7:28 A.M. The Chef shows up early again. The truck door slams shut heavy behind him. The Kid curled behind the outdoor heat grate might've been startled a long time ago but now he waits in patient silence for the footsteps to crack across the gravel and the kitchen door on the other side of the restaurant to close before he moves. Waits another minute as the Chef starts his prep. Always wait for noises, The Kid reminds himself. A minute of patience beats a whole day spent looking for a new spot. The Kid is careful when he creaks the grate open. Shoes are already on his feet when he steps on cold gravel. The cold air blasts him as he looks around the corner to make sure no one is coming and walks off to start yet another day on this Earth.
7:32 A.M. Jerry's a panhandler who does his thing on the highway off-ramp five minutes away. The Kid stands near him and helps make it look like they're a family or something. Sometimes drivers get all sympathetic and stop and fork a few bucks over. Jerry collects it in his old soda cup and splits the take with him but never shows him how much they both get which is bullshit. Three hours of this for five dollars. The Kid says thanks. They go their separate ways.
10:37 A.M. The coffee shop down the road is chill and doesn't ask any questions as long as he buys. The Kid waits in line with the other regulars. He avoids the looks. They don't mean anything to him anymore. They know what he is and he doesn't care. He is an outside animal trying to adapt to an inside world.
10:39 A.M. Line grows and lets him hide away in the middle of the herd. Let it grow. Let their faces melt into each other for the cameras and the workers behind the counter. Let him hide. The girl is on this morning, too. Her black hair tied back. Silver eyes darting across the coffee filters and cups and order sheets. Don't look at her, he begs himself. Don't catch her eye. Of all people she'd be the first to say something. Give it a minute before you make a break.
10:42 A.M. The bathroom door is locked behind him but The Kid is quick anyway with his cup-and-sink-water shower over the drain in the floor by the wall. Doesn't use too much soap. Keeps his ears open but a round of Q-Tips makes it hard. He brushes his teeth. Slicks his hair back and makes sure it stays under the winter hat. His clothes are from the donate box and don't smell that much after his last laundry session in a different sink last week. Jeans are black and don't stain. The layers he wears are interchangeable. It's cold out which means if anything gets dirty he can hide it till he has to wash it. He only carries what he'll need for the day in the bag and stashes the rest in a few trusted places hidden around the block. At first glance he is a college student without a car. Nothing else. Nothing is wrong.
He is just in a place in between.
The Kid needs to stop staring in the mirror. Longer he looks the more he'll see wrong and the more paranoid he'll get.
Hurry up and get the fuck out.
10:48 A.M. Man in a suit waiting outside the bathroom door, face in phone.
It's good now, The Kid says to him, sorry I took a while.”
Man looks up at him, grunts, looks back down at phone. Walks through the door. The Kid thinks the man knows what he was looking at or had already tried the door and he simply didn't hear it. The Kid tells himself to calm the fuck down. This is the worst time to get nervous. He moves around the tables in this back hallway where no one ever sits . In fact the only people sitting are up front with its big windows and neo-soul music echoing from the speakers behind the counter. The Kid thinks he knows this song. Might've liked it once.
Three people in line get shuffled through easily. The Kid orders a large mocha latte, yes on the cream. She is the only one on duty. The Kid keeps his eyes on the back display and the menu and the counter and the stereo set on the nook in the wall.
Anything but her.
10:50 A.M. She stands at the other end with milk screaming in the steamer in front of her and his legs move closer to her while the rest of him follows along paralyzed. He stops himself at the counter, pulls his phone out, pretends to look at it. WiFi here means he can cruise through his social media and remember that there's a world outside of this fucking life. He doesn't have many friends, though, because he knows he could never bring himself to tell anybody. None of them would understand. They would fake their sympathy and look at him with pity for the rest of his life and when he'd man up and ask for help they would all say no. They always say no.
Phone's almost dead but the charger's plugged into the wall over there.
10:52 A.M. “Mocha large.”
She sounds annoyed when she puts it down on the counter. Purple polish and chipped nails stay wrapped around it. He steps up. She hasn't let go. He doesn't go for it. Her other hand is hiding behind the machine. She's probably scared and doesn't want to show it. He's a monster from the forest who's come into town for a drink.
Thanks, he says. Her head and the soft, bright face on it flashes from behind the corner. Her silver eyes are wide. She mumbles you're welcome and stares at him a second and then retreats behind the machine. She knows. Of all people for the love of God she knows. He says nothing else. He should be smart and get out but he grabs the cup and dashes over to the table. Safe. Around the corner. Hidden from prying eyes.
10:54 A.M. His coat still covers the bag and it is all undisturbed. He is alone in this section. He pulls old headphones he'd found on the ground a week ago out of his pocket. Finds the WiFi. Goes on YouTube hoping to find something good. Just a few hours in this place, he reminds himself, and then move on.
11:34 A.M. His legs are getting numb. The Kid needs to get up and stretch or they'll hurt like hell when he's outside again. The cup is half-empty. Lukewarm. He puts the phone back in his pocket and the coat over his bag and the charger under the table and trudges to the bathroom to pretend to piss. It's empty. He coughs again as the door slams shut behind him. His chest has been feeling heavy. His lungs vibrate like they're floating in water. He needs to get it checked out. He's smart enough to know a normal cough doesn't last for two weeks and clog his throat and take everything out of him. He needs to get it checked out. Jerry said it didn't sound good to him either. He needs to get it checked out. No insurance means no doctor but Jerry knows a guy at a shelter he stayed at once. He needs to get it checked out. He walks back to the table breathing in his nose and out his mouth like the medical website told him.
He sits down and takes a drink. It doesn't help.
12:20 P.M. The door chime is loud enough The Kid hears it from around the corner. There's heavy footsteps--boots--that go up to the counter. Kid cranes his neck up and looks through the window. No cop cars. Nothing in uniform waiting for him. He still has his headphones in but he hears the gasps and shushes clearly enough. He stays close to the wall and peeps around the corner. Boots is big. Boots has a mask on. Boots has a gun out on whoever's behind the counter. Another shriek. He retreats behind the wall and shoves his headphones in his pockets. Pulse thuds in his ears. No panicking. Boots is blocking the only way out. The shriek sounded female.
12:22 P.M. The thought clicks in place. She's the only one here. He is shook beyond all hell. If Boots shoots her she is close enough that she will die. Boots will come for him next. Boots shoots The Kid and he somehow fucking survives but has no insurance and he gets stitched up and sent back out on these streets with a bullet wound and a bill he will never be able to pay.
She's worth the risk. He has to do something. Boots hasn't seen him. His head's over the partition and The Kid is in his blind spot.
No point in not trying. He's overstayed his welcome here anyway.
12:24 P.M. The Kid steps towards him. His voice cracks but he hopes it sounds tough enough.
There's nuh'ing in that drawer, man, says The Kid. Not past noon.”
The Kid's voice quivers and time stops. The gun turns towards him--one swift, practiced motion.
Shut the fuck up and get back.”
The Kid stays put.
"Shooting won't help you none," he finds the balls to say. His breath has stopped. His chest spasms and he thinks for a second that he'll never breathe again.
No time no time no time no time.
The fuck you say to me? Boots asks.
Boots charges forward, easy steps. Dark eyes all glossy. Dude's cracked. Desperate. Keeps asking the same question. The Kid throws his hands up and says nothing and never loses eye contact because some movie told him once that he shouldn't. No twitching. No coughing.
Wait for him to get close and grab the thing.
Boots stops too far away.
12:27 P.M. Boots says the same line again. Behind him the girl is huddled on the counter holding a mop handle and giving The Kid a shhh. She's sly like a fox. Maybe she's seen the movies too. Maybe they could go see one together one of these days.
She moves with class, grace, bravery; all things The Kid knows he will never have. It's hard not to stare because the poor fuck knows he's in love but he also knows that'll tip the man with the gun off. Boots keeps chuckling under his breath, steps echoing on the linoleum. Kid still says nothing. Boots stops and keeps making tough talk.
Kid blinks and Boots takes a single hit to the base of the skull and his eyes roll back and he falls forward and lands with a thud that shakes the building. She puts her hands on her hips all triumphant and looks down at Boots then up at The Kid standing there in total awe.
Thanks, she says, for the help.”
Kid shrugs. Long as he didn't hurt you.”
She smiles soft. Looks down at the body on her coffee shop floor. Stops smiling. Says: Not the first not the last.”
The Kid knows not to press it. He nods and looks down with her. Blue lights pull into the lot and The Kid tries not to panic.
Finished with your coffee? she asks, turning back.
I'm just on my way out. I can take off now if you need me to.”
She scoffs and laughs a little. “I'm asking if you want another one, dumbass. It's on the house.”
He shrugs. Sure, ”he says, and she brings the mop to the door with her and lets the cop in.
It'll just be a sec, she says to The Kid with a hint of white teeth. The cop stepping in behind her is all tall and big with a hard face and hands on his belt and The Kid nods at him. The cop nods back. Goes on his radio to call code numbers. Looks at Boots on the floor. The girl leaps over the counter and gets to making his mocha latte . Cop steps up and pulls a pad out and starts asking her questions. Boots stays on the ground with his gun far from his grip and a hand twitching.
The Kid walks back to the table wondering if his phone number still works.