Chapter 1 (or, "Saint Arbucks")
There’s more to this world than meets the eye.
You’ve probably heard that said many times before, but it is true, reflected in our world, the media, and everywhere around us. Surprises behind every corner, expecting the unexpected…but what if even the most routine of days could not be taken for granted? The world we live in is prone to excitement and surprise and wonder and fear, but what does it really mean to feel those emotions? What is this world, life, reality?
The answer you will soon find out for yourself.
So where was that blasted cup holder?
She pushed aside several old glasses, cups, plates, even digging around in the silverware for a few moments. She let out a sigh, coming up short. It had to be in here somewhere, as the dishes had just been done this past weekend. If this took much longer, she was going to miss her train.
Behind the dishwasher...up on top of the cereal boxes...past the cans of tuna...there! She grabbed the plastic red cup holder and stuffed it into her white duffel bag. With one more adjustment, she made sure her duffel was good to go and she was off, down four flights of stairs and out onto the cold morning on 181st Street.
It was a short subway ride downtown to her school, an academy on the Upper West Side that her parents paid extra for each month. Today was January 7th, the first day back to school after the winter holiday recess. She had left early enough to stop at Saint Arbucks Coffee and grab her favorite drink: a medium sized chai with an extra shot of espresso. There were times that she could meet her friends there, but today would be a solo trip. The cup holder search would have thrown her morning’s routine off anyway, and her friends had already left her neighborhood by the time she got out her door.
She walked into the Saint Arbucks Coffeeshop on the corner of 72nd and Broadway exactly at 7:16 in the morning, per her smartphone, which she was constantly glued to (even in class). The shop was unusually quiet for this time in the morning, and there weren’t a lot of people sitting at the tables, though there was a nice long line (as usual).
After waiting in line for what seemed like hours (as it always did at that time in the morning), she got to the cash register and ordered her chai, then ducked into the bathroom while the chai was being made for a quick morning post subway makeup checkup. She brushed a few stray strands of dark brown hair out of her chocolate eyes, honing in on the mascara through the small mirror, harsh ceiling lights magnifying her every feature. Her short stature meant that she had to stand on her tiptoes to get it just right. She balanced herself with her left hand while applying with her right hand. Her duffel bag sat on the trash can, precariously perched much like its owner. With one last swipe, she fell back on her heels and straightened out her starched white uniform shirt, making sure it covered her all the way to her waist and the seams of her blue skirt. With a satisfied sigh, she smiled at herself in the mirror just as she heard her name called outside the bathroom by the barista.
She grabbed her red winter coat from the knob and ran outside the bathroom, going up to the counter. “That’s me,” she said as she reached back for her duffel to get her cup holder. But the duffel wasn’t there – she had left it in the bathroom. Horrified, she looked behind her just as the bathroom door closed, somebody else occupying the room. Drat. How was she going to get her duffel back now?
She turned, and there was a businessman with her duffel in his hands. “You left this in the bathroom,” he said to her.
Her smile returned. “So I did,” she said and took the duffel from him, reaching into the front pocket and pulling out the red cup holder. She grabbed the chai cup by the edges and placed it into the cup holder, then took the holder in her hands. “Thank you.”
“Oh, no problem.” And with that, the man grabbed his own coffee, as well as a small paper bag, and headed to the nearest wooden table.
She shouldered her bag and sat in the front of the cafe, on a stool, setting her bag below her feet. There was a huge window in front of her, the only such window in the cafe. Most everybody else liked to sit in the back, where the leather chairs and small chandeliers were, so they could carry on private conversations without being heard. But there was something special about this window. Here, she could sip her chai and watch the people of the city go by. This was one of her favorite parts of her day, because she loved people watching. There were eight million people in the city, and each and every one of their lives was on display.
She could see the subway entrance outside the window, just across the street, and the crowds of people hurrying up and down the stairs, papers in hand. Women ran across the avenue with tennis shoes on, sacrificing style for comfort until they got to the office. Kids walked alongside the sidewalk in groups, headed to school to learn their numbers and letters. One woman walked by with three dog leashes in hand, and three different dogs pulling her in three different directions.
The world is full of possibility, she told herself. You just have to know where to find it.
She jumped and almost fell off of her chair when she heard a noise behind her. Turning, she saw that the noise had come from the same man in a suit who had retrieved her duffel for her. He was still seated over at a table in the other part of the café. It looked as if everything was fine, but --
With no warning, the man tried to grab for his throat and fell off his own chair, it clattering against the tile. This time, the sound startled everybody in the coffee shop. Bystanders got up from their chairs to help and to see what was going on, and even she was curious. What was the story here?
Getting off her own stool, she tried to get a better look as a woman screamed. The man was sprawled out on the ground, his coffee spilled everywhere, and the woman who had screamed was standing by his body with a look of utter horror on her face. A barista came up behind her, and she leaned on his arm, grateful for the support.
Most of the other patrons chose that moment to leave; she grabbed her duffel and ducked out just as the ambulance arrived. She walked out onto 72nd as a crowd continued to gather, shop patrons mixing with passersby. The lady who had screamed was talking with one of the medics as they strapped the man to a board and loaded him into the ambulance.
“You know, it’s not going to matter what they do,” a voice from behind her said. She turned around and saw an older woman sitting on the sidewalk with an apple in her hand. The woman’s grey hair was done up in a bun, and she was wearing a red and green tracksuit. At first look, she seemed homeless.
Normally she did not associate with anybody like this -- mostly because she knew from previous experience that a lot of people who asked for money were scams. But there was something about the way she had just said that sentence that piqued her interest. She clutched her chai. “What do you mean?”
The old lady looked at her apple, not looking up at all as she spoke. “It’s a waste of time, taking that man to the hospital. He’s already dead.”
Her brown eyes widened as she put her chai down. How did she know that? She didn’t want to provoke her. “All he did was eat a bagel,” she finally said.
The little old lady with the apple nodded. “Of course. All he did was eat a bagel.” And, as if to drive home a point, she took a bite out of her apple.
That did it. She grabbed her duffel and, hanging on to her chai, hoofed it the rest of the way to school. Dead? Just like that? She would have to watch the news later that night...sounded like something that would be covered, even in a passing report. The sooner she got to school, the sooner she could finish her chai, the sooner she could forget about the creepy lady outside the Saint Arbucks.
But she couldn’t forget.