I play the game of guess my order, all the while I see K’s already making it, as usual. I consider changing my order up on her, sporadically, but something always keeps me from doing so. Right size. Correct product. I am happy.
We chat for a bit, catching up on each other’s kids, homelife, etc… As K places the cup of frothy perfection in my reach, both girls glare at another patron sitting in what has become known- by us three anyways- as ‘my spot’. I shrug to let them know I’m fine with it, but I find myself impressed by their performance of jilted baristas that I can’t help but toss in another dollar in the ol’tip jar.
I am never upset when I see ‘my spot’ taken, because it’s only out of habit that it even became so. I need a place to sit. That spot is usually available. So I sit. It isn’t aesthetically more appealing than any of the other seven spots in the small space. It’s just a familiar place my body habitually gravitates to. I smile anyways at their crinkled foreheads and pouty lips, appreciating their efforts in displaying faux aggravation on my behalf.
I choose the table next to the fireplace. It truly doesn’t matter where I sit, in the dark space in the back, or the well-lit space up front where collected light pools in through the tinted glass, He will find me. He, being Mr. Palmer. I peek over the height of my computer to find old bones covered by slack skin and faded clothes ambling through the glass door and veering my way. He’s donning the same worn bomber jacket- too large for this Mr. Palmer, but perhaps fitted comfortably on a much younger version of him. His tidy silver strands reach from beneath a black and gold Veterans cap. He’s exceedingly proud of this hat. He tells me every time I see him by ways of pointing out certain medals and pins clasped on the bill and sides of it.
The clear tubes of his hearing aids catch the light of the morning sun, and I’m reminded that I need to pocket my usual mousy voice and prepare to talk at an uncomfortable, for me, volume.
He smiles at me, then the girls behind the counter. “The usual, ladies,” he calls from my table, tugging the chair adjacent mine.
“Hi, Mr. Palmer,” I say, lowering my screen to give him my full attention.
“Bob,” he reminds me, again. I smile and nod. I’ll require a few more reminders. “So, what’ya study in college again? What was it…anthro-and-what-or-another?”
My smile widens. “Anthropology. Useless,” I answer, knowing exactly where this conversation will lead.
Mr. Palmer, I have decided, has two stories, two particular moments, he finds exceptionally prideful. My eyes swivel up to his cap where the white shuttle pin is placed crookedly between the letters T and E. A story is tethered to this pin about a friend of his, whom he looked as more of a son, who graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1966, who then became a pilot, went to fight in Vietnam, then worked for NASA and flew up to space twice before losing his battle to cancer. Lacey is buried here at the Academy and Mr. Palmer makes certain he visits the grave once a month.
This story, no matter how many times I’ve heard it, coming from Mr. Palmer who swallows down the tears during sharing time, makes me reach for my cup of coffee and sip at it to avoid crying myself.
But today he asked about anthropology, so it would be the day he shares his great, three times over, grandfather Palmer’s story. He worked for President Polk, organizing relief camps for neglected native americans in Oregon. “Now you’ll find this interesting, since you like old things, young lady.” I swig another sip of coffee, grinning all-the-while. “He would ride for days, sometimes weeks, in a covered wagon pulled by thirsty horses. The threat of arrows to the chest became a daily fear. No air conditioning or limos, like these weak fellas nowadays require. Ah, the Palmers are tough sons of bitches.” He considers me for a moment, waiting for my reaction. I just smile and nod. Once he realizes that I’m not going to blush or faint over his choice of words, he continues, “I named my first son after him, you know?” I did know.
One of the girls placed his cup of coffee on the table in front of mine, where he rested his cane against a chair. His spring green plate, he brings from home- which I kinda love- is filled with his microwaved blueberry muffin. I can see the steam rise from the top. His pale eyes brighten.
“Alright, I’ll let you get back to whatever it is you’re doin’, young lady.” I continue to smile at him. I find that my cheeks are beginning to ache from holding the same smile. He stands up, turns to his table then turns back to me. “You know, you have the prettiest brown eyes.” He leaves it at that.
My smile widens even more, not because my eyes are blue, or that he openly scratches his backside as he makes his way to his steaming muffin, but because I realize I have grown to care for this coffee shop and its Regulars. I find that I grow anxious when I don’t see Mr. Palmer and his green plate. I worry about him. I find that when I do see him a relief settles over my shoulders. And a weight, I didn’t realize was there before, lifts. I realize that it doesn’t matter where I sit, all these tables under this tall, exposed ceiling creates this cozy home-like feel for me. The pretty faces of the two saints- who do have brown eyes- know what I’m going to order before I verbally confirm it, and play annoying on my behalf so well…they do it all for ME.
My blue eyes drop to the glow of my computer screen, I take another sip of my coffee, I smile over at my Veteran, and then over at the smiley baristas, and all I can think about is how grateful I am for…this.