This entry is part 5 of 6 in the series Something About a Coffee Shop

Brian McEntyre’s stomach swam in his brain as his sense of balance starved for something level. He pulled his beat up Mitsubishi Eclipse into an open parking space. Rust ate away at the hood.
This wasn’t happening.
He deliberated until a crack of thunder motivated him outside his car, into the rain, and into the crowded coffee shop. His only option was a center table by the barista counter entrance. He sat down.
His fear spun like an unbalanced dryer thudding at the idea Terra had changed her mind about him.
She said yes, why didn’t she want him to pick her up?
Maybe too many bad dates. He closed his eyes, promised to be himself, and exhaled.
She came through the entrance shaking a lime green umbrella. She found him.
“Hey,” she started.
“Hi! Did you want to get something?”
Brian led the way to the end of the line and put his hands in his pockets and stared at the colorful coffee pastries.
Say anything.
“Have you seen these?”
Terra laughed to herself.
“You forget I used to work here. The pumpkin muffins are garbage. They come frozen and they thaw them out the night before. The strawberry sweet rolls aren’t bad, but you gotta like strawberries. If you’re wanting to try something, get the blackberry cream scone. It’s one of the few things they actually make here, the recipe comes straight from the owner’s mom, and it’s the only thing behind that window that won’t give you gas.”
“Okay, wow, I’m gonna get that then. Do you want one too?”
“Nope. I’m going fruit tart. That’s my jam.”
“But you said…”
“I’m over it,” Terra interrupted with a wry smile.
Brian held out his wallet and indicated to the cashier that he was going to be paying. Terra rattled off a drink order with fractions, substitutions, and something he was sure was in a foreign language. Brian just had a vingt, half-sweet, zebra, mocha with soy.
“Isn’t that our table?”
The barista handed him his credit card as he noticed a seeing-eye dog perching happily next to his chair. An elderly woman located the back of the line with her cane. Brian could have sworn the dog was mocking him.
“Well…?” Terra looked at him impatiently.
“Go get it!” She motioned towards the table.
“I’m kidding. There’s a couple open chairs by the window, ”
She laughed and shook her head.
“You’re way too easy to mess with.”
Terra leaned her umbrella against the window, as Brian sat down next to her. Soon they were talking between small bites of pastry and sipping on hot candied coffee. Simple conversation. Brian could breathe.
“Tell me about Venezuela.”
“No,’s boring work stuff. No beaches, cerulean oceans, or fun. It was lame.”
“Ah, c’mon! I’ve never been anywhere cool. What’d you do?” 
“Mostly just play Barbie for the corporate bigwigs on the other side of the planet.”
“Play Barbie?”
“It’s just what Susan and I called it whenever corporate tried to use the way we looked to intimidate the men. They sent us in to pitch the most outrageous things.”
“And they bought it because you were pretty?”
“Hook, line, and sinker,” she smiled at him before taking a sip. “So what about you? Always been a book-worm?”
“Yeah. My dad used to read us bedtime stories when we were little. I loved closing my eyes, picturing myself as a character, and waking up the next day. We moved around a lot so…it was a nice escape.”
“Sounds like it.”
Brian noticed Terra looked down as though she was ashamed of something.
“You okay?”
“Yeah, umm. Do you like to travel?”
“I’m not afraid of it. I think I’d really like to visit Amsterdam.”
“Yeah. The whole city is connected by water. Seems cool to me to travel all over the place by boat. And they have these huge windmills from like 200 years ago. It just seems like around here we don’t like to leave things standing for that long. It’d be cool to see.”
“I’ve heard it’s pretty.”
“Hey. Can I ask you a question?” Brian felt brave.
“Do you like squirrels?”
“What? Random!” She laughed.
“No, seriously. It’s just one of my favorite things to do in the whole world. I just walk to the park down the street from the library and watch the squirrels.”
“That’s crazy.”
“I know. It’s weird right?”
“No! That’s not what I meant…It’s actually really cute.”
“I mean…it sounds fun,” she nodded her head from side to side.
“I get off work at 3 on Saturday. You could park at the library and we could walk over there together,” Brian said hopefully.
Table by table emptied as they talked. Before long, one of the barista’s came up to them and informed them that the shop would be closing in the next fifteen minutes.
Only Terra noticed the two men in expensive charcoal suits walk up to the coffee shop entrance.
“Brian. I need you to go to the hallway by the bathrooms.”
One of the men pulled a handgun from his inside vest pocket and fired two rounds into the ceiling. The gunshot immediately canceled all sound as the baristas screamed from behind the counter and scrambled for the kitchen. Terra thumbed the safety off her Belgium 9mm within her purse. Both her and Brian crept to the floor.
“Okay!” The shooter chuckled to himself. “Either somebody tells me where Terra West is, or I start shooting.”
“Why is he looking for you?” Brian whispered.
“Not now. Just be quiet. Please. Just be quiet. Just try to get to that hallway. ”
“What are you going to do?”
She slowly lifted the Belgium 9mm from her purse so Brian could see the handle.
“You have a gun!? Why do you have a gun?” His voice struggled to stay at a whisper.
“Just stay calm.”
Brian rose to his feet.
“No. I’m not staying calm,” he said at a normal volume. “I’m leaving. Right now.” He looked at the man holding the gun. “Look, I don’t know what you want, but it isn..” the suit pulled the trigger.
“BRIAN!” Terra shrieked. She pulled her handgun from her purse and dropped the shooter with two shots. The second turned and raised his weapon, but Terra fired a third straight through his chest. She froze as neither suit moved. Slight stirrings could be heard from behind the counter.
“You guys okay!?” She shouted.
“Yeah. Are they…gone?”
“Shut up and call 911!”
“We already did, they’re on their way.”
“Good!” Terra rushed over to Brian and held her palm over his shoulder. He was still breathing. She pushed hard into the wound as tears ran down her face.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m so so sorry.”
He gasped for breath.
“I have to hurt you. I have to keep my hand right here or you’ll die. I’m sorry. This is all my fault.”
“HUSH! And no, it’s not okay. This is definitely NOT okay. Don’t talk. Don’t die. I swear I’m going to be so mad at you if you die right now Brian. Stay with me!”
She cried as she pushed as hard as she could into his chest.
Why did you lie? He had a right to know that his life was in danger. He’s going to die. This is your fault.
His breathing became slow and shallow. Her hands ran red.
Minutes ticked by as she thought about the day Carl had contacted her about the job in Venezuela. He didn’t need help, he needed a scapegoat. She thought about life before her dad left her and her mom, and the days spent swinging in the front yard of that plantation house in Georgia with the wraparound porch. She held the wound.
“Please don’t die Brian.”
Soon a paramedic was tapping her on the shoulder and talking her through how they were going to switch applying pressure. She nodded in the Christmas colored light thrown by the ambulance parked outside. Two paramedics slid him onto a stretcher as a third slung her arm over his shoulder. Life blurred.

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