The young woman at the counter grimaced, but in a sympathetic way if that was possible. “Sorry,” she said. “All out. The guy ahead of you just bought our last one actually.”
It was going to be that kind of a day where your co-worker killed himself and you couldn’t even get the baked good you wanted. Any other day, I would have accepted the Pastry God’s decree that I shall not have the muffin-cookie hybrid that constitutes sconehood, but I was having a shit day…and I really wanted a scone.
I turned around to ask the guy if I could possibly buy the pastry off him, feeling a desperate sadness for how much I needed this one good thing, but the guy was already facing me, smiling pleasantly.
“Hello, Jorge,” he said, the smooth, silk voice of my first phone call of the day, now ringing out through real life vocals.
“Um…hello, sir.” I said, wondering how the man knew my name and if I was just imagining that his voice was the one that had called his morning and told me to meet up for lunch. But then I realized that I was in a cafe, on Main Street, and it was my lunch hour. It seemed too much of a coincidence for a day that had already held coincidences of meaning.
“Thanks for being on time, Jorge,” the man said, accepting the scone and a mug of coffee that the barista at the end of the bar held out to him, her eyes betraying how alluring this man was to her. She seemed ready to splash hot coffee on herself if that is what his approval required.
Indeed, the man before me was attractive, and had a certain pull to him, even though I didn’t “swing that way.” In addition to having a distinctive shock of black hair, his features around it were hard chiseled, with curves and angles to his face that looked so sharp and symmetrical that you could cut youself on them. And his smile, that he had flashed already several times, was razorwire thin, and dug into you in the same manner.
“Uh…yeah. I’m sorry, you’re the one who called me on the phone today, right? I’m not really sure who you are to be honest.’
His smile held.
“Formal introductions are neccessary, although we are acquainted in less strict circumstances. Let’s sit. You can eat your scone, and tell me how things are going.”
He grabbed my elbow in a firm grip and pulled gently so that I had no choice but to follow him. Plus, I could at least hear him out since he’d given me the last scone.
We sat in a far corner of the cafe, next to a fireplace, built up and cracking away. The man sat with his back to the fire, and indicated opposite to him so that when I sat I could look upon the fire as he had view of the rest of the cafe. We sat silently for a moment, and he nodded towards the scone. I broke off a piece and put it into my mouth. It was cinnamon and some kind of nut, and it was warm; quite good. I was eager to know more about this man, but I was hungry too. I took another bite.
“Introductions…assumptions. They go hand in hand. But I am what I am, and there’s no shame in that.”
It seemed rude to ask, but he’d left me an undeniable opening. “And what are you?” I asked.
“I’m a business owner; an entreprenur, a boss. Your boss, Jorge,” he said, obviously delighted I’d taken the bait.
“I don’t remember accepting employment with you.”
“I did not think you would,” he said. “It was a long time ago as far as you are concerned. And it’s not really the type of job you ‘accept.’ Our line of work is more a compulsion, an inevitability, that our clients find themselves in and must go from there. Your employment is no exception. You are my assistant, and you have always been my assistant, and you will always be my assistant. Would it help if I told you that, we really do work well together?”
“But I’ve never seen you in my life!” I said,my voice rising a little hysterically. The scone was hitting my system and I could think through the fog in my brain a bit better, although the hysteria from the day’s events was still mounting.
“You had a dream last night, didn’t you, Jorge? You had a a nightmare, and then…then the nightmare came true. You think you’re going crazy, but the truth is more optimistic than that.”
“I’m done,” I said, pushing away from the table. The heat from the fire was on my face and I was sweating. “Thanks for the scone, dude, but I’m not interested in business propositions or…whatever.” I was too freaked out by his talk about my dreams to even finish the sentence.
“Dude…” he said, musingly, and I turned away from him to leave, but his silk soft voice followed me, “This isn’t the first time you’ve dreamed about the work we do, and it isn’t the first time it has come true. You’ve forgotten. I’ve let you forget. But I’m calling you in now Jorge. You’re on duty now. Take the rest of the day off to get your head straight, and then meet me at the office tomorrow morning. We are absurdly behind schedule.”
And then he stood, and strode out of the cafe before I could move. The barista’s eyes followed him, haunted by his presence, and tortured by his leaving. It wasn’t just the barista though. Several eyes followed his long strides out, watching him as he turned and walked along the glass window of the cafe and then disappeared.
I stood, still behind the table. So much for making an exit to prove my own sanity and control of the situation. I sat back down, and decided that at least I could finish my scone. After polishing it off, I stood again and walked back to the office building, more aware this time of the turns I was making, although I still couldn’t meet the eyes of any passerby. I was afraid they’d see a glint of something unnatural in them. Someone would see my abnormality and they would be sure to destroy me.
As I walked, I couldn’t stop obsessing over what the man had said about this not being the first time I’d dreamed about “the work we do,” and also not the first time my dreams had functioned as some sort of prophetic event. That couldn’t be true. I never usually dreamed, or rather never remembered what I dreamed. I hadn’t since I was a kid. Since the night terrors, since my parents took me to the sleep center, since I started taking medicine shortly after to help me sleep all night and not dream. Oh shit, I thought. Could the things the man be saying actually mean something?
I pushed the thought away with more than a little violence. I wasn’t going to think about this right now. I would go home and take my medicine tonight and I would sleep and everything would be fine.
It had only been an hour since I’d left the office building. The paramedics and police officers and the rest of the calvary had showed up. This had at least resulted in Jim’s body being bagged up and placed somewhere out of sight. Death isn’t something that people want to look at and let linger about, but that doesn’t mean that we can ignore it, I thought. I stomped on that thought as well though. Not even really sure where it had come from. It wasn’t something I typically dwelt on. I was the ignoring type, and I had no problem with trying to disregard the unpleasantness of all this until it passed.
There was still glass strewn about, and the office chair pieces were strewn about. Officers were circling the scene, and the yellow crime tape was roping it all off. I could only just squeeze past them all, and into the lobby door, easily gaining access to the elevator, as empty as the lobby was. And when I exited on my floor, the scene was the same. Everyone had been let go home for the day. I didn’t need the sticky note on my computer to tell me that, but there it was. Someone had drawn a sad face at the end of their message to me. Sad face, indeed, although having the rest of the day off was welcome. I wasn’t sure how I was going to concentrate on solving any kind of customer complaint with my head so knotted.
Someone had placed a piece of plastic over the open hole where Jim had broken the glass, and it slapped against the building obscenly in the dead silence of the office. I grabbed my coat from where I had left it on the back of my office chair, and grabbed my messenger bag as well. I hadn’t realized I’d left it here. It felt clunky though in an unfamiliar way. I pulled open the flap, and then dropped my bag to the floor with a shout as I saw what was on top.
When I dropped my bag, it rolled out and clanked into the middle of the floor. It was horrifyly familiar. The red hue or the metal cup that I’d know anywhere. I snatched my bag up and fled from the office, not looking back to see if it was imagination or a sick reality that Jim’s coffee mug had somehow found its way into my bag.