A Lack of Apology
Wordlessly, I reach up a hand and pull eggshell out of my hair. I’m too angry to even find words at this point. Which is impressive, because my career is built on words, and I’m usually pretty freaking angry.
Walker, the café guy, is still standing right in front of me, making no effort at all to assist or avenge me. His dark eyes meet mine. “Who are you?”
Making an effort not to let out the scream that’s been building in my throat since, let’s be honest, this morning when I got on that plane, I clench my teeth together. “Do you know,” I grind out, leaning towards him, “how expensive this shirt is?” There’s a bit of egg on my left boob area, dripped down off my shoulder, and I wipe at it with the back of my hand.
He raises one eyebrow, and I try and ignore the fact that he’s now looking at my left boob. “I don’t. Do you want a change of clothes?” His dark eyes swipe over the rest of my body, catching on the bare section of my midriff. “Not that there’s much to change,” he adds.
I throw up my hands. “Yeah! Actually, I would! I’m sorry, but some kid just threw raw eggs at me.”
Walker turns his body away, saying nothing but “Follow me.” He takes me through the door behind the counter, past the kitchen, into a small stairwell, and then into an even smaller side room. It appears to be both storage and laundry, with lots of boxes and hangers sitting in precarious ways on the overhead shelves. The room’s barely big enough for the washer and dryer, let alone both of us. He smells like coffee and sandalwood. Probably. I don't actually think I could identify sandalwood in a line up.
“This room is ant-sized. Why is there a laundry room in a café? Do food-related crimes happen a lot around here?” I ask, tucking my shoulders up to my ears and crossing my arms. My head still feels eerily cold from the wet egg, and I shudder.
Walker breathes sharply out of his nose, which is as close to a laugh as I think he’s capable. He reaches up above me, his untucked t-shirt riding up and revealing a strip of tanned stomach. So now we’re even. Who’s not wearing enough clothes now, misogynist?
“Food-related? No. The most rampant crime around here is what the raccoons do to anything you leave outside. But Buck is known for causing trouble.” He pulls down a basket of folded clothes and puts it on top of the dryer, and I watch his profile. All sharp angles and shadows. Suddenly I’m itching to write, and I haven’t had that feeling in ages. “And I live here, above the Briarstone. So. Laundry.”
He lives here? No wonder he's got such a sour countenance.
He unfolds a plain white undershirt and holds it out. “Does this work?”
I meet his eye, eyebrows raised in challenge. “If you’re trying to put me in something see-through, yes. But I’m not wearing a bra, so something thicker would be preferred.”
Something akin to a smile raises one side of his mouth, and he looks down, his dark wavy hair falling across his face. “Right.”
Walker shows me to a bathroom upstairs, presumably his, if he really does live here. It's very minimalist and kind of rustic. Nothing too nice, nothing expensive. Pretty much exactly what you'd expect from a nobody in a small town. The most notable item in the room is a wooden caddy of hair products, engraved with the letters DWS.
After washing my head in the sink, an exercise that feels dehumanizing but isn't that unusual for me, I remove my top and put on the shirt he lent me. It's a gray T-shirt with a faded graphic of a truck on the front, and I really only agreed to it because it looked soft. And it is.
I spend a moment squinting at myself in the mirror, checking instinctively for bags under my eyes. Still concealed with makeup, so that's a win. My overall appearance, however, gives away what a wreck this day has been. My hair, out of its ponytail again, is wavy instead of straight and still dripping water. And Walker's shirt, significantly too big for me since he's pretty tall and wide-shouldered, hangs loosely. The crew neckline shows my collarbones, and even tucked into my shorts it looks a little like I'm not wearing pants. It's the kind of thing you wear to bed, or the kind of thing you throw on just after you've been in bed.
When I emerge from the bathroom, I find Walker leaning against the opposite wall, arms folded. I don't like to think of myself as self-conscious, but it's hard not to be when this man is looking at me like that. He smirks. "It looks good on you."
I'm pretty annoyed that my skin flushes when he says that.
"I'm Walker, by the way." He pushes off the wall, and I hand-tousle my hair, willing it to dry.
"Masie." I hold up my gloriously-ruined, previously-perfect gold top. "And I’m pissed about this.”
He stares me down, which I can already tell is basically one of his character traits, then tips his head in the direction of the stairs. “Do you want me to wash it?” He sounds resigned, as if he’s just given in to an argument. Saves me time.
“I want you to put that kid behind bars. But this will have to do instead,” I tell him, handing him the top. I swear he rolls his eyes as he walks away.
I find my way back down to the kitchen, and I pause to peek around at the trays of muffins and jars of flour and whatnot. It’s not hard to picture Walker in here, kneading dough or… I don’t know, what else do bakers do? Definitely kneading dough though.
I go back through the door into the main café space, dodging the questions from the girl behind the counter. She insists on giving me a free drink, so I agree to a coffee. Then I sulk in the far corner of the room, uncomfortable with how silent the building is. The old lady that had been sitting in here is gone, and now the only sounds are the girl brewing the coffee at the counter and my leg bouncing underneath the table.
I’m not staying here. I yank out my phone, and a few clicks later I’ve booked a plane ticket back to California, leaving tomorrow at 11 AM. I ignore the twitchiness in my fingers, which occurs as I debate whether to swipe away my notifications. Two messages from Rachael, one from Bram. After some hesitation, I Venmo Rachael some money without reading the texts and then open the one from Bram.
Hey, I’m sorry. It didn’t really occur to me that you might not want to see Darian, and I was going to tell you he’d be there but I didn’t get a chance. I get that you’re mad, just try not to take it out on him. I promise I’ll go back to being just your agent, not your trip-planner. We good?
“Am I interrupting?”
I jolt so much I almost drop my phone, so I play it off by waving my arms in the air and saying, "Have you come with more eggs?"
Walker is standing over the table holding a disposable coffee cup, and he sets it in front of me then places his hands on his hips. "You could have tried dodging.” His tone is serious, but his eyes are bemused.
“This has been, quite possibly, the worst day of my life. You know, I don’t think a single person has even said ‘I’m sorry.’ Seriously, this place is awful. It’s like in those horror movies where people get picked off one by one in a small, creepy town.” He looks like he’s about to speak, but I hold up a finger, mid-realization. “Oh my god, it is. I’m the hot blonde one that dies first. Wow.” I look off into the distance, wondering how plausible it is that I could incorporate that into my next book. Not the right genre, and very cliché, but a fun idea anyway.
The bell on the front door chimes, and I whip my head around, expecting the worst, but it’s just the barista girl leaving.
“Yeah, so, I hate to tell you this. But we’re closed.” Walker says, drawing my attention back to him. “And not because it’s a horror movie, but because it’s Monday.”
I glance at my phone. “It’s 3:13,” I tell him.
He just nods. “Yeah, and I would’ve closed thirteen minutes ago if I hadn’t had to deal with this egg emergency.”
I sip the coffee. It’s pretty good. “I’m glad we both agree that it was an emergency,” I mutter.
I look up and catch him staring at me, his dark hair falling across his face as he glances down. When he raises his head his mouth is shaped into a crooked smile. “If you really want the full Windthrow Point horror movie experience, you should come back here at ten.” He gestures to the door. “Now if you’ll excuse me.”
I stand slowly, eyeing him the whole way as he follows me to the door. “Ten, like, at night? Are you going to kidnap me?”
Walker leans into my personal space to open the door, and he really does smell like coffee. “I guess you’ll just have to wait and see,” he says, his breath tickling my hair.
I tighten my grip on my cup. “We’ll see.”