COFFEE.

Laura Hope Coffee Shop

Image © : Laura Hope

                The need for caffeine fuelled me to my nearest coffee shop, my thinned morning energy depleted as I’d made it to the counter just in time to order a tall cup of my favourite roast. I’d cooped myself up in the flat for the first few days of annual leave, binging on all of the shows I’d vowed to my colleagues I’d never watch in a million years on Netflix.

                I’d come out to welcome the fresh air and hoped to discover the motivation to do something else this week other than waste minutes of my life in front of the box – not that there was anything wrong with that mind, but I’d always scathed myself for it. The worker bee in me loathed having time off in the first place, I hated it even more if I’d felt I’d wasted my time. But hey, maybe a bit of self-care was exactly the thing I was in desperate need of.

                 I thanked the jovial barista and headed into the cosiest nook I could find. Armed with a new thriller, my debit card – very stupidly – as my bookmark, I parked myself down with my coffee and faced out to the mild buzz that it offered. One that was needed if I was due to retain any of this plot.

                Inhaling deeply, I ran a hand through my loose curls, performing the usual wince as my index finger’s ring had gotten stuck in the pesky knots. It had almost become ritualistic of me to continue; one with common sense would have taken the ring off or simply brushed their hair better. For someone who’d given themselves such a hard time about taking time off and priding herself on being said worker bee, you’d have thought I’d have a bit more initiative regarding life’s minutiae. I should add ‘give self hair mask treatment’ to the self-care list I’d been penning from counter to seat.

                As I sipped and, hopelessly, tried to take in the first few lines of a fresh book, I stopped and gave into the want to people watch. It appeared quiet for a morning; there was only myself and four other patrons in here. Neo-Soul tunes percussed delicately around light conversation between a cheery guy with perfectly quaffed hair, sharing a joke with another barista as he’d taken a break from his laptop. His dimples deepened as their melodic laughter filled the air. I couldn’t help but smile a little myself, even if the topic to hand was a little out of earshot from being sat directly under a speaker.

                My attention should have been back with myself and my own being, but I took in another patron. A woman sat on a barstool with her back to the brick wall, facing diagonally as she gazed out of the window. The morning’s rays glistened delicately on her features, highlighting her cheekbones. I pondered as to what she could have been thinking about; she’d held her sit-in cup close to her lips, almost as if I could see the cogs in her mind turning. Her attention hadn’t been turned to anything in particular, making me believe that she was mulling something over with a sense of emotion.

                From what I could see she didn’t have anything with her, no work to do that was visible like the first person I’d first cast my gaze to. I didn’t know her from adam, but she’d struck me as an artist. I could imagine her stood at the foot of a canvas that was twice the size of her. I’d watched paint splodges and strokes appear on her forest green shirt in a multitude of colours, a thin paintbrush slid through her black curls, appearing on either side of her low bun. As soon as I’d blinked, they’d vanished and she was back to how I’d found her.

                A ping from a sharply dressed gentleman in a suit and stone mac stole my attention. He looked perturbed as he looked down at his glowing screen after he’d thanked staff behind the counter for his, I presumed, breakfast. He’d held a slight pout, illustrating mild disappointment, but I could be wrong of course. Could be a work problem, a cancelled plan – something a mate might have tagged him in and it wasn’t the right choice for this time of the morning. He smiled at me as he’d caught my eye, one I reciprocated automatically, taking in his beautiful features from my little creeping corner. He clicked his phone locked, put it in his pocket and flew out the door.

                Another chap in black stood up, taking a final swig of his cup and came to get rid of his litter adjacent to me. He brooded mystery; he could have passed for a secret agent, but surely they’d have been dressed far more inconspicuously than this? I think my love for American Crime Dramas was interfering with my poor character assassination. His built frame towered above me. I took in his features just like everyone else, except I had more of a front row seat. I noticed the glint from the spotlights to his rich, chocolate eyes. I noticed the salt seasoned through his peppered beard, his hair tousled to perfection, the sandalwood in his aftershave sauntered my way. Although he’d stopped, the scent continued to dance around me.

                As much as he exuded an undeniable confidence, purely through the way he carried himself, my thoughts mirrored those of the lady sat in the window. There was something running through this chap’s mind. His brow wasn’t furrowed through concentration for ensuring that his litter was being recycled in the right receptacles, it was through anguish. I refrained from asking him if he was alright. I should have done I guess, but I feared that I would be tarnished as the weirdo staring at all the customers around me for a little too long, trying to decipher everyone’s life whilst I should have been focused on my own.

                With a wipe down of what he’d spilt, he was gone with a few clicks of his expensive brogues and a ‘cheers mate’ to the only visible barista behind the display of fresh Brownies, Muffins and Pains Au Chocolat, making me kick myself that I didn’t immediately get one of each when I’d walked in. There was always tomorrow.

                I sipped away again at my drink; I wondered if any of them had done the same to me? What was the blond girl in the blush sweatshirt doing here this early with no visible place to be? What’s she reading? And why the bloody hell is she using her bank card as a bookmark? – To be fair, I needed to keep asking myself that question, not the best plan I’ve ever had.

                It had gotten me thinking about communication though; what would have happened if we’d all randomly started talking to one another? Should I have introduced myself to the other woman? Should I have made a bold move to the guy in the mac and asked him for his number? An impulse thing which was now too late, to be honest, the thought just made me bottle it anyway.

                The idea of raw, open contact made me feel shy, but the ambitious side of me wants to throw caution to the wind and just go for it.

                I got up with a deep breath, slid my card into one of the front pockets in my jeans (for the best, really) and walked over to the window a little slower than I would have done if I’d have left altogether.

                ‘Hi, sorry,’ I said with a shake to my voice, a combination of nerves and a waiting conversation ready in my throat. ‘Do you mind if I sit with you? It’s a bit dark over there.’ I stood hopeful, gently shaking my book in view.

                ‘Course not!’ she exclaimed, my fears of her battling with something earlier effervesced upon hearing the excited rasp in her voice.

                ‘Thank you. I’m Liv.’

                ‘Valentina.’ She smiled, offering me a hand to shake. ‘So, Liv,’ she pauses as she sits to face me a little more, very present, as am I, of what her next utterance will be. ‘What are you reading?’


 

The other day, I’d stumbled across the above image on Laura Hope’s Twitter page. I adore her art style and immediately felt myself drawn to the image in particular. It struck a chord with me and, much like Liv, I wondered who these people in the image were and who they could be. It quickly prompted me to write this small piece of fiction, which I hope you enjoyed!

So I must say a HUGE thank you to Laura for the inspiration; for a while I have been wanting to get back to my latest first draft and haven’t felt all that inspired to. The words fell into my lap for this visual aid and I’m hoping that with a re-read of some of the content for book four, I’ll be able to continue.

For more information about Laura Hope, her incredible work and projects, and also how to reach her, please visit the links below. Once again, a massive thank you to her for allowing me to use her stunning work for this piece of fiction.

Website – Laura Hope Illustration

Instagram – @laurahopeillustration

Twitter – @laurahopeillo

Oxford Doodle Club Information – oxforddoodleclub.com

APART.

I stared at our crumpled sheets.

One hand was wound around my waist whilst the other gripped the pendant he had bought me for our second wedding anniversary, pulling it from side to side, hearing the metal buzz as it moved.

It was the first time I’d mustered the strength to get out of bed in what felt like years. My hair was dirty, but I didn’t care. All I’d done for weeks was cry into my pillows and ignore the world around me.

All I wanted was him. The horrific reality was that he would never walk back through our front door.

I felt the lump in my throat rise and I stripped the pillows, folding them neatly, collecting them in a tidy pile.

I stood at the end of the bed once again, replaying memories. The late night movies we’d watch in bed, talking until the wee hours of the morning about our future and completely off-topic points that came into our heads. The nights we’d sensually indulged in each other’s bodies, deep sleep enveloping us in post-coital bliss.

My vision blurred as the tears came, taking away what I’d seen; bring me back to the present without my husband in it.

I stifled my sobs, clutching the pillow cases to silence my howls. I tried to take in the remainder of their scent that were filled with his, yet I felt that had been all I’d been doing. I’d been lying on his side of the bed for weeks, the only place I felt any kind of comfort at all because I could smell his aftershave.

Now that it had faded, I knew I had to change the sheets; Not only for cleanliness, but for my sanity.

Every minor everyday task now felt like a mountain I had to climb. Changing sheets was by no means a hard jaunt, yet I couldn’t help but feel as though washing them was a kind of closure. It felt as though I was washing away his being.

I didn’t want to accept it.

I wanted to feel as if he’d had to go away with work and I should leave everything just so.  I hadn’t moved anything on his bedside table; his watch stayed off kilter, his half-drunk bottle of water was about three inches away from the coaster I’d always reminded him about using, even though I knew he wouldn’t listen to me, it was still there. The tiniest rise of a smile appeared, as I was reminded of his daily minor rebellion.

My acceptance would make me feel as though I was now okay with all of this. I knew that my thinking was extremely backwards, but I’d never dealt with closure well; if at all.

We were a team. Partners in crime, never one without the other.

Truth be told, I didn’t know what to do with myself. I almost felt like I’d hear him tell me, but I knew I’d be waiting for a voice that would never appear.

I stroked my wedded hand over the cotton pillowcases.

Sleep tight, I thought, knowing that I never would again.

A field of questions.

I didn’t know why I would always find myself here. A few days would pass and I would wind up back in the same spot, struggling to search for the reason why. Was it closure I needed? Was it for concrete answers? The years had fluttered by and those questions would still fall from my lips.

Four years.

Four agonising years it had been since my sister walked out of our family home and never returned; her last breath dancing from her throat in this very clearing, in this field. I felt hollow, every single day. Nothing could ever fill the void of losing her, my best friend, the person I fought the most with, yet loved over everyone else.

Why was it in the very place that her skull was shattered, the very place her skin was sliced, and her body ravaged, was it the only place I felt closest to her? You would think it would be at home, going into her room with all of her belongings – the dance trophies, the fuchsia coloured frames of her and her school friends, but no. The only place where I felt her arms envelop around me was at the site of her horrific murder.

Inconclusive, they said. Insufficient evidence, they echoed. Uncovering my sister’s naked and abused body from underneath the moss and dirt, cutting her more than she already was to uncover possible answers did nothing.

He was out there. Watching me, perhaps? I’d been here often enough, every day it had felt like. Would he be peering through the trees, watching me traipse through greenery trying to uncover anything that may have been missed? A jagged rock that was painted with my baby sister’s blood?

Maybe I came here to hope that one day, somehow, she would give me a sign. To cause a gust of wind through my raven hair, blowing it in the direction in which she wanted me to search, uncovering something incriminating to help box in this vile predator.

Never would I be able to rest, never would I be able to be at peace with what happened to her. Perhaps closure simply had evaporated from my vocabulary – everyone else had seemed to stomach the thought of never walking through the front door again, dumping her bag and asking what was for tea. I knew she wasn’t coming back, but I wasn’t willing to let her remain a number in an unsolved police filing cabinet.

Send me away.

I didn’t care anymore.

I needed a name.

I needed an answer.