Madame Defarge

His entire outfit was a dark and murky gray wool, the kind that makes people worry that his iPod was loaded with nothing but boiling lava, Alanis Morissette fuck you anthems. He was always kind of scary quiet, the kind that makes you uncomfortable, like perhaps he was a modern-day version of Madame Defarge. He sat in the corner of the coffee shop nursing a quad Americano. His hair was producted into submission. Everything about him was meticulous. He was watching me and another customer in line for our morning fix.

She made a large, overly complicated order: one with soy, one without, one third of a Stevia packet, one with Splenda, and both with just a ‘puff of foam.’ It was the kind of coffee order that was no longer about the coffee but a precision chemistry experiment.

“Fuckity fuck, I left my purse at home! Oh no!”

“Pay it forward, darlin’,”, I said to her, then, “Put it all on my tab, Vern.”

The grommet-eared, flannel-clad barista behind the counter gave one of those “gotcha pal” nods and got to work. She got her tray of complicated lattes and I ordered my simple French roast with room.

I told my “joke” about half and half being almost as important as coffee for the thousandth time. Nobody laughed this time, either. The barista poured me a thick cup of joe and I moved to the condiments to add my cream and sugar. I stirred my coffee. I always got coffee ‘for here,’ always wanting to savor the moment. It’s how I’d first started noticing Mr. Gray in the shop in the mornings.

“That kind of kindness without hesitation is refreshing,” said Mr. Gray, “Thanks for getting her coffee. Karma is rich.”

It was revelatory what a smile did to the entire persona I’d created for him. His face lit up, shattering all my preconceptions in an instant. His eyes sparkled and his effusive body language changed him forever. He oozed a calm charm and wit I hadn’t expected. “Join me, won’t you?”