I’m late for work again.
I roll off my mattress, instantly feeling that whoosh of dizziness to my brain. I rest my hand on my dresser to keep myself propped up and the feeling seeps downward, crawling like spiders inside until it settles in my gut.
Yep. I’m gonna hurl.
I take a deep breath, fighting the urge down while I lament the decision to drink just one more shot of whiskey before bed last night.
The feeling passes and I stumble over dirty laundry as I make my way across my apartment towards the kitchen for a giant glass of water.
I grab my phone off the counter to check my messages, tapping the home button three times before I realize it’s dead. There’s surely a message from Tommy on here asking where I am. I should probably call him and let him know I overslept, but he’s heard that excuse plenty.
Coffee. I need coffee.
I rush to get ready and snatch my best skirt out of the closet. I call it my bad morning skirt because no matter how shitty I wake up, this skirt always makes me feel better about myself. My hips are a little wide and a bit too round and this is the only garment I own that makes that seem like a good thing.
I fix my wavy, blonde hair into a loose bun, swish with a bit of mouthwash, toss on some eye shadow, and I head out the door in five minutes flat. Not exactly my record, but that whiskey from last night ain’t doing me any favors today.
The mid-day lunch traffic of Boston slows me down. I whisper words of impatience to myself, counting the minutes until I finally get a little bit of that sweet, caffeine salvation in my system.
“Come on!” I honk my horn at a pick-up truck for lingering too long at a green light.
Coffee. Coffee. Coffee.
Ryan’s House finally comes into view and I breathe a sigh of relief as I pull behind the building into the empty parking lot next to Tommy’s beat-up, old Chevy. I get out, walk around to the front entrance, and stroll right past it into the Muffin Top bakery next door.
I fill my lungs with the smell of the place and I feel better already. That sweet scent of warm sugar. That pleasant aroma of baked cookies and cupcakes. But mostly… that perfect euphoria of freshly-brewed coffee.
I lick my lips and squeeze around the occupied tables towards the front counter. There’s only about five of them total but this place isn’t designed to hold a lot of people, unlike my bar. It’s small but I like it that way. My own little hole-in-the-wall secret.
The owner nods at me and reaches behind him for the largest to-go cup he has. He knows me well enough by now. We don’t even need to say a word to each other. A large coffee with three sugars and a blueberry muffin. I’ve order the same thing every day since he opened the place a little over a year ago.
I watch him with anticipation, salivating over a little more than his tasty muffins, that’s for sure. He’s a tall guy, towering above me by nearly a foot. Mid-twenties, like me. His arms are thick and strong. He obviously spends his days off at the gym training those abs, unlike me. Sometimes, he’ll have his sleeves rolled up and I’ll catch bits of tattooed ink on his right bicep. I have no idea what compelled a brown-haired, green-eyed hunk like him to open a bakery in Boston right next to my family’s bar but I sure as hell ain’t complaining about it either.
Vincent. I think his name is Vincent.
He reaches into the glass case on the counter and grabs the last blueberry muffin from the tray. It’s always sitting there, waiting for me each day in the exact same spot. More often than not, it’s the last one and I just happened to be here in time to claim it. I always wonder if today is going to be the day when I’ll have to change my order but it hasn’t happened yet.
I drop money on the counter as Vincent lays my coffee and muffin down in front of me. He gives me another nod and I smile a thank you. I don’t wait for change. It’s only a few cents anyway so I let him keep it.
I take a bite of the muffin on my way outside. My teeth sink into it, still fresh and warm. I crush a piece of blueberry in my cheek and that flavor explodes, crossing my tongue with sweet, sugary mayhem. I chase it down with a gulp of hot coffee — the best damn coffee in Boston, if you’re asking my opinion.
If I were on death row and the warden asked for my last meal, you can bet your ass it would be a large coffee and a blueberry muffin from Muffin Top in Boston.
I walk around to the alleyway, inching closer to the bar’s back exit, enjoying the last few seconds of caffeinated bliss, until…
“You’re late, Evey! Again.”
I wince and let the door slam shut behind me. “Sorry!” I shout, my mouth full of muffin.
I stroll through the storeroom towards the front, dropping my purse on the table before walking behind the bar.
Tommy glares up at me from the corner stool, elbow deep in paperwork. He rolls his eyes and sits back, running a hand through his shaggy, blond hair. “You know, if you weren’t my little sister, I’d have ditched you ages ago.”
“Bitch, if you weren’t my big brother, I’d have bailed on this place long before then,” I snap back.
He laughs it off and looks down at his ledger. Bantering with my brother is a sacred part of my daily ritual, almost as sacred as this coffee. There’s never a clear winner; we’re too much alike to one-up each other on any significant level. We’re often mistaken for twins, which would be true if it weren’t for that three-year age gap.
I take another big sip of coffee. “Shipment come in yet?”
“Not yet,” he says. “Johnson is late, too.”
“Well, I hope you’re planning on chewing him out for tardiness.”
I set the coffee down and wander to the main floor. Chairs sit atop the tables upside down, right where I left them after last night’s shift. I do a quick scan of the floor as I pull the chairs down, catching a few spots I missed when I swept up at closing. Oh, well. I’ll get them tonight.
The back exit opens and closes in the storeroom.
“That’d be Johnson…” Tommy mutters.
“I got it,” I say, swinging around the bar towards the back. I throw on an authoritative stride and deepen my voice to do my best Tommy impersonation. “Hey, Johnson, you’re late—”
I freeze and take several steps back as they come into view. A man stands in the center, not nearly as tall or muscled as the two brutes standing on either side of him but that doesn’t make him any less menacing. He wears a tailored, navy blue suit. Black hair with a slight curl hangs down above his ice-colored eyes.