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  • Michelle Halliwell

Chapter 10

The coffee shop is as dim as a bat cave. An old black cash register dominates the glass case filled with pastries. A short woman lurks behind the counter, seeming to do something unspeakable with a tall stainless steel cup.


“What would you like?” she asks.


“Hazelnut latte and a cinnamon roll,” I say.


“Excellent choices. You’ve been here before, I take it,” he says.


I shake my head. “Excuse me,” I say then escape to the bathroom.


When I come out, he is already sitting in a miniature armchair. Across from him, there is an empty chair. A cinnamon roll on a plate and a steaming coffee mug sit on a little glass table.

In the darkness, his sickly pale face has dark circles puffing out under his eyes like bruises. The cavities sinking into his cheeks conjure images of famished concentration camp prisoners. I give up on posting pictures on Instagram to make Booker jealous.


We sit with the glass table comfortably between us. His eyes penetrating me, he doesn’t say a word. He doesn’t even blink. I glance at my phone as if I need it to save me. I pick it up. I retreat into the touch screen. Right before I finish ordering an Uber, he says: “What’s your major?”


“I’m in high school.”


“Wonderful. So what do you want to be when you grow up?” he asks.


“An OB-GYN,” I say.


“That’s pretty specific. Why?”


“Challenging, money, status. I like babies.”


“Interesting. Can you please put your phone down while we talk? It distracts me,” he says.


“Fine. What is your major?” I ask.


“Oh I don’t go here.”


“I see. How old are you?”


“Twenty-eight,” he says.


“Oh that’s interesting,” I say.


“Does my age bother you?”


“No, no. Not at all,” I say, picking up my phone.


“It’s okay. Just one friend hanging out with another. I bet if you order your Uber now, the driver will be here by the time we finish our coffee,” he says.


I sip my coffee. “It’s delicious. The hazelnut goes perfectly with the cinnamon roll.”


“Nice cross around your neck. Are you religious?” he asks.


“Catholic. What about you?”


“No. I think religion is stupid. There’s no invisible sky daddy watching you from the clouds. And you and I, we’re not special beings. Our great purpose on this Earth is to pass on our genetics. We piss and defecate just like all the other primates,” he says.


He studies my reaction with a grin.


“Don’t like the truth?” he asks.


“I. I’d like you to leave me alone,” I say.


“Whoa. Sorry. Didn’t mean for you to get all offended. If you’re planning to go to college though, you better learn how to tolerate alternative perspectives, but if you’re not intellectually ready for a debate, then,” he says.


“There is a God, so you’re wrong,” I say.


“I say maybe, but where’s your proof? I don’t see any more evidence for God than I see unicorn tracks in the mud,” he says.


“The grace of God is not in what you see out in the world, it is in that power which allows you to see in the first place,” I say.


“Bravo. A girl was totally shaped by her upbringing.” he says, clapping. “Impressive statement, but it doesn’t mean anything.”


My head has gained twenty pounds and my eyes are closing without my permission. I inhale a mouthful of coffee.


“I feel bad for you,” I say.


“Why is that?” he asks.


“When you see a rainbow, all you see is an optical illusion,” I say.


“And what do you see?” he asks.


“The beauty of God’s creation,” I say.


“We have a theologian on our hands,” he says.


“Well now you know. Look, I have to go,” I say.


He smiles and nods.


Yawning, I plant my elbow on the hard table, rest my head on my hand. All the dark shapes in the coffee shop melt together and swirling.


“Darling, are you okay?” he asks.


“Did you, you, you just, call me darling?” I ask.


He looks alarmed. Reaching across the table, his cold hand molesting across my face, he grabs the inside of my wrist.


“I think you might be having a stroke. Your pulse is irregular,” he says.


“Irregular?” I slur. My lips are so heavy. Trying to talk is chewing words. Just want to sleep. Am I dying?


He pulls me up. Forces my arm over his shoulder, and walks; my legs cumbersome, treading through quicksand. I can’t leave with him!


“Where?” I say.


“I’m taking you to the emergency room.”


“Need, call, Mom.”


The cold night air chills my bones but doesn’t wake me up at all. My legs are so tired and heavy is my head. He picks me up. I reach for the rusty fire hydrant but it is shrinking. I am being carried away by him. I am being pulled down by gravity with all of its irresistible force. I open my mouth to scream but can only make a quiet moaning sound. White lines on old pavement fade almost to invisibility. A car door opens. Oh no. Please no. I am dropped on a black leather backseat. A car door shuts. It smells like air freshener.


I grit my teeth and force myself to sit up. Feeling the almost insurmountable weight of each individual finger, I can barely lift them, but I grab the door handle and pull it down. My fingers slip off the smooth plastic. A car door opens nearby.


“Ha. Child locks,” he says.


I fall into the door, smacking my face against the leather upholstery. My head so heavy, heavier, and sleepy.


“Are you kill me?” I ask.


“No. Of course not. Just want to play for awhile.”

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©2019 by Michelle Halliwell