Luna Station Quarterly is a speculative fiction magazine featuring stories by emerging women authors.
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Permanent Purgatory

The first time she’d seen him was a Tuesday.

She’d been in class all day and decided to finish it off with one of those croissants with the chocolate inside, a weekly reward to herself. This was her evening of solitude The only place she could even consider was the local coffee joint down the street from her apartment near the hustle and bustle of the arts district. The dimly-lit area in the back was her favorite spot. She’d always find the soft cushion in the middle. She’d never come on weekends along with the rest of the crowd since she always had work to do.

She opened the door to the shop and ignored the looks. She’d only made her way here usually once a week, so, by definition, she could be considered a regular. Faces were familiar, and the waiters all knew her by name, and even though she never said anything more than her order with a smile, she really didn’t have to. The dimples always did it. She could have anyone of them, male or female, if she wanted to.

Standing at 5’7 ½ with her six inch afro and smooth dark skin, she always caught attention. It didn’t help that her voluptuous curves were a family heirloom. She couldn’t help it. There’s nothing like a woman and this she knew.

As she made her way to the back, she looked over at the last table and saw him. Dark grey shirt and acrylic knit cap with brim. Did anyone even wear those anymore?

She only saw his right side profile since of all the males in the whole café, he never looked up at her. The green mug in front of him got all the attention.

Before she could have a longer look at him, she remembered that she had to finish her paper due at the end of the following week. No time for rest whatsofuckin’ ever. She sighed. All she wanted was a chocolate croissant. As she hurried out with nothing but frustration, she turned her head back at “Acrylic Hat” for a quick look. He still hadn’t looked back at her. He would. They always did. She liked a challenge.

Before she got into her apartment door, she could hear her cell phone ringing. Oh how she hated that thing, which is why she tended to leave it at home as often as she could. Seemed like no one could go two steps without texting the world about their minute-by-minute lives. Dialog anyone?

The seven messages left were nowhere near a record for her. They were all from “Boyfriend”, or at least that’s what he wanted to be. He’d wanted to get together for the weekend. She probably would. Why not? She needed a good release.

She put her purse down on the kitchen counter and went straight for the refrigerator. Man, was she hungry.

The next Tuesday was just as busy for her. Her apartment was right around the corner, and evenings were cooler and nicer, so she just walked to the coffee shop. As she opened the door and fluffed her shirt, she felt the eyes. She smirked.

Eyes. Her shorts weren’t too short, but it didn’t matter. She thought it would rain, so her hair was braided back in cornrows to the tip of her shoulders. Some nice cool tea would hit the spot with her reward. She brought her sketch pad, a hobby she’d taken up as a class just for an outlet. It didn’t hurt to see where it could lead.

As she walked to the back with the acoustic guitar whispering in her ears, her favorite waiter walked up to her and showed her that her bottle tea and croissant was already written down. He acted a bit annoyed at her predictability, but the slight smile gave it away. She smiled as she sat down on the couch. Her spot. So comfy.

She looked up and realized “Acrylic Hat” was sitting across from her in the same spot he was in the last week. She would have thought he’d stayed there if it weren’t for the fact that she knew the shop wasn’t a 24-hour joint.

This time she noticed his jeans. Faded. His hands. His nails. They were short and clean. His arms. He was sitting hunched over with his focus on his giant cup centered close to his hands, so, his arms were naturally half-flexed. His beard was neatly trimmed from the sideburns to the bottom.

She pulled her sketch pad and pencil from her bag, opened it past the flowers and self-portrait to a fresh page. An hour and fifteen minutes went by with him in that same position.

Within that time, two guys had approached her, one asking if he could sit next to her. The rude silence was her response. The other asked what she was drawing. The tone in his voice told her he didn’t care, so it was not a problem for her to tell him it was none of his concern without even a glance. “Acrylic Hat” never looked up. She pretended as if she didn’t care, but she did. It was on now.

A third guy approached her, and she finally turned her attention to him. Decent. Decent build, nice smile. She raised her voice slightly as she engaged in the smallest talk possible to get to the point. For “Number Three”, that was ten digits, but for her it was to rouse “Acrylic Hat”.

By the time “Number Three” walked out of the entrance satisfied with her number added to his cell and an apparent smile on his face, she was still left with an unaccomplished mission. Acrylic Hat was damn-near a statue. Not a problem.

She was supposed to go to the library for some extra research, but it was just to double check her sources. She already had her paper done and ready to turn in. Her “A” was in the bag. Besides, her comfy couch wasn’t ready to let her go. Not taking her eyes off of him, she continued to search for Acrylic Hat with her pencil to sketchpad.

Reluctantly, she’d decided to go out with “Number Three” to dinner and a movie- how original. He’d wasted no time calling her the same night to ask her out. He’d wanted to go see the French film with her favorite South African actor. Truthfully, she was already planning on seeing it with one of her others, maybe “Teacher’s Assistant” since he’d been dying to get into her since day one, but she hadn’t gotten around to calling him about it. Besides, “Number Three” just indirectly reminded her of “Acrylic Hat”.

In the movie theater, “Number Three” was such a gentleman, and she expected nothing less or there would have been hell to pay. She didn’t play the groping game unless she wanted to. He actually was her type the more she glanced at him. He was tall, at least 6’2, had a swimmer’s build, toned but not too thin or bulky. A deep dimple appeared and disappeared whenever he smiled. His hair was full of big dark curls and his voice was deep and rich in base.

She wondered how “Acrylic Hat”’s voice sounded. Was it just as deep or higher in pitch? Some of her friends wore their favorite team’s jersey, but both times his shirt seemed plain. Did he even like sports? Where was he from? What was his name? He looked like a Gregory, which she wasn’t a fan of, so she’d have to call him Greg. Her thoughts on him continued while her date with “Number Three” was just ending.

The weekend couldn’t end fast enough. Just as she suspected, her paper earned an “A”, but her other class projects were coming up too soon. She’d get them done. She always did. Her Art professor was in love with her work. What had started out to be a simple personal study of Greg eventually evolved into a subtle obsession through her sketches. Replicating his facial structure on the other side became the hardest task when it came to shadow and light since she hadn’t seen his other side.

She’d decided to stop in the café for the night. The last several weeks she’d found herself dropping in on the other days besides Tuesdays. Greg was there each time staring down into the liquid abyss.

How shy was this guy?

For those weeks, she couldn’t get him out of her mind. She had to see him. “T.A.” and “Number Three”, along with several others, continued to call and leave messages, but she couldn’t be bothered. She made mental notes to them not to call.

There’s someone else.

Hell, it wasn’t like she was lying. Greg was it as far as she was concerned. He didn’t know it yet, but it was just a matter of time.

She walked in on Monday night, and everyone looked up and acknowledged her at their own time. A smile. Couple of winks. A nod.

Then, she almost stopped in her tracks as she made her way back to her comfy spot. Greg wasn’t there. Her next reaction was the longest blink that her eyes could muster without technically falling asleep. Tricks. Tricks. Tricks. Her eyes played serious tricks on her. Maybe he was in the bathroom. Her legs stopped feeling so heavy, and she made her way to her comfy spot only to stop again. A couple sat holding and kissing each other under the dim light in her spot. Her spot. Didn’t they know?

It wasn’t right. She didn’t feel right. Nothing about this felt right. Her man wasn’t there, and she was there to finish her sketch; it was almost her biggest challenge yet. Her project wasn’t ruined at all, but she was drained. Sad. Defeated. Shoulders wilting, she turned and slowly walked out.

By the time she’d gotten home, she was a wreck. “Number Three” had left a message. She had a strange feeling about his voice. To someone else, the message sounded as normal as any other. He simply said he’d wanted to see her again since he’d enjoyed himself the other times. She’s used to those messages, but something in his tone forced her to hesitate before calling him back. He wanted to meet her at the café the next night, and go from there. There was something…

She’d dressed up not really wanting to. She didn’t know where “Number Three” was taking her and didn’t care, but she was hoping Greg would be there. The odds were slim, but there was still a wonderful possibility. At the thought of him, she smiled. He couldn’t let her down twice, could he? She’d see for herself.

The realization that it was Tuesday, their special day, excited her as she walked into the café. He’d be there.

She walked straight to the back and saw him sitting at his usual spot with his black acrylic hat and coffee mug. She went to her comfy couch and sat nearly without taking her eyes off of him. She was possibly staring for about three seconds when he slowly pivoted his body. In her direction.

Everything in her body paused. Her breath sucked itself back into her mouth with a near-silent gasp. She couldn’t even blink as her eyes got bigger. Slowly, he turned until his whole body and face were focused completely on her. It was “Number Three”, and he had the slyest half-smile on his face. Had she been thinking about her facial expression, she would have asked herself why he wasn’t surprised by it. He simply chuckled at it as he slowly got up with his cup and sauntered over to the couch. The way he moved was unnerving. She didn’t like this lack of comfort in her space; in her skin. The goose bumps on her goose bumps were on edge. He continued to smile without looking away from her.

He asked her why she looked so surprised but didn’t wait for an answer. The smile left his mouth leaving the stones in his eyes. She realized those stones had been there all along from the first day she’d met him.

The nasty words and questions soon followed in a harsh whisper as he leaned in so close she could feel his warm breath on her.

Who did she think she was? God’s gift? Did she think she could just treat people any kind of way? Silly selfish bitch. Murderer.

Murderer?

She repeated the word with such wonder that he read her. He wasn’t going to give her a chance to slip away without explanation, she could see that. He’d been waiting for this moment.

The evil smile appeared again as his arm stretched out in front of the both of them ending with his index finger. Her eyes moved like molasses to the other side of the room.

Him.

There, at the table “Number Three” had just left sat Her Man in his normal pose. The pose she’d first seen him in. Where did he come from? Her breath quickened. She couldn’t catch it. It sped out of her body and ran away leaving her. Her heart. It hurt from beating so quickly. Dead? Dead?! What the hell was he talking about?

Completely on cue, “Number Three” started again.

His name was Devin. This wasn’t his normal hangout, but he’d only been a couple of times when a girl showed up out of nowhere. She was beautiful. Everything he never knew he wanted. He instantly wanted to hold her. Smell her. Be with her with no plans to go anywhere. He just wanted to be around her. If there was ever such a thing as love at first sight, this was it.

He’d allowed everything else to fail. His grades, other relationship possibilities, everything was shot to hell just to see her. He began losing weight from missing meals.

The more “Number Three” talked, the more she stared at Devin just sitting there in his pose. Devin. She let his name swirl around in her mind. Devin. Devin. DevinDevinDevinDevin.

One night, Devin had finally decided that he would go up to her and ask her out. This stupid bitch, as “Number Three” put it, got up and sauntered out of the café with eyes watching as they always are. She was so used to it that she didn’t care. He’d finally gotten the nerve and followed her out. He stopped her outside, but she shoved him off and kept walking as if he were some bum trying to take advantage of her. She crushed him before he could even have a chance to be turned down.

He was so hurt he didn’t go back inside. Instead, he moped around the streets. Either he didn’t hear or see the city rail coming at full speed as he tried to cross or he just didn’t care. “Number Three” prefers to think the first choice. It crushed his whole left side and dragged him for at least a block and a half.

With perfect timing, Devin while she stared slowly turned the same way “Number Three” had earlier to face her. Where his full left side should have been was a concave mess of bloody bone and skin. The flesh around his eye and mouth was freshly peeled away exposing more, giving the impression that he was smiling. His shoulder was doubled inward and flattened. She couldn’t even locate it, but joints and more bones were snapped and hanging out of ripped shirt fabric.

His face came back to her in a quick blur. She remembered that night. It was getting late, and she just wanted to get home, and she’d made the mistake of leaving later than she’d wanted to, and sometimes, guys are just a little too touch-feely when they see a female walking by herself. She didn’t know.

Fear should have covered her mind at the sight of him, but it didn’t. Tears immediately rolled down her cheeks as her lips quivered

She continued to cry, looking back and forth from one to the other. How did “Number Three” know all of this? She saw him through all of his hatred, anger and pain.

His brother.

He had to watch and listen to him everyday nearly lose himself in this girl who knew nothing about him. She didn’t care that he had fallen in love with her and not only would but did give up his life for her. He had never met her and knew nothing about her except for what Devin had described. In his opinion, she sounded cocky and didn’t deserve his brother. Devin was too sensitive a human being to realize that she wasn’t worth the thoughts he was devoting to her.

After the accident, he started seeing his brother wandering around near and inside the café. It was the most frustrating feeling he’d ever felt. He hated seeing him in that state, but it was better than nothing. The night of the accident, he was meeting him there and rounded the corner just in time to see rejection blind him to his death. He didn’t even have time to call out his name and warn him.

Months had gone by with him seeing Devin everywhere. He couldn’t do a thing about it. Then, he noticed someone else notice him and eventually, it all made sense.

In the beginning of his realization, he was angry. He blamed her for taking his brother away. How could he not? She was a murderer.

As he spoke, she couldn’t take her eyes away from Devin’s disfigured form. She couldn’t have him. She’d never be able to touch him. They’d never be able to laugh together, kiss or make love. All gone.

What was she supposed to do with this ache?

“Number Three” told her that he began to notice Devin disappearing at first for hours at a time and then days. It had occurred to him that the more she noticed him the more Devin felt a need to stick around instead of moving on. It was almost like her presence solidified him each time.

“Number Three” was about to continue until he stopped, sat back and stared at her. Her face had aged with exhaustion and was full of tears. She was experiencing crushed love for the first time in her superficial life.

A satisfied sigh fell from his lips and was replaced with a woeful smile. He looked over at his brother one more time, told him he loved him, turned to her drenched face, kissed her cheek and left the two sitting across from each other to begin their new life together.

A bit about the author:

Jamica Hooks received her Bachelor of Arts in Drama at Texas Woman’s University in Denton, Texas and now lives in Dallas, Texas. She is currently working on her novella Willow’s World. Visit author page