Kassandra returned to the coffee shop. She did not know that Allison had guessed correctly about Kassandra’s impromptu break, just to be there, to listen to her friend cry and laugh. She felt their bond had deepened, though, and as she went back to work she experienced that lightness of body and mind that friendship triggers.
Back at the front counter, Kassandra looked to see who the next customer might be. Everyone already in the shop had been served; they were drinking, eating, reading, chatting, working on their laptops.
Franny had come in while Kassandra was on the phone with Allison. She was in her usual corner, tapping away on her keys, probably writing her great American novel, Kassandra thought. The barista decided not to intrude on Franny’s writing time. If she needed a refill, Kassandra knew, her friend would look up, cast about with a dazed expression for a moment, then make eye contact and smile. Until that happened, Franny needed to keep writing.
The bell over the door jingled. Kassandra turned to see who it was.
David smiled at her, but his smile never had the same effect as Franny’s. Or anyone else, really. It wasn’t warm, Kassandra decided. It was a smile without warmth, and the young woman puzzled over how that could happen. How was it someone as intelligent and educated as David could produce a smile without warmth? Where had all his warmth gone?
“Hi there,” he said, interrupting her interior monologue. “How are you?”
“Fine,” Kassandra answered. There, again. A perfectly standard, appropriate, even thoughtful greeting. But no real interest or warmth inside it. No genuine interest in connection. It felt like an obligation David was getting out of the way in order to get on to what he wanted. “What do you want?” she asked, adding her own less-than-genuine smile, trying to soften that challenge into her ordinary inquiry into a customer’s order.
“Ah, well, that’s always the question, isn’t it.” David paused. “What do any of us really want?” Kassandra tried not to let her annoyance show as she continued to smile, and wait for David to order something, or get one with it.
He’s a hurting person, somehow, she reminded herself. Maybe it’s Sasha, maybe it’s something else, but he’s hurting, and he hides it behind this facade of coldness.
“Have you seen Allison, lately?” he asked. The question surprised Kassandra, and she answered it honestly before she could think about whether such openness was wise.
“She’s taking care of her mom and dad. I’m not sure when she’ll be back.”
“So Leo is alone in that house?” David asked. “I’ll have the usual,” he continued, before Kassandra could reply. “Bring it to Franny’s table.”