Originally published in The Wake Student Magazine and Parachute Literary Magazine at the University of Minnesota – November 2012, December 2012
“Cmon, I need a hit,” Ali said, opening the passenger door. Cal raised an eyebrow and looked at her through his window.
“Ok, junkie,” he called out, stepping out of the car. She was already inside. He sighed and shook his head with mild amusement as he shut his door. He entered the shop and joined the queue that was around four or five addicts long. Ali smiled at him, hooking her arms around his.
“So are you actually going to get something this time?”
“Maybe,” Cal replied, studying the bafflingly lengthy list of Frappuccinos and holiday themed lattes, “What the hell is Aspin Spice?”
“Oh, that one they use pine needles for flavoring.”
“That’s stupid,” Cal remarked while examining a few scones.
“It happens to be delicious. You should try it.”
“No thanks, I try to avoid drinking sewage runoff.”
“Seriously, it’s awesome.”
“It’s like one of my favorite things here.”
“Ali, I’m not getting it.”
“I’m just saying, you won’t know if–”
“Jesus! I don’t want it, ok?” Cal snapped. Ali furrowed her brow, surprised and a little hurt.
“I – I’m sorry,” Cal said looking down at the floor apologetically, “I didn’t mean for that to come out that mean.” Ali’s expression smoothed and she rubbed his shoulder.
“It’s ok,” she said before beginning to dig through her purse for her wallet, “Why don’t you go find us a table, grumpy pants? I’ll pay.” Cal smirked and wandered out of the line.
“Oh, get me a mocha,” he called back.
“No, I have testicles.” A middle aged man reading the newspaper on a nearby loveseat shot Cal a look, which Cal failed to notice. The man grumbled something before resuming reading about foreign policy, rising rates of sexual assault, and if the Seahawks might actually be worth a damn this year.
Cal spotted a number of vacant spaces, but elected for a spot towards the back near a window. He took the seat against the wall so he could flag Ali down. For a Saturday afternoon, the shop was relatively quiet, no one around except for some Asian guy on his computer a few tables down and a husky soccer mom, sporting a complete fleece track suit, catching up on Heidi Klum’s latest eating disorder over in the lounge area. Cal stared out the window, nodding gently at the dull pewter colored sky, humming some tune he’d overheard on the radio. Scattered herds of white people passed by incrementally, shuffling away to whichever strip mall suburbia shepherded them to next.
Cal had hated it as teenager. Like they had always tried a tad too hard to make everything feel agreeable. A certain unease had always tinged the air, similar to what someone feels when staring at a porcelain doll. Perpetually unsettled. The people had been the worst. Hyperbolically insecure spray tans sporting frayed, lifeless looking bleached hair and lacrosse players convinced they were ghetto as hell while getting krunk with these bimbos in Cancun on their daddy’s dime. Cal had once been embarrassed to call this place home. Now though, the sentiment seemed as growingly distant as his adolescence. Now, he enjoyed being able to people watch, not having to worry about whether or not someone would try to nab his iPod from the front cup holder of his car. No one was desperate here. He didn’t have to be wary of staying out late and risk being mugged. Or getting in bar fights and arguing with authorities about who started them. Or shouting at his Somali land lord over back rent and smoking in the building. He could go about his day in relaxing comfort.
A young woman strolled past on the sidewalk outside. Cal squinted at her, a bell of familiarity tolling in his brain. He made the connection in a split second; long ignored memories flashed wildly through his head. Mint green bathroom tiles, the overwhelming thump of the bass, half slurred protests, sporadic dominating grunts. The soft hysterics of inebriated weeping. He widened his eyes and fell into stunned silence for a moment.
“Brooke,” he breathed as she entered the shop. Cal stared at her in dire wonderment, the cozy atmosphere deflating around him like a whoopi cushion. It couldn’t – he bit his bottom lip to suppress a yelp as he saw Ali reaching for their order, unaware of Brook walking in, equally oblivious to the oncoming collision as she darted her thumb over the touchscreen of her smart phone. Cal watched in dismay as Ali whipped around, hot mocha splurging out over her knuckles as she crashed into Brooke. Ali gasped in surprise; Brooke stumbled back a few steps.
“Oh my gosh, I am so sorry,” Cal heard Brooke say.
“Oh, no, it’s fine,” Ali replied. She put the drinks down and grabbed a napkin to wipe her hand off. Brooke continued to apologize.
“Really, don’t worry about it,” Ali said with assurance.
“You didn’t burn your hand or anything? You’re not hurt?”
“Oh no, it was just a little spill.”
“You’re sure…That – good. I’m really sorry; I should’ve been paying more attention.”
Ali threw the napkin away and grabbed the cups again.
Ali smiled, “Don’t worry about it.”
Brooke watched Ali for a moment as she made her way to the table Cal was sitting at. Cal imagined his pupils shrinking to tiny specks like they do in cartoons. He gripped the table intensely, his fingers determined to burrow right through the polished wood. Ali kept walking toward him, grinning as she closed the distance to where he was seated. Cal looked at her then looked back at Brooke. She was turning around to get in line. He inhaled and swallowed hard. Time stopped. Brooke gave a passing glance back at Ali. The slightest sliver of a second. She looked directly into Cal’s coaster sized eyes. Her head went down then shot immediately back up. He could see the recognition flicker instantly. She froze; her jaw went slack. Cal suddenly felt sick to his stomach.
“Hey,” Ali greeted him. Cal flinched and let out a frightened squeak.
Brooke tilted her head, utter bewilderment filling her expression. She took a few steps toward them, scowling as she drew closer.
“Wha – I – shit,” Cal stammered, eyes glued on Brooke, “We should leave. Right now. We should –”
“Why are you –”
“Ali, please, we just need to get out of here.”
“But –” Ali turned to where Cal was staring. Brooke’s eyes were darting between the couple, welling with tears. She shook her head at them.
“Cal, who is that?” Ali asked looking over to him. Cal clenched his jaw, his gaze unwavering. The door slammed open; Ali managed to catch the back of Brooke’s blue woolen coat storming out of the shop before the girl disappeared into the parking lot. A few of the suburbanites in line seemed alarmed for a few seconds, but soon shrugged back into their natural idle state.
Cal let out a long, uneven breath.
“Cal,” Ali said tentatively. Cal looked at her then back at the spot Brooke had been standing.
“Cal, who was that?”
Cal didn’t speak. The two of them sat at the table in silence for a few minutes.
“Cal,” Ali tried again. Cal nodded in acknowledgement.
“Who was that girl?”
Cal released another uneven breath.
“She…” Cal began. His mouth hung open for a second, quivered, shut then opened again.
“She’s uh…we – we grew up together,” Cal muttered.
“Oh,” Ali said anxiously. There was silence again for a few moments.
“Why haven’t I met her?”
Cal winced and pressed his lips together.
“I didn’t…I didn’t know that she – We haven’t spoken in a while,” Cal replied quietly.
“Why haven’t you talked?”
“We –” Cal trailed off as Brooke reappeared in the window and burst through the door of the shop. She turned and marched toward him furiously, mascara smeared across her flushed cheeks. Cal shot up and tried to back away, but Brooke rushed forward and grabbed him by the neck, kneeing him full force in the groin. Ali let a frightened gasp as Cal fell to the ground. Brooke followed up with a barrage of violent kicks to Cal’s abdomen.
“You rapist son of a bitch!” she spat with contempt. Ali screamed and went to restrain Brooke. Brooke flailed out of her grasp and dashed once again out the door. Ali screamed for someone to call 911 then quickly went to her knees to tend to Cal, curled up on the floor.
“Cal,” she whispered. Cal clutched his stomach and grimaced. Ali kissed him, tears streaming down her face as she stroked his hair.
Cal could only respond with guilt ridden sobs.