Rufus was singing about love, and how love couldn’t exist without faith. I grew still, because what he was saying sounded way too familiar. I listened some more, and was horrified to realize that the whole song was about a guy who was in love, only the person he loved betrayed him. And those heartbreakingly sweet hallelujahs? They weren’t inspirational hallelujahs. They were . . . they were “cold and broken” hallelujahs—it said so right there in the chorus!
Why had I ever liked this song? This song sucked!
I went to change the CD, but it switched to the next track before I got there. A gospel version of “Amazing Grace” filled the store, and I thought, Well, it’s a heck of a lot better than a broken hallelujah. And also, Please, God, I sure could use some grace.
By five A.M., our morning prep was done. At 5:01, our first customer rapped on the glass door, and Christina walked over to officially unlock it.
“Merry day-after-Christmas, Earl,” she said to the burly guy waiting outside. “Didn’t know if we’d see you today.”
“You think my customers care what the weather’s like?” Earl said. “Think again, darlin’.”
He trundled into the store, bringing with him a gust of frigid air. His cheeks were ruddy, and he wore a red-and-black hat with earflaps. He was huge, bearded, and looked like a lumberjack—which worked out nicely since he was a lumberjack. He drove one of those semis you never wanted to get behind on one of the many mountain roads around here, since, first of all, the weight he pulled meant he maintained a speed of a rip-roaring twenty miles an hour, and, second of all, the back of his open trailer was filled with logs. Massive logs, stacked five or six high. Logs, should the trailer restraints snap, that would roll off the truck and smush you as flat as a crushed to-go cup.
Christina crossed back behind the bar and got the steamer going. “Must be nice to be needed, though, huh?”
Earl grunted. He tromped over to the cash register, squinted at me, and said, “What’d you do to your hair?”
“I cut it,” I said. I watched his face. “And dyed it.” When he still didn’t say anything, I added, “Do you like it?”
“What’s it matter?” he replied. “It’s your hair.”
“I know. But . . . ” I found I didn’t know how to finish my sentence. Why did I care if Earl liked it or not? Eyes down, I took his money. He always got the same drink, so there was no further discussion required.
Christina swirled a generous galaxy of whipped cream onto Earl’s raspberry mocha, drizzled the cream with bright red raspberry syrup, and topped the whole thing off with a white plastic lid.
“Here you go,” she announced.
“Thank you, ladies,” he said. He raised his cup in a toast, then strode out the door.
“You think Earl’s lumberjack buddies tease him about getting such a girly drink?” I asked.
“Not more than once,” Christina said.
The door jangled, and a guy held it open for his girlfriend. At least, I assumed she was his girlfriend, because they had that coupley look to them, all goofy and love struck. I immediately thought of Jeb—I’d gone, what, two seconds without his crossing my mind?—and felt lonely.
“Wow, more early birds,” Christina commented.
“More like late birds is my guess.” The guy, whom I recognized from school, had bleary eyes and an up-all-night sway to his posture. I thought I recognized the girl, too, but I wasn’t sure. She couldn’t stop yawning.
“Could you quit that?” the guy said to Yawning Girl. Tobin, his name was Tobin. He was one grade above me. “You’re giving me a complex.”
She smiled. She yawned again. Was her name Angie, maybe? Yeah, Angie, and she was nongirly in a way that made me feel too girly. I doubted she meant to, though. I doubted she even knew who I was.
“That’s just great,” he said. He appealed to me and Christina, spreading his arms. “She thinks I’m boring. I’m boring her—can you believe it?”
I kept my expression pleasant but noncommittal. Tobin wore scruffy sweaters and was friends with the Korean guy who said “asshat,” and he and all of his buddies were intimidatingly clever. The kind of clever that made me feel cheerleader-dumb, even though I wasn’t a cheerleader, and even though I personally didn’t think cheerleaders were dumb. Not all of them, anyway. Chloe-the-Stuart-dumper, maybe.
“Hey,” Tobin said, pointing at me. “I know you.”
“Um, yeah,” I said.
“But your hair wasn’t always pink.”
“So you work here? That’s wild.” He turned to the girl. “She works here. She’s probably worked here for years, and I never knew it.”
“Spooky,” the girl said. She smiled at me and kind of tilted her head, as if to say, I know I know you, and I’m sorry I don’t know your name, but “hi” anyway.
“Can I get drinks started for you guys?” I asked.
Tobin scanned the menu board. “Ah, Christ, this is the place with the messed-up sizes, isn’t it? Like, grandé instead of large?” He stretched it out all stupid and fake-French, and Christina and I shared a look.
“Why can’t you just call it a large?” he asked.
“You could, except grandé is a medium,” Christina said. “Venti is large.”
“Venti. Right. For the love of God, can’t I order in plain English?”
“Absolutely,” I told him. It was a delicate balance: keeping the customer happy, but also, when needed, calling him on his crap. “It might confuse me, but I’ll figure it out.”
Angie’s lips twitched. It made me like her.
“No, no, no,” Tobin said, holding his hands up and making a show of recanting. “When in Rome and all that. I’ll, uh . . . let me think . . . can I get a venti blueberry muffin?”
I had to laugh. His hair was sticking up, he looked utterly exhausted, and yes, he was acting like a tool. I was fairly sure he didn’t know my name, either, despite the fact that we’d gone to the same elementary school, middle school, and high school. Yet there was something sweet about him as he looked at Angie, who was laughing along with me.
“What?” he said, bewildered.
“The sizes are for drinks,” she said. She put her hands on his shoulders and aimed him toward the pastry case, where six identically plump muffins sat at attention. “The muffins are all the same.”