( A reminder, this story is rated mature due to some course language and violence in this story. )
The walk was nice and cool against her skin. It was mid-winter and her breath hung in the air as she hunched her shoulders and walked against the biting wind. Sure, it was cold. But never-the-less, winter was still her favourite time of year. She would take the bitter cold and the sting of the air on her face over the hot drone of summer. The winter always made her feel crisp, cool, and alive.
As always, the parking lot of Tim Horton’s was packed. Car after car was lined up and kicking exhaust as people waited in their cars for their caffeine fix, blaring both their radios and their heaters to distract them from the cold outside. There was no real festive spirit here. Just people wanting their fix before heading off to trudge through their day.
Luckily Shelly noticed that there were at least a few less people hanging out inside. She opened the door, rubbed her feet on the inner mat and looked around the room. Over by the comfy chairs and the electric fireplace was a familiar bundle of laptop, wires, and thick wool sweater that conformed into Keith.
She wasn’t surprised he didn’t look up. It was hard to catch his attention when he had the computer with him. It was hard enough to pull his attention away from his phone.
She ordered a cafe mocha, thanked the cashier, and waited for her drink. She couldn’t help but absently pull and adjust her thick turtleneck in paranoia that someone may see the bruising underneath. Why did she agree to meet him here anyway? It felt like a horribly bad idea. Why was it such a thing to meet at coffee shops?
Grabbing her drink she dodged eager absent minded coffee connoisseurs and finally slunk over to the comfy chair open and waiting for her beside her friend.
When she suddenly flopped down in the chair beside him, Keith jolted with a start nearly upsetting the perfect balance he had between his thin legs, the laptop, and his most likely luke-warm double double. “Oh, hey! I didn’t see you come in.”
“No problem. Look… thanks for meeting me in such a hurry and all. I know you’ve been busy with stuff.” She tried to look relaxed, but even if the few comfy chairs they had – she looked stiff and unsure. She cradled her hot paper cup and sipped to stall for time.
“Well, let’s address the elephant in the room. You look like shit…” Keith must have been concerned. He actually reached out and closed the laptop lid. His brow furrowed a bit, and he looked her over closer. “What’s wrong, you been forgetting to sleep again?”
“Yeah, I wish.” she poked at the plastic tab on the lid of her cup and sighed. “I have no idea how to even start this conversation.”
“You not having the right words? That doesn’t sound good. I thought you and words were practically dating.” Keith smirked at the lameness of the joke, but all she could manage was a dry “Ha” in return.
“Seriously Shell, what’s going on? You look really rough. Did something happen?”
She felt panic in her chest and looked at the artificial flames from the fireplace as she swallowed hard. This was all so bloody awkward. Her mind tried to go over the best way to broach the subject without sounding like a complete headcase and being laughed out of existence.
All around her people seemed so devastatingly normal. It looked as if you could film a basic teen soap opera and you would have the perfect background fodder. People laughing and carrying on completely oblivious to anyone else in here. All focused on their own little lives. She wondered if she chose this moment to freak out, throw a table and scream if any of them would really care. They’d probably just instagram it, laugh, and continue on their merry way.
“Keith, something bad has been happening to me. I don’t know where to get answers from. It’s all so.. crazy and I’m really afraid I’m losing my mind.”
He had that look in his eyes for an instant. That look that said that he was about to make a bad joke or a sarcastic retort or something. But when she looked at him he made the right decision to hold his tongue. The look of fear on her face was apparently enough to make her point.
“Okay… umm…” He cleared his throat, looked around at his laptop and his coffee as if he’d somehow find something more intelligent to say there. His awkwardness made her relax a little. It was endearing in a way. He dropped his voice down to a hushed whisper. “So this is something serious then?”
“Yeah, pretty serious.” she took another long sip, and wished like hell she didn’t feel so shaky. The hot chocolate, coffee mix was topped with a drizzle of chocolate syrup and a dollop of whipped cream. It left a lick of foam on her lip that she hastily wiped on her sleeve. Social skills were highly overrated. “You know those investigator friends you have? You know, the ones that look into the odd things?”
“The paranormal group?”
Shelly snapped her head around, the fear that somehow someone was listening in passed though. Everyone was still stuck in background mode. She breathed a sigh of relief and nodded. “Yeah, those guys. Do you think you could set up a meeting with them?”
Keith couldn’t help himself this time. He laughed and leaned back in his chair, bracing the top of his laptop so it didn’t teeter off. “You? You want to meet with them? Didn’t you tell me once that you thought that stuff was a load of crock? Come on Shell, you don’t believe in that stuff. Hell, I don’t even believe in that stuff – I’m just good friends with Lynn! What is this, some sort of joke?”
Shelly nearly dropped her drink as she set it down on the table, grabbed Keith’s arm and pulled him closer to her. She used her free left hand to quickly pull down the sweater from her throat and glared at him as she quickly snapped out a whisper. “Does this look like I am joking?”
Keith gawked at her, his eyes wide and his skin paled. The reddish colour of his stubble attempt at a goatee on his chin was more visible with the blood drained from his freckled skin.
“Holy shit! Did someone do that to you?!” His voice raised and she gave him a small jab in the arm to shut him up. A few people had looked over, but she had already shoved her turtleneck back over her throat so fast she thought she might choke herself.
“Something did.. yes. It’s a long story.” She rubbed her palms nervously on her jeans before picking up her drink again, cradling it for something to keep herself occupied. “Can you set up a meeting?”
Keith nodded quietly, but it was clear he was almost as troubled and confused as she was. “You sure you need them though? I mean… if you need someone to go with you to the cops or something–”
“No! I mean… I know it sounds crazy, but honestly this isn’t something I think the cops can help with.” She couldn’t help but laugh a little at her own uncomfortable situation. “Gods, you have no idea how hard this is. Keith, just set up a meeting. I’ll tell you everything I can. Just… not here. It’s too.. many people here. I already feel like a freak-show.”
“Who cares what everyone else thinks. Geeks and freaks, remember? We stick together. I just texted Lynn and told her it was something serious. It shouldn’t take too long, she’s never far–”
He was interrupted by a bleep from his phone.
“See what did I tell you? A girl after my own heart. She says we can come down to the shop. I really hope her cat isn’t around. I think that thing hates me.”