Dina waited for Joe outside the coffee shop. She felt too shy to go in by herself. She spotted Joe’s car as he found a parking spot half a block away. She felt a flood of relief, watching him saunter up the sidewalk grinning at her,
“Hi, little girl, how come you didn’t go in?”
“Um, I just, like, wanted to wait for you.” She studied the cracks in the sidewalk.
“OK, whatever, come on in. I’ll introduce you to Jane. She always takes good care of my friends.” Joe lead the way into the coffee shop, ducking to avoid bumping his head against the low doorway.
“Hiya, Joe! Whatcha bring me?” sang out a cheerful soul with a tie dye kechief tied Indian style over her brow. A box of Marlboros were rolled up in the left sleeve of her blue tee shirt. A cigarette burned itself up in an ashtray.
“Whoa, Jane, what kind of speed are you on today?” joked Joe.
“Don’t need no speed, Mr. Big Shot Social Worker Pot-head,” Jane chortled. “I’m high on life.”
“Right on,” said Joe. “Jane, I want you to meet my friend Dina. She hails from the East Coast. She’s doing some traveling.”
“Oh, taking a vacation, are we?” said Jane, knowingly, throwing Dina a wink. Dina was not so sure she liked this whole scene. But she was game to stay on board with it for a while, to see how it played out.
“Come on, Dina, let’s not waste any more time with yon rascally woman,” Joe quipped, guiding Dina to a booth and easing his bulk into one side. Dina slid in the other side.
Suddenly Jane was all professional, cruising up to their booth with a waitress pad and a tray. She slid an ash tray onto their table and got herself a new page in her order book. “What’ll it be, guys?”
Joe had been perusing the menu while Dina closely examined a sugar packet.
“Well, Jane, I’m mighty hungry this morning. Let’s have the Big Hungry Breakfast, eggs over easy, sausage, home fries, whole wheat toast–Dina, all the bread here is home made and super yummy–orange juice, and coffee.”
Jane scribbled the order into her book. She looked up at Dina.
“And for you, miss?”
“She’ll have the same,” said Joe, before Dina could open her mouth. She slumped back in the booth, half relieved and half ashamed.
Jane brought them each a steaming diner mug of coffee, and set the stainless steel pitcher of half-and-half on the table.
Pouring cream into his coffee, Joe began, “Dina, little girl, I know you want to be independent.” Dina waited for him to go on. She wasn’t sure where he was going with this. Her head felt hollow, and everything sounded far away. She stared at the table.
“OK, let me be straight up about this,” Joe said. “You can’t stay on the streets. They’ll chew you up and spit you out out there. You had a taste of it last night. Is that how you want it to be?” Dina shook her head slowly.
“Well, what are your ideas?” Joe asked. Dina stayed quiet, trying to shrink even smaller than she already was.
“Look, do you think your parents would send you some money so you could get an apartment? It’s summer break, and there are hundeds of apartments open. You could get one, or share one anyway, for fifty bucks a month, I bet.”
“Really?” Dina sat up straight. “Do you think I could get my own apartment for fifty bucks?”
“Well, you’d probably have to have a roommate. Why don’t we go down to the campus housing bullletin board after breakfast and have a look? If we find anything, we can call up about it. I can give you a reference. Everybody knows me!” He gave a deep belly laugh. Dina’s tension evaporated and she found herself smiling.
Jane returned with a tray laden with breakfast. The toothsome aromas nearly knocked Dina over. She hadn’t realized how hungry she was. The two of them set to work eating, and nothing was heard from either of them until the last of the egg was sopped up with the last of the toast.
Joe paid the check, and the two of them slid out of the booth and thanked Jane for the magnificent breakfast. She beamed, and they trooped out into the California morning.