Nella’s Home-Brewed Coffee Shoppe, Textiles District. 11:47am.
“Hello, can I have an Americano, please. Yes, can I have that with cinnamon flavoring as well? Thank you so much. Okay, what do you want? Yes, I’m paying for you. Oh, enough stop being a baby. Just an everything bagel? Do you want anything on it? Seriously, nothing? It hardly costs anything you can get butter on it. Okay, fine. An everything bagel with nothing on it and a water with lemon. You never do change, do you? Oh, yes, that will be all. Okay, thank you. You can keep the change.”
The snow is coming down hard outside. The warmth of Nella’s provides a momentary shelter from the harsh world outside. Aromas of coffee and fresh pastries fill the air, but never overwhelmingly so. Decent lighting casts the room in vibrant and smooth colors. The music playing compliments, and never drowns out, the conversations which animate the room. This is a place they once called home.
Akira takes another sip of her coffee. She pensively scans the room, recognizing a few familiar faces and a few young newcomers. She smiles. “I have missed this place so much.”
Warren, violently bouncing his leg up and down, takes a vicious bite into his bagel. He nods in agreement and solemnly looks down into his plate without saying a word.
“Tom, cheer up. You’re going to ruin our time together.” She rests her hand on top of his. “I’ve wanted to see you so much lately.” He turns his hand over and they interlock fingers.
Tom forces a smile. He had missed her as well. His moments with Ms. Kaye were few and far between; each time they met, it was never for very long. There was a time when it bothered him more, but these days he took what he could get.
“My work lately… it is beginning to take over everything.”
“Are you still with Andrew?” For the past five years since his retirement from the EPA, Andrew Chian had been Tom Warren’s associate. He was the one who introduced him to the business.
“He has such a good heart.” Stirring gently with her spoon, she looks down at her coffee and reveals a delicate smile. She has such care for everything she touches in life. Her dark brown eyes look up into Warren.
Warren wonders if he regrets coming here. She is beginning to be too much for him. “I’ve seen things… things I cannot comprehend.” He avoids eye contact with her. “There are parts of this world, I would like to unsee.”
Warren squints his eyes, feeling a billowing storm of emotions moving in. He moves his hair back with his hand, “Chian is still so young, his view of the world has been sculpted by the things we’ve seen. And I think it has made him the stronger for it.”
“Things roll off his back, you know? Nothing seems tangible or real to him, at least, that’s the way I see it. Myself, on the other hand… I was not built for this lifestyle.” Akira pulls his hand closer to her.
“I promise you will get through this.”
Waves of exhaustion wash over him, ‘When was the last time I slept?’
Akira’s smile is fading. “Vanessa and I, we have been lucky to have made it this far without anything too bad.” An image of a deceased young girl in a coroner’s office taps her mind. She grimaces. “But, we’ve all seen something that never goes away.”
“I really wish you never joined this profession.”
“If I hadn’t, I would never have met you…”
“I know.” Warren lets go of her hand.