Beth’s mom dropped us off at the turning circle for cars that weren’t parking. We made our way through the crowds of Saturday morning shoppers to the same coffee shop we’d gone to last time.
I thought it might have brought back some painful memories. It was odd, seeing the spot me and that guy had fought over the knife. But, it wasn’t as bad as I’d thought it would be. I hadn’t had nightmares about that day. I guess I had just superseded it with worse memories.
We sat at the back rather than by the window this time. I chose the seat with my back to the wall so I could keep an eye on the shop without having to twist around. I wanted to be able to concentrate on spending time with Beth rather than worrying what was happening behind me.
I started studying the menu. Trying to remember what I even had last time. It was the cheapest thing on there, unsurprisingly. Here I was with the exact same trouble.
I was broke. My pockets were literally empty, not even loose change. I didn’t want to bring it up with Beth. She would lend me some money, but I had not gotten a chance to pay back any of what she’d lent me last time. I had no idea if I would be able to in the near future.
Plus I’d hate to be the one to bring it up.
The waiter came over. Should I order something without being able to pay for it and hope Beth would offer? I would look like an idiot if she didn’t. What a good friend, assuming your friends will pick up the bill.
Crap he was looking at me.
Looking at me. Not just a quick glance or friendly eye-contact. He wasn’t waiting expectantly for an order, but was full on narrow eyed staring at me. When it got beyond the maybe-I’m-just-being-paranoid point I started thinking about how I would get myself and Beth out of the shop without a fight. And if a fight was going to happen what my nearest non-lethal weapon was. I planned how to incapacitate him as soon as possible. Could I use the table? Should I go for an arm-lock, joint destruction? Or striking… to the temple maybe. Throat, throats always worked – and it often shut them up.
I slowly lowered my hand to my belt and unclipped the strap that held the closest and most convenient lethal weapon to hand. Just in case. I would not be able to reach the one on my ankle sitting down like this…
“Hey, are you that girl?” Where did he know me from? Was he in a gang? It didn’t seem to fit with working in a coffee shop in the nice area of town but you never know.
“Oh hi! You remember us?” Beth twisted to look at him over her shoulder. Being polite he walked around to the side of the table to talk to both of us.
“Yeah! You’re the girl who caught that psycho, the one with the knife.” He was still talking to me. I thought it was rude; Beth was the one that asked him the question.
I wasn’t sure of how to deal with it. Beth, being such a wonderful friend did the talking for me. “Oh, don’t mind her. She’s just shy is all. Yeah, she’s your little local hero.”
“Wow, thanks for coming back! Our sales have been up loads since. Let me get Frank, he’s the manager, he’d love to come say hello.” He skipped off; my mouth was half-open just about to tell him not to bother.
I gave Beth an annoyed look. So much for a quiet drink. “They had an increase in sales? I’d expect they’d lose money, what with people being scared and stuff.”
“I don’t know. It probably just put the name in peoples head. Whenever they thought ‘maybe I fancy a coffee’, they remembered the news and the name of the place popped into their head without the context. It is kind of out of the way.” She smiled. “Besides, people like the whole celebrity thing. This place was on the TV, maybe they got curious and wanted to check it out. It does feel a bit weird for me and we were actually there.”
I didn’t know why there was such a big deal made about it to be honest. There must have been hundreds of holdups like it since. None of those got the same news coverage.
The waiter returned with a short balding man who introduced himself as Frank. The owner. He was very proud to have us come back and we could have whatever we wanted on the house.
I ordered my tea. Beth, a bit mad with power ordered large cheesecake coffee with marshmallows. She assured me it was the most amazing thing ever invented by man. I noticed it was definitely the most expensive thing on the drinks menu. She topped it off with a muffin and some pastry dessert I didn’t quite catch the name of.
“That thing looks like liquid heart disease.” I said when the waiter returned with my order and her monstrosity.
“It looks tasty!” She replied with glee as she attempted to drink – I say drink. She had to use a spoon. It was more of a dessert really. A dessert with a rather forlorn looking straw stuck in it hoping that it would serve a purpose.
I poured some of my tea, enjoying having it with milk. It makes it more fun to make, watching it swirl and cloud the translucent liquid opaque as I poured it in. Unlike Beth, I was not particularly fond of sweet things. No sweeteners for me.
There followed some idle, slightly awkward chat. Beth mentioned, a bit too casually, that if I still wanted to join the Cadets I would have to pass a medical examination and fitness test. The fitness test didn’t bother me. If Beth could do it, even if it was years ago, I probably could. I’d been improving every day since I’d started trying to get better.
That reminded me, I should find time to do some exercise today.
There was one thing that did scared me, a medical exam?
“What do they do in the Medical?” I asked, hoping it would be just a simple physical exam. Maybe they wouldn’t notice the scars.
“Oh, I just had a talk with a doctor, they listen to your chest and stuff. Nothing special.” Good, I can deal with nothing special. “They usually have them on Thursdays, dunno why – will you be able to? Mom said she’d be able to give you a lift.”
That’s nice of her… She took one of the muffins and took a bite out of it.
“You could come over again afterwards if you wanted!” she added, her mouth half full. She only spat out a few crumbs. Graceful. It made me smile.
“I’d like that,” I said. I enjoyed doing things with her. Staying at her house was cool. Beat going home hands down.
* * *
The last of her cheesecake coffee thing involved a lot of slurping. In the end, she resorted to the use of a spoon to tempt down the contents reluctant to leave the bottom of the glass. Gravity helped, she rather inelegantly held it upside down over her mouth. All the while telling me off for laughing at her, because it started her laughing and made her keep missing.
I had the feeling she was trying to make me laugh on purpose. But it didn’t make me feel any less like laughing. In fact, it made me happy that she cared. That she wanted me to be happy, and she was willing to look like a bit of an idiot to do it. We did get some funny looks from the people at the other tables though.
She gave up and put the glass back on the table, sighing after the laughter. Then she leaned forwards and put her hand on top of mine.
It was a casual gesture, friendly.
It didn’t feel causal to me. It felt like I’d just been electrocuted, at least – my heart skipped a beat. I got goose bumps on my arms. That was normal right? It always happened with me. I just wasn’t used to… touching.
Other people were new to me. This whole social thing. I bet she did that with all her friends.
It still felt different. I felt panic, but I didn’t know why. I gave the room a quick assessment. No one looked suspicious, though the hair on the back of my neck was standing on end. My other hand, under the table drifted towards my belt in what was quickly becoming an automatic response to me feeling threatened.
I must just be paranoid.
“Are you ok?” My attention snapped back to Beth. She’d taken her hand away. “You look kind of worried or something?”
“Uh, I’m fine,” I said. I was fine.
“Hmm, do you want to go? Hey we could go shopping.”
Shopping? Really? “Like, to buy things?” I said, and then felt a little stupid.
“Well, you don’t have to buy things you know. You can just look. I don’t usually. It’s fun,” she said.
“Fun?” How could shopping be fun? Certainly not in a mall anyway, from what I had seen they only seemed to sell clothes. Weapons, now that is something you can shop for.
I go out and beat up drug dealers; I can’t just go shopping.
“Come on, you’ll see.” She stood and reached out for my hand again, this time pulling up and leading me out of the shop. The guy who’d served us, lounging behind the counter waiting for customers, got a flash of her smile and a wave. “Thanks for the coffee!”
He returned both as she dragged me to whatever this shopping involved.