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Douglas pushed lightly on the coffee shop door. The little bell rang loudly. He shrugged and smiled sheepishly as he entered, for some reason assuming the people within would mind. The barista was the only one who did. He laughed at Douglas' nervous expression and waved him in with a welcoming hand.
"How can I help you?" the boy asked when Douglas had reached the counter.
"Well, how about just a medium coffee?"
"Yes, sir. Sugar with that?"
The boy was certainly enthusiastic, bringing a smile to Douglas' face just with his attitude. The barista's freckled face with its crooked nose seemed permanently glowing with a sideways grin. His hair was like flame: red and leaping in all directions so that it nearly engulfed the visor he wore as part of his uniform.
"Oh, decaf or non?"
"Non for today."
"All right, sir, is that all?"
Douglas looked around him.
"I'll take a paper, too."
"Your total is $4.65."
Douglas paid him.
"Have a nice day!"
Out of character grin plastered on his face, the insurance salesman sat at one of the faded red leather booths. A spring stabbed him painfully, and with an effort Douglas shoved it back into the cushion. The table was fake, plastic marble covered in scratches. This little shop felt just like home. Douglas sighed contentedly at having found such a quaint little place and spread his paper out in front of him. A teen had been killed in a drunk driving incident. There was a number at the end of the article that you could call to donate to the cause of drunk-driving prevention.
The man at the table next to Douglas coughed noisily into his handkerchief and then breathed through his snotty nose. Douglas tried to ignore his neighbor's rude behavior and focus on his paper, but his mind wandered. How was his sister and her new baby doing? Did his insurance rate go up after his recent fender-bender? Was his mother being cared for at the nursing home?
Finally Douglas had to leave for work and did so with as little fuss as possible. The bell still chimed loudly.
Again the loud clamor of the bell alerted no one but the freckled barista, who was again there to smile away Douglas' nerves.
"Hey, uh, medium coffee, please."
"No thanks. Oh, but I'd like a paper."
The boy fetched Douglas' purchases with a spring in his step.
"Total comes to $4.65."
Douglas sat down at the booth and again forced the spring back into the cushion. He admired the simple café around him before settling into his newspaper. Another teen was dead, and there was a more urgent message asking for money. The number was in bold. The man beside him coughed and snorted, but Douglas was focused on other things. How was the baby? Could he afford his auto insurance? How was his mother faring?
The time for work came and no matter how Douglas tried, the little bell provided the shop with yet another raucous encore.
The bell rang, possibly louder. The boy was there, freckled and smiling.
"Medium coffer with sugar. Oh, uh, non-decaf. Uh…and a paper."
"$4.65. Have a nice day!"
Douglas sat at his usual booth, pushed in the spring, and delved into his paper. The front page was about yet another dead teen. Today a different organization was trying for money. The man coughed. Douglas' mind wandered. Baby? Money? Mother?
Douglas left for work and flinched when the bell pealed.
Boy barista smiled, freckles darker than usual.
Medium coffee, sugar, caffeinated, a paper.
Broken spring fixed again. Drunk driving accident. Phone number. Cough ignored. Babies, money, mothers?
Time for work.
Medium coffee, with sugar, caffeinated, paper.
Spring. Dead Teen. Number. Cough. Thoughts. Work.
Med Coff w/ Sug. Caff. Paper.
Douglas froze. The freckled boy was missing, replaced by a bouncy girl with brown hair. She didn't have any freckles and her locks were perfectly tamed in a sleek pony tail. She wore blue eye shadow. Douglas frowned, but she smiled. It was the wrong smile.
"What can I get for you today?"
"Where's the boy who’s usually here? The red-head?"
"Oh." Her smile faded. "He died last night."
"I know…it was so sudden. Apparently he and his friends had been drinking and they got into a car…it's in the paper and all over the news."
"Do you still want something?"
"Yes. My usual."
"I'm sorry, sir, I don't know what that is."
"Right. Of course not. Just a medium coffee."
"Sugar in that?"
"Is that all?"
"No, actually, I'd like a paper."
"Alright, that's $4.65."
Douglas sat down in his red leather booth. A spring jabbed him painfully and what had been a part of Douglas' daily routine had taken him by surprise. He gingerly pushed it back in and opened his newspaper. He found the article about his barista. Apparently, his name had been Troy Galvins. He was smiling in the picture, but the smile was dead on the paper. The flash of the camera had washed out his freckles. Douglas wished that he could smile, too, but the boy wasn't there to make him. At the end of the article was a number people could call to donate to help prevent drunk-driving accidents. Douglas pulled out his cell phone and made the call.