The cashier looked up from her People magazine, her blood-red nail polish glinting in the dim lighting of the café. There he was again. She had been investigating for several weeks already, ever since she’d been hired for this job. It was the same boy every time, though he would be wearing something slightly different. Today he had matched Wednesday’s cap with Monday’s sweater and Tuesday’s jeans. But his shoes were always the same–scraggly and beat-up.
The first time he had come into the café, he had ordered the cheapest item on the menu, a small lemonade. He had paid in all quarters and then had gone to sit in the farthest corner where two lights had already gone out, adding to the dark ambience of the coffee shop. He hadn’t said anything, just pointed to the lemonade on the menu taped to the cash register. Ever since that first time, he had just sat there. He would come in every day around eight at night and sit there, as if waiting for someone. Or something. Many times she had wondered if she should kick him out because he never ordered anything anymore, but after the busy hours of six through eight, it was nice to have a presence in the small café. Then he would leave ten minutes before the whole mall closed at ten, and by the time she went out with her key to lock the café door, he would be gone. It was really strange indeed.
Tick tick tick. Turning to the small digital clock hanging on the wall, she saw that it was already 9:50. She looked up just in time to see him slip from his seat and head for the door. It was then she made a rash decision. She would go and see where he disappeared off to today.
As soon as the door closed, she put her People magazine down and ran over to the glass windows at the front of the shop. She saw the scraggly shoes disappearing around the corner of the shop, and she ran to the wall on that shop to a small, dusty window. Peering through it, she saw the boy duck behind several bushes.
She took her bag and her coat, and then grabbed the keys off the counter. Outside, it was chilly, and she reflected how nice it would be to have a hot chocolate once she got back to her cozy little flat. She locked the door and walked conspicuously out to the parking lot before doubling back to the other side of the coffee shop. From the light right outside the shop, she saw the boy dart from the bushes and run to the neighboring Pottery Barn, disappearing to the back. She quickly followed. The boy was now in the back of the store, and she carefully peeked around the wall. He was picking the lock.
Should she call the police? He was breaking in, and probably had done the same thing every single day that he had spent in the coffee shop. But her curiosity overwhelmed her, and she watched as he entered the store. She then rushed to the front, peeking through the windows. The boy was in a display with a couch, and she watched as he took off his big gray sweater and slowly lay down onto the couch, a contented expression on his face. After a few minutes, he was asleep, his face a serene mask.
Once again, it was almost closing time, but even though there were no customers, the cashier was busy in the café. The boy watched her with wide eyes from his corner. He wondered if something was happening, or if he had been discovered sleeping at the Pottery Barn next door. Maybe he had spent too long at this coffee shop. But something about the cashier had reminded him of his deceased mother, maybe something in the eyes…?
She was now walking towards him, and he was just thinking about how to bolt when she reached his table. She placed a hot chocolate in front of him and walked back to the desk, picking up her magazine again.