She sits at the booth, thoughtlessly staring at the wall across from her, examining a menu written on a large chalkboard. When she returns her vacant gaze back to the table in front of her, her coffee is already cold, though she doesn’t seem to notice.
Looking up, towards the entrance of the nearly-empty coffee shop, her forehead furrows slightly. She pauses for a beat, as if waiting for someone or something to walk in and save her from whatever reality her mind was trapped in. When no one shows up, she pulls out her phone with a sigh and proceeds to unlock it.
She absentmindedly types in a six-digit passcode, the birthday she never forgot. The screen unlocks to show a picture of a brown-haired girl with sad eyes that matched, in her early 20s– presumably her. A man around the same age stands next to her in the image, a wide grin plastered across his face as he wraps his arms around her. His hair is dyed jet black and his eyes shine through a pair of transparent contact lenses. There is a silver ribbon tied around both of their wrists, a visible sign of something that she had never explained to anyone else before.
She looks at the photo and her eyes shimmer when she notices the weak smile that she displays in the image– she forces herself to turn the phone off once more.
I remember that day as if it was just yesterday. In reality, it was over three years ago, recently after I had met him in one of the group events. Before I got there, I was scared that it was just going to be like the time before. I would go only to receive the hours needed to graduate from the program, but those hours would not be spent helping others. On the contrary, they would be spent hiding in the nearest bathroom while numbly flipping through social media apps on my old phone. However, when I got to the event, our peer leader walked up to me and, with the most saccharine smile I had seen in a long time, told me that we were required to lock up our phones this time. He further explained by stating that he had noticed people on their phones instead of talking to others. Reluctantly, I had no other choice but to hand my phone over.
I spent the majority of the two hours we were supposed to be there, reading from the pamphlets we were handing out to people, the same pamphlets I had posted all over my bedroom walls at home. However, towards the end of the event a man around my age, with jet black hair, walked up to me with a question about what we specialized in. Not feeling very comfortable or assured about what I was supposed to be telling the man, I quickly mumbled something incoherent about our ‘mission’ and how the program had helped me get past whatever it was that I need to get past.
At the end of my desultory speech, he nodded and smiled and asked if he could have my number in case he had any more questions. For some reason, I gave it to him.
A lingering aroma of coffee permeated throughout the building. It was pungent enough to give anyone who wasn’t a natural coffee drinker a headache. Perhaps that’s why it was always so empty. So empty, in fact, that the whole business seemed to only just barely survive off of her, as she was their only customer other than the occasional lost tourist asking for directions to the nearest Starbucks. Somehow, though, the little family-owned coffee shop survived entirely off of her daily coffee runs, although the hidden back room, kept out of sight with the help of a large door that stated EMPLOYEES ONLY, could also have something to do with it.
Back there it smelled like a stale mixture of cheap whiskey and imported cigars. The cards left haphazardly strewn across the green-felted table gave off the impression that it wasn’t just your average little family-owned coffee shop. But the quaint little Italian grandmother strategically placed behind the pastry counter in the main shop quelled any suspicions from cops camped outside, waiting for the sound of gunshots or a questionable character to emerge.
They tried their best to make the coffee shop appear as inconspicuous as possible and so, the facade of the shop consisted of another small folded blackboard that read Every fifth sandwich free with purchase of largest-sized coffee. Don’t miss out on amazing deal! This week only! It had said that for as long as anyone could remember, though no one had ever taken advantage of that seemingly innocent ‘deal’- not even the young woman who went there daily.
She stared at him from across the table, eyes fixated on his while he looked guilty down at the table. “It took you long enough,” she muttered, barely audibly.
“I know,” he sighed. “I’m sorry, I got caught up with-” he paused, searching for words that wouldn’t imply anything “-work.”
“Work,” she repeated.
“Yeah, my boss dumped a stack of paperwork on my desk just an hour before work ended and told me it was all due tomorrow.”
“And there’s no way you’re going to be able to finish it all?”
“No, I,” he swallowed, “I already did.”
A look of surprised flashed across her face before melting into a look of understanding and annoyance. “Oh?”
“Yeah, I didn’t want to put it off like all the times before.”
“Turning over a new leaf?”
He laughed awkwardly. “I guess you could say that.”
“In more ways than one.”
“How do you mean?”
She flashed him a piercing look without saying anything.
“Listen,” his face flushed.
“No, no, I get it. You were tired of all the meetings and all the things that we were forced to know about each other.”
“Now you know that’s not true.”
“You know more about me than anyone ever has before. I guess one can only stand to know so much before they start to realize it’s all too much to handle,” she shrugged casually, staring down at her coffee.
“That’s not true! You know just as much about me.”
“And yet, I’m still willing to be faithful,” she said curtly.
He turned to face the window, avoiding eye contact with her. “I’m sorry.”
“Please don’t start that again.”