By H. Danielle Crabtree
Daniel shifted in his seat. His chair scratched across the tile floor with a shriek, but the noise died among the clamor of the buzzing coffee shop. Allison, or Allie as she preferred, was late, and her absence made him feel as jittery as a caffeine addict.
Allie was never late, but then again, perhaps he had been early. He checked his watch and then glanced in one of the mirrors that paneled the back wall of the restaurant. He ran a hand through his spiked hair, pulling at it, and as he did, he spotted a silhouette reflection.
“Morning, Daniel,” Allie’s soft voice greeted him even before he could turn around. “Perhaps you should go with decaf today if you’re gonna pull your hair out.” She laughed in such a way that made him smile.
“Just a lot on my mind,” he returned, but relaxed into his chair as she took the one opposite of him. Once she was settled, he handed her one of the two cups of coffee that sat on the table in front of him. “Decaf latte,” he told her.
“Thank you,” she responded and took a sip. “I half expected you to be gone already. I’m running late this morning.”
“No big deal. Meeting you here actually makes me not dread Mondays.”
She stiffened, pausing mid-lift with her cup, before finally taking a drink, and it made Daniel frown. He hadn’t exactly made overtures of affection toward her. As much as he wanted to, he didn’t want to ruin the best part of his week. However, there was something undeniable about Allie. Being with her was like being around family—without the dysfunction.
“Sorry if I made you uncomfortable. I value our friendship. Meeting you for coffee is just one of the things I have to look forward to.” He was always letting his guard down and forgetting conventional boundaries—boundaries that kept him strictly in the dreaded friend zone.
“I’m not uncomfortable,” she said. She offered him a reassuring smile that she then contorted into a distorted expression that made him laugh. “So, tell me why you’re pulling out your hair today,” she continued.
He waved his free hand dismissively. “The usual drama crap at work.”
“Such as?” she pressed.
“My boss moved up the deadline for one of my projects without even discussing it with me, and now he’s breathing down my neck, demanding updates. And, to make it worse, it coincides with another project deadline.” He took a drink of his coffee. “I had to divide my team between the projects. So, I have half the staff for each and less time to finish them. Seriously, Allie, I can do many things, but I can’t work miracles.”
“Have you tried talking to him? He’s not exactly being realistic, especially since you don’t have super powers.” The edges of her mouth twitched into a smile. “You don’t have super powers, do you?”
“Not that I’ve discovered.” He laughed, grateful for the levity that came with her presence. “Although, sometimes I really wish I did. Realistic or not, those are the deadlines I have to work with. I think it might cost me my job if I don’t meet them.”
“Daniel, I think you’re stressing out over nothing. You’ll get it done. You’re creative, you’re smart, and you definitely don’t think like anyone else I’ve met before.”
“I hope that’s a good thing,” he said.
“A very good thing,” she reassured. “Besides, if you didn’t think differently, we probably wouldn’t have met.”
“You think so?”
“Yes, I do.” She took another drink of her coffee before rising from her seat. “I really should be going, though.” She pointed to the clock. “I’m late.”
Daniel stood, leaning over to kiss Allie on the cheek. “I should head out as well. I’ll see you next Monday. Have a good week.”
“You, too,” she added, waving at him as she exited the restaurant.
He watched her until she disappeared from view. She really was a great friend, beautiful and perfect. He sighed. However, he could tell she didn’t feel the same.
He picked up his messenger bag and slung the strap over his head. As he did so, he caught a glimpse of several of the patrons around him. They eyed him, like one would eye a crazy man spouting nonsense in the park, and it wasn’t the first time he’d noticed them doing so.
“What?” he said sharply, and they all turned away. Maybe it was time to get a new coffee shop. The people here were getting weirder and weirder.
The next week, Allie was early. She stood even before Daniel reached her and swept a wave of her yellow hair behind one ear. He kissed the exposed cheek.
“Morning,” he said. “How was your week?”
They sat at their usual table. She pushed a cup of coffee across to him. He wrapped his hand around the cup and lifted it to his nose, inhaling the rich scent. “I really need the pick-me-up after everything this last week at work. Thanks for grabbing the coffee, Allie.”
“You got me last week. I thought it was the least I could do. How’d everything go with the deadlines?”
“I met one, but we missed the other. It was only a day late, but my boss isn’t happy.”
“I wouldn’t worry too much about it.”
He took a deep breath. “Well, even if I lose my job, at least we’ll still have our coffee Mondays. These visits are really the only thing keeping me sane.” Allie shifted, almost uncomfortable over his comment. She had done the same thing the week before. He frowned over what that meant. “Do I make you uncomfortable when I say things like that?”
“It’s not that you make me uncomfortable,” she said. There was a long pause as she looked around the coffeehouse. Her eyes fell on every table before she finally returned her focus to Daniel. “It’s that I worry about how attached you are to me. Daniel, coffee is all we’ll ever have. You understand that, right? You and I would never work out.”
It felt like a knife had entered his heart. “Oh yeah, I know that.” He tried to hide his hurt, his embarrassment. “I just can’t help but like you. You’re a good … friend.”
“You should find other friends,” she whispered. “Real ones, healthy ones.”
“You are a real friend, Allie. Sometimes it feels like you’re the only one I can talk to.”
“No, I’m not,” she said. Her words were biting. “And I should go. We shouldn’t do this anymore. It’s not fair to you.”
She jumped up from the table and knocked her coffee cup over. The contents pooled out onto the table. The chair she had been sitting in toppled backward.
Daniel was on his feet a second later. “Allie!” he yelled. “Allie, please wait!”
“It’s for the best. Leave me alone.”
She ran toward the door. Daniel tried to pursue but his foot hooked on the table’s leg. He fell, crashing into a neighboring table.
“Hey, man, watch it!”
“Allie!” he yelled. “Allie, wait!”
He struggled to get off the floor, untangled from the mess of patrons, table, chairs, and coffee. The other customers were yelling at him—angry because he tripped? Someone picked him up by the front of his suit jacket. He pushed him, trying to free himself, but the man only forced him back to the floor when Daniel stepped on the edge of a chair and lost his footing again.
“Let me go! Allie!” he called again. “Let me go!” he insisted, but no one heeded his requested—not until the police arrived.
There were deep, red marks on Daniel’s wrists from where the handcuffs had dug in. He fingered the grooved skin while he waited at a table in a windowless room. He was still confused as to why he had been arrested in the first place. The coffee shop owner had seemed angry; the other customers hadn’t been friendly either. It wasn’t as if he had purposefully assaulted anyone. He had tripped, not committed a capitol offense.
Daniel slammed his fists down on the table in frustration. The door opened; the click echoed his fist slam. A woman dressed in a pantsuit slipped through. She carried a notepad and file under her arm.
“Mr. Spiegel, my name is Kathryn Wright. I have a few questions for you, if you wouldn’t mind?” She smiled warmly and sat down across from Daniel. She set the notepad down in front of her and the file off to her side.
“Why am I here?” he demanded. “I didn’t do anything.”
She pressed her lips together as if deep in thought. “We’ll get to that, Mr. Spiegel. I promise. But first, do you have any immediate family or relatives?”
“No,” he answered automatically. He didn’t have anyone, or at least anyone who cared to be in his life. “My parents have passed and I’m an only child.” She scribbled on the notepad in an indecipherable cursive scrawl, much to Daniel’s annoyance.
“Can you tell me about the coffee shop today?” she asked.
He heaved a sigh in frustration. “Look,” he said. “I’m not sure what that was all about. I tripped and everyone started freaking out because I was trying to catch up with Allie.”
“Allison Glass—she’s a friend of mine. We meet for coffee every Monday at that café.”
“Yes, every Monday. Is that so hard to believe?”
“I only ask, Mr. Spiegel, because the owner and several of the customers gave the police a different account. The owner also made some statements that gave us some cause for concern.”
Daniel rolled his eyes. “Such as?”
“The owner noted to police that you are in his shop every Monday and up until now you haven’t been violent, so he didn’t feel a need to say anything.”
“Of course I’m not violent!” he interrupted.
“Please let me finish,” she said sharply. “He said in his statement—” She picked up the file folder and flipped through the pages. “—that the last few months you are in his shop every Monday and always sit at the back table closest to the wall. He said sometimes you buy multiple cups of coffee and engage in conversation with someone who is not there.” She closed the folder.
“What? He’s making it sound like I’m crazy. I’ve been meeting Allie.”
“That’s the thing, Mr. Spiegel. He wasn’t the only one who said the same thing. He also noted that this morning you became agitated, ran into the mirrored wall, and then fell backward into another table and started shouting. When one of the other customers tried to help you up, he said you pushed him and started screaming for ‘Allie.’”
“I didn’t run into the mirrored wall. I tripped and fell.”
“Mr. Spiegel, do you have a history of mental illness in your family?”
“Be that as it may, given this incident, we think it best you remain under psychiatric treatment for the next forty-eight hours.”
“What? Are you kidding me? I’ll lose my job!”
“Mr. Spiegel, I also spoke to your boss. He expressed some concern regarding recent behavior. He mentioned you’ve been under a great deal of stress lately.”
Of course Daniel had been under stress. His source of stress called himself the VP and made every underling crazier than the mad hatter. If he was mentally ill, it was because of him. “Look, find Allie. I know she lives in the neighborhood near the coffee shop. She’ll explain everything. She’ll tell you I’m not in the habit of talking to myself.”
“We’ve already done a preliminary search for Allison ‘Allie’ Glass and we haven’t found anyone with that name in the immediate area.”
Daniel slumped back in his chair. “I don’t understand any of this. I-I swear I’ve been having coffee with her for months. I …” his voice trailed off.
“We’ll get this sorted out, but in the mean time, I am recommending a short stay so that you can be assessed properly. You don’t seem violent, Mr. Spiegel, but you do seem to have lost touch of reality a bit.”
He swallowed hard. Nothing she said made sense. He wasn’t insane. He could be rather creative, but he wouldn’t have created Allie. No, she was real. He was certain of it. “I’m not crazy.”
“Of course not, Mr. Spiegel. Of course not.”
But the expression on her face said she was only humoring him.
It was said that love conquered anything, crossed space and time, but Allie knew that wasn’t true. She sat at her table in the coffee shop with one hand pressed against the mirrored wall, taking in the world reflected back at her.
Only here at this table had their two worlds met. Only here had she ever been able to touch the world in the glass. His world was a reflection, although to him it was the opposite and she was the reflection. When she left his side, she returned to her world; when he left, he returned to his. There was no way to cross, to be together. The mirror was their boundary, their barrier stopping them from being more than friends, more than just faces in the glass.
Allie turned around, no longer able to look at the mirror. Daniel had not come for the first time since they’d met. He had left her to her parallel world, the place in the looking glass, and she could no longer look at his world without him in it.
Love is A Many Splintered Thing, an anthology by G10 Writers © Feb. 2012 Short: Reflection by H. Danielle Crabtree