We were supposed to meet for coffee for the first time today. I sat at a table in a small neighborhood coffee shop with my chai tea latte. It gradually lost its heat as mine rose. I pulled out my phone to check the time. Ten minutes late. No missed texts, no missed calls. Nothing. It was as if our conversations over the phone for the past week were nothing but a dream. Not in the romantic, lovesick kind of way, but just ethereal and fleeting. I didn’t even know if I was in love yet. I wouldn’t allow it. Far too often we fall in love with the idea of a person represented on a screen only to have reality come crashing through like a train upon first meeting. I didn’t take him for a flake though. That caught me by surprise.
Each sip of my drink made me feel a little bit better. I’d been through this before, so bouncing back was an art I was…well, close to mastering. I leaned back in my seat and felt myself relax. I took another look at my phone, but just before awakening the black screen I saw something in its reflection. I instantly dove under the table as I recognized the shape of a gun in the hand of a man in a black puffy coat. He was standing just outside of the window of the coffee shop as he pointed and shot three times. The window was shattered and others did the same as I did, screaming all the while. My latte was hotter than I remembered. Most of it burned the back of my hand while small drips stung the back of my neck. I clutched at it, trying to wipe away the milky tea, but not quite in complete control of my faculties. My heart was beating rapidly and my nerves were in so much shock that my fingertips were all I could use. I didn’t know why the man had shot. I didn’t know who he was and I didn’t even know if he was still out there or inside now. But I did have the keen sense that I was his target. I reached for my phone to call the police, but the numbers were off with each touch. Eight-one-two, no, seven-three-nine, no. I couldn’t get it right. What was wrong with me?
I heard the door of the place swing open to slow, deliberate footsteps. The crunching of glass was growing closer and closer. I didn’t need to look to know who it was. That miserable sound came to halt. Then the crack of a gun exploded once and the march of glass continued. This happened again. And again.
I didn’t have much time. My rushed adrenaline caused the burn on my hand to cease having any feeling at all. I couldn’t stop my fingers from shaking, but I was determined to press the correct sequence. Nine…one…one. Yes! I did it. I held the phone up to my ear, eager to end this nightmare. It rang once. Then twice. Then again. With each long, dreadful ring my breathing got more and more shallow. How could this be? Wasn’t anybody going to pick up?
The sight of two boots stopped in front of my face, giving me a start. My phone fell from my hand as I heard my killer speak.
I looked up; the man’s features and everything around him a blur, save for the barrel of the gun in my face.
“Sorry I’m late.”
I sat up in bed and drew in a breath as if I were being introduced to air for the first time. The cool familiarity of the sheets on my legs were a comfort for which I was grateful. I turned on the lamp to my right, unable to bear anymore darkness. My breathing and my heartbeat became steady and I looked at the digital clock with its red numbers. It was two-something in the morning. I was still tired, so I slid back down, laid my head on the pillow, wrapped the arm of my boyfriend around me, and flicked off the light.
I was in total ease as I felt his strong hand rise up the back of my own, then run the length of my arm to my shoulder and stop with his fingertips on my lips. I kissed them and felt his fingers settle on the side of my neck. I took one last glance at the clock. Zero-zero-zero-zero. It didn’t register at first, but I got a sinking feeling in my stomach that grew as the numbers on the clock began to count up with the speed of a stopwatch. That feeling spiked when I felt my boyfriend’s fingers tighten around my throat. I tried to scream, but I couldn’t make a sound. And somewhere in that panic, I remembered. I didn’t have a boyfriend.