Another day. Scarlett wondered what month it was. What year. It didn’t matter anyway. The sun came up. The night fell down. In between she slept in fits and starts. Sometimes she ate. Today the food tasted like cardboard. The coffee, too hot, burnt her tongue. She pushed the plate away.
Fourth day this week, she’d come to the little café next to the bookshop just off the main street. It would start as tingles in her fingers. Her feet would make their own way. She could feel her heart beat inside her. Too fast. Too heavy. It always meant the same thing: she was close. It was like magnets and steel.
Sometimes it took centuries. Sometimes it took decades. But when the impulses came, it was just a matter of time.
What would she look like? Would she be an old woman or a child? Didn’t matter.
Behind the counter, Sandy frowned. Her blue eyes narrowed. The woman in black was here again. Her pale white face half hidden in thick waves of black hair. She was almost a ghost.
Around her the customers chatted and laughed. You could hear the soft chink of forks on plates as customers ate. Smell the sharp tang of coffee in the air. But the woman in black sat completely still, wrapped in a bubble of silence.
When she ordered, her lips barely moved. Her voice a murmur as her clear brown eyes stared into the counter. She gave off an aura of deep sorrow. Of grief that lasted too long and burned too deep. And stayed there glowing like banked embers, barely contained, threatening to burst out into raw flames.
Today the woman pushed her food away again. She stood up her slender hands pressed down into the table near the window. Sandy noticed the black polish on her fingernails might have been perfectly applied once, but now she could see them growing out. The woman opened her purse, unrolled a single bill. Always $100 dollars.
For coffee and a sandwich?
The other baristas quickly stopped asking her to wait for change. She would nod sideways, no. Keep it she would say, her voice deep and husky. For a tip. They were all happy to take her money. Even Sandy. And then she’d walk out of the shop with her head bowed, her shoulders broken, sadness wrapped around her tighter than her clothes. Sandy watched her for weeks, her pale face pinched and frozen. No one should be that sad.
Sandy wiped her hands on her white apron, drew a deep breath and pushed her way out from behind the counter. She hoped the supervisor wouldn’t notice her gone . Jared was kind of a dick about leaving their stations.
“Excuse me, miss? Miss, excuse me, could you wait a minute?”
Scarlett paused. Turned. Her eyes met the younger woman’s. For a moment, she caught her breath.
Could it be?
“Yes?” She could feel her skin slowly raise into gooseflesh. A blond woman with a thick braid came out from behind the counter, hair covered with a sheer black hairnet. Her face was still smooth and unlined. Her blue eyes still bright. Time had yet to leave it’s marks. So odd. She’d been coming here for weeks and never saw her.
“Can I get you anything else miss? Something you might prefer? I noticed you left your sandwich…” Sandy nodded at the table, hesitated. “Again.”
Scarlett turned away. It had to be her. There was no mistaking the way her heart hammered in her chest. The way her hands trembled.
She still had time to leave. Wouldn’t it be better to let the young woman live her life in peace?
She bent her head lower. It would end the same way. It always did. She could pretend they’d never met. Tell herself she would find her again. But then she’d have to pretend that food tasted like food and the sun still shone. And that she could lift the sadness that clung to her like a second skin when they were apart. Scarlett took a deep breath. Steadied her shaking hands.
Ok, it’s ok. It’s O.K. I’ll just look. I don’t have to do anything, there’s still time to walk away.
“No dear. I’m good. I just don’t have much of an appetite.” She turned toward the younger woman. Met her eyes without blinking.
“I wondered about that.” Sandy paused. The woman barely touched the sandwich. It lay exactly as she’d left it on the table. A thin wisp of steam curled from the white cup of coffee.
“I hoped it wasn’t something I did. Something we did.” Sandy swallowed. The strange woman’s eyes were sparkling and clear and hazel brown. There was a tiny smile at the corner of her pale white face. Sandy noticed beneath her high cheekbones, her lips were a natural coral pink. They looked soft and smooth. Why would she notice that?
Scarlett smiled. It was her. This time she was young and vibrant and full of life. Hair the color of haystacks. Eyes the color of northern Ice. Perhaps that was why they all lived such horribly short lives. To flash so bright their fire burned out before the full count of their days. She had to know for certain. She reached out to take the young woman’s hand.
The moment she touched her she knew for certain. It felt like liquid fire flowed between them. Scarlett’s heart skipped, skittered. Almost stopped. She held on to the table. She felt drunk. Every hair on her body raised off her skin. Her breath caught in her throat. What was that sound? Drumming. Pounding. Was it her heart? The sound filled her stomach, filled her throat, filled her ears. Louder, louder. Scarlett blinked. Then stumbled as her legs gave beneath her.
Sandy felt the woman’s warm hand take hers. So strange. Customers never tried to touch her before. Perhaps she shouldn’t have come out from behind the counter. But the woman’s hand was so warm. So alive.
She looked at hand holding hers. Lifted her eyes to the stranger’s face. Something was wrong. She could see a question in the woman’s eyes. Her startling brown eyes. But she knew the answer didn’t she?
It was Yes. Yes. Always yes. But Sandy didn’t know the question between them. Only that she knew this woman. But where? How? When?
The stranger’s eyes fluttered. Her hand suddenly weakened her grip. Her head dropped back. She fell.
All Sandy could do was move in closer to embrace her. She lifted her arms around the woman’s slim shoulders and pulled her closer. Her thick black hair smelled of lavender and cinnamon. Beneath her black coat her body felt frail and weak.
“Guys help.” Sandy shouted. “Come quick, I need help.” And then the woman in black was unconscious in her arms.
Inspired by Reinaeiry.