“Whoa.” My voice sounded impressed, but not as impressed as I was.
The large dining room table was covered in oven roasted pizzas, garlic knots, and breadsticks. I slid into the only empty seat; I had come back last after washing my hands before dinner, which was being served at exactly 6:30, a half an hour before my family normally ate. But there was so much food. Way too much for just a few people. Shay’s dad sat at the head of the table, gruffly muttering as he took a Hawaiian personal pizza for himself.
I grabbed a veggie piece, carefully cutting it into four mismatched slices and biting into one. When I had eaten about half of it, I grabbed a breadstick and two garlic knots, and began chomping on those. “Mmm. My compliments to the chef,” I said in between slices.
“I think it’s only okay, but we’ll tell him that you said so. He’s from Italy. Loves Italian food. Cooking, eating, even cleaning,” Mrs. Miller laughed.
“Mmm,” muttered her husband.
Shay and I finished quickly, the rest of the meal eaten in moderate silence, and then rushed upstairs. Costuming awaited.
I was sitting on the bed, sketching our idea, with Shay perched carefully on the headboard above me. She asked, “What time is it?”
I glanced at my watch. “Eight fifteen, why?”
She rolled off the headboard and onto the bed beside me. “Is that too late for a cup of coffee?”
I shrugged. “Depends how tolerant you are and when you intend to go to sleep. For you, tonight? Probably not. Why?”
“Let’s go then.”
She helped me up, grabbing her wallet from a little basket by the door containing her keys, phone, and other daily necessities. “Where are we going?” I stood to follow her.
“I know a great coffee place in the city, but it’s for people who work, like, night shifts, so it opens at like six PM.”
“Wait, the city?”
“We’re driving like, an hour for a cup of coffee?”
I shrugged, this was kind of unlike Shay, but I knew her parents actually watched the footage from the security cameras in her room. Part of me doubted we were going all the way to the city to get coffee.
“I’ll drive,” I offered.
“We’re going out. Be back in a few hours!” Shay called as we left the house. I slid into the driver’s seat of my truck, and once she had buckled herself into the passenger seat, I backed out of the driveway and turned left, going south, toward the city.
We drove for about a mile before I asked, “So where are we really going?”
She smiled. “I thought we would get some coffee.”
“In the city.”
“Are we meeting someone there?”
“Then why aren’t we just getting coffee in New Redmen?”
She didn’t answer.
“That’s it.” I pulled the truck over to the side of the road and looked at her. “I’m not moving this truck an inch until you tell me what the plan is. There is no way you plan to drive to the city to buy coffee. It’s not like you. Where are we going?!”
“If you won’t drive us, I will. I want some coffee.”
“The diner serves coffee. We don’t have to drive to the city.”
“I want that coffee. Drive us there or I will.”
“You know how to drive a stick?”
“I’m a quick learner.”
I sighed. Arguing with Shay was like arguing with a wave. “Fine. Put the coffee shop into the GPS. I’ll drive us there.”
She smiled, and typed the name of this place in, about forty five minutes away. Seeing no way to protest, I pulled out my phone and started my playlist. When Shay began complaining about the music, I interrupted, “Driver and the person who is very confused and uncomfortable gets to pick.”
She shrugged and settled down into her seat, shutting her eyes.
I hesitated for a second, before putting the truck into gear and pushing ‘go’ on the GPS. I glanced at her. This wasn’t too bad, was it? No. It could be a lot worse. I could be on my way home. It could have been the last time I ever entered Shay’s extravagant house. But it wasn’t. At least I thought. Maybe she planned to leave me in the city. But that was clumsy, not thought out. Unlike Shay. No, she had something different in mind. Maybe she really did just want a coffee?
No. Said a firm voice in the back of my mind, That is not it. You know that is not it. Don’t let her trick you. Don’t let her trick you. Don’t…
I had never much liked driving, even with a friend, but with my favorite music playing, and so many thoughts that needed sorting, I didn’t mind it. Before I knew it, I was gently shaking Shay’s shoulder. “We’re almost here,” I said gently.
“I need coffee…”
“Yeah. I know. That’s why we’re here. Shh. It’s okay. Are you awake?”
“Yeah.” She sat up straighter. “Yeah. Hold on.” She pinched her leg and shook herself, downing half a seltzer that was sitting next to my seat.
“Excuse me?” My look was mock shock and anger blended with real annoyance.
“Deal with it.”
I rolled my eyes, turning left onto the street where the coffee shop was supposed to be and finding a parking place, and pulling neatly into it between a Prius and an SUV. “You gonna tell me why we’re really here?”
I sighed. “Okay then. Let’s go in.”
“C’mon.” She looked excited, bouncing on the balls of her feet, grinning madly. She took my hand, dragging me across the street to a tiny building with a neon sign reading Glass Coffee House.
“Okay okay. I’m going.” I had to trot to keep up with her, even though my legs have a good two inches on hers. “You must really like this coffee. .”
She smiled. “Yup.”
“Okay then. Let’s go.” I linked her arm in mine like we did when we were kids and took long, even steps to keep up with her excited skip.
The Glass Coffee House was booming, but I had no idea why, since it was almost nine thirty. It looked like everyone was just enjoying a nice mug of coffee. How many people could possibly have their schedules twelve hours backward like this?
“Shay…” I bit my lip to keep from saying more. This place unnerved me. It didn’t seem right. Why would the place that Shay claimed had the best coffee in the world only open at six PM? They would have gotten a lot more business if they had opened at six AM like any normal place. But what could I say? City people were different. “Shay, why are we here?” I tried again.
“You really want to know?” I nodded, trying not to look too eager. “Fine,” she sighed. “This place is not just a coffee shop.”
“It’s a bookshop.” She was looking right into my eyes.
Wait. Did I mishear her? “A what?!”
“There are a lot of books that are banned in our state.”
“Yeah. I know,” I said automatically. Then, in an attempt to rescue myself, “Books that have bad morals.” I was botching this. I had been acting since I was ten. That was seven fucking years ago. I should know not to vomit words like that. I wasn’t supposed to know that any book that ever listed gay people as okay or acceptable was banned in our state. And trying to fix it by calling it, calling me a bad moral wasn’t helping. “Or whatever,” I added too late. She gave me a funny look then rolled her eyes and kept talking.
“I’m buying one.” She said simply. “I have an appointment, and I forgot until you came over. Stay with me. It can get a little crazy in-”
Her last words were cut off as she opened the door and we entered the hectic coffee shop. And wow.
Besides being crowded, there was also the appearance of the actual building. Because every inch of the downstairs walls and ceiling was covered with broken pieces of mirrors.
I could see a million versions of myself. I couldn’t help thinking about how each one was me in a different lifetime. In some of them, I was out. In some of them, I had a different family. One who loved me. One who accepted me. No matter what.