The world moved in slow motion as Jeff waited in the seemingly endless line at the coffee shop. It was like he was in a dream—like he was an unseen spectator watching the world move around him. He saw the faces of men and women, young and old, but couldn’t make out any details.
“Sure is taking awhile,” said a middle-aged woman standing in front of him.
Jeff stared for a moment, not realizing she was speaking to him. Then he let out a half-hearted, “Yeah.”
The woman turned back around without saying another word. Jeff had looked straight at her face, but as soon as she turned around it was as if her every feature had been scrubbed clear from his memory. For as far as he was concerned, she only existed in that dream world; the one he had no choice but to watch from afar.
“I wonder what’s taking so damn long,” grumbled a 30-something man in a stylish gray suit. “Some of us got places to be. Right?”
Jeff turned his head and looked at the man standing behind him. His short hair was a golden blonde and seemed unnatural against his tan face. Jeff opened his mouth to speak, but nothing came out. All he could manage was a simple nod, and even that came with a great deal of effort.
Turning forward once more, Jeff realized he’d also forgotten what the man’s face looked like. He tried bringing the image to the forefront of his mind, but all he came up with was blonde hair, a gray suit, and the smooth tan skin of a featureless face. Just like the woman in front of him, the man might as well have been a thousand miles away.
Five more minutes of angry murmuring went by before the line finally moved up a person.
“About time,” said someone a few people back.
Jeff noticed the woman in front of him was craning her neck to the side. He lined himself up with her and followed her eye line to the end of the counter where a young-looking man in a wheelchair sat, waiting for his order to be made.
The line sped up and the closer Jeff got to the counter, the more real things seemed to get. The sluggish, dreamlike feeling he had dissipated and a clarity had begun to set in its place. For the first time since entering the shop he smelled the welcoming aroma of fresh coffee. The random chattering in the background became more distinct and he was able to focus enough to make out words of the specific conversations going on around him. It was like a veil had been lifted and he was now part of the real world; he was no longer a mere spectator.
“Hey, you’re up, buddy,” the man in the suit said with a hint of impatience.
“Sorry,” Jeff said in a low voice, stepping up to the register.
“Hi, what can we get for you today,” the cashier said with the friendliest smile he’d ever seen in his life.
Jeff placed his order and took a spot at the other end of the counter waiting for pickup. With the efficiency of a machine, the staff moved like a single organism. Whipping and pouring and shaking and blending. All kinds of drinks came together, and within a few minutes nearly everyone in line before Jeff had their drinks and were happily on their way.
He could see a barista making his drink: a simple frozen mocha. While she was blending it, though, he noticed something peculiar.
“You didn’t get your order, yet?” he said without thinking.
“I…I…I didn’t… didn’t have enough money,” the young man in the wheelchair stuttered. “I’m waiting for… for… for my… my mom to get… get here.”
A part of him wished he hadn’t started the conversation, but it was too late to back out now. “What did you want?” Jeff looked over to the barista who was now pouring his drink.
“A frap…frap…frap,” obviously frustrated, the young man put his head down for a second before continuing, “a frozen coffee,” he said, changing his words so he could get them out.
“Jeff. Frozen mocha.” The barista slid his drink a few inches across the counter. “Have a nice day,” she said with a smile as Jeff picked up the drink. Then she rushed over to make the next order.
Jeff looked at the young man and could see the shame stretched out across his face. “Hey, you wouldn’t be willing to take a frozen mocha instead?’
The young man’s head perked up and the corners of his lips curled up into a smile. He nodded his head, and as he went to speak Jeff stopped him.
“It’s not a problem.” Jeff smiled and handed the drink over.
The young man’s whole demeanor changed as he took the drink: he straightened up in his chair, held his head high, and couldn’t stop smiling. “Thank… thank… thank you very much sir… sir.”
Jeff gave him a little nod and a wave, then headed outside. All that time standing in the coffee shop waiting for his morning fix, and now coffee was the last thing on his mind. Everyone else in that place could have been a mannequin for all Jeff could remember, but that young man’s face—that genuine smile and his misty gray eyes—that was something Jeff would never forget.