Behind a Cup of Joe
by Dyna Dee
Movement just outside the shop's window catches my attention and
distracts me from the human interest article I've been reading in the Sunday
newspaper. I look up and over the top rim of my bifocals and raise the wide-brim
coffee cup to my lips. From behind my cup of Joe I see two familiar young men
pulling up to the shop on their bicycles. Having seen them here before, I'm not
surprised to see them guiding their bikes to the metal bike rack located to the
right of the patisserie's front entrance. I smile, finding it rather humorous that
even at my age my heart can quicken at the sight of two very handsome young
men. Who says that when you're past your prime you can't appreciate beauty in
all its forms? And these two, well... they're exceptionally good looking. You'd
have to have two feet and your entire head in the grave to not appreciate their
physical attractiveness and vitality.
My eyes focus on the more familiar of the two, the one with the long, rich
brown hair that's woven into a thick braid and lays heavy down the length of his
back. He has extraordinary eyes, large and the color of the sky just before
sunset, where the blue on the horizon deepens into purple as the day gives into
the coming night. This boy has an undeniable magnetic quality about him, and
it's more than just his uncanny good looks. He just seems to naturally draw the
gaze of everyone within eye contact just by his presence. He's certainly
intrigued me for well over a year now, from the moment he first walked into this
very shop on a late Spring day, dressed entirely in black.
I clearly recall sitting at this very table on that day he walked through
Suzett's door. With my Sunday paper held in front of me, I had my pastry to my
left and coffee to the right. The bell above the door jingled and I glanced up, as I
habitually do, and found myself staring at the newcomer. I'd never seen the boy
before but I was immediately struck by how inordinately handsome he was
despite his being alarmingly thin and much too pale for a person his age.
Perhaps it was his completely black attire that gave me the impression that he
was or had recently suffered some type of trauma in his life, perhaps a long bout
of illness... or a broken heart.
Basing my observations solely on what I could see, I thought the boy to be
about sixteen, possibly seventeen years old. Yet when he happened to glance
my way I was struck by a deep weariness that seemed evident in his eyes and by
the slump of his shoulders. He immediately intrigued me. How could someone
so young and handsome look so very troubled? From that moment forward he
became a curiosity to me and a puzzle, one that I craved to solve. I thank the
stars above that he found Suzzett's pastries and coffee as wonderfully addicting
as I do, for his return each Sunday presented me an opportunity to observe and
So every Sunday morning for the last year I've come to Suzzett's Patisserie
to sit at my favorite table, indulge in a delicious cup of coffee and tempting pastry
or two and wait for the young man to show up, which he almost always does
around ten a.m. Having an overly curious and imaginative mind, I've spent many
hours of my otherwise mundane life wondering about the boy, who he is, where
he's come from, and what could have possibly caused his barely disguised
unhappiness. There's little doubt in my mind that something traumatic has
befallen the lad. Perhaps he's suffered the loss of a parent, sibling or a friend.
Or maybe something went gone wrong in his family: his parents were splitting up,
they'd lost their home, or maybe his little brother was ill from a serious condition
and was in the hospital. I even considered his unhappiness might have been
brought on by something as simple as his girlfriend dropping him for his best
friend or some such seemingly dramatic, angst-filled event that often besets
teenagers. Those and many more mentally conjured scenarios played out in my
over-imaginative mind and entertained me for several hours each Sunday as I
surreptitiously contemplated the apparently solitary and mysterious teenager.
As time passed I began to feel as if I knew the boy dressed in black, when
in fact I'd only exchanged a few brief words of greeting with him, now and then,
as he entered the patisserie or when he habitually took a table quite near my own
to drink his cream and sugar laden coffee while nibbling at his pastry.
Taking a sip of my cooling coffee, I look over the rim of my cup and am
pleased to see a bright smile on the face of my year-long subject of curiosity.
There's a spark of happiness in his eyes as he parks his bicycle, a fancy red and
silver one that looks very expensive. I have little doubt his recent bout of
happiness has been brought on by the sudden appearance of his friend a little
over two months ago. Yes, there's been a definite change in the young man's
appearance and attitude within the last six weeks. Oddly, I feel a sense of
gratitude towards the dark, somewhat unruly haired young man who has
accompanied the braided lad to the patisserie every Sunday since he first made
From the first day the two entered the shop together, I furtively observed
them over the rim of my coffee cup or newspaper, and it's warmed my heart to
observe a healing process taking place. Whatever had been wrong with the
braided teenager, had caused him to be so painfully thin, wan and so deeply hurt
that it reflected in his expressive eyes, had been eased if not completely wiped
away. I can only conclude that the other young man, who I determined is part
Asian, has had something to do with it.
I watch as the two lock their bikes to the rack and listen to the braided
one's laughter in response to something the other boy has said. Such a nice
sound, I muse. Then suddenly his demeanor changes and I tilt my cup once
more to peer over the top, disguising the fact that I'm staring at them. The taller
and darker haired of the two grabs a hold of the hem of his gray sweatshirt and
peels that article of clothing over his head in one smooth movement, revealing
finely toned and nicely sculpted arms, chest and back, barely covered by a
somewhat damp, sky-blue tank top. I gave thanks to the heavens above for the
sudden burst of spring and the extra warmth that now gives me such a marvelous
display. I'm impressed enough that I almost choke on my coffee when my throat
tightens at the sight of such an excellent physique.
While tying the discarded clothing around his trim waist, I can see the
Asian teen speaking to his companion. The braided lad shakes his head
adamantly, appearing nervous as his eyes dart about the surrounding area. I
wonder what's wrong and why my favorite boy is frowning once again. The
shaggy haired young man reaches out and sets his hand on the other's sweat-jacket covered shoulder, and from what I can see he's speaking quite intently to
him. I can't help but notice that the braided boy's blue-violet eyes are focused
solely on the taller young man's face. Then, after a few moments and a slow nod
of his head, the shorter of the two slowly unzips the front of his jacket, and only
then do I realize that the rosy cheeks he's sporting aren't just from a brisk bike
ride through the park; the boy is clearly overheated. With obvious reluctance he
pulls each arm out of the sleeves and slips the jacket off. Hanging it over his
arm, he searches the pockets for a moment before finding and removing a wallet.
He then copies the other's actions by using the outer garment's sleeves to tie it
around his waist. After finishing that task, he straightens and turns to face his
darker haired friend and gives him a very shaky smile. A moment later the two
turn together and approach the door to the patisserie, side by side.
Quickly putting my cup down, I try to look as if I've just glanced up from my
reading when soft tintinnabulations of small bells set above the door announce
their entrance. For the first time since he's been patronizing this shop, the
braided boy enters with his eyes and chin down, giving me the impression that
he's embarrassed. Wearing dark, tight shorts - that I assume are designed for
biking - and a tank top similar to his friend's, my first thought is that he has
nothing to be embarrassed about. Though he's still on the thin side he's filled out
over the last couple of weeks, and I can see from his defined calves and biceps
that he's physically fit. While gazing at those biceps, I suddenly see the evidence
of what undoubtedly is the problem. I quickly purse my lips together tightly in
order to keep my involuntary gasp from being heard. There's no doubt about it,
on my favorite boy's arms, exposed for the first time during the past year of
Sundays, is a multitude of scars. Each white, puffed-up line is neat and straight,
apparently cut into his skin with an eye to detail, evidence of the long-haired boy's
inner torment. It begins at his wrists and travels up to his elbows like an
elaborate latticework that's been constructed by some internal pain and a sharp
I blink as an arm wraps around the braided boy's pale shoulders. I feel
flushed with embarrassment when I realize that I've been shamefully staring at
the scarred arms. My eyes are drawn upwards to the troubled teen's companion
and I catch the threatening glare the Asian boy levels at me. There's no doubt
that he's unhappy that I'd been openly staring at his friend. I tried to convey to
him with my eyes the sadness I feel over the horrible torment his friend must
have suffered to have done such a thing to his body. I've read about cutting, of
the many reasons why someone would do something like that, but this is the first
time I've actually seen evidence of the act. I begin to hope that my favorite's
friend understands me, for his glare softens briefly before he breaks eye contact
with me. His piercing gaze turns to scan the rest of the room, silently warning
everyone else caught staring at the marks of pain to look the other way.
I watch as the two approach the front pastry case. Little Michelle, Suzzett's
adorable sixteen year old niece, is serving the customers this morning. She's
young, starry-eyed, boy crazy and a stereotypical blond. Blessed with more
cuteness than sense, her aunt moans on occasion. Looking adorable with her
curly hair trapped in two braids, hanging over her shoulder, she greets her two
customers cheerfully and with a dimpled grin before her eyes momentarily drop
and widen slightly in noticing the marks on the braided boy's arms. My estimation
of the girl goes up several notches as she doesn't bat an eye, but continues to flirt
with the two as she takes their order.
I turn back to my newspaper, unable to watch the two without being
obvious that I'm staring once again. I lift the paper in front of me but can't seem
to concentrate enough to read the print, not with my mind filled with the memory
of the scars on that young man's arms. Has he been suffering and cutting
himself all this time? Is that why he's appeared so wan and pale? From the
quick glance I'd had moments earlier, I recall that the marks on his arms
appeared healed, none of them were red from recent cuts.
The foremost question that troubles me is, could I have helped him in some
way during this past year? Of course I know that I'm a virtual stranger in the
boy's life, just another regular at the popular patisserie, but I can't help but
wonder if I had but stepped out of my daydreams and away from my comfort
zone, could I have become someone he might have talked to, someone to
brighten the day of an apparently suffering soul? Unfortunately, life is full of
regrets for actions not taken, realized too late. I feel ashamed that after a whole
year of watching him, speculating about his life and why he appeared so sad, I
didn't even know his name.
I'm distracted from my thoughts when the two young men take the vacant
table just to the right of me. The braided boy sets his coffee and the plate
carrying his pastry on the tabletop then hides his forearms under the table's
"Duo." The low, slightly admonishing voice coming from the Asian teen is
barely audible, but the hush that descends upon the small room makes it all the
"Maybe we should go?" the other whispers back.
He's uncomfortable, aware of the change in atmosphere within the small
shop. It makes me sad to know he feels that way, but I realize I'm partially to
blame for his discomfort. After all, I'd let a whole year go by without saying
anything but an occasional hello, good morning or even to speak of the weather
to the boy, and now I sorely regret not having done so. I sense that if I don't do
something today, he might feel too embarrassed to come back to the patisserie
Introverted by nature, it normally takes me a while to work up to the act of
approaching strangers. It's not that I can't carry on a conversation. No, my
friends will tell you that once I get to know someone it's hard to shut me up. I
suppose it's my own fear of being judged and rejected that keeps me from
approaching and speaking freely to those I don't know. Yet as difficult as it is for
me, I fold my newspaper, scoot back my chair and stand, knowing that each
movement I make commits me further to speaking with the two.
Swallowing hard, I take the few steps that separate us and stand next to
the small round café table where the two teens sit and silently commanded
myself to relax and smile. Well aware of the dark blue eyes glaring another
warning at me, I ignore them and turn my attention instead to the braided teen.
He returns my gaze, and I can see he is wary of my approach. Sadly, I note that
his arms remain under the table, hidden from sight. He's obviously embarrassed
and ashamed of them. I'm determined to try and do something about that.
Smiling my most motherly smile at him, I stick out my hand. "After
watching you come to this shop for an entire year, I decided it's time to introduce
myself. I'm Esther Anderson, a retired secretary, widow, mother of two and
grandmother of three delightful hooligans. How are you today?"
The boy's gaze had moved from my face to my extended hand while I
babbled on about myself. He's no doubt seeing not only the age spots on my
wrinkled skin, but my horribly misshapen digits, crippled by arthritis, extended out
to him as well. I know all about wanting to hide something that seems hideous
and an object of pity to others. But as I pause, gnarled hand still held out, he lifts
his chin and looks into my older but smiling face. I'm not quite sure what I expect
him to say as the whole introduction is being done on an impulse. He could say
I'm just a crazy old bat who needs to mind her own business, or he could accept
my gesture for what it is; one human being reaching out to another to basically
communicate that I think he's okay just as he is, scars and all.
The corners of the lad's mouth inches upwards, just slightly, and slowly his
scarred right forearm comes out from beneath the table. He gently places his
hand in mine and gives me a cautious handshake.
"Duo Maxwell," he says. "I'm a student at the university and work for Intel
Electronics. It's nice to meet you, Mrs. Anderson."
"It's a pleasure to meet you, Duo," I said with all honesty.
"For me, too," he replies as he removes his hand from mine. I'm pleased to
see his arm remains visible, resting on the tabletop. Then glancing at his friend,
Duo's cheeks become flushed. "This is my... " He pauses slightly as his eyes
lingered on the other teen. I witness a spark between the two as some private
connection or understanding is made. Then Duo's eyes soften and grow a bit
glassy as he gazes with obvious adoration at the other boy. "This is Heero," he
says simply, but I know there's so much more in that introduction than I'm meant
I turn my attention to the Asian boy and extend my gnarled hand towards
him. "I'm pleased to meet you, Heero," I say. It takes a moment before those
deep blue eyes can pry themselves away from the braided boy, but when they do
they turn to me. I'm struck by the intensity shining from within those eyes, an
intelligence and maturity I've never before seen in such a young man. This is no
frivolous, carefree teenager, I tell myself. He's obviously a very serious young
man and there's something powerful about him, displayed in the way he moves
and by the strength of his stare. I can only hope that he will use that strength to
continue making my favorite boy happy.
"Pleasure," Heero answers as he takes my hand in his and ever so gently
shakes it as if he's afraid his touch might cause me harm.
"While I've seen Duo coming here for about a year now, you're a recent
arrival, if I'm not mistaken," I say, not wanting them to know the extent of my
"Yes," he replies, but then discontinues speaking. I can see he's tight
lipped and not much of a talker.
"Well, welcome to our city. You're lucky that Duo happened to find the
finest patisserie in Europe. Suzzett's pastries are the best to be found."
"I agree," Duo says, his smile brightening at the topic.
"Well, I'll let the two of you go back to enjoying your coffee. I've almost
finished my paper, if you'd care to have it."
Heero begins to shake his head, refusing my simple offer and gesture of
friendship, but Duo reaches out and puts his hand over his friend's forearm, then
looks up at me and smiles. "That would be great. Thanks, Mrs. Anderson."
Damn, but he's even more handsome up close and smiling. I turn back to
my table and pause only to take out the obituary section. For some reason I feel
compelled to read it each Sunday, always glad not to see any close
acquaintances there, but it's news that young people shouldn't have to bother
with. Straightening the rest of the pages, I return to place the folded paper on the
edge of their table. "Enjoy," I say, then add, "and next time we meet, call me
The bubbling laughter that comes from my favorite boy, now named Duo, is
something I will look forward to, for hopefully many Sundays to come. I give them
both a parting smile then return to my own table once again and sit down, feeling
a warmth growing inside me that comes from knowing you did something that
stretched you as a person and maybe helped the world be a better place to live
in. The strange euphoria I feel spurs my thoughts to thinking of other ways I can
reach out to others. Maybe tomorrow I'll speak to that young Chinese lad down
the hall from my apartment. He's lived in the apartment building for nearly a year
and all anyone knows of him is that he wears a Preventer uniform and appears to
be a solitary person with a look of fierce determination on his face. Maybe I'll
stretch myself a little further this week and bring him a batch of almond cookies
and some Oolong tea. Perhaps a simple act of kindness will bring a smile to
such a young and serious-looking face.