There is a reason, it matters, and someday I’ll manage to say. But there is something I have learned, and it is that there is someone …
The bell above the door made the sound she had come to expect, all things considered: a tinkle with a slight melancholy, which reflected the place to which it was attached. Just inside the landing, she looked around at the diner: the rows of empty booths where, at the busier times of the day, there would be chattering, laughter and conversation. But, in the here and now, there was only silence greeting her ears.
Her high heeled boots made the slightest of sounds as she walked over the well-worn linoleum towards the serving counter where he stood, wiping the counter as he always seemed to be doing.
He looked up at her out of the corner of his eye and then turned away. She had been coming here so often that what happened next was, in its own way, almost comforting. He busied himself at the coffeemaker, pouring a cup of coffee—two creams, no sugar. As he did so, she settled into the empty seat directly across from him, folding her hands on the counter and waiting for him to serve her.
The cup was chipped at the handle … not that it mattered. The saucer beneath had seen better days as well; he set it in front of her with a nod: “Evening.”
She managed a smile in the same way she had every time she had come into the diner. It wasn’t a forced one; more a wistful, polite smile that told of her manners, but at the same time telling of the turmoil that her thoughts were going through: “Hello.”
This was how things were: he didn’t press her; she didn’t offer. She remained there on her perch, her hands cupped around the cup and saucer, not touching it. He returned to busying himself with cleaning the diner’s countertop before walking out from behind it, leaving her to her thoughts.
There was the sound of a bucket being rolled out from elsewhere, a splash of water and then the sound of the mop being dragged over the floor. He didn’t say a word as he worked. She didn’t watch—that would be impolite, of course. Rather, she looked up at the menu board, reading the meals on offer there for the umpteenth time, having long since memorized them. The spelling errors in the handwritten menus still there, of course. She had meant to ask about them, but just didn’t feel like talking, and starting a conversation by asking if he knew how to spell ‘guacamole’ would be somewhat awkward.
She sighed, quietly, to herself, then looked into the coffee, thinking about things, wondering if it was really true that one could find one’s answers in a cup of coffee. The thing was, there really weren’t any answers to be found in the moment. There were questions, many of which she had asked, but she had yet to hear a single answer. She wanted to talk to someone about them all, to try and find a means to clear her mind, to gather her thoughts, all of those sayings about one’s mental health that seemed the most appropriate at that moment. But she couldn’t do that.
He rolled the bucket away again, then returned to the corner. Noting that she hadn’t touched the coffee, he asked: “Need a refill?”
Eventually she left the diner, hearing the lock click shut as she strode out the door. She bundled herself into her jacket and began walking away. It was about ten minutes later that she realized something.
She had never told him her name. Not once.
Turning on her heel, the Queen of the Realm returned to the diner, finding it still open and pushed through the door. The bell rang as it did before, but that was where things ended.
He wasn’t there.
The young girl at the counter was looking at her quizzically, a small pile of textbooks piled in front of her, covering the countertop.
“Where is he?”
The answer was a shrug, followed by: “Dunno who you mean. I’ve been here all night; you’re the first customer that’s come in here. Can I get you something?”
There was a long silence as she considered before replying: “May I have a coffee, double cream, please?”
It didn’t take long for the request to be filled and the bill paid, with a large tip. At the look the girl gave her, Tera smiled, then she nodded and took a seat in one of the booths next to the window. As she rested there, thinking about what happened, she looked out the window. As the snow blew about, she wondered who he was. So many weeks of doing the same thing, over and over again, and now it was as if he had never existed.
In answer, the winter winds began blowing, the window rattled a bit in its frame …and then she heard his voice: “You aren’t the only one who’s been around the block.”
Looking across the table, she found him sitting there, regarding her. She started to ask who he was, what he wanted, how he knew, but paused when he began to speak.
“I know who you are, Tera. I’ve always known. The thing about you is that you refuse to allow anyone to help you when you need it. You’d rather deal with it all on your own, keep it all inside, and let the chips fall where they will.”
She tilted her head to the left and pointed at her hair where a pair of red horns just peeked out, barely there.
He sighed: “You can’t keep this up. It’s not healthy for even the Succubi Queen to be like this, nor is it a good thing for you to put up a false front for others.”
“Of course you will; that’s how you are.”
She pushed the coffee towards him, he considering it, then looking at her.
“I don’t care for coffee.”
“Yes, I know. Tea is your thing.”
“So why keep serving it to me all of this time?”
“Coffee’s free, tea ain’t. Besides, you needed a place to stop and think. Fair trade for everything you do.”
She allowed the barest of smiles, a real one, for once.
“That’s better. Hang onto that.”
She looked back out the window and nodded: “I’ll try.”
“And Tera? Talk to someone. You need to. That,” she said—when did he become she?—“is what I send you so many people for.”
When she looked back, she who had been he was gone … and yet, she still felt her presence. The world hadn’t changed; the answers still weren’t there. But the idea of lightening herself, even a little bit, was a start.
Fishing her cellphone out of her pocket, she dialled a number. “Hello, my heart. Have you some time to talk?”
“Always listening, Dear One, and I always have time for you. In fact, I have been waiting since Goddess told me you’d need to chat; what would you like to talk about?”
“Oh … things …”