A face from Megan’s past appears she’s rather not see again

I pulled up in the parking bay on the road outside and the café and there was Rick Harrington sitting in the window as if the mention of him had summoned him like a spectre. I stopped and gripped Bessie like I was going to break the handlebars, heart pounding. He was hard to miss; six-foot-four of muscle, tight shirts, and double-denim, with a complexion that could cause sun glare.

Rick Harrington had been my kryptonite and he’d brought me down.

The beeping of the green man behind me brought me back to myself, I couldn’t sit there forever, there was work to do. I knocked the kickstand down with more force than it needed, adjusted the straps of my rucksack and walked into the café cool as anything.

‘Sorry, I’m late.’ I got my scarf tangled in my bag straps barely inside the door.

‘No worries.’ Jimmy put my favourite mug on the counter, gaze fixed on Rick. ‘Coffee.’

The mug had ‘The Gouda Stuff’ printed on the side with a cheese wedge wearing a pair of sunglasses. I did love a pun.

‘Thanks.’ I untangle my scarf, grabbed the coffee and took a sip. No milk, one sugar. ‘You’re a wonder.’

Jimmy leaned towards me and whispered, ‘Do you want me to get rid of him?’

I shook my head. It was sweet but if Rick had a mind to he could knock Jimmy into next week, I wouldn’t put it passed him. Rick didn’t go around starting fights but he’d bloody well finish them. I’d rather have a partner Rick would call a coward than one I had to visit in hospital. If I said that Jimmy would make a joke about the emergency cricket bat under the counter. I smiled at the thought.

I should’ve gone into the back to change out of my riding gear but I was superglued to the spot with my sweaty fingers flexing like octopus arms. Jimmy put his hand over mine, engulfing it. His hand was bumpy with scars from the oven and callused from carrying. I squeezed it tight. Rick’s gaze prickled my back.

‘Aren’t you going to say hello, bunny?’ Rick asked.

I tensed.

Jimmy looked over my shoulder at him with an expression that could induce frostbite. My free hand tightened into a fist, the only hello I wanted give him was a punch to the nose. I was a fighter. He wouldn’t cow me.

I swung round. ‘Don’t “bunny” me.’ I grabbed his arm, dragged him into the backroom, and slammed the door. ‘You don’t get to just turn up and act like we’re… Whatever the fuck you’re thinking.’ I shoved his chest.

He rocked on his heels then stepped back with his hands raised. ‘I’m sober, a year.’

I spread my arms. ‘What do you want me to do with that?’

‘I’m supposed to have apologised to the people I wronged but I never apologised to you.’

‘Which bit are you going to apologise for?’ I asked. ‘Did you bring an itemised list?’

‘You’re –‘

‘Angry?’ I snapped. ‘I spent five years of my life making everything about you and helping you.’ I stepped away from him. ‘Not anymore.’

He rubbed his face, hand rasping over his beard. My memory reminded me how good those big, rough hands had felt against my skin, and I mentally slapped myself. I was sorted, no going back. Not now. Not ever.

He tucked his hands in his jean pockets. ‘You’re right. I should’ve listened to you all along. That’s why I didn’t come sooner, I was too ashamed. I was shit person, especially to you. I’m sorry.’

I stood, deflated. I’d expected him to say something, I hadn’t expected him to sound like he meant it. Really meant it.

‘I didn’t come with expectations. I just came to say sorry because you deserve an apology.’

I put my fingers to the bridge of my nose. No, when Rick sounded most sincere that was when he was most dangerous. First came the false apology, sincere but begrudging. Second came the twist, turning things to make me feel I’d done wrong. Third came the forgiveness, and wasn’t he so generous for doing so?

No. No, he was not.

He gestured at the door. ‘I’ll go if you want me to.’

I’d forgotten I was standing in front of the door squeezing the tip of my thumb between my teeth. I stepped aside, glowering at him.

He paused and drummed his fingers on the door handle. ‘I know I can never make up for it and you don’t have to accept my apology. I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t.’ He walked out the door.

I stood there staring at the spot where he’d been and wondering what he expected me to do with that. I hadn’t seen him in three years, why now? I wasn’t going to trust him again. I couldn’t. He always had an agenda.

The door creaked. I jumped.

‘Are you alright?’ Jimmy asked and shut the door.

I snuggled into his chest, bunching his jumper in my hands. He was soft and warm and smelt of spicy cologne, coffee, and tobacco. His arms eased around me, carefully feeling out his welcome. I sighed from my toes and nuzzled his chest, everything seemed right and safe.

‘Better get back to work,’ I murmured.

He kissed the top of my head. ‘Your nan’s watching the front, you can take a few minutes.’

‘Aye, leave her out there too long and she’ll be thinking she runs the place.’ I stepped away and squeezed his arms. ‘I’m fine now, just fine.’

Jimmy didn’t look convinced.

I tossed my scarf onto the desk beside the boxes of Halloween decorations and made a grin, or possibly a grimace. ‘I’ll be fine. We can talk about it later.’

‘We will be,’ he said.

I chuckled. ‘Yes, boss.’

He sighed, shook his head, and went back out before Nan decided to help herself to tea.

I got changed into my jeans, brushed my hair and tied it up, and applied another coat of bright red lipstick. Armour in place I added my apron and a smile and went out into the café.

Jimmy was in the kitchen frying bacon for Nan’s breakfast. She was reading a romance novel with her glasses perched on the end of her nose, she didn’t need them but thought they made her more ‘approachable’.

I picked up a stack of laminated menus and set about putting them out on the tables. ‘How’d you get her so early?’

She closed her book. ‘Gerald gave me a lift.’

‘Oh aye, and who’s Gerald when he’s at home?’

‘Well –‘

I raised my hands. ‘Don’t tell me, I don’t want to know.’

‘You asked, dear.’

‘I didn’t ask that.’ If Gerald was where she’d gone the night before I definitely didn’t want to know.

Jimmy chuckled quietly and shook his head, he might’ve passed for relaxed if his shoulders hadn’t been so tight.

She took a sip of tea thick enough to stain wood and went back to her book. ‘You should try it.’

Jimmy cleared his throat, the corners of his lips were tilted up in a poorly suppressed smile and he put the plate on the hatch shelf. I sighed and took the plate over to her.

She glanced up at me, opened her bacon sandwich and attacked it with a bottle of ketchup. ‘Sure you’re alright?’

‘Perfectly,’ I said.

She looked over at the counter. ‘You forgot your coffee.’

Sure enough, my pun mug still on the counter, contents going cold.

I exhaled in a whoosh. It was going to be a long day.

Feature image by Laureen Missaire on Unsplash

For more episodes of Take a Bite Cafe click here.

Published by Jesse

I'm a writer and academic specialising in fantasy fiction and creative writing theory. I'm allergic to pretentiously talking about fiction and aim to be unashamedly ‘commercial’. Surely all fiction is commercial anyway, or what’s the point in publishing it?

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