Chapter 6: The Highway Cafe
And somewhere along that highway was a cafe, where they sat and spoke over a milkshake or three, about something so private in such a public place.
Maybe they should’ve chosen their location more carefully, or maybe it didn’t matter at all. Because at every place there is always someone watching, listening.
The Boy That Hates Books was no exception to this fact.
The Highway Cafe had been part of the Valley for as long as the place had even existed. I tended to visit it often, sometimes alone and others with company, but I’d never seen the place look so...empty.
“The usual.” Alice slid the menu across the table and smiled at Vixen, the owner of the cafe.
He cocked his head to the side, midnight black hair getting caught in his eyelashes, and swiped up the menu in a heartbeat. Sharp cutting blue eyes darted up to mine, and I looked away in an instant.
Vixen was undoubtedly the reason that The Highway Cafe got so much attention. Besides being the only place in the Valley that sold half decent coffee, people would come here just for the eye candy. Or at least, my sister did.
“Kirsten,” his voice was sickly sweet, “It’s been awhile.”
“It has.” I replied through gritted teeth.
“It’s funny, I didn’t think you’d still live in the Valley. Thought that maybe you would have fled too.”
“Vanilla milkshake is all.” I ignored his remark, keeping my eyes on the empty booth beside us.
Vixen smiled and laughed beneath the unwanted silence, shooting me a glare before turning his eyes on Austin.
“And you, Myer’s?”
“Coffee,” Austin replied, “Decaf.”
“On it’s way.” Vixen turned on his heel and glided through the cafe, not turning back to take a seconds glance.
Vixen was eye candy for sure, youthful and daring. But he was a player, and he liked to have the upper hand in all situations, not caring who he had to push down along the way. I hadn’t wanted to come back to The Highway Cafe after what he’d done to my sister, but I also didn’t want him to win. Boys like him strive off surrender, but surrender just wasn’t my thing.
“Was that about-” Alice leant forwards across the table, eyes searching mine.
“Nala?” she nodded, “yes.” I replied.
“Why can’t he just let it go? Hasn’t he done enough damage?” Alice’s voice was uneven, her fist clenched beneath the table, “He drove her away from her own home, made her leave her whole family behind...”
“Boys like him strive off surrender,” I voiced my thoughts aloud, “and I won’t let Nala’s weaknesses be my surrender to him. I want to be her strength.” I gave a half-hearted smile.
“That’s my girl.” Alice replied, reaching out for my hand.
“Austin, you haven’t said a word since we got here.” I turned my direction on reality boy for the first time tonight, deciding that I couldn’t just ignore him in some fantasy world.
I couldn’t help but feel on edge. I had never seen Austin behave like this, he was usually so carefree. It was as if someone had tightened their hand around his throat and was squeezing, refusing to let go. Unless something else had happened, besides me... I shook off the thought. Whatever I’d done to make him like this, whether what had happened earlier had bothered him or not, I no longer cared. Alice and Austin played too big a part in my real life to let them go, they were irreplaceable in my story.
“The boy,” Alice silenced my thoughts, pushing the subject away from Austin, “the boy I showed you the other day in the newspaper.”
I looked up.
“What about him?”
“He was spotted.” Alice clarified.
A breath caught at the back of my throat, goosebumps pricking my skin. Austin cleared his throat, as his fingers tapped away at the tables edge.
Alice didn’t hold my gaze.
“We...they don’t know.” She stammered.
I glanced back at that empty booth, seeming to stand out in this not so crowded cafe. Two lights hung above it, swaying gently like an abandoned swing, and they flickered along with the movement. The unreliable light cast shadows on the seats, and unwanted bits of chewing gum clung onto the red leather.
“That’d make a good story,” I suggested, “for the school papers.”
Alice turned to face the window, eyes flickering shut for a second too long. “Maybe...” she murmured.
I stifled a laugh, “What do you mean maybe? Where’s the fire Alice? You usually get so excited when an opportunity for a story like this comes up! It’s so interesting how-”
“It’s far from interesting!” Austin slammed his fist down on the table, making me jolt and Alice flinch.
“I didn’t mean to-”
“It’s not safe,” Austin’s voice was stern, “to be alone out there when someone like him is on the loose.”
“He’s a criminal right, what for? Theft? Kidnap?”
“Murder,” Austin spat, “cold-blooded murder.”
“But he’s so young...” my words caught in my throat.
“Age means nothing Kirsten, not when you have a motive. Anyone is capable of anything, don’t you understand that?” I gasped, “this is exactly why you need to get your head out of books and open your eyes. The world is a dangerous place, and I’m talking about the real world Kirsten, not some fantasy one made up in the mind of a stranger. You can’t trust anyone.”
Anger flooded my veins.
“I do live in the real world Austin. I understand it as well as you do. Don’t you wonder why I read? Because reality had me so tight in it’s grasp that it was choking me. I couldn’t breathe. After what happened to Nala, I read books to escape.” Tears pricked my eyes.
“I heard the name of the damsel in distress.” Vixen appeared at possibly the worst moment from around the corner, balancing the drinks we had ordered on a tray, along with a vulgar smile upon his lips. I stood up almost immediately and looked at Vixen dead in the eye.
“What’s wrong Krissy? Trouble in paradise?” He sneered.
Without a moments hesitation, I walked forwards and crashed my shoulder into Vixen’s, sending him and his tray full of milkshakes and coffee crashing to the ground. I heard him grunt, and felt his hands clawing at my legs, trying to drag me down with him. Heard the shouting as he cried out in anger and shock. Could practically smell the humiliation that stuck with him like a bad dream. It was kind of a shame there was only three of us there to see it.
Everything seemed as if it was moving in slow motion.
I barely heard the ding of the bell above the cafe door, welcoming another customer into the Highway Hell. Almost didn’t notice the way both the twins bodies seemed to stiffen as they too, looked at the person who had just walked in.
“I can take care of myself!” I shouted at Austin, but he barely heard me. He was too busy staring at the door.
Alice sat, eyes wide and body shaking. Amidst all of the chaos, I too took a glance at who had just walked into The Highway Cafe, at 11pm on a Wednesday night in The Valley. A young boy around my age, with blue eyes and ruffled blonde hair, accompanied by a lopsided smile. That was all the notice I took before I stepped straight past the boy, out of the cafe and onto the streets. Walking away from reality to go back home to yet more reality.
If only I had known at the time, that I had just met fantasy. And that he wasn’t going to be a stranger to my story.
In fact, he was my story.