The sidewalk shifts beneath my feet and tears stream down my face, mixing with the rain that swirls in sheets from a dark sky. There’s a gaping wound in between my breasts, I’m sure of it. Five minutes ago, what I’d known of life vanished in an instant. My future, my love, the future of our shared life—gone.

I bow my head to the driving rain and shove my hands into my pockets. My fingers brush the small paper wrapped box in my coat pocket. The Superbowl ring I’d found on Ebay six weeks ago. It’d cost my entire paycheck last month, which had left me with only the meager tips from the coffee shop to live on.

Warm air wafts out of the Froth and Foam café, tinged with the scent of fresh coffee as a customer shoulders his way through the door. He struggles to balance a cardboard cupholder laden with four steaming paper cups. My stomach clenches at the sight of the scribbled handwriting on the side.

Her handwriting.

I tear my eyes away from the coffee shop, forcing myself to stare at the crosswalk signal as if I can will it to change. A half dozen cars hum. They idle at the busy intersection. A freshly waxed sports car vibrates with a familiar rap song in front of me; its driver mouths the words silently and bobs his head to the rhythm. He catches me staring and his eyes meet mine.

His bangs are smoothed in a stylish curl and his eyes are the purest blue I’ve ever seen. His mouth curves into a friendly smile.

I want to punch him.

My cheeks flush and I bristle under his gaze.

A car horn bellows, startling me from my dark thoughts. The man guns his engine as the light turns green. His tires splash water over the curb, drenching my shoes and pants. I groan as the icy water seeps into my socks and shoes. My vision blurs as a fresh surge of tears brim in my eyes.

Why her? She isn’t that pretty, not really, and the most interesting thing she ever talked about was her three-legged rescue cat, Cocoa. No, I shake my head in frustration, Mocha.

Shit,” I say aloud. It feels good.

A pregnant woman with her toddler in tow shoots me a narrow-eyed glare.

I swallow the bitter taste of embarrassment. My shoulders slump as the waves of anguish crash over me again and I fix my eyes ahead. My jaw clenches as I shove the image of Ian and Olivia from my mind, force the memory of their arms wrapped around each other. His lips had been on hers when I’d opened the door to the storage room, the musty odor of burlap bags containing the unroasted beans tickling my nose.

Both had snapped their eyes to me, wide with shock, to where I’d stood, frozen in the doorway.

“Kayla…I,” Ian had stammered.

Olivia’s fingers had gone to the strap of her sun-bleached tank top that had slipped down her shoulder.

The droplets pelt my face and I cringe at the image seared into my brain. A huddled crowd has formed at the corner of the street and the walk signal switches. The mass of raincoats and bobbing umbrellas steps down off the curb, and I feel the instinctual pull to follow them and yet, my feet are planted to the sidewalk.

I can’t go yet. I should go back there and face them. Scream at him. Throw things. Isn’t that what girlfriends do when they catch their boyfriends cheating?

The hand flashes, counting down the final twenty seconds left. An ivory van pulls into the space before me and the driver and I exchange looks. His eyes are too small under his heavy brows. He’s waiting for me. I try to take a step forward, but still can’t. I swallow, stuff my hands deeper into my coat pockets, and pivot to the right. I start down the sidewalk. It’s progress, I tell myself. At least I’m moving away from the coffee shop.

A flicker of movement catches at the corner of my vision. I glance to the back window of the van. It’s hazy, the streaks of rain and road grime coating the glass. I squint, but see nothing. But as I turn away, a woman’s face appears in the window. No, not a woman, a girl. Her eyes are wide, feral, reminding me of the crazed stray cat I’d tried to befriend with cans of tuna once.

Her small, pale hands beat at the glass, and above the hum of engines and clatter of dishes being gathered by a server at the café, there’s the softest of thumps.

“Please,” she mouths, and her breath fogs the window. “Help me.”

Her eyes bounce wildly from side to side as if searching, until suddenly, they lock with mine.

My heart shudders. Her face is round, angelic, the main character in a fairytale, and yet it’s her eyes that stop me from breathing. The iridescent shimmer of gold and green. Awe inducing. The kind of eyes that artists spend years trying to capture.

“Please,” the girl murmurs. I glance to either side of me. Surely, someone else is seeing this besides me? But I’m alone on the sidewalk. The van’s engine sputters, releasing a gray puff of smoke and steam as it rolls forward.

Frantic now, the girl pounds at the window. My thoughts race, and I fumble for my phone. My fingers shake as I swipe open the rain splattered screen. Camera, I yell at myself. Where’s the goddamn camera?

The icons melt together, but I manage to find it. Quickly, I snap a picture of the license just as the van disappears down a side street.

My hands tremble as I dial 9-1-1. My voice sounds strange, eerily calm as I tell them about what I’d witnessed. As I speak to the dispatcher, the raw, throbbing ache in my chest recedes to a quiet, soft murmur.

When not creating fantasy worlds for children and teens, SJ enjoys exploring the Pacific Northwest, reading anything with a good twist, and rolling initiative with her friends. She lives with her family on a small farm in eastern Washington.

Photo by Tobias Tullius on Unsplash