Coffee no more
The cafe was full.
Mark’s hands were shaking, either from the bitter cold outside or from nicotine withdrawal. Dirty habit.
He was trying to convince himself that he agreed with Anna, a college fellow, whose boobs seemed abnormally close while standing in the doorway. She was a bit amazing, brown eyes that sparkled and a laugh that produced the most provocative dimples. The only downside was that she was almost the same height as him and had, he suspected, a sharp intellect. He wasn’t sure how his rather pedestrian math and chemistry would match his French major.
He’d been watching her for weeks … So many other guys.
He had accidentally bumped into her at a student disco last Saturday. In a pause he had taken the step, long rehearsed casual words, known by heart, but even then he had stumbled.
How about a coffee on Monday?
Sure, he had laughed.
Flattered at the time, now the anguish had begun. All his friends had girls, some were already hanging out. He seemed to be out of his mind.
A roller coaster for a couple of days … How would I measure up?
Disaster. There is no table in sight.
“There, on the back wall.” He nudged him.
She was sharp.
They made their way. Those boobs. She might be brilliant but she looked good for so much more. It almost fell apart when she untangles her scarf. That cleavage.
‘Tea, coffee, uh …’ he stumbled.
“Tea and whatever,” he said.
He pushed through the crowd to give his order.
Tea was yet to come. He glanced back a bit the way he had come. What if she …?
But have not done it. She was sitting calmly giving him a look from scratch.
At the nightclub, in tight jeans and a baggy T-shirt, she had maneuvered to be close to him. A little shy, this guy, dark hair and eyes, good body, about the same height.. He’s not a bully by the looks of it, he’s not great at being masterful. She was well and truly above that guy.
“Hot tea, mud pie, and hot chocolate for me,” Mark said, setting the tray down.
Then, out of nowhere, this couple appeared.
Do you mind if we sit down with you? asked the guy who sported a red nose and showed a magnificent set of pearls. On his arm, a tall sexy brunette.
Mark hesitated. The place was full of people, what could I say.
“Join us, no problem,” Anna entered first.
Mark was silent … Too much for a table for two …
The brunette sat next to Anna revealing a radiant smile:
‘Hi, I’m Helen.’
‘Anna’. They shook hands.
‘Your hot chocolate is getting cold, Mark’ said Anna. Not exactly sociable this guy.
‘Where are my manners?’ Alan chimed in ‘I’m Alan and happy as hell’
Any particular reason? Anna joked.
Helen and I are engaged. I proposed to her last night, ” Alan explained, his eyes sparkling.
‘Congratulations!’ Anna said returning Helen’s smile and noticing her engagement ring.
“It is so beautiful,” he added.
‘Thanks. That’s nice too, ”Helen continued, looking at Anna’s cleavage.
Mark followed Anna’s hand landing on her elegant heart-shaped pendant, sparkling at her low cut. That cleavage! You better watch yourself.
It’s called L’Amour. My mother gave it to me, ‘a twinkle in her eye.
Mark was checking his wallet. Or so he intended. Are you testing me? I won’t fall in love with this one, no way.
‘I’ll tell you what, why don’t we all celebrate this special moment with a glass of champagne?’ Alan snapped. “Is there someone inside?”
The hands appeared instantly. Mark’s was the last.
Alan stood up and turned to the counter.
‘Whoops!’ he laughed as he hit the table. Anna’s right hand gripped her cup to hold it in place while her left arm supported the table. The small pendant slid down her neck in the sudden twist, then fell to the ground. The cups wobbled and spilled a few drops.
“Got it,” Mark said, snaking under the table.
The girls were erasing the marks. Men, what can you expect? They exchanged glances.
‘Sorry about that, guys. I’ll get more towels, ” Alan said and pushed his way through the crowd to the cafeteria counter. Her black leather jacket, shiny jeans, and athletic figure remained in Mark’s mind. Was that Anna’s favorite type?
Suddenly the table began to shake, this time causing the teaspoons to dance on the saucers. In seconds it became a more serious rumble, like a high-powered car idling. Anna and Helen stopped cleaning themselves and looked at each other in alarm. They held their breath.
With the chair shaking, Mark looked out the window to see if he could figure out what was happening. Then he caught the attention of Alan at the counter. He seemed desperate.
A deep groan emanated from inside the café, a crescendo of concrete on steel, louder and louder until it became a muffled growl just below his feet.
People jumped to their feet, turning their heads wildly in all directions; total confusion on some faces, absolute terror on others. They all looked at the walls and the floor of the cafe. One mirror cracked and then another. Somewhere someone yelled, “Earthquake! Run!”
At that moment the lights went out followed by a split second of dead silence. The silence then erupted into an aria of terror and all hell broke loose.
Alan ran toward them from the counter. Helen frantically clung to him. Mark grabbed Anna’s hand firmly and yelled “This way.” They headed for the only exit, Helen and Alan following closely behind.
The building began to shake violently. The screeching of steel girders echoed through the confined space that made up the banshee, breaking the relative calm that had prevailed only minutes before. The onslaught of panic grew uncontrollable.
Mark cautiously stepped over the obstacles in the dark room, almost falling over. He regained his balance and roared “Annaaa”.
“I’m right behind you,” he replied in a strained voice.
People started pushing and turning, but got stuck at the exit door. ‘Shit’ several voices yelled repeatedly. ‘Run, run, the building is collapsing.’
The main supporting pillars of the café creaked and groaned like a shower of dust and debris.
Mark pushed on through the chaos and finally made it to the front windows of the cafe near the front door. In the intense gloom she felt around her, she found the metal back of a chair, grabbed it, and swung it with all her might toward the nearest window. But without effect. Desperate, he turned his chair again, hoping, against all odds, that he would break the window.
‘Shit, you bastard, I’m not going out like this,’ and he rocked the chair over and over and over again.
Finally, he heard the glass creak and the window shattered under his last adrenaline-fueled blast, no doubt aided by the earthquake that continued to rumble. Something warm ran down his face. It had a salty taste. A sharp pain flared up in his right arm, but he ignored it. He paused to regain his senses. He had achieved an escape route. Anna’s breath grew hot and heavy at the back of her neck.
People cried and crawled desperately around him. Death was in the air.
“That’s our only way to escape,” he yelled, measuring the window. He grabbed a handful of Anna’s blouse from behind, raised his other arm to shield his face from the glass, and counted, “One.” Two. Three. Juuump.
He caught the edge of the sidewalk with his right knee. Unbearable pain. The chill of the night broke through his thin cotton shirt. He unconsciously flinched but didn’t let go of Anna’s arm.
Screams of terror from those still trapped inside filled the night but he saw nothing. Dust filled his nostrils and he began coughing up debris.
Silence, deathly silence. For a moment, he thought he was dreaming.
Then he heard the cry of the girl.
Anna? he whispered ‘Are you okay?’ he asked turning to face the figure lying inches from his bruised and bleeding legs.
The girl didn’t answer, but kept crying softly, her arm shaking in shock, her blouse in tatters.
Anna, please, are you okay? persisted.
The sharp, stabbing pain in his knee forced him to collapse beside her. His hand slid from her arm to grasp her ruined kneecap. He fumbled in the front pocket of his jeans, pulled out his trusty lighter, and quickly squeezed the steering wheel. A small light flickered and he struggled to establish the identity of the person in front of him.
Helen? He asked anxiously “Are you okay? … Where is Anna?”
A faint scream echoed through the night.
Mark mustered his waning strength and began to crawl toward him. One drag, one rest, one more drag and another rest.
It seemed like centuries. Then a sigh rose to his face, shallow but steady. Anna’s scent filled his sandy nostrils. She was lying on her back, dying.
‘Thanks god! Are you alive! ‘said Mark and stroked her hair. With the lighter lit, he quickly checked his body. His eyes slowly opened:
“I can’t move my left leg,” he growled.
“I’d say your thigh is broken, stay still, I’ll get help,” Mark said. He knelt down and took Anna’s hand, his mind racing.
‘Are you OK? Where are the others? ‘he screeched.
“I’m here,” Helen answered between sobs.
Helen? Are you? ‘yelled a male voice, hidden behind a pile of rubble. All three heads turned in unison toward the dark figure staggering to its feet.
“Alan, darling!” Helen yelled and jumped to support him.
Just a few feet away, a deafening sound of falling debris, bent metal, and an energy blast knocked them all down. The cafeteria was no longer, just a pile of smoking rubble in the dark.
The lighter went out. Mark shook it hard and pulsed it hard. Igniting once more, it revealed a flicker on the ground.
‘I have found love, ‘ Mark said when Anna’s eyes met his.