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The morning sun poked through the bent pieces of her blinds: an unwelcome, daily wake up call that always elicited a pained groan. She really needed to fix those damn things.
Her lament was cut short by the vigorous gurgling from her stomach. Ah yes, breakfast. This time of year was always difficult. Payments were due at the end of the month and hours were hard to come by. Even dancing on the street didn’t produce much what with having to compete with a dozen charities clanging their bells like some chime to count the guilty who passed by without a second glance. The end result was always a week of struggling to find her next meal, foregoing groceries for small snacks whenever she could find them. Merry friggin Christmas.
She lay there for a long while, sprawled out across her bed and staring pointedly at the ceiling. The holidays had left her unable to deposit her latest paycheck (another thing to add to her to-do list for the day), leaving her with a meager chunk of change. She chewed lightly on her lip as she calculated how much money she ought to have and came to the conclusion that – yes, she could manage to spring for something to eat at the coffee shop down the street.
She threw on a pair of leggings and a sweater that sat on the top of the pile of clean laundry draped across a chair. After pulling on her boots, she stuffed a scarf into her bag, just in case it got chillier as the day wore on. That was the blessing of living in Southern California: bearing through real winters in her flimsy winter wardrobe had always been torturous, but now she never had to worry about potentially freezing to death. She could understand why so many people longed for this place with a romantic glint in their eyes. She walked to the shop and ordered on autopilot, fishing out what she thought was the correct change.
“Er…one second,” she said, the feeling of dread overtaking her as she shoved her arm into her bag. Its’ contents clattered against each other as her hand brushed along the bottom, desperately searching for any rogue coins. Twenty-five cents. She was short twenty-five cents. Here she was, working endlessly until her feet felt like they might crack and shatter from right beneath her just to barely scrape by. Every cent was so carefully curated that she could make an auditor weep with pride. And yet, she had slipped up somewhere. Maybe she should have walked to work more often, or maybe she should have waited to buy a replacement of her favorite red lipstick. That's what she got for treating herself for once. She had hurdled every obstacle life had thrown at her only to be thwarted by a missing quarter.
Unable to withstand the increasing ferocity of her grumbling stomach, along with the heightened anxiety of the line growing behind her, she let out a sigh and waved her hand – a white flag waving in defeat. “Forget the coffee. I’ll just take the muffin.”
It was an early morning for Phoenix. He had made sure to give Marian her morning kiss before getting up and getting ready. Soon he was ready for coffee, but the coffee wasn’t ready for him. He hit the coffee maker lightly a couple of times in hopes that it would work for him, but it wasn’t going to work.
Sighing, he went and found his wife, seeing if she wanted anything while he went out to get coffee and maybe a new pot (though Marian couldn’t drink much, so maybe it was better he didn’t for now). Giving her another kiss, he headed out to get some coffee before he started his day.
The line was long, giving Phoenix enough time to figure out what he was going to get (and debate if he wanted something else). He was certain that he was going to get to order next when the woman in front of him started digging through her bag. Phoenix watched, not with anger, but wonder if she needed a helping hand.
”I’ll get your coffee,” Phoenix told her, stepping out and pulling out a couple dollars from his wallet and handing them to her, wanting her to take it and not just the cashier. He had learned that not everyone was thrilled with getting a little help in a place like this (or at all for that matter).
Stepping forward, he ordered a coffee himself, thanking the barista and standing to the side to wait. They were quick to get his drink out, but not quick enough for him to grab a table. The whole place was full, bustling with people typing away on their computer as they sipped their coffee while others chatted with one another. Eventually, he caught sight of the woman he helped, slowly he made his way to her table, knowing that this could go one way or another. ”Would you mind sharing a table? It’s busy this morning.” There was a little smile on his face as he tried to seem as friendly as possible.
She swore she could feel holes boring into her skin from the glares of those behind her. In truth, the few people waiting were likely not paying attention or hardly awake enough to register that their routine was taking slightly longer than usual. Nevertheless, Esme could feel the embarrassment radiating from her cheeks. She hated looking helpless.
She was so engulfed in her own internal monologue that she nearly missed the man’s words. Her first gut reaction would have been to deny the gesture, but in this case, she was more concerned about holding everyone up further with an arbitrary back and forth. “Thank you. Really, thanks a lot.” she said, managing to offer a faint smile, despite still reeling from her embarrassment. She accepted the money and handed it over to the cashier who, by the looks of it, could have used someone to buy them a coffee too.
Moments later, the man approached her again. Esme glanced curiously upward, pausing mid-bite in an attempt to hide how ravenously she had been indulging in her muffin. “Oh,” she began, gulping down the rest of her bite, “yeah, sure. This place isn’t usually this busy.”
Smiling softly, he sat down across from the woman who seemed rather hungry and Phoenix was wondering if he should offer to get her another muffin or even buy one himself and offer it to her. Even if she wasn’t hungry at that muffin she would at least have one for afterwards. Before he went that far, Phoenix thought it would be best if he got to know her a little bit more.
”I’m Phoenix,” stretching out his hand, he offered it for a warm handshake. ”How are you today?” He knew that she had struggled finding enough money earlier which could easily mean that she wasn’t having a great day or even a great week or month, but Phoenix hoped that maybe a bit of his kindness could help turn her day around and make it better.
Or he could figure out a way to make her day better.