A ballerina from Arkansas, disillusioned and disenchanted, cheated out of a fortune by her scummy ex boyfriend.
She’s running from the law after a late night tire slashing with friends gone wrong.
She’s currently late for an audition, but standing in front of a coffee shop with cold hands and a mask covering half her face.
The order will be long and complicated; it will set her back at least twelve dollars, but what she loses in cash she will make up for in energy.
Nineteen years old and a fugitive, but a talented one, hence the audition she is running late to.
Nima Lachappelle, exhibit A.
Now picture a man:
His name starts with an L or a Q, and he hates that fact.
He’s a barista inside the coffee shop Nima’s at, but he’s a skater at heart.
His hair is long and cut in a way that makes you think he has an aversion to brushing it.
There’s an issue with the way he’s lying crookedly on the pavement, ar, twisted under his stomach at a torcid angle and eyes closed.
He seems to be breathing, but just barely.
They’re going to fall in love, you know.
Nima walks over to the barista and pokes him in the ribs with the end of her ballet shoe. He doesn’t move. She recalls the days of her younger youth, of CPR and ABC’s. Nima drops to her knees and rolls the barista over. She doesn’t want to perform CPR. She’s never liked PDA, even in the context of Person Dying Ahead.
“Ugh.” She stands up again and begins to drag the body, not knowing where she’s going but hoping someone else will volunteer their air. He wakes up, startled by the hands around his ankles, and kicks Nima away.
“Who are you?”
“I’m Nima! And I’m trying to save you and get to my audition on time so please stop kicking me!” She drops him on the pavement and they both wince. “That looked painful, sorry. Is your arm broken?”
“I don’t know. Someone tried to whack me with a baseball bat. But it might’ve been a weasel. I don’t really know.”
“Gee,” Nima shook her head, “I wonder if you know or not.”
“I like your hair.”
Quetzal sits up and tries not to lean on his bad arm. It’s very easy because he’s just sitting in the middle of a busy sidewalk and being glad he didn’t die. “Thanks. Most girls think it’s hideous and throw tomatoes at me.”
Nima knows that’s not true. She looks at her watch and frowns. It is pretty late and now she’s wondering if she should make sure this guy gets to a hospital or skip town to get to the audition. “Can you make it to the hospital alone?”
“No, I think I’m dying.”
“I think that may be overdramatizing things just a bit, man.” Nima sighs and pulls her phone out. She’s going to call 911 and then do her best to get to the audition in salvageable time. “What’s your name?”
Quetzal smiles, realizing Nima is an attractive, kind-enough-to-stop- and-help-a-stranger girl and that almost dying could bring him more to life than he imagined. “Quetzal Marinara.”
“Oh, your name starts with a letter on my list.”
They both are quiet. Nima shakes her head and answers the phone; the operator has been waiting for at least two minutes.
Soon, the ambulance is on the way and Nima is on hers.
What happens next:
Nima fails her audition. She gets there late, dances, and is dismissed in one wave by a lady whose nails are going to last longer than her second marriage did. Nima goes to her apartment and tells her roommate what happened, crying into her discount throw pillow and smearing cakey makeup all over the soft fabric. Her roommate pretends to listen but is more focused on the book she found earlier today on a bench in the park.
Nima talks over the sound of printed words late into the night.
Quetzal thinks of the girl who saved his life while he lays in the hospital, arms plugged into more machines than he imagined healthy and body aching. He has pavement burn and an aching heart. Why does he feel so drawn to this ballerina with the shady look in her eyes, like she’s running from a past no shovel can bury?
He doesn’t know. He remembers how her witty, sarcastic responses made him feel lighter and grins. He no longer cares if she has a shady past or not. He wants to find her.
Quetzal hopes Nima did okay on her audition and that her life didn;t end on the same day his seemed to start. The food at the hospital is gross, but he can’t blame anyone for it. He thanks the nurses and sends blessings their way, thinking of his own sweet mother, working overnight to help people affected by the pandemic.
He pictures Nima and her perfectly October themed mask. It was orange and she smelled like pumpkin lattes. Quetzal suddenly likes fall a lot more than he did.
They both go to sleep wondering about each other. It’s a nice feeling even though they don’t know they’ll see each other again soon.
Cause they’ll have to eventually, if they’re falling in love.
It’s morning now, and Quetzal is leaving the hospital with a broken collarbone and a fractured wrist. Whoever attacked him had a mighty good training in wrenching bones from the socket, it seemed. He can’t remember much from the incident, only that when he woke up his vest was gone and the only thing to prove he was a barista was his name tag; even his hat had been taken.
In its place was a neon sunhat, a sign of ultimate badness in Quetzal’s book. He glances at it sitting on the desk beside his bed and decides to take it with him as a souvenir. He has to get to work, but he hopes Nima will be there again too. Quetzal wishes he would have forgotten something with her, like a wallet or his cell phone, so that she would have to contact him again. It would be hard to get a hold of him if she had his phone, though.
Quetzal smiles at himself in the mirror as he leaves the hospital. He has this overwhelming feeling that for the first time in a long time, things are going to be on his side.
Nima, on the other hand, feels like no amount of maple syrup on her college cafeteria waffles can drown the sorrow she is wallowing in. She is Very Upset and her roommate has been so absorbed in her book that she refuses to do anything about it. Maybe, Nima thinks, she should have chosen a better roommate.
As she eats her suffocated waffles, she sips coffee from a large ceramic mug and wonders how Quetzal is doing. She never got his number. Was that something people did? Get their number after calling an ambulance for them? She has no clue Quetzal is thinking the same thing, trying to will her, telepathically, to see where he is and run there like the shot by love darts he feels like and hope she feels the same.
Nima makes Quetzal want to stop skating and write poetry for the rest of his life. He’s scribbled on his hands her name: Neema, Nyma, Nihma, Nimah, Nheema. She wrote it once on her ballet shoe: Qetsal.
For being strangers in the curious state of love, they really don’t know how to spell.
In Arkansas, a storm is stirring.
It forms the shadow of an ugly minded, feeble hearted man named Buckle Joe Hollard. He simmers from his place on his mother’s sofa, eyes cold and the skin around them dented, broken. From the window beside his seat, he can see the miserable heap of metal he used to call his pride and joy.
His truck, a Ford F-150, has been annihilated and mutilated, a holy vessel now desecrated. He touches the windowsill with a broken index finger and sniffles. He doesn’t think he deserved this kind of treatment, but he did and he still does.
If Nima and Julissa hadn’t lost their nerve, Buckle Joe Hollard would have lost his life. He knows this and it makes him angrier than a crab in a hot soup with no seasoning. It’s the kind of mad that stretches it’s fingertips deep under your skin and pulls out the nastiest of hateful gunk from your soul, which in Buckle Joe’s case has to be pretty disgusting considering the kind of guy he is.
He is the muck up of all glopping conglomerates, the most contrite of cavemen, the ultimate backstabbing freak of disloyal nature.
Buckle Joe Hollard is a leech.
He plans on draining the energy and life from every single person who has wronged him, but he’ll have to catch up to Nima and Julissa in order to do that, and they, as you know, are already far far away.
Still, though, a storm is stirring in Arkansas.
Don’t worry, the sun is going to be up soon. Permanently.
Quetzal has been waiting all day long for Nima to walk into the coffee shop, but she’s nowhere to be seen. He keeps a lookout for her and her October themed mask. She has blonde hair, he reminds himself, and her shoes were those ballet slippers. He serves coffee and other drinks, small overpriced pastries and tiny buckets of whipped milk to what seems like thousands of middle aged moms on a break between soccer games, teenagers nervous for their first or last study date, those hipster poets with their loud, clacking typewriters, and people who just want a warm place to sleep. Quetzal serves everyone, it seems, but a ballerina from Arkansas.
This may be because Nima is still in her apartment, mourning the loss of her dreams. There was a lot hanging on that audition, and she had blown it, pirouette by pirouette.
She has her head, blonde, as Quetzal had recalled, tucked in her arms under the cover of her weighted quilt. Her roommate has finished her blasted book and is now annotating it so that she can send it to a girl named Clara who lives in a town near Manitoba, Canada.
Nima has no tears left to cry. Her eyes have cascaded with salty, rapid torrents all day long and now her energy is depleted. She wants coffee, but she also wants to stay in bed.
“Should I order us some coffee?”
Her roommate finishes writing a poem in the margin of the book and looked up. “I don’t drink coffee.”
“Oh right, I forgot, you’re afraid it’ll ruin your teeth.”
“I am not,” the roommate scratches the letter l beside her poem, “Afraid it will ruin my teeth. I don’t feel the need to depend so heavily on a material source.”
“Would you not act like a TED talk? I was just being nice.”
“Order coffee, then, be nice to yourself.”
Nima smiles, that was a kind remark from her often cold roommate. “Thanks, I will.” She picks up her phone and dials the coffee shop’s delivery office.
Quetzal answers, “Hello! Welcome to Mooncash’s delivery office. How may I help you?”
“You sound familiar.”
He almost drops the phone. “Nima?”
Nima does drop her phone. “Guy from yesterday?” She looks at her hand. “Qetsal?”
“Uh it’s pronounced Quetzal, more like Que tal with a z in the mix.”
Nima picks up her phone, laughing softly at her fortune. “Well, que tal, Quetzal?”
They’re very cute, no? Can you see them? The skater boy named after a colorful bird and the ballerina named after her grandmother? You should keep watching. They’re still talking on the phone.
“Um,” Quetzal’s voice is thick with the fluttery fireworks of asking someone you just met out with hopes of them saying yes, “Would you want to catch some coffee and get a movie? I mean, grab a movie and get some coffee? Wanna do that?”
Nima thinks for a second. She wants to say no. She looks at her roommate, happy and scribbling away in her stupid book. She’s going to say yes after all. “Sure! Where to?”
“Coffee place you were at yesterday, maybe, since you never got your drink? I work there, but I get off in about forty minutes.” Quetzal is biting the nail of his pinky finger. He hopes Nima can’t hear him being nervous over the phone. He isn’t used to feeling like a date could amount to anything; his dating life is a quilt of pretty people in pretty places with nothing beyond the surface. Quetzal has never been able to connect with anyone.
Yet Nima has his skateboard by the door and a pen in his hand?
What witchcraft is this, he thinks, and sets down the phone once their goodbyes and see you soons are said. He’s excited and fluttery and the words are flying off his tongue as he writes, faster and faster. Quetzal hasn’t appreciated his name before as much as he does now. Named after a bird, the boy is now soaring.
Nima, the dancer, is stuck in her bed. She should be getting dressed in a hurry, rushing to find the best outfit and heading to the coffee shop, but instead her head is still in her arms and all she can hear is the soft footsteps of her roommate’s pen.
“Uh, not to be intrusive, but don’t you have somewhere to be?”
Nima lifts a hand, “I do, but I can’t get up.”
The roommate frowns and stands up. She crosses the room to Nima’s bed and gives the bedsheets a good yank. Nima is on the ground now, blinking up at her roommate. “Thanks…”
“You’re welcome. Don’t borrow my black sweater.” She’s trying to say that Nima is welcome to her closet if she needs a different outfit for a change. The roommate sits back on her bed and keeps writing. Nima thanks her again as she heads to find clothes, but she doesn’t hear her say it.
“Nima! Hi.” Quetzal’s arms don’t have a clue what they should do with themselves. He sticks his hands in his pockets. Silly kid, what was he thinking? Of course he can’t hug her; one reason being they just met and the second one being, you know, the pandemic.
“Hey, Quetzal.” Nima laughs at his awkwardly pocketed hands. She’s wearing a black mask with a white embroidered ghost in the corner. His mask is a Mooncash’s uniform mask, all blue and white and gold. It makes him feel royal and he knows he looks stupid, but it’s for the job so what can he do?
“So are we going to catch a coffee and grab some movie?”
“Yes, absolutely!” Quetzal doesn’t realize that she’s switched around her words to tease him about their phone call. He’s too busy thinking of other things, like how Nima’s hands look cold and how she’s not wearing ballet slippers today, just boots. “Um, was your audition okay?”
“No, it wasn’t. I mean,” Nima takes a breath, “I failed it.”
“My fault? I’m so sorry.” He steps forward, and then backwards, and then he turns and opens the door. “I really didn’t mean to mess that up for you.”
Nima walks into the shop. “Are you kidding? How could it have been your fault? I wasn’t going to let you die on the sidewalk, man.” Plus, she doesn’t say out loud, I like your hair.
“Ah, right. I’ll buy your drink, though.”
“To make up for the lost audition or just because it’s a date?” Nima enjoys knowing this boy is worried about the impressions he makes today. She remembers how the ex boyfriend never paid for anything. A few water bottles, maybe, but never dinner, never for the gas money that she had to spend crossing city lines.
Quetzal’s collarbone is starting to ache again. The medicine is wearing off and the adrenaline is ebbing now that he’s here with Nima. “For both!” He didn’t mean to yell. “I mean,” he lowers his voice in apology to the other customers, “For both those things.”
“Okay, cool. Hey,” Nima lays a hand on his arm, the broken one, “I don’t bite, you know. Am I making you nervous?”
“Mm, yeah. And it’s weird, because I usually, well, I talk to a lot of people and we go on a lot of dates like this but this is the first time I feel like it could matter? Does that make sense? Did I just completely overshare?”
“No, it makes sense. If it helps anything, I’m very happy to be here. Failed auditions require lots of coffee and conversation, I think you can provide both.” Nima and Quetzal move up in line.
“Ha, that’s, I mean, mm hmm. I can do that!” He waves his wallet in the air. “Money for coffee and me for conversation.”
“Right.” Nima feels eyes on the back of her neck. She doesn’t turn around.
“Forgive me if this is a super forward question, but have you dyed your hair recently?”
“No.” Nima’s lying. She dyed her hair blonde before leaving Arkansas. “I haven’t. Why’d you ask?”
“Just wondering. You don’t look like a natural blonde.”
“Well, okay then. Good intuition.”
Quetzal takes this to mean she did dye her hair but obviously doesn’t want to talk about it. He drops the topic and steps up in line. “What do you want to drink?”
“You work here, don’t you? Surprise me.”
Quetzal nods and starts their order. There’s a tap on Nima’s shoulder and she turns around.
“I thought you didn’t like surprises?”
The forecast was right. The storm has arrived.