“You don’t think I’m smart, do you?” the girl said to the man.
“What? No. It isn’t that I… No. I think you are a perfectly intelligent young woman.”
“Young woman?! What’s that supposed to mean?”
The girl stood next to the man’s booth, heart-shaped sunglasses on her head, staring down at the man seated. He still wore his overcoat, his hands in his pockets now. He wouldn’t be long, he told himself, just a coffee, then back on the road.
“See, this is what I hate about you east coast types,” the girl said. “You always come in here and you look at our menu and you order our griddle cakes and you sit here with that look, that condeceited look on your face like you are better than here, that this place is beneath you. Well, listen here, buddy, we might not have your fancy clothes…”
Buddy? the man thought. Really? He thought of food items labeled fancy in super markets. Fancy shredded cheddar.
“…but we’ve got culture you can’t even understand.”
“Yes. That’s true,” he said simply. “I meant no offense.”
“Of course you did. You people always do. It makes you feel good about yourself.”
The waitresses at Johnel’s knew the boss’ daughter to talk to customers but usually not like this. But they went on serving, smiling sorry-about-the-scene smiles to all the people in booths.
The man kept his head down, tapping his foot with the caffeine. He cleared his throat, bit his lip, took a deep breath, and tried in general not to enter into this burgeoning conflict. He looked at her. She glared at him.
“How old are you, miss?” the man asked. “Ten?”
“Twelve. Okay. You’re smart, okay? And you know you’re smart, smart enough to get yourself out of here. And when you do, where do you think you’ll you go?”
“…What makes you think I want to get out of here?”
“…You’ll go to New York City. Because that’s what everyone does. They go to New York City.” The man finished his coffee. “You’ll find some apartment and some boyfriend and some job and that’s what you’ll do.”
“See? You think I’m here just because I have to be.”
“You’re twelve. You have to be.”
“I could leave if I wanted to.”
“And instead you talk to me.”
“Fine,” the girl said. “Fine. I’m leaving,” she grabbed her backpack and stomped off, trying to slam the door behind her, which closed slowly and softly.
The kitchen door burst open and Johnel rushed out after the girl.
“Becca!” he called. “Get back in here!”
The man watched the two arguing in the parking lot. He paid for his coffee, watched the girl stomp her right foot in defiance, he left a generous tip, and walked out. Johnel and Becca stopped arguing as he walked out. They watched him, quiet, as he got in his car and drove out.
“Smart girl,” he said, watching them go back inside through the rear view mirror.
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