Val is a mood killer. I make a mental note for myself reminding me to ask Val what all that ‘baby’ thing was about as I turn to her breathing through my nose loudly. “Good morning Valerie, did you bring what I asked?” Val looks offended at my words, but I know her, those are all theatrics. She nods lively and all the dark curls of her head bounce shooting in different directions. “Hey! where are all your good manners Maze?” She asks with both arms on her hips. “I am Valerie or Val for my friends and lovers. So take your pick but choose carefully” She tells Ailie with a wink. “And you, Mr grumpy. Yes, I did bring what you asked and yes I am fine this morning thank you very much. But now I’d like to focus on our guest so shoo.” She tells me waving me away. Val is lucky I really like her, she about interrupted the only moment I felt like Ailie was starting to open up to me and now she is shooing me away. Unbelievable. No way I’m going to leave tornado Val with Ailie, she might scare her away or what’s worse – “Hi, you look incredibly good on that uniform, you know that?” Yeah, that. Now Val’s face is two inches away from Ailie’s and she is – “Mason, is your girlfriend openly flirting with me right now?” Yeah, that.
Val’s high-pitched laugh leaves her and she starts clapping. “Oh boy I really like her. Can I keep her?” She tells me bouncing around me. “Can I keep you?” She asks Ailie now. “Sure thing… Val.” Ailie replies winking at her now. This seems to please Val even further, because her laughter is now more of a shriek. Perfect, I guess best friend approval has been granted.
The sofa where I slept for the night is surprisingly comfortable for being in such bad shape. It’s better than nothing. The room has no windows and it looks like it was for storage purposes once upon a time. The careless way everything is piled instead of organized tells me that this space hasn’t been used in a long while. When I opened my eyes earlier this morning I felt completely disoriented and for a few seconds I had no idea where I was. As soon as I recalled the events of the previous night a wave of distress overwhelmed me. Pull myself together. Stand back up. Keep Walking.
It takes me a moment to notice that the the violent drops falling from the sky are no longer hitting my uncovered shoulders. When I look up, the stormy clouds have been replaced by an arm holding a big red umbrella that shelters me now. I turn my head looking for answers and my eyes meet a restrained stare. The night is obscure as the sky, still completely covered with clouds, and we are only surrounded by a soft yellow light leaving the nearest streetlamp. I can’t help being instantly grateful and I vaguely notice that I am probably smiling at this stranger in a green apron while tears still fall wildly down my face. So I look down and bring my hands up to wipe my face.
“A.. Are you okay?” He says. When I don’t reply, he reaches with his hand and holds my upper arm softly. “Hey,” the warmest voice leaves his mouth “are you okay?”. I start feeling like myself again and I flinch from his touch and take the tiniest step back. I find his stare again, but this time is mixed with hurt and surprise. He recovers quickly, as if he didn’t want me to see the battle in his eyes and everything is replaced by the slightest watchfulness. “Look, it’s pouring and you are soaked and shoeless. Please, come inside the cafe with me.” I take another small step back. “I work there, okay? We are already closed but you can’t stand here much longer without freezing, catching a cold or worst.” His words are firm and begging at the same time, but I don’t trust strangers. I don’t know him, I’ve barely seen him in the dim light of the street and as much as I have nowhere to go I’m a ‘better safe than sorry’ kind of girl. The grateful smile died on my lips the moment I realized this is a complete stranger holding an umbrella over my head that now is luring me inside a closed cafe. Real life is not a Nicholas Sparks novel. “No, I’m okay. Really.” I tell him looking down at my soaked bare feet. God, this is going to hurt tomorrow.
He looks at me with all the gravity of the situation shining through his eyes and lifts his free hand as sign of surrender. “Please, come inside to get dry. Or at least wait there until the rain stops.” I am trying really hard to gauge his intentions, and he has a deep green apron on so he must work in the cafe after all. There’s just something about him that compels me to believe him. Or it must be the apron. Fuck. I swallow all my pride and maybe unfounded doubts and I walk from under the umbrella. I turn and I head to the door’s cafe.
I thought she was walking away from me. For a second, I was sure she was going to flee and leave me standing here. That being the case, I have no clue what I would have done. Would I be able to let her walk away? Would running after her scare her even more? I don’t know the answer to any of those questions and I don’t trust myself to give it much more thought. She is entering the cafe right now and that’s all that matters. This gives me some time to think how to do this, maybe if I earn her trust first she would see things differently. Or maybe she doesn’t remember me at all, I didn’t even get a hint of recognition hitting her eyes when she looked at me. “Right.” I take a deep breath to regain some strength and I chase her shadow stepping through the door.