When I glanced up from the iPad mounted in front of my counter as an ersatz cash register, I was surprised to notice two things about the man standing in front of me, in the following order:
First, he was not wearing a flowing white robe. There was nothing hovering in the air above his head – especially nothing producing any sort of a glow or luminescence. He wore a belt around his hips, but there were no bladed weapons slid into it, and he wore very practical black shoes instead of golden sandals. Instead of a gold coin, he was holding a credit card loosely between two fingers.
I recovered quickly, at least, and I doubt that the priest even noticed my little pause as I momentarily stared at him, my mouth dropping slightly open. “Hi there, welcome to Heavenly Grounds,” I said, pulling my jaw back shut. “What can I get you?”
As I asked this question, I felt hope rising. Maybe, finally, someone would order something other than “the special,” and I wouldn’t have to feel the guilt I experienced every time I drowned a delicious coffee’s taste in cream and sugar!
But the man just stood there, blinking up at the board of beverage options mounted on the wall behind me as if it was written in another language. “Um, I’m not really sure, I guess,” he said, his voice soft and lost. “I’m not much of a coffee drinker.”
“Well, what do you like?” I asked, ignoring how the line was beginning to grow longer behind the priest. I finally had another human customer, and I was going to savor it! “Something mild, or stronger? Sweet, or savory? Caffeine or no?”
The poor man looked absolutely overwhelmed by these options. “Erm, never mind,” he decided, backing a half step away from the counter. “Maybe I should just go.”
I could have let him go. There were already several other regulars pushing their way forward, waving the gold coins in their hands as if they were bidding at an auction. I really didn’t have the time to worry after this confused customer.
But there was something odd about the priest’s appearance here.
“Wait!” I called after the man, and saw him pause halfway to the door. “Is something wrong, Father?”
He looked back at me, and I could see that my suspicions were correct. “Come on, I’ll be stuck here waiting until the Apocalypse has passed!” muttered one of my regulars as the priest slowly came back up to the counter, but I ignored him. It only took a quick glance to confirm that he was a low rank, not likely to give me any real trouble. His halo only glowed a dim yellow color.
Back at the counter, the priest sighed, still not quite meeting my eye. “I’m used to hearing other people’s problems, not talking about my own,” the man said, his words halting, “but I just… I feel lost, if you know what I mean. Adrift.”
“A crisis of faith, father?” I asked him, doing my best to speak gently.
A couple of my regulars were still grumbling a little, but most of them had sensed that there might be something interesting developing here, and were instead doing their best to listen in. No one was paying any attention to us, but the crowd was remaining as close as they could manage while staring off into space.
The priest nodded. “Sometimes, my son, it’s hard to remember that there is more than what we see on this earth,” he said, looking down at the counter.
I couldn’t bear it any longer. Tilting my torso slightly to look past the dejected priest, I gazed over to the front corner of my little coffee shop, where a man in a suit sat at a table by himself, calmly sipping at a tiny cup of espresso. “Gabe, can I show him? Please?” I called out.
The man at the table lifted his gaze, looking back at me for a long minute as he held his tiny little porcelain cup an inch from his lips. I shivered at the intensity of that gaze, but didn’t let my eyes drop. I knew that this man had the power to take everything I’d earned away from me, but this seemed like a reasonable request.
Finally, the elegant suited man nodded, and I let out a breath I hadn’t realized that I’d been holding. I turned back to the priest, putting on a grin.
“Father,” I said, “perhaps I can remind you that there’s more out there than most of us know. Have you noticed how busy my cafe is?”
The priest glanced around at the assembled crowd, all of whom appeared incredibly interested in the ceiling, the windows, anything but us. “Yes, it is,” the man said without any real thought behind the words. “Your point?”
I couldn’t keep my smile from growing. “Father, take a good look at my customers.”
For a moment, there was no change in expression on the priest’s face. And then, slowly, his eyes widened, until I feared the spheres would simply roll out of their sockets.
Slowly, like a falling tree, the man toppled over to the floor, never changing in his wide-eyed, shocked expression. The rest of my customers, subterfuge aside, watched him fall with interest. “Impressive how he kept his knees locked the whole way down,” one of them commented to another.
I stepped out from behind the counter. “Let’s help him up into a booth, okay?” I called out, waving over a couple of the nearest customers, who reluctantly pushed their flaming swords out of the way so they could squat down and give me a hand.
I hadn’t expected the man to faint, but I wasn’t that surprised by his reaction.
After all, how often do you look up and realize that you’re in a coffee shop filled with angels?