He saw her every day at 7:14 AM. Spring, summer, fall, winter, it didn’t matter. She’d cross the New York sidewalk and walk into the coffee shop, into his life. With her headphones still on, she’d order a coffee. Two sugars and a cream. He had it memorized. Then she’d thank him with a shy smile and walk out.
She had fixated herself in his mind and he wasn’t exactly sure why. Maybe it was the sound of the music he could vaguely hear coming from her headphones. Maybe it was the fact that she always ordered the same thing every day, without fail. Maybe it was her smile, the way she’d look up at him. Some days she was tired and she’d come in yawning, barely awake. Sometimes, she seemed to beam when she walked in, walking back out with a bounce in her step.
He wasn’t expecting to see her on this September night. She never came at night. The shop was empty and the street outside was quiet. He’d just begun to clean up and prepare himself for the coming hours. The long hours of the night were the worst. When the shop was the loneliest, the quiet music of the stereo seemed to bounce off the light blue walls and he would wonder if he was destined to stay in New York forever.
The bell rang as the door opened and he looked up, startled. She walked in, her head down. He couldn’t see her face. Walking slowly over to one of the little tables at the very back, she slumped down in one of the chairs and placed her head in her hands. He looked at her. She just sat there. She hadn’t ordered anything. Should he go over and ask her if she wanted anything? He stood awkwardly behind the cash, looking between the broom and the girl. Should he continue to sweep? Maybe if he waited, she’d come over.
He waited and waited. She didn’t move. Only a few moments did he realize something. She hadn’t brought her headphones with her. She was without music. Without headphones. Headphoneless. He didn’t know why, but she seemed lost without them, like a part of her had gone missing and she wasn’t sure where to look for it.
He heard the shaky breath. Then a soft whimper. A sob.
She was crying.
He’d never seen her cry before. Heck, he’d never seen her sad before. She always seemed to light up the shop when she walked in, even though it was early, even when it was sleeting, hailing or raining out. Now, she looked like an extinguished flame, like a light bulb, burning out by the second. She looked so frail and he felt so helpless. Should he go over? Or would that seem intrusive? She hadn’t looked at him.
An idea dawned on him. He’d heard many artists coming through her headphones when she’d come in, everything from Beyoncé to Artic Monkeys to Yiruma to The Rolling Stones, but there was one song he knew she liked. She was always smiling when she listened to it.
Walking over to the stereo, he plugged his phone in and scrolled through the music. Eventually, he landed on the one he wanted. Selecting it, the first few bars began to play.
“Here comes the sun,” George Harrison’s voice crooned. “Here comes the sun, and I say, it’s all right.”
She looked up suddenly, looking for the source of the music, and her eyes, full of tears and sadness, landed on his. A small, trembling smile made its way to her face. It reminded him of a melody building.
A spell began to weave its way around the shop as the song played, connecting the two young people in its melody. And for just a few moments, the little coffee shop in central New York seemed like an oasis. She sat at the table; her eyes shut as she let the music penetrate her soul, letting it remind her that everything would be all right. He just kept sweeping the floor, peeking up at her every once in a while to see if she was still smiling.
The song began to wound down to a close and in a moment the only noises that could be heard were the brush of his broom against the tile floor and the distant sound of the traffic a few streets over.
She didn’t move.
He didn’t say anything.
Then her cellphone rang and they both jumped at the shrill tones that pierced the air. Picking it up, she answered it. Someone was talking frantically on the other end and she assured whoever they were she would be there soon. Standing up, she grabbed her coat and walked out the door with a grateful smile directed at him.
She wasn’t there the next morning. He’d run over things to say to her in his mind last night until his brain hurt. Most of them involved jokes that he’d probably mess up anyways. He’d never been very good at telling jokes. Maybe it was a good thing she hadn’t showed up that morning. But then, she wasn’t there the morning after that either. A week went by, then a month. There was no sign of her, not that he was the type of person who would look for signs anyways. He wouldn’t know where to even start. By the time Christmas rolled around, she was buried somewhere in the back of his mind.
Boxing day was always the busiest day of the year. People would stop by the coffee shop in a frantic rush, looking for fuel to keep shopping. His café became a pit stop for the day and every table was filled with people: mothers with their children, fathers on their cellphones, groups of teen girls taking advantage of the sales. He was tired, so dead tired. He just wanted to go home to his apartment and sleep for a week.
And then she walked in.
He hadn’t seen her since that night. She looked good. Her hair had gotten longer, he noticed. But the thing that stood out most was the lack of her headphones. She was laughing with someone, a girl friend, her cheeks red and rosy. Whatever had happened over the past three months had done her good. Confidence was obvious on her face. Peace. Security without her headphones. He watched as she went to grab a table: the one at the very back. Her friend went to stand in the seemly endless line for coffee.
They came, drank their coffee, and then began to make their way through the crowd towards the door. She looked around, trying to find a way through the line of people that was between her and the door. Spinning around, she eventually turned to face him. Their eyes met and she gave him a smile. He was able to muster a small one in return, exhaustion overruling his ability to shape his mouth into anything but a fatigued line.
The day continued and he could have sworn that every person in New York had come to the shop. By the time the shop closed at midnight, he was seeing triples of everything, resulting in him running into a few more objects than usual. The radio was playing Christmas carols tonight; he’d been hearing them for the past month. Leaning the broom against the counter, he went to turn it off. He had better music than this on his phone. Carol of the Bells wound down and the DJ’s smooth voice came on again.
“Well folks, this finishes up our Christmas carols for the season and we’ll kick off the all request hour. Hello there, you’re on line one. What can I play for you?”
He switched to a caller.
“Hi, I was wondering if you could play Here Comes the Sun?” A girl’s voice asked.
He immediately recognized the voice, although it was weird hearing it doing anything other than ordering a coffee with two sugars and a cream.
“Sure can,” the DJ answered, “you sending it out to anyone?”
“Yeah,” he could hear the smile in her voice, “the guy who works at the coffee shop on 13th Street. Happy Christmas and thanks for all the coffee.”
The familiar tinkling of the piano started up on the radio and he grinned widely, wider than he’d grinned in a long time. Grabbing the broom again, he decided: he could listen to the radio a little while longer. He started to whistle along as the broom hit the floor.
“Here comes the sun, and I say, it’s all right.”