Winged : Chapter One
Posted November 11th, 2018 by honeyboney77
The buildings in this city are a conglomerate of dilapidated gray bricks huddled close to the streetlights; their windows provide a thin glimpse into just the kind of community nestled in our corner of the world. They’re few and far between, because, of course, the builders loathed exposure.
This is the comment the man behind me makes to his wife as we pass by another dilapidated gray brick. I grasp at the edges of my overcoat, hugging them tighter over me against the biting wind. The sidewalk on the creeping edge of the road is new, pristine relative to the walls surrounding us.
The couple and I remain close by each other, awkward air floating between, and even though I’m moving slow on purpose, they don’t make a move to pass me--only giving each other wandering statements about how this building used to be a bookstore, but now it sells e-cigarettes. Times are changing.
I turn into the next building that comes, glancing over my shoulder through the large, misty glass window. The couple locks eyes with me, then swiftly reverts their gazes back to the concrete in front of them, hurrying their pace just noticeably. I convince myself that all they desire is to get out of the cold.
I take my hands off my jacket and instead shove them into its pockets, not only because they’re freezing, but to ease my own thoughts. My wallet is still there. I trace its perimeter as I walk towards the counter where a line has formed, wrapped around a two-person table.
“Large coffee, two sugars, please,” says the woman in the black sweater and long beige skirt at the front of the line. Behind her is a tall man with a bowler hat, then a few more people I vaguely glanced at when I entered, then me. I stare at the ground and the pair of loafered heels in front of me and hear the jingle of bells at the doorway, the pitter-patter of light footsteps, heavier, slower clacks. My gaze rises almost automatically to outline the edges of the cafe’s ceiling, exploring the subtle cracks in the dark wood interior and connecting back t0 the bookcase raised above a row of tables on the far wall. Click, click, click. It stops just behind me, and my eyes fall back my down. My fingers grip my wallet tighter and begin to slide it out, my black shoes stepping forward to make up space in the line. Clack.
“What can I get you?” It’s faint, but familiar, and comforting. A sweet and understanding tone.
His voice is gruff and crackly. “Black.”
I glance to the front of the line, leaning onto one foot to see the barista nod curtly and turn to fill a cup. My coat slides somewhat to my left; my mind immediately seizes. Go back to balanced. Shift your coat back. Don’t look around. Don’t breathe.
Something in my thoughts seeps through, a nagging voice that tells me it’s too late. They already know--they’ve known from the moment my foot’s touched the tile floor. I can’t hide it, not with coats, not with a straight face. Nothing.
A tap on my shoulder makes me flinch. I slowly, as calmly as possible, crane my head to see behind me. A woman stands there--young, brown hair, hazel eyes, freckles dotting high cheekbones. She smiles, with friendliness or sympathy, and nods past me, a slight head-tilt. “The line’s moved.”
I find my voice; it’s lost somewhere, searching for a place to hide. “I’m so sorry.” Blink, turn back, realize I’m next. I shuffle to the front, constricting my jacket further, leather wallet squeezed between two fingers. A mistake; I’m slightly shaking, and it slips from where I’d been holding it, dropping.
I look down to it and watch it slowly fall, as if time has nearly stopped, finally landing on the ground with a clunk as coins hit first. Up to the barista behind the counter, who gives a pitying smile with eyebrows pinched upward and mouths “it’s okay.” I let out a huge breath and lean down quickly, swooping up the wallet with one hand and holding down my overcoat with another. I fumble with it, pull out a five, and slam it between us. My voice catches, at last finding a place to conceal itself, but I coerce it out. “Blonde espresso. Four shots, one pump of vanilla syrup. Please.” I pause, blink. “Um, thank you.”
“Sure, honey.” The platinum-haired barista accepts the bill, hands me back three dollars, and flips around on her heel to pour my coffee. From there the conversation is non-existent; I shove the change and wallet into my coat pocket, tap on the counter with my fingertips, accept a smile cafe cup and plate in quivering hands, and slowly make my way to the back wall. The sharp ping of glass on the wooden table echoes and magnetizes everyone’s eyes to me. I can feel their pointed glares as I plop into an unbalanced darkwood chair and contemplate reaching up for a book.
I haven’t sipped for a third, shaky time before the pitter-pattering suddenly resumes, much louder than before. A little boy, not older than eight, approaches my table. His chocolate hair sweeps across his forehead just above a pair of beady, intelligent green opals. He seems nervous, fiddling with the bottom of his shirt, but I can sense the hint of anticipation. His lips part cautiously, and he speaks. “Can I see them?”
I lift the cup and take a small drink, already feeling the warmth in my chest. A deep exhalation follows. “Have you not already?”
He glances apprehensively back to his mother, the freckled woman who sits some table rows away from me now. An encouraging nod to him, a thankful smile to me. The boy grins sheepishly and tries again. “Only the ends. I’ve never completely seen them before,” he squeaks out, stuttering a little over the longest word, “and I’m sure they’re very beautiful.” He adjusts the folded collar on his blue polka-dotted polo shirt.
Butterflies swirl in my stomach. I sip a final gulpful of incredibly sweet, strong coffee, slide out the rickety wooden chair from under me, and stride past him towards the door. I don’t care that everyone is staring at me, that I’ve left the boy standing there, gaping, the mother shooting daggers into my back.
The bells above the doorway chime on my way out. I’m almost certain they’re still glaring through the cloudy window as I remove my overcoat, grip it tightly under my arm, expand my wings to their full span, and leap into the air.
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