“Can I get you anything else?” the wannabe barista asked, not having the courtesy of coming out from behind the counter. Juliet didn’t ignore the question—she just didn’t hear it. Her preoccupied eyes, red and moist, darted from the container in her right hand to the door in front of her and then back again. The cup had Juliet Lamb written in sharpie near the top. She wasn’t sure why she had given her full name when she ordered, maybe she thought it would make her bigger, like a blowfish under attack.
The height and placement of the table were familiar to Juliet as was the contour of the chair. Her visceral reaction to the location, however, was not. Juliet's heart raced and her breath was shallow and quick. No one in the shop paid her any attention, but she felt watched nonetheless.
“Ma’am,” he said, more loudly this time, his voice dripping with disdain. “We’re closing in forty-five minutes. Do you want another cup of coffee?” The teenaged employee obviously needed more customer service training as he had been counting down the minutes until closing for the last two hours. In all fairness, Juliet had been there for more than four hours, so maybe she was making him as nervous as the night was making her.
Forty-five minutes, she thought to herself. I can make it forty-five minutes.
“No thank you,” she finally responded. “I’m still working on this one.” Juliet held the cup up for the boy to see, but he had already gone back to mopping the floor. Had he looked her way, he would have noticed the paper cup was no longer in pristine condition. Juliet had been tapping and scratching at it so incessantly that the vessel looked as if, at any moment, it would no longer be able to hold its steaming contents.
Since arriving, Juliet had only ordered two cups of coffee. She had no idea when he might be there, but she wasn’t taking a chance that he might come and go while she was in the restroom. If that happened, she would have to relive this day all over again, and that thought was oppressive.
The bell on the front door was a cruel, ever present companion. For most of the night, it would ring constantly as customers filed in and out of the boutique coffee shop. The sound had a Pavlovian effect on Juliet, only instead of salivating—her heart would palpitate with each chime. On more than one occasion, she was sure it would burst out of her chest.
There were windows on both sides of the corner shop allowing her to see bundled strangers walking past, doing their best to defeat the cold and vanquish the wind. Juliet had no such issues as the shop was uncomfortably warm and the down jacket she had donned for the excursion still enveloped her. She had pulled the zipper down just far enough to allow her free hand to rest inside its inner pocket, tightly gripping the badge she had placed there just before she had left on her mission.
“Closing in thirty minutes.”
There was a time when this rude coffee jockey would have suffered Juliet’s wrath, but not today.
Ding ding, the chime rang as the only other customer walked out into the night. For most of the evening there were people all around her. A boy who might be studying for an exam sat at the table next to her when she first arrived, and he was replaced by a young couple who loved both coffee and each other. Most recently the aforementioned table had been occupied by a businesswoman who seemed to be closing some deals while taking shots of espresso like they were whiskey. But now the shop finally mirrored her inner feelings: she was alone.
There were only fifteen minutes left before closing when she saw him through the window to her right. He was wearing a long black coat with the collar pulled up. His head was covered with a woolen hat and his eyes were hidden behind dark sunglasses. Juliet didn’t hear the chime ring as he opened the door. All was inaudible save for the throbbing of her heart in her ears. She clutched the star tightly to her chest as he walked to the counter, seemingly oblivious to her presence.
He must be toying with me.
Behind his mirrored eyes, Juliet felt him staring her down. She had been waiting all night for him, and now, with him less than ten feet away, she felt paralyzed. Juliet cocked her head straining to hear his voice as he recited his order to the barista. She would never forget that voice, yet in a way that seemed to mock her, he barely spoke above a whisper.
Then he pulled off his hat and pushed up his glasses exposing his face for the world to see. Juliet closed her eyes and finally exhaled. It wasn’t him. He wouldn’t come—he couldn’t come. She had been in the courtroom the day he was convicted, but today, at long last, Juliet believed she didn’t have to live in fear anymore.
Both the barista and the customer turned to look at Juliet as she burst into laughter and gulped down the last bit of her coffee.
It had been exactly one year—one year and four hours. Now it was closing time and past time for her to go.
Ding ding, the chimes sang to her as she walked out onto the sidewalk. She had ventured out on her own for the first time since the assault. Juliet had faced her fears and had overcome them. The call to Dr. Levy could wait, but she pulled out her phone nonetheless.
“Sweetie, I made it. I’m on the way home.”
“I’m so proud of you, mommy. Did the badge work?”
“It sure did, baby,” Juliet answered. “And I couldn’t have done it without you.”
Pulling the toy sheriff’s star from her pocket, she reread the word her six-year-old daughter had scribbled on it earlier that day: Supermom.