cursed himself under his breath. The drink, too generous for its cup, spilled partially on his hand.
He walked quickly to his idling car and unlocked it with the remote control on his keychain. Once inside he sat motionless, the drink in his hand, his head tilted downward. Evening had worked its way into his car, and he could barely read the clock on his dash.
He started the car and cruised to the front of the shop, peering inside as all the lights came on.
He stepped out of the car for just long enough to throw the drink into the nearest garbage can before driving home.
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