She had taken a while to warm up to me. She’s always had an obvious crush on Ash, though, and now I could see why I annoyed her.
I tried to squelch the flustered feeling and made the drink, properly this time, taking deep breaths through my nose as I did it. When I got flustered I made even more mistakes and then I panicked. I’d been through too much recently to panic over coffee.
I handed Larry the right (and terribly convoluted) version, and apologized profusely. He raised his chin and set out of the store. That was usual y the sign that things were OK.
“Daydreaming again?” Mikeala asked under her breath as she brushed past me to grab something.
Actual y, I hadn’t been. I’d just been asleep on my feet, trying to clear my thoughts and get it together. I could stil feel the sickness of last night and it only grew worse with each waking hour I’d spent in the shop. You guessed it, that bathroom smel was back again, and since it always reminded me of bad meat to begin with it didn’t bode well with my midnight raw steak endeavor. Also, I was fairly certain I’d only gotten two hours of sleep since I weaned myself off the NyQuil, lest I start going to Walgreens for glitter and false eyelashes.
“Hey, she’s back, that’s all that matters,” Ash yel ed over the grinder as he prepared a bag of fresh java for someone.
Mikeala didn’t look too pleased at that, which only solidified my theory. Mikeala wasn’t a bad-looking chick at all . She was tal and flat-chested but had a delicate porcelain face - when she wasn’t giving me the stinkeye.
She was funny, too, and someone I hoped to win over one day, whenever that was. The way I was acting, I started to doubt having much of a future at Port-Town.
I gave Ash a grateful smile. I’d make it up to him one day. I didn’t want to lead him on – my acquired hatred for men didn’t extend to him – but he real y had been the biggest supporter, along with Ada.
“Tal , extra hot, no whip, sugar-free caramel latte,”
Mikeala barked as she scribbled down another order and plunked the cup in line. I quickly noted the person who had been at the register, a man in a pointy blazer and hipster glasses, and got started on the drink.
I moved over to the syrup dispenser but for the life of me couldn’t locate the sugar-free caramel one, which was weird since I had to use it at least three times in the last half hour.
I leaned over and concentrated, careful y examining the label of each one. We had vanil a, sugar-free vanil a, mint, sugar-free mint, caramel, almond, sugar-free almond, hazelnut and cinnamon. No sugar-free caramel.
“One second.” I raised my finger at the man and ducked down to raid the cupboards by the sink. Ash was standing beside me, wiping the excess coffee grinds off the bag.
“What are you looking for?” he asked.
“The sugar-free caramel. I was just using it, but now it’s gone,” I said, straining as I reached to the back of the cupboard. I pul ed out a bottle but it was vanil a like all the rest of them were.
I looked up at Ash. “Did we run out?”
He looked over at the syrup dispensers by the machine.
He frowned. “Isn’t that it right there?”
I turned my head. Right beside the machine, in plain view and separate from the others, was a bottle of syrup with a sienna-shaded label.
I walked back to my station and picked it up. It was sugar-free caramel. It would have been in front of me the whole time; how the hel did I not see it?
“Perry,” Mikeala growled softly as she plunked down two more cups. The line in front of her seemed to be growing and growling with impatience. “What is the holdup?”
I couldn’t answer her. I looked up at the hipster businessman who was waiting for his drink while distractedly flipping through a newspaper.
“Excuse me,” I asked him. He looked around and then came forward.
I pointed at the syrup. “Was this always here? I mean, did you put this here? Or was it here all this time?”
His head lurched back on his neck and he eyed me through his glasses. “I beg your pardon?”
“I just want to know if I’m going crazy or not,” I blurted out.
“Because this wasn’t here a second ago and yet now it is.
I heard Mikeala inhale sharply.
“Are you accusing me of hiding the syrup?” the man asked incredulously. And loudly. I think the entire shop turned its head to look our way.
“No,” I said, my face going beet red. The thing was, I did feel like he hid it on me. I could see his beady little face as he came up to the line to place his order, like he had this whole thing plotted out. When I wasn’t looking, he’d take the syrup to mess me up, and then put it back. Make me waste my time. Make me look crazy.
“I’d just like my drink then. Please,” he added, with false politeness.
“Wel , you’re not getting your drink until you say you’re sorry,” I said.
The store grew quiet. So quiet I could hear the edges of his newspaper fluttering from the waves of shock that I was sure were hitting him. I couldn’t quite believe it myself but I couldn’t stop myself, either.
“Perry, I don’t think you’re feeling well ,” Mikeala said, placing her hand on my arm and gripping it hard.
I glared at her and ripped my arm out of her bony grasp.
“Oh, don’t you try and coddle me,” I said. “I know when I’m being made to look like an idiot. And that’s just what this guy is doing. Doesn’t like the look of me, thinks I’m unstable.”
Someone in the back of the shop let out a small laugh and my blood boiled inside my head. I’d find who did it, find them and kil them.
“Perry,” Ash’s voice said from behind me. It was soft and shaking. “Can I talk to you for a second, Perry?”
He asked so politely, so…afraid, that it caught me off- guard.
And I realized what I was doing. I was fighting with a customer over a bottle of syrup.
As if everything slowed down, I saw Mikeala’s awestruck, angry face, her small mouth open in shock, I saw Hipster Glasses’s fingers clutch the newspaper tightly, I saw Ash’s sunny face clouded over in fear, and maybe pity, and I saw myself, bitter, red-faced and seething from a reality that wasn’t quite there.
I looked at everyone, the faceless blurs in the crowd, then I turned around and ran into the back room. Ash fol owed me and tried to calm me down, tried to get some sense of what was happening, but he couldn’t leave Mikeala out there all alone and I was no help whatsoever. I couldn’t begin to explain a thing except that I wasn’t myself.
I wasn’t well . The only thing I was good for was keeping out of the public eye, and with a quick phone cal to Shay, I was sent home for the rest of the shift.
The ride home was absolutely miserable. There’s real y nothing worse than riding in the rain and even though you’d think I would be used to it from living in the Pacific Northwest and all , it stil sucked. But it suited my mood, suited the level of defeat I felt from the meltdown with the customer.
How could I have been careless, to let my emotions get the best of me like that? I was acting out of character and succumbing to my own paranoia that there wasn’t something right with me. I just couldn’t seem to get my head screwed on properly, couldn’t seem to focus and bring myself into the present, into the here and now. Even the ride home, with the nasty, cold rain and the wind that picked up as I rode and battered me from the side, even that felt like it happened to someone else.
I cal ed for my mom but she was out, so I went upstairs to my room, each step rising above me like a mountain, and crawled right into bed.
I lay on my back for a while, just staring up at the speckled ceiling. I was numb and grateful for it. I knew there was a whirlpool of feelings just churning beneath the surface, waiting to come out. all I had to do was think about how scared I was and how alone I felt. all I had to do was wish I had someone at my side who would know what was wrong with me and do whatever they could to fix me. I had that once and I didn’t have it anymore. If I thought about that, the tears would never stop coming, so I pushed the thoughts away.
Rol ing over on my side, I spied a pamphlet that my mother had brought back from the hospital, sitting on my bedside table. I picked it up and flipped through it. It was all about miscarriages and the recovery process and was littered with poorly drawn cartoons. I was surprised it wasn’t cal ed So, You’ve Had a Miscarriage!
I wondered if losing time and accosting customers were part of the side effects. There was mention of heavy bleeding and cramps, but that all stopped a few days ago. I suppose since my pregnancy (it was stil weird to refer to it as that) wasn’t even one term, I got lucky. Though nothing about my life seemed the slightest bit lucky anymore.
The other thing the pamphlet mentioned was how every woman reacted differently. Some women were distraught beyond repair and needed to mourn the loss. Others didn’t feel much of anything. I stil didn’t know how I felt but I knew my body was healing at a much faster rate than my mind.
Sometimes I felt like I didn’t even know who I was anymore.
Even though it was the afternoon and a weak sun was pushing apart the rain clouds and streaming in through my windows, I fel asleep with tears teasing the corner of my eyes and the pamphlet folded open in front of me. When I came to, it was almost dark. The clouds had rolled back in and a wind rattled the window pane every couple of seconds. A layer of frigid air seemed to descend from the ceiling and I shivered intensely, bringing my blanket in closer around me.
There was a knock at my door but before I had a chance to panic, it opened, revealing Ada.
“I didn’t think you were home,” she said, hovering in the doorway, backlit from the hal .
“I was napping. It’s freaking freezing in here, isn’t it?”
She shrugged. She was only wearing leggings and a lacy tunic. “So what do you want?”
“Huh?” I asked.
She crossed her arms. “I’ve got to get ready. I’m going out with Layton. What is it?”
I frowned at her. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Wel , you just cal ed me,” she said impatiently.
“No I didn’t. What do you mean?”
“Yes you did,” she said as she gave me a strange look.
“You were just yel ing Ada, Ada, Ada.”
I sat up. “Nooooo, I wasn’t. I was sleeping.”
She raised her eyebrow. “Sleeping and texting?”
She sighed and came over to the bed, flicking on the bedside lamp. I watched as Ada accessed her text messages. She pointed at the screen with her slender finger.
I looked. There was a text from me saying Ada, come here, I need you and her response B rite ther. I obviously hadn’t sent it. The time said it was sent three minutes earlier. I had been asleep and I was pretty sure my phone was in my purse by my bed.
I told Ada so and she brought it out. My phone was in there, as I thought, but when we went to the texting app, I saw the same outgoing message.