A light melody of trombone and French horn lingered with the smell of coffee and the taste of nostalgia. I carefully sipped at my chai, allowing my lips to disarm the heat inside the drink before allowing the liquid to flow down my dry throat.
I was just another nobody, mingling with other characters in the bookstore-slash-coffee shop. I felt in my element, but I also had the feeling that the blue trenchcoat I was wearing made me stand out somehow. It bothered me not; the coat fit me like the skin God forgot to give me. It wasn’t that I felt naked without my cropduster (the specific style of trenchcoat). Rather, I felt like a different person when I wore it. The support it gave me. The feeling that I was being watched after. I was a deity in my own right. The elements couldn’t touch me, so how could any mortals?
Of course, nothing short of mania or depression could stunt my good nature; when I talked to people I still had a pleasant tone and friendly eyes. I imagined how confusing it was for the lady behind the counter who had made my coffee. She must have expected some sort of rogue, or a well-to-do vagrant at best. What she got instead was a pleasant “Hello, how are you doing today?” a “Thank you” that was genuine (as opposed to customary), and a $2 tip I made a point of putting in the jar just as she was looking away.
I sipped my chai again and sighed. The coat had one glaring flaw that once again made itself known. It stayed close to me, hugged me, embraced me. It reminded me that no matter what, everything would be all right. It was the perfect reminder of how lonely my heart was and how troubled by the crippled honor system of the world my mind was.
I glanced over to my left and noticed a young woman with golden blond hair and faint red lips. She was sitting in a chair, lost in the world that some paperback provided her. I smiled at her, but she failed to notice. I accidentally allowed myself to get jealous of that book, how she studied it and held it. If I could have seen the title of the book, I would have written it down, looked up his address in a phone book, and waited for him to return to his apartment/bookcase before causing some bodily harm to it. Or perhaps instead, catch the book being read by another woman and taking pictures for blackmail. Or so I imagine.
I kept hoping that, for some bizarre reason, the woman would look up and notice me. She would be intrigued, rise from her seat, and attempt to start a conversation with me.
Yes. “You aren’t from around here, are you?” she’ll ask, and I’ll reply, “No, originally I’m from Montana.” She’ll smile, nod, and say alluringly “That would explain the trenchcoat,” as if trenchcoats were only worn by Montanans.
Then I’ll tell her, “Run away with me, perhaps to a far away land. You can win the lottery, and I can become the greatest writer ever known, and together we’ll live happily ever after.” She’ll smile, giggle, and then honestly reply “Alright.”
The music continued to play; I continued to drink my chai. My cup was nearly empty; most of what was left was foam. The object I had placed the hopes of curing my loneliness upon had stopped reading. Instead, she began to talk with a friend near her that I had not even noticed until that moment. I sighed as I noticed this friend for the first time. Damn, I think, she’s already taken.
The talking around me became louder, but in a pleasant way. The dialogue intertwined to become an instrument all its own. I couldn’t hear the words, but I understood their meaning. Tales of grandeur, love, family and the like flowed like spring water off a gently rolling slope, giving the room a nice, pleasant feeling.
My cup had become empty. Even the foam had left me, never to be seen again. I considered getting a replacement, but I happened to glance out the window and notice dusk approaching. I had a date that night I did not wish to be late for. Just the ever-changing moon and myself. I could see her from the window, watching me in her usual fashion. She was full that night; I wondered if she was pregnant, and if so who the father was. But it didn’t really matter, for I knew I loved her, and I knew she at least understood me. She always lit my darkest nights, and I could not remember a night that she had complained about my attire.
I rose from my seat, straightened my cropduster out, and headed for the door. I casually tossed the empty styrofoam cup into a trashcan as I passed. It occurred to me that I should have treated it better for the nourishment it had given me. I didn’t feel guilty; I wondered if I would have felt guilty if the cup had been human.
I had almost reached the door when a hand roughly grasped my shoulder. I stopped and turned around sharply to find an employee looking at me with cold eyes and a colder soul. My eyes caught his nametag, and I could tell immediately that the employee was new; his name was far more readable then the names on almost every other nametag in the store.
“Put it back and come with me,” he said, grasping my shoulder firmly. I wondered what was going on, but bizarrely I did not feel hassled or hurried. Rather, I felt calm, albeit annoyed.
“I’m sorry, but-” I started, about to question this man’s intentions. I didn’t get a chance to finish my question, however. “You will be,” he stated angrily. “Shoplifting is a serious crime.”
I knew that I had not taken the liberty to use my special five-finger discount card at any store since I was 12, and never had I obtained the fancy to use it in this place. The man’s accusations were wrong, but it was obvious that this man believed them all the same. He was the last soldier who believed the Nazi creed, unphazed by the fact that the world had turned against him. I almost admired him.
“I didn’t steal anything, sir,” I stated plainly. My smile was hidden by the reality of the situation, but my eyes continued to show a soul of honesty. The man that held me only became more irate. “Don’t play games with me. You’re already in deep shit, so don’t play dumb.”
Any feelings of sympathy I had for this individual prior to this moment became feelings of rage. He dared to swear loudly enough that the children in the area could hear; had I done such a thing every parent in the room would be up in arms against me. Not only this, but now others were watching me, observing another delinquent being apprehended by the right side of the law.
My back straightened, and I felt the support of the coat around me. I wondered if my appearance had anything to do with this man’s feelings. I didn’t wonder for long, however. “Now,” he demanded, as if the Holy God of Accusations could just magically make every word he stated come true.
I was reminded of something a parent of mine had stated: if you can’t beat them with brains, baffle them with bull. Realizing that this piece of information could in no way help me, I remembered another piece of information taught to me.
“I would like to speak to your manager,” I stated firmly. The man in front of me became a bit more irate. “What for? Besides, he’s not here. I’m the new assistant manager, so I’m the one in charge.”
I didn’t like the thought of the man I would normally be speaking with to smooth the situation over being Captain Authority of the Accusation Clan, so I pulled the only other card in my hand. “I think I’ll wait for the police to get here before saying anything else,” I stated firmly.
“Oh, they are already coming. They’ve already been called. And you can rest assured they won’t be too happy with your little antics.” I stared at this individual. Apparently knowing what you do and don’t do could be considered antics. But for some reason I didn’t feel like pointlessly back-talking this authority figure.
Another man came up to me, between the door and myself. “Sir,” he asked rather politely, “will you please come with me to the office?” I smiled at him sincerely. “Certainly. I wouldn’t want to create a scene out here,” I replied. This reply annoyed the assistant manager not a little. He pushed me forward, letting go of the grip he had on my shoulder. I walked at a slightly brisk pace, following the younger man to the office. I could hear the breathing of my newest, fondest friend behind me; I got the feeling he would get a heart attack from the stress of being spiteful.
I was lead to an room of organized clutter. A chair was facing my direction when I entered. The assistant manager nodded towards it. “Sit,” he commanded.
I turned towards the manager. “Don’t mind if I do,” I stated calmly as I allowed myself to rest in the comfort of the chair. The man glared at me. “This is your last chance to just co-operate. Being an ass won’t get you any farther.”
Wow, I thought, this guy sees me as a mirror. How did this guy become an assistant manager, anyway? But I didn’t say anything of the sort. “Like I said earlier, I didn’t steal anything.”
“Really? Then why are you acting so snide?” His voice was very angry. Very unbusiness-like, I noted to myself. “I suppose you wouldn’t mind emptying your pockets, then?”
My gut told me that agreeing to this demand could possibly be a very stupid thing for me to do, but I disregarded the feeling. My hands fumbled through my front pockets, starting from the left one. I placed a wallet down, which the man immediately snatched. He pried it open, thumbed through the money, and looked at the identification. He pulled my state ID out of the wallet and held on to it. The wallet was placed back down on the counter.
This angered me. “No,” I stated. “I think I’ll wait until the police get here before continuing.”
“I’m sorry, what was that?” he angrily snarled at me.
“You haven’t even told me what you are looking for, and you continue to treat me like a criminal.”
“What, you don’t think shoplifting is a crime? You know how much money is lost every year because of shoplifters like yourself?”
I leaned away from his words, into the confinement of the chair. “Hey, I’ve tried telling you, I didn’t steal any-”
“Then why do you keep acting so damn guilty, huh? Because you ARE. We have a customer who watched you place a notebook into your pocket.”
My mind tried to catch what this man was babbling about. When it did, I almost laughed at the idiocy of it all. But before I could, the shadow of a blue-and-black was upon me.
“Is this him?” the police officer asked, his voice sounding strangely typical for a muscular 6-foot man. It was my guess he learned to speak so gruffly as to be overheard from the static and noise emanating from his two-way radio.
“Yeah, this is the thief,” the assistant manager stated angrily. “He’s been uncooperative and snide. He’s probably got some guns underneath that thing, too,” the man stated matter-of-factly as he gestured at my coat.
Another officer stepped in. He looked at me suspiciously. “Sir, please stand up and slowly face the counter behind you.”
I was slightly disappointed then; I had hoped that perhaps one of the officers that would appear and take my statement would be of the female persuasion. Nevertheless, I pushed myself out of the chair and turned towards the dusty counter before me. Fortunately I had also seen enough white trash TV to know that I was supposed to put my hands on the counter. This knowledge probably didn’t leave a good impression on the officers, but one of them stepped in and began frisking me.
“Anything we should know about?” he states, as if I’m not even going to answer. As politely as I could possibly say while having a man running his hands around my body, I said “Nothing I can’t legally have.”
I think that startled him. “Any hidden weapons or narcotics of any kind?”
“No, sir,” I stated. I honestly had the urge to tell this man “No I don’t; but ask the assistant manager. I’m sure he’ll sell you some.” However, it just didn’t seem justified for some reason. I think that reason had something to do with the thought of two police officers using their nightsticks to inflict bodily harm on me. I had every desire to leave this place with every limb attached.
“Sir, do you have any identification on you?”
I shook my head no. “He stole it,” I stated.
The assistant manager gave the ID to the officer, who looked it over. “What’s your birthday?” he asked, as if it weren’t written on the card. I stated my birthday, slowly becoming annoyed at the whole situation. The officer that was frisking me found something of interest in one of my pockets. I smirked to myself, knowing what the officer had found.
“Where’d you get this?” the officer asked me as he held a black notebook in his hand. It was slightly larger than the size of his hand.
“That’s it!” the assistant manager stated. “We sell those for $1.49 each.
You’re gonna get it now, you little-”
I was about to say a very carefully worded sentence, but the officer who was looking at the book interrupted me.
“Sir, where did you get this?”
I gritted my teeth. My creative talent wouldn’t be of use here. “At another store a couple of days ago. It only cost me ninety-nine cents. Dollar something including taxes.”
The assistant manager’s comments, however, made it all worthwhile. “See what I’m talking about? You catch him red-handed, and he continues to deny it!” His voice got louder. “He just lies and lies and acts like I’m an idiot!”
I thought to myself, are you sure you aren’t one?
It was about that moment that the officers saw exactly what was happening, why I hadn’t cooperated, and why this whole event wasn’t open-and-shut.
“Please calm down,” the officer nearest the man said. He then spoke some rather unintelligible codes into his radio.
“Well, either you are wrong,” the officer holding my notebook stated, “or this thief has gone through a hell of a lot of trouble to steal a book that costs little more than a dollar.”
“What do you mean?” the man I imagined was soon to be demoted stated bluntly, angrily.
“Well…” the officer didn’t finish the sentence, but instead leafed through the notebook so that the man could see each page. The employee who had helped to escort me into the room also watched, and was the first person to comment.
“What does it say?” he asked.
Of course, it didn’t matter what it said. The fact was that over half the notebook was filled, most of it with several short stories. Towards the end, I had also used the notebook to write a few notes to myself. I had seen a couple of books that had caught my attention in the store and had written their names down; I didn’t have time to read the books, but intended on finding out later if they were worth acquiring.
I won’t bore you with the details of what happened in the next half hour. Basically, my two would-be boyfriends gave the assistant manager a lesson in common sense, common courtesy, and decency. They then took my statement, frisked me a bit more simply because they could, and gave me a lecture on how I should “obey authority next time.” They also advised me I could possibly press charges for harassment. I decided against it; I just wanted to put the whole thing behind me, to make it little more than a humorous story told at cocktail parties and backstage at concerts.
Finally leaving the office, it dawned upon me that I would probably never be welcome at this coffee shop again. To aid in this melodrama, I noticed that there was a light drizzle outside. Nature has this way of playing just the right music to set the feeling, and this day was no exception. For all the asinine nonsense I had just gone through, I really did enjoy the coffee shop I was leaving.
Banished from another realm of happiness, I entered the windy wet night before me. I slowly buttoned my trenchcoat around me and began my journey ever forward, my feet on the ground and my sight on the sky.
I was in the middle of the parking lot when I heard someone call my name. I turned, expecting it to be a challenge from the assistant manager, but it wasn’t. Instead I saw a woman dressed in business clothes, holding a bright purple umbrella that clashed with her gray suit.
I stopped and slowly walked up to her. I could tell by the gray hair that I would not be interested in her; she probably had 20 years on me. But something inside me told me that I needed to speak with this individual.
She repeated my name again, questioning whether it was really me. I nodded my head and stated, “Yes.”
“I just want to tell you how sorry I am for everything that happened here today.”
“Oh, I’m not too worried about it,” I said. “I’m gonna miss this place though. I mean, they have the best damn coffee I’ve had the grace to taste yet.”
“Well, thank you,” she said, almost surprised. It was as if she were expecting some sort of tongue-lashing, as if she herself had committed some great crime that had allowed this whole incident to take place. “Is there anything I can do to help smooth the situation out for you?”
I shook my head. “What can you do? I don’t even think I can walk in there again. The assistant manager will probably just make my life hell, and I’ll have to deal with the looks from the people-”
“I want you to know that I’ve personally fired that man. And you can rest assured he won’t be getting another job with our firm again, anywhere.”
I looked at this individual before me, safe underneath her umbrella while the sky slowly cried upon my shoulder. “Are you the manager?” I asked.
“No,” she smiled, realizing she hadn’t introduced herself to me. “I’m the district supervisor. I came in on a surprise visit and had heard that a shoplifter had been detained. I planned to stick around and evaluate how the event was handled, but as I started overhearing what the costumers and employees were saying, I became appalled. And then I overheard, along with just about everyone else in the coffee shop, exactly what had happened… some of the customers became so appalled they left on the spot. We can’t have that.”
I thought about this. I looked up at the sky, in its dark dreary form. Dark magic encased the sky, banishing the stars and the moon from watching the human freak show on Earth, and disallowing me to bask in the moonlight’s beauty. “Well, it doesn’t look like it is going to stop raining any time soon. I might as well enjoy another cup of coffee, don’t you think?”
The supervisor smiled. “I’m glad there aren’t any hard feelings. Most people wouldn’t have handled such events as well as you have.”
I smiled to myself as I walked the director back into the shop, wondering how much better I would handle the events if the drinks were on her.