“I’d Like a Coffee, Please”

White chocolate mocha, caramel drizzle, double shot of coffee.

Pumpkin spice latte.

Some variation of a chai latte.

These were all generic orders I’ve heard. There’s the occasional odd one that I’ll need to look up, but for the most part they’re all the same. It doesn’t matter who walks through that door, everyone always wants the same thing.

I never seem to remember faces either. Maybe I’ve been working here for so long I’ve began to separate faces from orders. That’s all they are. Outside, everyone is somebody. There’s Connor, and Hannah, and the infamous John Smith. But as soon as they walk through that door, they stop being people. They’re just orders waiting to be taken.

I’e been at this coffee shop for some time now. I’ve kinda forgotten how long, honestly. I got out of high school and got a job here so I’d have money, and I’m taking classes at the local community college, though thanks to scheduling I’m working full time here. Days just seem to blur together and before I know it it’s a new week, a new month, maybe it’s a new year. Time just flies when everything falls into a rhythm.

Until, of course, that rhythm breaks. One bean in the grinder is harder than the rest and causes a jam, the new guy left some of the cream out and it went bad, some whacko comes in deciding he wants a cold drink on a cold day.

I’ll never understand those guys.

We do get a lot of funny people though. Sometimes homeless guys come in here when they scrape up enough money to get something nice for themselves. Those guys are always my favorites. I never remember their names, of course, but they get so happy. I won’t lie, sometimes I’ll charge them a dollar less than what it should be just so they can keep some money.

Business guys, casual people, high school girls getting the same drink and claiming they’re coffee fanatics, high school guys getting something different because they’re sick of drinking the same thing from their girlfriends every day. People come and go, orders always stay consistent.

Until today, at about 3:30 in the afternoon. It wasn’t rush hour, most schools released long ago enough that the usual flow of people was gone, the place was empty, and I was the only one working. Lucky me, the house was all mine.

This little girl, she must have been in third grade, struggling to open the front door, came walking in. Judging from the backpack and raincoat I would guess she walked here from school. I wouldn’t be surprised, there’s an elementary a few blocks down the road. Still, that’s a long way to walk for a grade schooler.

She didn’t have anybody with her either, I think that’s why I noticed her. Kids come here all the time, their parents get coffee and the kids usually want hot chocolate or a smoothie.

She came up slowly to the counter, and I got ready. I was just cleaning some tables when she came in, so I told her to wait a moment as I finished up.

I threw my towel into a bucket, pushed it to the side and started cleaning my hands with a dry rag. “Alright, what can I do for you?” I ask. Standard policy, ask what they’d like and all.

“Um,” she starts, her eyes barely level with the counter. “I’d like a coffee, please.”

Just a coffee? A coffee. Kid, this is a coffee shop. We specialize in everything coffee-related here. This isn’t your dad’s coffee brewer at home that he claims is remotely as good as what we make.

Don’t be a smart ass, damn it. This kid is easily 14 years younger than you. She’s probably scared right now, too. Don’t make things worse.

“What kind?” I ask. I turn so I’m not blocking the wall of possible drink options behind me.

Maybe asking her what kind was too much. She looked lost. “I’m sorry, I don’t know much about coffee. Maybe you can help me?”

“Okay, sure. Usually I make hot chocolate for kids, are you sure it’s coffee you want?”

She nodded her head. “Yes, coffee. I’d like something good, too. Not bitter.”

I’m still concerned why this kid, a third grader, wants a coffee.

“So, something sweet?”

She thought for a moment, then nodded her head again.

Generic order it is. “So, how about a mocha?” I suggest. She seemed confused about what a mocha was, so I explained simply. “Mochas are made of chocolate, coffee and milk, and are sometimes made with white chocolate. They’re usually sweeter and aren’t bitter unless cold.”

I could tell the kid understood this. “Yes, I’d like one of those!”

Alright, teaching the caveman how to use a computer here. It’s going well, I think.

“What size? Small, medium, or large?” I think if I used those actual terms written on the board I would’ve confused her again. Paraphrasing seems key here.

“Umm, a medium, please,” the girl says. I’m starting to think this might not be for her, but it’s too early to tell.

“Okay, so a medium mocha, that’ll be three dollars and ninety-five cents.” I had a feeling the girl was going to pull out a five-dollar bill that was supposed to be her lunch money.

“I have five dollars, is that okay?” She asks. I couldn’t help but smile to myself.

I nod my head, already pulling out $1.05 for change. By the time she handed over the bill, I was already giving her the difference.

She put the nickel into the tip jar to the left of the counter, saying, “I know it isn’t much, but this is for helping me today. I’m sorry I don’t know much about coffee.”

Oh man, a whole five cents. Totally rolling in it now. Honestly, the kid has to have some kind of big heart, given that she’s in third grade and knows the basic idea of tipping.

I still don’t know if she’s in third grade or not.

“I’ll have that drink for you in a moment, if you’d just wait anywhere around here. Take a seat if you’d like.”

I got to work on the drink, simple as it was. A grande mocha, nothing complicated.

Still, this was kinda weird. I’ve made drinks for kids before, but never have they ordered it themselves. Never has a kid come into the shop without an adult. Never have I even heard a kid ask for coffee, they seem to think it’s illegal until they’re 21 or something.

I finished up the mocha and turned around to hand it to the girl, briefly forgetting she wasn’t the same height as all my other customers. She had to stand on her toes just to reach the counter, so I set the drink down low and made sure she had it securely in her hands before leaving the counter. She looked down at the warm drink, leaned over it to smell it, and smiled. “Yes, this is perfect. Thank you so much!” She said, walking away smiling, carefully carrying the cup. I waved and smiled to her as she walked out the door, pushing it open with her shoulder and leaning against it to leave.

Nobody else came that day, which was weird. I cleaned up behind the counter and sat waiting for someone, anyone to come, but nobody did. The shop sat empty with me inside, waiting, thinking of how weird that was.

It wasn’t anything movie-material, honestly. Fog didn’t roll in, the lights never flickered, her head didn’t even spin around as she looked at me. She just walked in, ordered a coffee, didn’t know anything about coffee, payed with lunch money, then left smiling and happy.

I did miss one thing though, in the whole event.

I never asked for a name for the order.