“What can I get you today?” Bobby asked the man in the far left four top. “Just coffee with sugar.” His menu sat untouched in its chrome holder. “Right away, mister.” Bobby’s fake cheerfulness was more fake than cheerful. It was near eleven o’clock. The last hour of a four to midnight was always the weirdest in a diner off a busy road. Eight to four is the normals with the breakfast club seniors providing color commentary. Bobby rarely worked that shift because of school. And midnight to eight was neither mind numbing boredom or nerve wracking drunken shenanigans. “We got troubles Bobby?” Lil asked without looking up. Lil always pronounced Bobby’s name like “Barbie” and this always made him smile. She was old friends of his foster mom and made him think of grandma hugs. “Nay he’s safe as houses Miss Lily. Probably needs caffeine for a long drive. He looks like a Sunday school teacher.” Bobby poured silky brown coffee into a chunky white mug. Lil spared him a look. “One day I’ll tell you a story about a Sunday school teacher that will curl your hair.” Lil returned to her phone. “ here you go sir. The specials are meatloaf with mushroom gravy, Salisbury steak, chicken parm with spaghetti and soup of day is chicken orzo.” Bobby set down the coffee cup. The man was doodling on his paper placemat. He doesn’t bother to make eye contact. “That sounds very special. But no.” Bobby remembered the sugar and turned. The bell of entrance rings. In walked Fiona, Mel, and Zoe. Sugar forgotten, Bobby gaped. Over her shoulder Zoe tossed him lingering look. Bobby stepped towards the trio then turned and hid in the men’s restroom. The sound of raised voices shook him from his stall. In the diner a group of high schoolers were holding court in one of the corner booths. The solo was watching him with intensity. Damn, Bobby thought. Quickly he topped off the solo diner’s coffee and brought the sugar. The diner smiled and looked away. His placemat was a detailed sketch of a sun dappled suburban street. Bobby was captivated.
“I love to draw too.”
“Yeah you do,” the stranger answered. The crowd of kids yahooed. Bobby took their order of seven glasses of water and an order of fries. “Millionaire’s special, Ronald,” Bobby told the short order cook. Lil and Ronald cackled knowingly. “What’s going on?” Bobby asked the three women. “Finally,” Mel huffed. “This place has terrible customer service,” Fiona said. “I hope the pie is better than the waitstaff. “ “You promised you’d be nice,” Zoe pleaded. “Bae I just thought I’d I mean we’d drop by to see you on your—“ “Stop i don’t celebrate and you know why. I don’t know how to be a couple I can barely be me. You said you were cool. You said you understood.” His friend/almost girlfriend hurried out and Bobby caught her arm just outside the diner door. Their fragile love was painted by the diner’s neon light. They argued. Bobby punched the glass. Zoe cried. Her friends came outside and called him names. The three drove out of the parking lot and Bobby called for Zoe. Zoe braked on the shoulder and she kissed him before driving away. Flustered Bobby walked back in. The high schoolers hooted. Lil folded her arms and glared. Ronald shook his head as he scraped the grill.
The solo had left behind his empty cup, a Jackson, and a map of a friendly familiar street that tickled Bobby’s mind. He traced his fingers over the drawing. It was signed happy birthday. A highway of memories, snapshots of Christmases and parties and a mother he could almost remember, all roared passed him. Bobby folded his map and searched the still parking lot.
Dry leaves tickled the side of Paulina’s right cheek. Her mother calls her Lina but she likes it when Daddy called her Yo Pauly in a funny voice. Wishing she was warm on the sofa eating cereal, Paulina is chilly. Wet grass smell with a touch of iron rose around her. Confused Paulina tried to inhale. Theo up the street had puppies and he said she could have one if she wanted and she wanted. She and Daddy had even gone to the store with the pets and stuff but Mom said oh no. Moms always say oh no. So when Paulina saw the pretty yellow dog from her bedroom walking in their yard she said yes. She is moving but not walking. Every thing is jumbled. Paulina’s mouth tasted of peanut butter and slippery salt. She loves peanut butter. Paulina made her new pet peanut butter and banana sandwiches. It was still dark outside with a little pink. Paulina thought, I’m afraid of the dark. Daddy told me there is nothing in the dark that is not in the light and to not be afraid. Paulina remembered being brave with her plate of sandwiches in the woods behind her house. Many eyes shined back at her in the dark between the trees. Weak light stabbed through the leaves overhead. Paulina can see her Tickle Me Elmo plate and the spilt sandwiches. She reaches for the back porch, the still open back door. The kitchen light, still on, grew farther and farther away. Crunch. Low growls greeted her. Howls tussled over and around Paulina. A scream awaken her but only for a minute. The brightening light blinked away. Sleep warm held Paulina tight and safe.
“Don’t be a little chickenshit, Ashton,” Jordie said. “Yeah man grow a pair,” Drew parroted. Drew waggled his eyebrows at Jordie in a way that he hoped she would find adorably sexy. Jordie wrinkled her pert nose. Aston threw a harder than necessary play punch to Drew’s shoulder. “Quit dick eating bro,” Aston said and left the pentagram and opened the door. Kaley with a K and Caeli with a C mockingly booed as Ashton left with one of the five candles. He flipped them all the middle finger as he strutted into the dark hallway. With dove gray walls and fresh vanilla wall to wall carpets, the model home was actually nice. Jordie had stolen the code from her mom a realtor. It was kind of a shame about the red marker five pointed star scrawled across the living room, Kaley thought. When Jordie asked him to sneak into an empty house to play Drew had hoped they would eat edibles and make out. Instead the gang showed up and Jordie was all set to play Telephone Black. It had taken forever to duct tape blankets over the windows on the first floor for complete darkness. The five of them, Jordie, Aston, Drew, Caeli, and Kaley, lit the candles Jordie brought and Caeli with a C stole her grandma’s rotary phone. The phone was heavy and grim with a stiff greasy cord. Aston pretended to pummel Kaley with a K with it and squeeze her boobs. His girlfriend Caeli pretended not to notice. Drew refused to touch it. With only four candles remaining the pitch black room in the pitch black house at midnight was working on Drew’s nerves. “Shouldn’t he be back by now,” Drew said watching Jordie watching the battered old phone. The numbers were yellowed and some half rubbed away. Drew wondered how Caeli’s Grammy made calls. “Who?” Kaley and Caeli asked. Drew pulled his eyes from the phone. “Aston,” he said. Both girls blinked back at him questioningly. “You play too much,” Caeli with a C said laying her tiny hand on his thigh. Drew Was taken aback. Then he laughed and Caeli laughed because Drew was kinda of cute even if he liked Jordie more than he liked her. Kaley laughed because it felt weird not to. “Shut up. You will disturb the spirits.” Jordie’s voice was so low the hairs stood up on the back of all their necks. “Telephone Black, Answer Me,” the four chanted. Jordie looked at Caeli with a C. The girl got up and reached for me of the four remaining candles. “Can Drew come with me?” Caeli asked. Her smile almost hid her nervousness. “That’s not how it works. You go alone into a dark room and blow out your candle and when you come back the phone rings and tells you how you will die or what’s in your future.” Jordie’s voice grew soft and sweet. I mean if you don’t want to know if you will marry some hot or rich.” “Or rich and hot,” Kaley said. Giggling to lighten the mood. Caeli hurried from the room. Drew watched the door. He turned to face the two girls. Kaley was looking at her nails, bored. Jordie stared into the phone like it was a campfire. He swiveled from the door to the girls to the door. “She probably making up with her boyfriend,” Drew said in a small voice. Kaley frowned up at him and then returned to the wonders of her manicure. Jordie chanted. With a huff Kaley grabbed one of the remaining three candles. “Let’ finish the ritual and get tacos,” Kaley called out merrily and headed out. “Wait, wait. Stop something’s wrong. It’s like a curse or a dream,” Drew called out. “You play too much,” Kaley said over her shoulder as she slammed the door stepping into the darkness. Drew felt as if his brain wasn’t connected to his feet. Stumbling over his limbs, Drew raced after his friend. The door closed behind him was a satisfied slam. A candle blew out.
Jordie sat alone in the model home, it was a little nugget of generic crap. The only cool thing was the pentagram, she thought. She lit a joint off the candle she bought from home. She wished she had dope friends at school down for anything. This could be a mad fire seance or some game with a Ouija board or something. Jordie took a long drag. Suddenly out of the dark a phone rang.
Click, clack. Leaving Carmella’s in her wake, Dru clicked home to her fifth floor walk up on her weary heels. The night sky had begun to bleed dawn. This late in the evening turning to early morning meant the city was empty as a sarcophagus. She wished she had eaten. Dru walked more quickly. Ahmar is such a tool, she thought her steps matching her pulsating anger. Her boss had kept her in the nightclub’s back office for hours after closing going over the books. She was a waitress, bar back, and now the accountant. Whoever bailed on Ahmar trust Druscila to plug the hole. This is not the life I signed up for, she thought, the glamorous bohemian existence I dreamt. Halfway home and fully furious, Druscila eyed the night sky and grew despondent. Wish not to live long as to live well, the quote floated down from the rafters of memory. Her memories spurted and Dru was a girl at her mother’s side tatting half listening to her mum’s wisdoms. Dru slowed, fingering her mind’s eye picture like a fine lace. That’s when she heard it. The scape of a soft soled shoe on pavement. Her hearing sharpened. Soft steps, a man’s steps, mirrored hers. Dru made a series of quick turns leading back to Carmilla’s. She could hear his breathing, tell from his stride he carried some heavy in his left pocket. Dru had been tracked before. Walking alone from work made her look like an easy target. But she knew to never lead a stranger back to where one sleeps, to never be vulnerable. This little scoundrel is in for a surprise, she thought chuckling. As her predator heart began to thump faster, Druscila felt electric excitement warm her cold skin. She remembered what she had gained as well as lost. Laughing out loud her canines switchblade sharp, Druscila walked confidently up a dark alley. The stranger ran towards her back. Without turning Dru listened to the rustle of denim as the stranger pulled a heavy stone from his pocket. She could hear the stranger’s heart, hear the blood sloshing through his arteries. This alley was a dead end in more ways than one. At least she would get that quick snack.
“Enter.” Janx’ voice was terse as usual. Instantly I was a little boy asking for a second cookie instead of a grown man, a crown prince, a bridegroom. Even though our union was in name only, a year long symbolic marrying of our clans, I still felt I deserved more. More what I had no idea? Steaming, I charged into my wife’s chamber. She was veiled of course. Her graceful back in a peasant shift faced me. Janx didn’t bother to look up. “What is it?” She asked while writing in a ledger. I banged my fist on her secretary desk. “My subjects kneel when I enter a room,” I bellowed. “Good thing I am not your subject.” Janx turned and folded her arms. In the four moons we have shared I’ve never seen her face but I feel she is always mocking me. Or ignoring me. “I am accustomed to being treated with respect in my—“ “Yes yes and I’m accustomed to having happy gentlemen callers in my bedroom. Your Grace we can play witty repertoire all night but I’m tired and you’re outmatched. Again what is it?” I grabbed her shoulders lifting my wife from her chair. “Wait is this the part where we recognize our animosity is really passion and we fall into each other’s arms?” Janx chuckled. I flung her back down and headed to the door. “Camryn stop.” I continued marching needing to leave our royal chambers, needing the sea to clear my spirit. “Please.” Her voice snagged me at the final door. “I’m not good with people. I get tired and—“ “Become a right sea hag.” Janx laughed and snorted. “I would have said irritated but you’re closer. Why are you so angry with me? Usually only my closest friends get this cross with me.” I sighed, a jangle of emotions ensnared me. Janx has spoken to the weavers, the farmers, and all of the guilds. She has joined the council of elders and meets regularly in the marketplace. And each night we eat dinner in silence. “ I see.” Her voice was tinged with a pity that stung. I realized I said my thoughts out loud. I ran my fingers through my hair. Suddenly I felt naked. She doesn’t ask about me because there is nothing to ask. I turned back to the door. “Do your people tell stories by the fireside?” I asked spinning to face her again. Janx tilted her covered face. “Yes the Lynnx tell stories mostly during the high holidays.” “Do you know the story of the Door in the Mountains?” Slowly Janx shook her head. “You you know of the man in the wood who guards the gateway and the questions that have to be answered? Do you know what lays on the other side?” My wife looked at me for the first time. I turned and left our bedroom for the comfort of the sea.
I said, “I love you.” I said it with the undulation of my first and seventh tentacles and my steady gaze but the tiny biped understood. I could tell because it loves me back and hearts joined speak a common language. I’ve never been in love not since my mother. Mating is a thing apart and I just try to get away before the female eats me. No this is a different love. I had been so desperate when I was captured. Squished in a jar for transport, incarcerated in a barren tank for isolation, I turned ashen from grief. In the large tank I was frantic I could smell the ocean so close but when I pried open the lid, swirled down the irrigation pipe, inched across the itchy tiles, my door was shut against me. I squeezed that door. I squeezed myself black with mottled violet streaks. That was the first day I saw it peeking from behind the larger two legger who rubs headache inducing smells on the floors. The big one bought my captors and returned to my glass nightmare. As they looked fate me I was so exhausted I could only remember its smell, the smell of salt from its tears. The little biped was my ocean of sadness. It would visit every night after my failed escape. First I shot ink at it because I was pissy about my capture. It just stared mouth open. Creepy. Then I camouflaged myself against the plastic coral and stared back intimidatingly. I did the many nights. It would look for me each night, searching hungrily, and then sit quietly. Also creepy. Then I didn’t see it for a few days. I realized I missed my creepy friend, my little ocean. Finally one night I was bouncing a mollusk against the tank filter when it appeared. I rushed to the glass. It showed me me on white made from black lines. I liked this magic. It made more of me in black lines. I was swimming in the ocean of its magic. I moved my body to match its lines of me. We delighted in each other. I waited for its joy during the lonely nights. I showed my little two legs all my colors. Doing acrobatics for its pleasure. I could feel its happiness and I felt alive. It would sing to me. “you are very beautiful, you are so smart as smart as dog my book says, are you happy here in this box after living in the whole ocean.” I didn’t know this sea song it was frankly rather odd, but I knew it was making the sounds for me. I felt seen. One night I was tapping my favorite shells against the glass and contemplating chewing one of my arms off when it came with a shiny twig. It used the stick to open my door to the sea, a hole in the floor, a tunnel to freedom. I cherry reddened in excitement rainbowing all my appreciation. Quick as a flash I cracked the seal with a scallop shell. Lifting with four and five, I declared my love. “Goodbye goodbye my friend. Be safe and go home. I will miss you,” it sang to me. My biped was happy and sad and I was sad and happy. The hole was a tight fit but the ocean called to me giving me the strength to push on. And now I’m swimming home as fast as I can but I will always be with my love, my little ocean. It loved me back, I know it.
“And that’s not even the worst thing she even did.” Magdalena exhaled. She blinked hard not to cry. Randy looked up, down, and everywhere except at Magdalena’s face. She had just told him about her mother, who disappeared for two weeks then returned home with a fake kidnapping story. She talked about the little girl fear and confusion of her mother’s loss; and the confusion and anger of her mom’s return. She talked about the notoriety and the trial and the whispers that followed her even after her moths was gone for good. “And that’s why I never talk about myself and my past. I grew up the town freak. I’m okay with my crazy but I hate that pitying look.” They sat in the quiet of a small stream on an arch of flat stones. With a wry smile Randy turned and studied her half face. “What are you thinking?” Magdalena asked. She could feel the weight of his eyes but she didn’t way to see his look. “I was just thinking this is the best first date I’ve ever been on.” Magdalena’s laughter skipped over the surface of the water. Randy scouted closer to her on the rock bridge. “Look your childhood was a train wreck and I’m a socially awkward dungeons and dragons loving anxiety laden introvert. We met at a coffeehouse ‘cause my pitiful ass was conned by my make believe girlfriend. You could tell me your great uncle was the Alabama leprechaun and I’d still think you were the bee’s knees.” They exploded into laughter and Magdalena’s shoulder brushed his shoulder. Slender grasses along the crick’s edge tousled by the wind joined in the laughter. The meadow stretched out before them. Magdalena studied him under her lashes. Randy scooted until their hands nearly touched. In the quiet of Magdalena’s favorite place, they talked. “Bee’s knees, seriously my guy.”
The sun poured into the bow window, splashing across the kitchen table, dripping golden light towards the sink. Catherine was rinsing a jadite mixing bowl. Humming to herself, she turned the bowl delighting in its rightness. Nic sat at the kitchen table. A wide ruled notebook lay in front of her and a thick pencil was held tight in her fist. Nic was writing furiously. Catherine assumed it was more scribbles and stick figures. Her little girl wasn’t the best students. Neither of her girls were going to set the world on fire n the brains department, but Chrissy was pretty in her way and Nicole was a title sweetheart. Last Sunday on the way home from church Nic announced she was going to be an author. Chrissy snorted but Catherine pretended to believe. Nic made a show of carrying an old notebook around and staring with a serious adorable expression. Chrissy teased her, snatching the book and tossing it to one of her trashy friends. Nic had cried ad Catherine and Chrissy screamed horrible names at each other. Chrissy was out with the boyfriend. Again. The home was peaceful, warm, and smelt of baking cookies. Nic had her tongue poking out, her brow furrowed in concentration. She wrote and wrote. Catherine wished it could always be like this. She rubbed her bowl. Its smoothness soothed her washing away the thoughts of her fights and her difficult daughter. After all I’ve done for you, she thought. She turned to her good girl. “How’s it going sugar plum?” “I’m writing.”
Catherine focused back on the sink. “Mommy, it’s a scary story.” “Really.” Catherine chuckled. “Are there fighting robots on a space station or a giant lizard in a jungle?” “No a regular big house with cars and tvs. But the nice house has a queen who is really a witch. She gets a prince to kill the king and the prince does it because he loves her and he thinks she love him but she really loves this thing called insurance. The prince and the queen fight and stuff and the queen witch poisons the prince for his insurance. And now the evil queen wants to insurance the princess.” The sun washed kitchen is drenched in cold air. Her breath , an icy cloud, Catherine has turned to glass, afraid to move because she would shatter. “Mommy, how do spell anti-free,” Nic said, “no wait the prince said the witch’s potion was antifreeze. ANTIFREEZE. He’s so smart. He’s my friend and he promises to watch over his princesses. Isn’t that nice?”
The weather was just perfect. My oar chipped the river. The river greeted me. The sun winked over the tree line. My shoulders, my arms, I moved in smooth equal strokes. My life fell away as I paddled from my troubles. Faster and faster I went. This morning I was stiff. I pulled off the covers and my whole body protested the early morning. I wanted to curl into Tracy’s back. I wanted to sleep until Crystal and little Tommy woke up. I wanted to make monster pancakes. I wanted to see Tracy smile at me over her coffee. Things have been so much easier lately. But Tracy wasn’t asleep. Her body was hard, each muscle tense. I went to hug her and I froze thinking of what I could’ve done or said. Then she grew liquid in my arms. Snuggling in my arms, Tracy kissed me. “Hey aren’t you missing prime canoeing time?” Little kisses trailed down my neck. “I thought about canc—“ Her body stiffened again. “But you said you really wanted to go.” “Yeah but I can go to the river next weekend. Corey is available next week any ways. It’s our anniversary baby and we could get started earl—“ Suddenly my wife sat up and turned away. She exhaled harshly. Stung, I tried to read her back fishing for the right words. “Baby I don’t understand.” Careful not to touch her I got closer. Our bed is a tightrope. To my surprise Tracy leaned her back into my chest. She turned and kissed me hard. Hungrily, She pressed me back into the mattress. “Ryan, honey, I want you to go so you can come back sooner. You take such good of us, of me. I want you to have your time.” Her hands roamed under my pajamas. I held her face, my high school sweetheart, my first love.
On the river I churned. My muscles warm. Faster and faster I fly over the water steaming towards what. Happiness? I’m speeding away from what? Being a failure. I shook my head. The sun stood proud over the tree line. I’d calculated how far to go up river to get back for lunch with the family. Someone is on the shore near my point of no return. It’s Corey I think. He looked dead eyed. I yelled hello. He’s looking at me but not. Corey and I go back to pre-K. We know each like brothers. He introduced me to Trace for god’s sake and we’ve been through thick and thin and I’ve never seen him look like this. Shit I thought the kids. Someone is hurt. I paddled towards him. Cell service is spotty on the river. No one is ever really up here this early. Corey must’ve been looking for me. He’s a good friend. He’s family. “Hey my man what’s going on? What is it?” I was frantic. I saw the river rock in his hand. I saw my best friend’s arm raise and swing down hard. I grabbed, I fought, I think. I’m not sure. I saw my friend, my wife, my babies. I’m going faster and faster up the river. A Darkness leaked into the corners of my eyes. My wife. My best friend. Black waves rushed across my eyes. “Mom?”
In the street in front to the coffeehouse , people walked small excited dogs. Bent over overpriced coffees and underwhelming brownies, friends gathered at tables in groups of two and three. Everyone was pretending the weather was nicer than it because it had been nicer than it had been in a long time. Randy didn’t sit outside under the colorful awning and the threatening clouds, he sat in the coffeehouse. Its brick red textured walls and macramé wall hangings made him nervous. Was this place supposed to be Mediterranean or boho farmhouse? And why was everything boho farmhouse all of a sudden? The cashier sprayed down the counter. Randy grimaced down at his large cup of inky coffee. “Is it okay?” The cashier asked. She had straight dark brown hair with half moon eyes over full cheeks. Freckles, adorable freckles, lay across the tops of her cheeks and bridged her nose. Randy had memorized each one. He looked up at the music in her voice and smiled inanely. She returned his smile as if he was an addlepated urchin. Recognizing his own idiocy Randy replied, “no it’s delish.” Why did I use the word delish. I hate delish, he thought. He took a hearty swig and choked. Randy erupted into a series of throat wrenching spasms. The cashier hurried around the counter with a stack of napkins and poured him a cup of water from the dispenser. Another worker, an older man with a furious beard, came from the back and stared. The cashier handed him the water and napkins then backed away. She blushed up to her hairline. Her hair was in a careless bun with loose strands artfully spilling to one side. “I love you, I mean I thank you, I mean thank you.” Randy launched into another bout of coughing. A bespectacled guy with an ironic tee came in. “Hey Graham, I thought I would miss you guys. You got any of that granola left? Saturdays are a madhouse.” “Yeah, I was thinking where’s Nate, a whole morning and no Nate,” Graham said. Randy gathered his battered sketchbook and other belongings and retreated under the cover of small talk. Stupid, stupid, Randy thought. Heading into the street of dogs and friends and hints of rain, Randy stomped to his bicycle. He was loading his backpack when a bucket of half melted ice splashed beside him. “Sorry, man,” the cashier said. “No big deal,” Randy mumbled not daring to look at her lovely angel face again. He straddled his bike and hoped a convenient chasm would swallow him whole. “Dude, your backpack.” She stood bucket on hip watching him. Randy reached for his bag. “So why does a dude bike out of his way to a coffeehouse to drink coffee all afternoon when he doesn’t drink coffee? It sounds like a hell of a story.” Randy blinked. The cashier met his eyes. She wasn’t being kind just curious. That made talking easier. “It’s kind of a long story, long, humiliating, and a little funny.” The cashier’s expression sharpen. She raised an eyebrow. “Promising.” “It started with a woman called Cassandra. Really it started with a custom Lord of the Rings Nerf bow. I have a 3D printer and I carve and I sculpt. I run an Etsy store and I was contacted by this girl Cassandra, a potential customer, about a bespoke bow. She liked my stuff. We were into the same things. I really opened up about myself and I’m not that guy so. She got—and anyway we texted and texted. Her words were the first thing I read in the morning and the last thing before I fell asleep at night. I wanted….” Randy’s voice flowed and then ebbed. “You wanted what everyone wants someone who gets you,” the cashier said. She flipped over the bucket and sat on it. “Good beginning, continue.” She cocked her head to the side like an attentive cat. “But Cassandra never had time to talk or FaceTime. We made dates to hang but she never showed. This went on for months.” “Uh, oh, your Spidey sense must’ve been tingling.” The cashier covered her mouth with her delicate hands. Randy scrubbed at his neck remembering his own dumbassery. “I pushed down my doubts because she was so cool and nice and funny.” The cashier added,” and hot, right. Hot people get away with shenanigans.” Randy blushed purple in response. “Anyway, long short stupid I shipped the custom order and some other things I’ve made and the credit card came up stolen. The girl gave me the run around for a while. Turns out Cassandra was some old reprobate in Des Moines and I had to wrangle with Visa to recoup some of my losses. I had to prove I was duped. I searched and searched. The profile was faked with someone else’s photo and info.” Randy paused and searched the ground for that people eating chasm again. A hostile bishon frise yipped at him. “And. What’s the denouement? God I’ve always wanted to legitimately use that word.” “Tracked down Cassandra and I found the real woman in the photo lived in the next town over and worked in this coffee shop. I wanted to see the girl I fell in love with IRL.” This time the cashier blinked. “Hey Maggie, where’d you go!” A voice shouted from inside. The cashier rolled her eyes but stood up from the bucket. “The name’s Magdalena, you jack wagon.” “But I never met the girl I loved at the coffeehouse because that woman was only in my head. So cue the Incredible Hulk closing music and scene.” Randy adjusted his backpack and prepared to ride off. He had all emotions, embarrassed, bashful, sad, and happy. They rumbled in his stomach making him uneasy or that could have been the three black coffees. “Thanks for listening. It was cathartic and a little funny. Buh bye.” “Did you at least learn some heartwarming shit about yourself like your heart is now open to love or it’s only because you’re honest you couldn’t see the lie in other people?” The cashier and Randy shared a snort. They stared at each other after the laughter. The weather was more than hinting of rain. Graham poked his head out the door. “This guy bothering you?” “That’s my cue, thanks uh Magdalena. I’m Randy.” Randy pedaled away. “Come back some time Randy we have other things besides coffee!” Magdalena shouted as he began to turn the corner. Smiling, he wobbled on his bike and rode away.