I heard the familiar chime of the bell on the door ringing, signifying the entrance of a customer. The man that walked in was dressed in ill-fitting exercise gear that a professional cyclist would wear, although his bulging stomach told me he was far from one. I greeted him with as sincere a smile I could possibly force and asked what he wanted.
“Do you have croissants?” I was asked this question about five times a day and after working here for years have still not understood how a person could walk into a French pastry restaurant with over a hundred croissants laid out and labeled right below where I was standing, look me in the eye and ask if I have croissants.
“I do, we have a wide variety from lunch, more savory croissants, to sweet, chocolate filled croissants.”
“Great, which would you recommend?” He asked while now staring at our list of coffees above me.
“Personally, I prefer the apple cinnamon. I think the strong, bitter sweet flavors contrast well with the absorbent flakey croissant.” He nodded his head, but was obviously not interested in the croissant I recommended or my opinion in the slightest.
“I’ll take a Bavarian chocolate.”
“Will that be all?” I knew it wouldn’t be.
“No, could I also get a medium vanilla hazelnut ice coffee?”
“Yes, anything else?” I asked with a sigh. He asked for a drink that was going to take much more time and effort than I cared to give for a guy that’ll tip me his change at best.
“That’ll be 6.43.” He sorted through his worn down bill fold stuffed with old receipts and pennies. The sound of pennies jingling in someone’s wallet meant that they don’t even tip their change, because holding onto that extra five cents is so important to them. He handed me 7 dollars while trying to fit his oversized wallet back into his bike shorts that were so tight that I was surprised he even could fit himself in.
“57 cents is your change” I said as I handed him the money that he might just be generous enough to tip me, considering he’s already gone through the work to jam his wallet into his shorts. He said thanks and walked over to a table, setting his 57 cents down for now, until he’d later have the energy to overcome the whole wallet feat again. How shocking, with all that workout gear he must live a pretty fit and active lifestyle, maybe he’s just too tired after an enduring workout to fish out his wallet again. I chuckled to myself while starting his coffee.
. . .
“How are you today, sir?” The owner asked one of the customers eating a scone. He was the friendliest man I had ever met. Every morning he would come here to chat with and get to know the customers. He was one of the few people that would ask how your day was and genuinely wanted to know.
“Dan is just the nicest person” exhaled Sherry. She started working here about a month ago, since then we’ve become pretty good friends. We were standing behind the counter waiting for another customer to come. After 12 the restaurant was pretty dead. Only a few people usually came in.
“Yeah, Dan is great. He doesn’t have to do this, you know. He could collect retirement or something and relax at home all day, but instead he comes here.” I watched him engage the customer and try to make them feel more welcome. He listened to the customer blab on about whatever boring thing was going on in their life but peered at them through the spectacles pressed against his face with immense interest.
A few seconds later the bell rang, and we all looked towards the door. One of our more frequent customers arrived. She came here every other day and always ordered the same thing. She always had her computer, a book, her phone, and chargers, because she stayed for hours.
“Hi, can I get a quiche Florentine and an ice mint mocha?”
“Of course, that’ll be 9.76.” She handed me ten dollars while putting an extra two in my tip jar, I handed her the change and she put that too. She may have been a little odd, but at least she tipped well.
. . .
Sherry and I stood behind the counter watching the girl fork at her quiche. I hadn’t really noticed until a few weeks ago, but whenever she came to the counter to get her food the only utensil she’d grab was a fork. She’d fiddle with it and each bite would be an unnecessary effort to cut her quiche, when she could easily use a knife.
“That is kind of weird, I’ve never noticed it before” whispered Sherry.
“Come on, let’s not stare. This is too obvious. She’ll probably notice. Let’s go restock the croissants.”
“Alright, that’s smart.” As Sherry started putting croissants under the displayed glass I noticed the girl’s face contorting in theses odd expressions while she looked at her phone. I held in my laughter then ran over to Sherry to whisper for her to look.
“What is she doing?” she choked out, trying not to burst into laughter, “she looks like a turtle.” I had to cover my mouth and turn around so the turtle faced girl wouldn’t see.
“Oh my god you’re right she does look like a turtle” I quickly exhaled in a whisper once I was able to gain enough breath from my muted laughter. She did look like a turtle. Her front teeth, covered by her over extended lip, protruded from the rest of her mouth, while her jaw was so retracted and wrinkled that it barely resembled one.
. . .
I was standing behind the counter reorganizing the cash register, when the girl came over to the pick-up area to get her quiche and coffee. Today Sherry wasn’t here so I was alone to bake the croissants and watch her. Everything seemed less funny and more bizarre. I found myself not laughing but pondering. I started feeling guilty but wasn’t sure why.
After she finished her quiche she would usually stay for a couple more hours to drink coffee and go on her computer. I tried to see from the counter what she was doing on there but she was just staring at a picture of colorful buildings. She seemed to be completely still for a full minute. She looked as if she’d be stuck in that position forever. I wondered when she’d move. I decided to stop peering from behind the counter and go over there to give her a free croissant. I figured since she had spent so much money here she practically already payed for it.
I walked over with a cinnamon apple croissant. She was still staring at her screen, when she became startled and noticed me.
“Oh, I’m so sorry, I didn’t see you there,” she explained as she took a head phone out of her ear that I had always been too far away to see, “I was just listening to music, whenever I hear a song I really like I usually zone out and listen.”
“Oh, that makes sense,” I paused for a moment, dazed, “I brought you a croissant, on the house. Here’s a fork and knife”
“Thank you so much.” She chuckled, “Thanks for bringing a knife, I always forget to grab one when I go up to the counter. What kind of croissant is it?”
“Cinnamon apple, is that okay?”
“Yes, of course” she said with a bright smile. Her phone buzzed and she opened a message containing a picture of her friend making a weird expression, similar to her turtle face. Baffled by sudden realization I started to walk away, but I decided to make a change. I stepped back towards her table as she put her phone face down on the table.
“What’s that picture of?” I said motioning to her computer with a screen saver of the multi colored buildings.
“Oh that’s a picture of Copenhagen, Denmark. I love that city, because even though other countries view it as a dull, weird, dark place, if you go there and see it up close, apart from far away, clouded views, it turns out to be one of the happiest, most wonderful cities in the world. And I think that’s beautiful.”
“That is beautiful.” I decided I didn’t want to leave just yet, “do you mind if I join you for a bit?”
“Not at all. Here, have a seat, you’re probably tired from standing behind that counter all day."
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