I have cracked his crusty facade.
Apparently all it took was giving him a free coffee, in spite of the fact that he doesn't have - and is adamantly against - a stamp card. Up until now all he's given me is a brief moment of obligatory eye contact, phrases of 4 words or less, and a crumpled $5 bill out of which a grudging 30 cent tip was tossed into the jar.
Today he came in behind two reserved and awkward teenage girls. The shorter one was all plump dimples, obviously feeling under-dressed in her blue PAHS hoodie next to her tall friend, who wore heels and a string of costume pearls. I could see him holding a tight breath of impatience as they ordered elaborate drinks with specific amounts of white chocolate, particular milk combination's, and repeated cautions against whipped cream.
"Are you having your usual?" I asked him as I pulled the shots for the mocha's. He nodded curtly.
"Don't worry about it. I'll put it on the counter behind me." I waved vaguely above my head in what was hopefully the general direction of the counter. He left without a word. I indulged in a familiar twinge of annoyance. For God's sake, why was it impossible for his face to form even a pretense of a pleasant expression? In the face of the very large chip on his shoulder, my resolve to be obnoxiously chipper was dwindling.
I pulled his triple short decaf americano and placed it alongside a jug of 1/2 & 1/2. A minute and a half after I called it out he arrived to doctor it to his satisfaction, pushing a dirty five dollar bill towards me.
"No, don't worry about it. I heard you get a free one now and then." I waved it away and turned to rinse milk pitchers. His eyebrows rose in what began as a sardonic stare but ended in surprised smirk.
"So something exciting is happening in my life. Is anything exciting happening in yours?" he suddenly asked me. I turned to him in shock: Never had so many syllables left his mouth in succession. I told him about my birthday, and he went on about how he'd found this rooftop tent for a car for camping, the hints of an unpracticed smile parenthesizing his words.
I cannot go so far as to say that we are friends. But now that he has shown me that an amiable side of his character exists, I'm not going to let him forget it.