“They’re disgusting,” I heard the woman at the next table say. “They’re all perverts.”
“Ssshhh. People can hear you, Barbara,” another female scolded.
Who are they talking about? I wondered. But I knew. I’d heard those words before. They were specific. Hoping I was wrong, I turned my backpack away from their table to hide the rainbow ribbon hanging from a zipper. I couldn’t see the women as I had my back to them, so I peered at the coffee house’s windows, hoping for a reflection of their faces. There was none. I looked around that part of the room I could see. No one was eyeing Barbara and her friend or mirroring my curiosity. No one seemed aware of the judgmental conversation behind me. The other customers, cocooned in their own worlds, appeared preoccupied with laptops, earbuds, and romance novels.
“Well, it’s the truth, LeeAnne. Horrible people, all of them, forcing us to accept their lifestyle and their agenda.”
“Can you speak quieter, Barbara? You don’t know who is nearby. I don’t want a confrontation. For all we know that barista can hear you. We could get kicked out of here.”
“For what, LeeAnne? For telling the truth?”
“For causing a disturbance.”
A chair creaked as if its occupant were turning. A moment for observation passed. “Oh, lord,” Barbara gasped. “He definitely is one.”
An audible sigh wafted in my direction. “Why would you say that, Barb? He seemed perfectly normal when he took our order.”
“The way he said, ‘Have a nice day.’ You didn’t hear that? Do you not have ears and eyes?”
“Gosh almighty, Barb, you’re getting all worked up over nothing. He’s just a baris . . . oh, now that I look at him, I see what you mean. He looks just like they do.”
“And he was too polite,” Barbara added.
“Yes. You’re right. And look at how this place is decorated. I’ll bet he did that. All those glittery stars. And those iridescent hoops.”
“And those translucent—What are those things?—rays of li—”
“Yeah. Coming from the ceiling,” LeeAnne interrupted. “All so pretty. And so perverted.”
“We can never tell our husbands we came in here.”
“No. Never.” LeeAnne’s eyes bugged. “You know how Richard feels about them. Doesn’t want to hear them. Doesn’t want to see them.”
“Kyle’s even worse, Barb. Sometimes I think he had an experience with one when he was younger. You know, with their constant recruiting young people.”
That revelation triggered a momentary silence. I could practically hear Barbara wondering, “You think Kyle’s a closet—” A dropped spoon rattled on the floor aborting my thought. Distracted, I scanned the room again, searching for the noise’s source. The other customers continued their self-involved activities, unaware of the noise or the women’s heated conversation. I shook my head. Someone, I thought, should say something to those rude bigoted ladies. I swallowed. Maybe it’s up to me. Maybe I should…
“I’m embarrassed we came in here. No. Not embarrassed. Angry.”
“Yes, LeeAnne. Angry that places like this even exist, that people like him are allowed to…”
“Well, this is the last time we stop in here for coffee. We don’t need to support people like that.”
“No. We do not,” Barbara agreed. “Finish your latte so we can get out of this awful place. Besides, we’re supposed to be at the homeless shelter in ten minutes.” Her tone changed. “I’m so proud of our work there, spreading our message of love and acceptance.”
“Yes. Me, too.”
I started to turn to look at them, perhaps confront them, but as I did, I heard their chairs screech on the wooden floor and squeak with relief as the women stood. I returned to my face-forward position.
“Don’t forget your bag, Barb,” LeeAnne said, as she stepped away from their table. “They’re gonna appreciate the socks and soap.” I peeked toward the door to catch a glimpse of the women. But they did not appear. Instead, I heard their voices along the back wall, by the order counter.
“Oh, my gosh, Barb. Look. He’s wearing a crucifix. Why didn’t I see that before?”
“I knew it,” Barbara spewed with venom.” He’s a damn Christian.”
“Because,” the handsome young man answered LeeAnne’s question, “I just unbuttoned my top button. That’s why you didn’t see it. It’s really hot in here today.”
“He’s a damn Christian. You a Christian?” LeeAnne charged.
“Yes, of course,” the barista answered with pride. “I believe Jesus Christ is our savior. And my name is Christian.”
“You’re sick, Christian,” Barbara said. “Disgusting. Flaunting your chosen lifestyle.”
LeeAnne jumped in. “I’m surprised your manager hasn’t told you to hide that fucking cross. You know you offend a whole lot of people and that could hurt business.”
“Oh, damn,” Barbara said. “Look at that. That tattoo on his forearm.”
“What’s it say? I can’t read it. It’s upside-down.”
Christian apparently held up his forearm so LeeAnne could read the inscription. “Oh, WWJD,” she said. “Well, I’ll tell you what Jesus would do; he’d puke. Making your private business public. Acting all holier-than-thou.”
I turned to study the women. But they had their backs to me.
“Ma’am, this is the Light Brew Coffee House. What did you think the ‘Light’ represents?” Christian smiled a sugary smile and motioned to the decor. “The stars, the shimmering halos, the shafts of light. They’re all about God’s love.”
“You’re repulsive, disgusting,” Barbara spat. They pivoted and stepped toward the door and I, at last, could see their faces. More important, though, I saw the heart-shaped rainbow buttons on their coats. “Ally” was superimposed on them. “C’mon, LeeAnne, we need to get to the LGBTQI Teen Homeless Shelter to spread our support and unconditional love.”