by Joseph S. Pete
Ben realized he was old when he no longer felt like lingering in the hipster coffee shop, despite the dulcet indie rock being pumped in.
The song slapped. He’d be humming it for hours, playing it on loop in his head for even longer.
But he felt uncomfortable and asked for his whiskey barrel-aged iced coffee and duck bacon BLT, hold the housemade garlic aioli, to go. He’d just take it back to his newly purchased ranch home and catch up on Netflix.
His wife was working late again, and he had some time to kill, at least a few hours.
But he didn’t feel like whiling away at the cafe as he had so many times before. People there seemingly went to see and be seen, whether chatting loudly in groups, preening conspicuously with friends, reading alone, or writing or coding on an open laptop.
Naturally shy but searching for something, Ben had passed entire days, whole weekends, at that funky coffee shop with a pile of library books, nursing java after java, the price of renting a comfy leather chair in a low-key but still stimulating environment.
Even though he kept to himself, keeping his nose in a book, sometimes scribbling notes in a Moleskin more out of earnestness than affectation, possibility stretched out before him. He could meet anyone, strike up any random conversation. Anything could happen.
But now he had cozied into a domestic cocoon and seldom aspired to leave.
As he stood before the nose-pierced barista, as a punk song he loved came on, he felt seen, awkward, distinctly uncomfortable.
The kids lounging around were so fair-skinned, so scrawny, so young. They weren’t molested by the ravages of long hours at work, many sleep-deprived nights and age, the long, slow, inevitable march toward death. These kids had nothing but future ahead of them, nothing but long horizons.
Not like him.
He grabbed his order as soon as they placed in on the counter and hurried out, shrug-shouldered, as though ducking out of a liquor store in the early morning hours while a church across the street let out.
He strode off down the sidewalk, coffee in hand, quickening his step, striding as fast as he could.