Sunday 18 – Monday 19 December 2011
Having finished work for the day, Amber made her way to the coffee shop, although she was convinced that alcohol would be more effective than coffee, given the way she felt. Sitting in her usual booth, back to the wall, facing the door and out into the shop, Amber waited for Mrs. Bright to bring her order of coffee, and a slice of cherry pie. Spotting a familiar figure, Amber waved for John to join her as he made his way into the shop.
‘I didn’t know how long you’d be, so I haven’t ordered for you yet,’ she smiled as she spoke. He sat down opposite her, partially blocking her view of the door. For as long as she could remember, Amber had always chosen to sit facing the door of a room, with her back against a wall. It gave her a sense of security knowing that she was protected on one side, but could still see everything that was occurring in a room. John shrugged. He didn’t mind that she had not ordered for him; he was capable of doing that himself.
Mrs. Bright brought Amber’s coffee and cherry pie to the booth, and placed it carefully in front of the younger woman.
‘There you go, Miss Carlson. Enjoy,’ she said, and then feigned surprise at seeing John. ‘Oh, Mr. Hardy, you just kinda snuck in, didn’t you? What can I get you?’
He smiled at Mrs. Bright, knowing perfectly well that she saw him enter the shop and sit opposite Amber. ‘Same as Amber, would be perfect. Thank you, Mrs. Bright.’
Nodding, she smiled and headed back behind the counter to prepare John’s order, leaving the two in peace for a moment. But there was little point in starting a conversation, as Mrs. Bright had impeccable timing, and always arrived just in time to hear things that she shouldn’t be privy to.
Within a few minutes, Mrs. Bright delivered a second slice of cherry pie and cup of coffee, placing it as carefully in front of John as she had in front of Amber. She winked at him.
‘I’ll leave you two kids alone,’ she said before walking away.
John waited until she was a safe distance away before speaking.
‘Dylan’s back in town.’
‘No surprises there, John. He’s here for the first snow of the season, as he is every year,’ she replied.
‘You think he’ll stop by?’ he asked, feeling slightly jealous of the relationship that Amber had built up, year after year, with Dylan.
She shrugged her shoulders and ate a mouthful of pie. John mirrored her actions, consuming almost half his piece of pie in one bite. He washed it down with a third of the cup of coffee. Unlike Dylan, there was no taking the country out of this boy.
‘You’re not jealous, are you, John?’
‘Oh you’re too funny for me to cope with, Amber. Why would I be jealous of him?’ He looked down at his pie, desperate to hide his true feelings from her.
‘I’m messing with you,’ she paused, allowing John to process her words. ‘Stephanie and I were in the same class, y’know, so we’d be the same age if she was still . . .’
Her thoughts trailed off with her words as she thought about Stephanie Partridge, and how easily it could have been her and not Stephanie who disappeared that day.
‘I don’t think I ever told you, John, but I was supposed to be with Stephanie the day she disappeared. We were supposed to walk home together, but mom got off work early and picked me up. She asked Stephanie if she wanted to come with us and hang out at our house. Steph said she had to stay with Dylan until after his baseball practice ended. That’s when she and I were supposed to walk home. If mom hadn’t got off work early, I would have been with her, and maybe then she wouldn’t have disappeared.’
John reached out a calloused hand and gently took hold of Amber’s forearm.
‘Nothing you could have done would ever have changed the outcome. The only difference is that there probably would have been two little girls missing that day, instead of one.’
‘I don’t know, John. I don’t think it’s that simple. I keep thinking that if we’d been together, Steph would still be here. And to be honest with you, I’ve always, always felt that whoever took her, is still here in town.’
From some distance away, Mrs. Bright’s ears were straining to pick up the conversation between Amber and John, and from what she heard, she didn’t at all like the direction it was taking.
. . . To be continued . . .