He turned his eyes to the figure that entered the mostly empty café, his eyes dimming as he caught sight of the disgruntled expression on her face. Her dark hair was perfectly sleeked back, coiled in a tight knot at the top of her head as she slid into the seat in front of him. “Well … I’m here … what d’you want?” she snapped out, her voice just above a hiss as Kevin sighed. “You haven’t been answering any of my calls …” he began, his voice fading into nothing as the woman rolled her eyes.
“We’re not all as free as you are, Kevin,” she said, her voice tart as a waiter approached their table. “We’re good,” she said, her eyes never leaving Kevin’s lighter ones as she snarled the words out to the teenager who simply nodded shakily, scampering away from her. “I make time for things like this, Kate,” he said, his voice softening as he tried to rip through the tension that swathed their table. “Then maybe you’re making too much time,” she snorted out, scoffing at his words.
Kevin simply looked at the red table, tapping his fingers on the old, worn wood before the woman in front of him opened her mouth again. “Kate … what’s wrong … you’ve never been like this,” Kevin’s voice was soft as he spoke, trying, and failing, to look the brunette in the eye. “It’s nothing,” her voice was sickly sweet as she gave Kevin a saccharine smile. “I’ve got to go, and it’s alright, I’ll get a cab,” she rose daintily from the table, giving Kevin one last glance before flouncing to the door.
Kevin simply stared as she left, shooting one last glance as she walked out of the café before flicking his finger to the teenager she’d scared off earlier. “One coffee please; black,” he said sharply before slumping down into the seat, his breath leaving him in a huff. The girl reappeared with a jug of black coffee and a mug, her green eyes shining with understanding as she poured him some, the liquid steaming as Kevin took a sip, ignoring the scalding sensation that dribbled down his oesophagus and into the pit of his stomach.
“You look like you could use this,” a friendly voice chirped as the girl walked away from him, before returning with a slice of creamy cake topped with a thin layer of mauve jam. “Cheesecake?” Kevin stared suspiciously at her, before taking the silver fork she offered him. “The jam’s not too sweet, if you’re overly worried,” she said, her voice wistful as she eyed him. Kevin sliced the tip of the triangle off, his blue eyes fixed on the girl as he put it into his mouth, the cake turning to mush on his tongue, a tart, sharp taste filling his mouth as he swallowed it.
“Not bad,” he amended, slicing into the cake again. “Why’re you still here?” he asked, watching as the girl flicked her eyes to the clock for the third time. “I’ve still got to close the café, right?” she said, the cheeky smile on her lips telling Kevin that she had held back a witty retort on the tip of her tongue. “Because everyone wants to steal coffee beans,” Kevin smirked, leaning back slightly as the girl slid into the previously un-occupied seat in front of him.
“She didn’t get a cab, you know,” the girl said suddenly, her green eyes glimmering sympathetically as she watched Kevin freeze. “I know,” was all the man replied, his voice softer than she’d ever heard it. The silence wasn’t uncomfortable, Kevin noted as the girl’s attention was drawn to the way the clock ticked, the longer needle slowly but surely approaching the large ‘6’.
“Well, it’s time to close for the day, mister,” Jess said, finally speaking when the clock read twelve-eighteen. “Kevin,” the man replied as he pushed his dark hair out of his eyes. “Sorry?” she stared blankly at him, not understanding until he smirked again. “It’s Kevin … not ‘mister’,” he shot her a small smile before leaving, the bell above the door tinkling gently before silence reigned the small store.
Jess shook her head as she wiped the table, the damp cloth erasing any sign of the mug she’d given Kevin without a coaster. “Relationships,” she snorted softly, still shaking her head as she collected the money he’d pushed into the pocket beside the receipt.
The very next day, Jess saw the same man, Kevin, as he’d introduced himself the day before, sitting at one of her tables, eyes scanning through the paper in his hands. He chuckled to himself as he read through the articles, muffling the sound behind two fingers before looking up when Jess reached his table. “Coffee, black,” he said, eyes dark and unreadable despite the warm smile he offered her when she looked up. She nodded slowly, penning the words neatly onto the pad before tucking both the pen and the notebook into the pocket on her apron. A few minutes later, she returned with a pristine mug, pouring the coffee into it carefully before leaving wordlessly.
From afar, Jess watched as the man read through the paper, sipping the coffee before draining the mug and looking up, putting the paper down before raising two fingers into the air. Rolling her eyes, she fixed a smile on her face before sidling through the closely-packed tables to hand the man his bill.
Kevin watched her hardly react to the more than generous tip he’d added on to the rest of the bill, frowning internally as she dipped her head respectfully, her chirpy voice wishing him a good day before she scooted back to the cash register. He hung around just long enough to watch her put the tip into the register, her small fingers pushing the wad of notes meticulously into their designated boxes before she shut the register, locking it smoothly before tucking the key safely into the pocket of her jeans.
For the next three months, their routine became habitual. Kevin would always sit at one of her tables, order his coffee black, and read the paper before leaving. And as always, Jess would put the tips he gave her into the register, not even glancing once at the money as she slid it in. “What else do you do?” Kevin asked her one day as she approached him with the bill. “Me? I slice cake and pack sandwiches too, you know,” Jess retorted, the smile on her lips telling him that she was joking.
Kevin rolled his eyes, turning back to his empty coffee mug before the girl mumbled her answer through heavy lips.
“I sing evenings on the weekends at the bar down the street,” she said quietly, flushing when Kevin turned a shocked gaze to her. “What?” she asked defensively. “I never pegged you for a singer,” he chuckled, shrugging as he slid a crisp note into the envelope before pushing into Jess’s hands. “I’ll see you tomorrow,” he said softly, a chuckle exiting his lips as he rose, towering over Jess before leaving the café.
“Kevin, must we really have coffee? I’m baking here!” the man groaned as Kevin dragged him through the door, a disgruntled expression on his lips as he pushed the man into a seat against the window. “Shut up, John,” Kevin groaned, pressing the heels of his palms into his eyes before quickly snapping his eyes open as a familiar, yet slightly different voice chimed a soft greeting.
There were shadows under her eyes that made her look as if she hadn’t slept at all, the hint of a bruise peeking out from under the collar of her shirt and her lower lip brutally abused by her teeth as she shakily penned down the ‘regular’ before turning to John. Her knees were shaking, Kevin realised as he watched her take John’s order. Her normally warm smile was weak and frightened as she scampered away from their table, her breaths shallow and panicked before she returned a few minutes later, the black coffee already poured into a mug as she placed the latte in front of John before lifting the white mug off the tray to put it in front of Kevin.
He simply watched, her hand trembling, the coffee sloshing around the rim, staining the white ceramic a pale brown before she apologised quietly, her voice just as shaky as her hand, and left. “I thought you said there was a really cute waitress here,” John said, taking a gulp of the latte as he caught sight of a slim blond taking the orders from the other side of the café. “That was her …” Kevin was lost for words.
How many months had they been seeing each other? He’d seen this girl happy, furious, narcissistic to the point of rudeness, but never this. She’d never been frightened of approaching him. Her eyes had always been light and cheerful when she brought him the coffee, a smile fixed on her lips and her eyes sparkling while they had their two-minute conversation as she poured the coffee and set the coaster down.
“She looks like she could use a few painkillers and a few days’ worth of sleep,” John snorted, sipping the remnants of the latte before stirring the last bits of it with his straw.
Kevin returned to the café the very next day, waiting patiently outside the glass door until the sign was flipped to ‘open’ before walking in briskly. “W-what can I g-get you?” Jess whispered, the words sliding out through her teeth as she looked desperately at anything except Kevin. “You could tell me what’s wrong,” his words were blunt and his eyes dull as he looked at the girl.
Jess winced at his words, her arms wrapping tightly around herself before she turned her emerald gaze to him.
Kevin had yet to experience the emotion that flooded him when he met her eyes. Something, something in those once-bright green eyes was gone; her gaze was fractured, he realised, there wasn’t any emotion in her eyes despite the suddenly wide, plastic smile she’d painted across her lips. “I’m fine, really,” she said, her voice still trembling but her eyes brighter than he’d seen them in a while. “H-has there been anything wrong with my s-service?” he shook his head impatiently, frowning slightly before the girl left his table only to return a few minutes later with a white mug in her hands, the dark brown liquid threatening to spill over the edges of the rim before she set the glassware down and all but ran back into the kitchen.
The awkwardness seemed to last for a few more weeks, until Kevin entered the café to see the smiling girl looking at him from the counter, her green eyes sparkling in the burning afternoon sunlight as she hopped off the stool behind the counter to reach him. “Coffee, black?” she asked, her hands stuffed deep into her pockets before she smiled as Kevin nodded.
Kevin frowned; why was she acting the like the last few weeks hadn’t happened? Her hands were quick and strong as she placed the mug in front of him, pouring the dark liquid swiftly from the jug before returning to her seat behind the counter. An hour later, when Kevin finally left the café, having read the paper twice over, but still not understanding a single word he’d read; he looked at the girl who waved enthusiastically from the counter, watching as she shot him a brilliant smile that put the neon lights to shame before he walked out of the small lot.
The next time he saw her, her eyes were light as she handed him the coffee, her eyes smiling even if her lips weren’t.
It took Kevin a few weeks, not to say that the whiskey hadn’t helped, to gather enough courage to wait for her outside the café.
Even in the bitter cold that seemed to want him to leave, Kevin waited patiently until the lights outside the café died, and the girl walked out the door, wearing a coat that looked too thin to be doing anything against the wind. “Hey!” Kevin called, jogging after the girl before falling into step beside her when she slowed down. “So … you’re a stalker now?” her voice sounded like wind-chimes in a breeze as she grinned up at him.
“What happened?” Kevin asked, his eyebrows meeting in the middle of his forehead as he forced himself not to grab the girl’s shoulders and shake her in the middle of the street. “What d’you mean?” she answered, her voice confused but her tone infused with a hint of playfulness that made him growl. “Stop acting like you don’t know what I’m talking about!” he yelled, spitting the words out before watching as her expression fell.
“Kevin …” there was something in her voice that sounded distinctively inhuman, Kevin realised as she said his name. Slightly ashamed, he stared at the toes of his shoes, eyebrows furrowing as he thought hard, before catching on to her what she had said. There was a depth to her words he hadn’t yet heard from anyone. “Don’t you ever read the papers?” her voice chimed over the wind before he whipped his head up.
She was gone.
Wildly, he looked around the street, ignoring the pedestrians that steered clear of him, muttering as they walked around him, creating a clear patch of ground for him to stand in. His breathing deepened as he sprinted to the newsstand, riffling through the mess of magazines before he plucked the paper he usually read from the pile. His heart dropped right into his stomach; he could almost hear the acid gurgling around it, breaking the lump of what he’d once called a muscle into bits and pieces.
Right there, right smack on the first page, was a cropped picture of her, her brown hair curled and loose, a bright smile on her lips as her green eyes shone like he’d seen it so many times before. The words that were printed in bold red ink made him want to throw up every cup of coffee she’d poured him.
“FOUND DEAD IN ELEVATOR”