I‘m sitting at the droopy little table in the back corner, reading by the light of a candle that‘s ready to die just like me, and my coffee is lukewarm and tastes like worms. Bernice comes over, her apron smeared with mayonnaise that‘s way past its due date, and refills my mug so at least I‘ll have something hot to hold onto.
I reach into my pocket, take a look at Mr. Washington and smile sadly to say good-bye but then Bernice shakes her head and says no, “It‘s on me.” I nod, yes, thank you, and she slips back behind the counter to greet whoever wants the crusty pastry in the glass cabinet. The fruit filling of the dessert, all berry-red, spills out the sides and I have to look away. Back to my book.
As I read, the words smother me like everything lately, and the walls of the tiny café close in. My vision goes blurry as I fold inside myself, and the story is gone. Why? It‘s the one word on the page I can decipher, or maybe the solitary thought in my jumbled mind. But still, it makes no sense. Why, why, why.
Blink, be strong, don‘t fall apart, I scold myself. Despite my noblest intentions, the tears fall one by one, landing on the page and making the ink run. The delicate paper is drenched now, even happy people wouldn‘t understand the tale it tells. My head‘s imploding, and I‘m shaking all over.
Far across the room, in a brighter part of the café, a young lady looks over. Enjoying the spectacle, she leans toward her partner and whispers a few words. She looks puzzled, and as one, they mock consideration, flaunting that which I miss most.
Once again, Bernice moves from her spot behind the register but I don‘t notice till she touches my shoulder and softly says, “Go on home, baby.” I wipe my eyes, look into hers, full of compassion and concern. Welling again, I gaze off and tell her he‘s gone, so there‘s no going home for me anymore. She just fills my coffee cup again, smiles sadly, and says, “It‘s on me.”
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.