“Shop’s closed,” Judd offered from the stairs, staring at the back of his sister Eldwina, who was dressing more and more like a little hooker each passing day, he thought. Maybe she would join the City Squad soon.
The coffee shop just down the walk was most assuredly not closed — perhaps the kids were talking about another place (they were). Charlene Brown the pseudo-punk was washing her hands when I came in, looking for stories.
“Be with you in a minute,” she calls as she counts. 16 Mississippi, 17 Mississippi… almost done. 19….. done. She turns.
“Oh it’s you. Haven’t seen you around in a while.”
“Yeah. Almost forgot how to get here. And then those kids…”
“Aw, jeez. Don’t get me started (about those kids).”
“Yeah, the one on the stairs…”
“He’s *always* sitting on those stairs.”
“Yeah, he said you were closed up.”
“Nope. As you can see. Maybe he was talking about the old Same Coffee Shop. It’s a basic duplicate of this one. Except: closed. That must be it.” She studies him more. Maybe a little grayer around the temples. Maybe a new wrinkle here and there. But not much change. For all the passing years.
“I’m here again.”
“Oh?” A twinkle in her eye. “She’d just dumped her 5th boyfriend in 5 months. There was the age different but… he was still attractive. She liked the gray. Distinguished, as they say. “In Black Ice?”
“No, but just up the road.”
“Apple’s Orchard?” she guessed again. “Neptune?” She paused. “Marwood, even?”
“Marwood, that’s it,” I decided. “Up at the new temple. I stay in an apartment in the air.”
“I don’t get up there that much — the northern part of the city.”
“Now now,” I reprimanded. “You’re not suppose to say that word any longer.”
“City?” she provided and then smiled. “It’ll change. We just have to get rid of the *other* cities clinging onto the main one. Like…”
“Meat City,” I proffered. “Zen City — well, that’s *already* gone, poof.” I threw up my hands in a poor imitation of a miniature atomic blast but she smiled all the same. Always laughing at my mainly lame jokes. Good ol’ Charlene. I decided to ask about Charlie. I wish I hadn’t.
“It was Halloween night. Just day before yesterday, then. Out in the pumpkin patch. He didn’t listen to his pseudo-girlfriend’s brother about the demon that always showed up there that night. Neither of them made it. Just a blood patch now.” She starts to cry again, tears dripping into her cup and on the tablecloth. I didn’t know what to add. I’d said I was sorry several times now. I desired to leave, frankly — this wasn’t the story I was looking for. Oh look, though, she’s holding my hand now. She’s looking deep into my eyes with that twinkle again. Maybe this will work to my advantage. The last time we saw each other I was obsessed with another. But I’m older now; she’s older, although you’d never know it. It’s like time stood still for her. And maybe it had. Did she make a pact with someone, ho?
And what about that ill placed vending machine over there we got our hot beverages from? That’s new. Just then, Jeffrey Phillips’ cup vanishes into nothingness but Charlene’s remains. She knew how to replenish it automatically and bridge the gaps.
In the closed duplicate coffee shop, Apples 02’s chair turned sideways and she knew lover Appleyon’s plan had worked. Now to get back to Somerset and try it on Apples 01. The bastard.