Late Night Cuban Coffee

Dani tapped her fingers on the counter, waiting for the guy who was supposed to be taking her order to stop flirting with the waitress long enough to do his job. She’s way out of his league, anyway,Dani thought absently, pulling her hair back into a quick bun on the top of her head. Some people chewed their nails when they were nervous. Dani put her hair in a bun. Then took it back down. Then put it up again. It was her biggest tell, not that she had a great poker face anyway. But what did it matter? No one knew her well enough to know her tells anyway.

When Flirtypants finally wandered over to Dani, she gave him her best aloof glare. She’d been practicing it in the mirror for the last 200 miles. She thought she had it down pretty good. But instead of being stunned by her iciness, he smiled.

Huh. Need to work on the glare, I guess. She noticed a scar above his top lip. Probably had it since he was a kid,she thought. As she continued to examine his face, she accidently found herself staring into his eyes. Damn it, she thought. He looked at her curiously. In this intense way that made her feel seen. She wasn’t used to being seen, not really.

It didn’t matter anyway. In 10 minutes, she and mom would be out of here. Headed west on Highway 58. Toward whatever it was that kept drawing mom in. Or was she running away from something? Dani honestly didn’t know. It’d been a year. Always on the move in their beat-up RV. One campground after another.

This boy behind the counter was just one in a long line of people that she shouldn’t bother getting attached to. She fixed her gaze back on him and stared him down. He looked away first. Dani felt pleased for a second. Powerful.

“What can I get you?” he asked, wiping the counter while he spoke to her.

“A Cuban coffee.”

“It’s 10 p.m.” the boy pointed out, sensibly. And maybe a little bit intrigued.

“It’s for my mom. We’re on a road trip,” she lied. Not about the coffee. The coffee was for her mom. But a road trip was too sunny a name for what they were doing. This was more like an epic quest. And it was getting exhausting.

“Cool,” the boy said, looking more interested than Dani wanted him to. Now there were going to be a million questions about where she and mom were going and what they were doing. And Dani hated, more than anything, to admit that she had no idea what was going on, where they were going, and that she didn’t know how to get mom to stop moving long enough to figure out the truth.

“Yeah,” Dani said, dismissing him with an eye roll. “Whatever.”

Dani drummed on the counter while the boy painstakingly made the Cuban coffee. It wasn’t that she wanted to get out of there. Or maybe she did. Was forgetting how to be a regular person that had regular conversations with people? Ugh. She felt fidgety inside, like she was waiting for something to happen all the time.

The boy slid the coffee toward her. He nodded. “Have a good trip.”

Dani wasn’t exactly sure why, but she reached out and touched his hand. “Thank you,” she said, earnestly.

“For what?” he asked, surprised by her sudden intensity.

“For giving a shit,” she said. “A lot of people don’t, you know.”

She pushed the door open with her forearm and let it swing shut behind her. The warm, Florida breeze blew strands of her hair in front of her face. Dani hardly noticed. She barged through the door of the RV to find her mom inside, starting intently at a map. She shoved the coffee toward her.

“I’m going back to the diner to get my own coffee. And when I come back, we’re going to decide together where we’re going. Not just to pass through. But to stay. Because, if we don’t Mom, I’m going to forget how to be one of those people who actually gives a shit. And I can’t let that happen, Mom. I can’t.”

Without waiting for an answer, Dani jumped out of the RV and walked purposefully back toward the diner. She felt a tentative smile spring to her face. Maybe it’d work better than her glare. For now, at least.



Published by Kendra Lee

I am smitten with Atlanta. I believe Black Lives Matter. I care deeply about housing justice, education, and transportation. I am a huge MARTA fan. I've got the most adorable second grader, an incorrigible Boxer named Delilah, and a pretty amazing husband named Simon. I've been sober for 9+ years. I heart coffee. On any given day I may write about all--or none--of those things.

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