After school the slender girl put her heavy backpack down inside her house and went across the street to the café. She was an independent girl, and that was just the observation she was making when she turned to leave the house. Her father was upstairs working, he wasn’t like other fathers—some of my friends don’t even have fathers, she in fact thought just as she pulled the door shut—and she needn’t even have yelled up to say, I’m going to the café to get something to eat, but she did.
She looked to the right as she crossed the street mid-block and she thought without being able to help herself, I am independent and I know how to get around the city. Some of my friends don’t even know that. That makes me cool, I think, she thought, not that I should care if I am, it’s the sign of being uncool if you think about trying to be cool, and I’m not cool anyway, I’ve never done anything bad, I don’t even feel I need to. But then she thought about the day she and Jasmine and Tracy—that’s a boy, Tracy, though we’re not sure, is he gay?—walked over the Ben Franklin Bridge. Well not all the way over it, halfway, at least, hundreds of feet over the black river with traffic rolling along and the subway slinking by and I was the one who was compelled to climb up on the railing.
At the café, the girl stood behind a stocky 25 year old guy with a studded leather bracelet. His dog wore the same bracelet around its neck. The dog was thick, its skin like pleated velvet. When it was her turn, the girl ordered her usual, an egg and cheese with bacon on a bagel. Five dollars and thirteen cents, she thought to herself.
“That’s $5.13,” said the college girl behind the counter. Her hair was pulled back and wound tightly at the end. It made her appear like a fire hydrant.
The girl handed over six dollars.
“You’re supposed to hand me the bills face up,” said the college girl. “That’s the right way to do it. You’ll learn when you’re older.”
“I’m sorry,” said the girl.
“Is this for here or to take out?”
It was the girl’s habit to bring her bacon egg and cheese on a bagel home and eat it in the sunny window at the front of the house while doing her homework at the desk that used to be her mother’s. “Take out,” she said. And then she looked across the café and found an empty table, where she would sit and send text messages to Jasmine while waiting for the sandwich to be made.
“Excuse me,” said the college girl, just as the girl was sitting down.
“You can’t sit there. The tables are for customers who eat-in only.”
The girl looked at the college girl. Her head is going to burst, she thought, and being the kind of girl who has a poster of E.A. Poe over her bed, she imagined how this might disturb the other customers.
A few minutes later, the bacon egg and cheese on a bagel was done grilling. The college girl wrapped it in foil and put in a paper bag. The girl walked over to the counter. Then the college girl grabbed a green apple from the bowl near the cash register. “This is for you,” she said, “it’s free. We’re trying to get rid of our bad apples.”