“I’ve decided to quit,” I said as I swabbed coffee rings from the remaining table.
“Uh huh,” Lisa said from behind me, her voice soft and distant.
She was engrossed in a magazine, elbows propped on the front counter next to a tub of dirty coffee cups, her thin shoulders hunched forward as she pored over the glossy pages. It was one of those thought-provoking celebrity gossip magazines. I could tell by her face—lips parted, eyes round and staring—it was the same look rubberneckers got when driving past a car accident. They wanted to be shocked, they wanted to see blood.
I tossed my towel down on the table, hands on my hips. Muffled voices from the television mounted behind the counter cluttered the silence. “I’m going to give birth to kittens and move to Mars.”
“Uh huh.” She didn’t look up. “Hey! According to Sheeple Magazine, Michael Jackson was an alien!”
I sighed, marched across the cafe, and yanked the magazine away. Michael Jackson gazed up from the cover with giant buggy alien eyes. “You know these things cause brain damage, right?”
She looked at me through a sheet of wavy blonde hair, a sarcastic grin on her pixie face. “Yeah, yeah, but it’s not permanent.”
“You didn’t hear a word I said, did you?”
She scrunched her face at me. “Sorry, my brain cells were busy with all the dying.”
Her face dropped. “What? Right now?”
“Yeah. Well, I’ll help close up, but I’m never coming back to this shit hole.”
I was twenty-six going on sixty but not the good ‘led a good life and happy to slip into retirement’ sixty. It was more of a bitter, ‘rescue fifty cats and cry myself to sleep’ sixty. I needed a change, something to make me excited about life. Alien Michael Jackson wasn’t going to cut it, neither was slaving away at a coffee shop for minimum wage.
Maybe I just needed a boyfriend. Probably not . . . definitely not.
“Good for you!” She set to work cleaning the espresso machine. “Maybe I should quit too. Really stick it to that dick. Anyway, what’s next?”
I shrugged. For once I had no plan, and for the moment that was okay.
“Speaking of . . . is Rick coming in tomorrow?” I switched off the open sign and locked the door. No one would care or even notice if we closed fifteen minutes early.
“Yep, Captain Jerk Face will be in bright and early,” Lisa said, shaking her head. “That new girl, Dana, has to work with him all weekend. Poor thing.”
“We really should have warned her.” Rick, the owner, was a total perv. It was no secret that he only hired women he found attractive in hopes of getting lucky. Though, I wasn’t sure why he’d hired me. I wasn’t his usual type. Yet here I was, the dark-haired girl who wore too much black, amid a sea of chipper blondes. Perhaps he thought I would prove an easier conquest than my Barbie-esq counterparts.
Lisa shrugged and mugs clattered as she stacked them on top of the espresso machine. “Yeah, well, she’ll figure it out eventually. Maybe I’ll stop in tomorrow.”
Rick. Just thinking about him made my skin crawl. The way he would sneak up behind me and massage my shoulders, his breath reeking of coffee and cigarettes. Just another asshole who thought every woman on Earth was his to fondle. I was sick of having to be on guard all the time. It was definitely time to move on.
Lisa turned up the TV and we trudged through our half-assed cleaning duties. It would just get filthy again in the morning. When everything was passably clean I entered the cramped office and scrawled ‘Rick, I quit. -Sasha,’ on a sticky pad and slapped it in the center of the computer screen.
It felt like victory.
Lisa looked up from the TV as I exited the office. “Have you seen the news?” She pointed to the screen, her mouth bowed in a frown.
A serious-faced woman with sleek dark hair and a smart looking suit filled the screen. A banner scrolled below her, white letters against a red background: ‘Update: Total missing jumps to forty-five.’
“Shh!” Lisa flapped her hand at me and cranked up the volume.
The newswoman’s stuffy voice filled the empty shop. “—authorities are not giving us much. At present, there seems to be no connection between the missing people, except that they have all vanished from the Portland Metro area. Detectives with the Portland Police are asking anyone with information to come forward—”
Lisa looked back at me, her eyes wide. “Forty-five! That’s nuts! Just last week it was twenty.”
I shrugged. It was obvious Lisa was worked up, but I wasn’t sure what she wanted from me. People went missing every day, most of them were assholes anyway.
“Seriously? You haven’t heard about this?”
I was embarrassingly bad at keeping up on current events. Life was depressing enough without being barraged with the horrors of humanity at the top of every hour. “I overheard something about it last week. It’s just drugs or something. Besides, they’re probably blowing it way out of proportion to boost ratings.”
“It has nothing to do with drugs. It’s real people.”
“Real people? As opposed to what? Fake ones?”
She narrowed her eyes at me. “You know what I mean! Guys, chicks, kids . . . freakin’ librarians―”
“So, what is it this time? A super prolific serial killer—do they have a Guinness Record for that yet? Ooh, no. Equal opportunity sex traffickers. Finally, right?” My laughter shriveled up. She was giving me that look, the one I inevitably got from most people. I had gone too far.
“Everything’s a morbid joke with you! This is serious. Those are real people.”
My eyes dropped to the tile floor and I watched an ant haul a crumb of muffin. I wanted to step on him out of spite.