night shift.

There’s been a big change on the night shift.

It’s been a long time since she asked for my coffee club card. It’s at least a couple years now since this young mom with the pink streaked hair stopped asking. I used to know her name when she started working the night shift at the seedy convenience store I visit every morning about 430am for a $1.62 cup and a chat about important things.

This morning was a little different.

I pulled up and walked in at the expected time and performed my cream and coffee ritual. She was making fresh pots when we picked up where we left off at the same time the other morning in the dark when the store is always empty of customers save the same old nameless homeless guy out front whose hand I always shake as I walk in.

“How’s the kids?” I asked, as she scooped grounds and wiped up the creamy drips of someone before me.

Oh they’re good, Josh started basketball and we had another birthday for him on Saturday” she replied as we often opened with updates on her family. She took the night shift so she could be home when they wake up to get them off to school like a ‘regular’ mom. She lives just down the street, an easy walk to and from this job that can’t pay more than $11.25 an hour, which has surely gone up a couple bucks since we first met, if not for her job performance then at least for the change in her countenance.

Over the years, we’ve talked about many things. Important things. She’s read all the stories on my website at least a couple times each and asks me to tell her when I have a new one. Right about now, she’s probably reading this, surprised to be my topic of the day.

Well, it’s because this morning was a little different.

Our daily devotions together often focus on stories about life change, inspiration, humor and paying things forward when we are able.

Over the years, we both have changed, but hers has been nothing but remarkable. The pink streaks are still there, as are the multiple piercings that decorate her face, but she’s not the same angry person I met a couple years ago. I have since wondered if our ten minutes a day over coffee could have helped to change this bitter young single mom into the charming, cheerful young lady she’s since become.

And then she shared with me evidence that our chats had, indeed, been a buoy for a lot longer and for a lot more than I’d realized.

Today’s topic centered on some things I needed to do as soon as I arrived at the office that would determine if a few clients will have food for the coming weekend or not and how, in that sense, my job is very rewarding.

Coffee made and winding up our brief morning ritual, she shared with me something pretty incredible.

“You know, you’ve racked up a lot of free coffee over the past couple years.”

I acknowledged I had but that I’ve never been good at keeping track of it.

Apparently, she had.

“Every time I used to ask for your coffee club card, you always joked and told me to put it in on my open tab . I know you’ll never redeem the perks and the every 6th cup free bonus, so I hope you don’t mind what I’ve done,” she began explaining, asking for my indulgence of a sheepish grin she’d grown since we’d been friends.

“John out there has been my homeless friend for a long time. And since you don’t use your coffee club bonuses, I’ve used them to buy him a small coffee and a donut whenever he shows up. And we talk about important things together before he leaves, just like you and me every morning. I’ve read him some of your stories and heard pretty much everything about his life there is to know.”

I smiled and said I liked her style and think she’s doing a noble thing with the rewards and to keep it up.

She’s a different young woman than I met a couple years ago. She shares better stories of her kids and is quite optimistic about their future as a family. Mostly though, her face glows each morning and she has a smile that behind the piercings shows me how beautiful she’s become inside.

Time was up. I had to get to work to get some people fed for the weekend, and to write this story.

I paid my $1.62 and said thanks until next time.

And as I walked out, I shook the hand of the homeless man as I had so many times before..

But this time, I thanked him and called him by name.

Today was the first time I’ve ever seen his smile.