Elements – Chapter One
Book One of The Crystal Series
The morning rush hour over, the few cars rolling down Main Street were not in any hurry. The late autumn sun cast a shadow in front of the only coffee shop for several miles. Across the street, facing the shop, some townspeople sat on park benches, enjoying the fresh morning air. In the playground, children ran around under the watchful eyes of their caretakers. Inside the coffee shop, conversation between the few remaining patrons was hushed.
My hand held the stainless steel pitcher as steam frothed the milk. I was working as a barista at the independent coffee house aptly named, Coffee Mania. With the morning rush over, I was preparing a cappuccino for myself, hoping for some downtime. For the time being, the only sound in the store was the frothing hiss of the machine. There was only a handful of people still occupying the few tables in the back of the room. Some were whispering between friends, while others were bent over their laptops. I served the last one moments ago, leaving me with time to myself.
Once the milk peaked, I turned the knob off, placing the pitcher on the counter. From behind me, I picked a small cup from the shelves lining the back wall. Behind the shelves, the mirror gave me a view of my pale, wan face. The freckles that were usually muted on my nose and cheeks, stood out like beacons. My light brown, shoulder-length hair was tied back with an elastic band, emphasizing my heart-shaped face and long neck. Dark, shadowed gray eyes stared back at me accusingly because of the strain they were feeling. At five-foot-three-inches tall, I could barely be seen around the big espresso machine on the counter behind me. My mother would be trying to fatten me up if she could see me. Since we had parted ways ten months previously, I had lost too much weight. The stress of work and school was getting to me. I hardly had time to fit everything in. Food was one thing I forgot about in the long daily grind I faced.
Returning to the machine, I pressed the espresso bean coffee into the cup. Topping it with the steamed milk, I scooped the last bit of froth into the cup. Sprinkling chocolate on top, I sat on the bar stool next to me, taking my first sip of the energizing elixir. With the radio softly playing a sad love song in the background, I rested my elbows on the counter, cradling my chin in my hands. The front of the store was all windows, giving me a perfect view of the sidewalk outside and the park across the street. My thoughts turned to my mother, like they usually did when I had a free moment. We did not part on the best of terms.
I loved my mother. She was the only constant in my life. It was just the two of us as far back as I could remember. Even though we got along well, it was difficult to put up with her nervousness and paranoia. She was always looking over her shoulder. I often wondered what made her that way. There was no talking to her when she was having one of her premonitions of danger. As long as I was a minor, there was nothing I could do about it. There had been times though when her perceptions got us out of sticky situations. If I thought about it too much I would end up as paranoid as her.
I was born on November first in Boston. My mother related the story of my birth many times when I was younger. She lived on the island of Nantucket at the time. How she ended up pregnant and who my father was did not figure in the telling. Within a year of my birth, my mother moved us clear across the country to California. From there we made our home in numerous towns, too many to mention. My father was an abstract figure in my mind. As much as I pressed her, she would never relate any details about him. I only knew he left us when I was three.
Any memories I had started at ten-years old. I found it odd I did not have any from my earlier years. I should remember vague recollections from as early as five-years old. My mother did not offer an explanation, going out of her way to change the subject when I brought it up. Discussions with her only went as far as she wanted.
I turned eighteen and everything changed. Her delusions were getting worse. We moved again to a small town outside New Orleans when she became obsessed yet again. Her attempts to keep me in the house, away from anyone were too much. She kept me away from school, telling me it was for my safety. We had our first blow up then. I wanted her to seek help, accused her of being delusional. I wanted answers about why she was like that. Her response was one day I would understand. For now, I must listen to her and do as she said.
Resentment built in me slowly; forcing a confrontation that still left me feeling agonized. Our arguing started over small things, building to the final straw that broke me. Coming home, finding my things packed again, I could not take it anymore. There was no way I was continuing that endless moving around. Even her tears could not sway me. I found my chance for escape when she left to handle the final details for our move. I took the bare essentials, stuffing items in my backpack and taking only one suitcase. Leaving her a note, I rushed to the bus terminal, taking the first bus out of our latest town towards the city. Once I arrived in New Orleans, I grabbed a train, and found myself in Beverly, Massachusetts, knowing I would stay. It reminded me of another town by the ocean where I was happy.
I needed a life, somewhere to call home. Getting off the train, I inhaled the fresh salty air, feeling free for the first time in my life. I managed to take what little money I had, but it would not last for long. It was easier than I thought to find a place to stay until I figured things out. The motel I called home for the first month was nothing special, but it did provide a safe bed for the nights. The owner, a nice middle-aged lady, helped me find the job at the coffee house. It paid enough for me to get by.
When September arrived, I enrolled in the local college’s night classes. With no idea what to major in, I was taking courses in history to fill up my credits. It was the only subject I found I was interested in. On my first day of class, I was lucky to run into another student looking for a roommate. Together we rented a two-and-a-half apartment close to my work and school. Elisabet, or Bet as she liked to be called, was happy to take the pullout couch in the living room, letting me have the small bedroom. Perky and talkative, she was the opposite of me. A loner most of my life, I never had a friend, but was pleasantly surprised to find Bet filling that void. She was a bit taller than me, similar in size with sandy blond hair and green eyes. I sometimes felt she held back on talking about herself, and other times found her staring at me unexpectedly.
With everything else going on, strange things were happening lately. I did not mention it to Bet, thinking it was my imagination. Little things misplaced at home, the feeling of being watched, waking up from disturbing dreams. I tried to push them from my mind. Bet questioned me about my nightly walks into the kitchen for water. Not wanting to worry her, I explained it away as stress. I knew she did not believe me, that I should talk to her about my unease.
Even with all my worries, it felt good to finally be on my own. I still missed my mom though, and knew I should contact her soon. It was not something I looked forward to. Feeling guilty about abandoning her, I could not imagine how she felt, coming back to find our house empty, to find me gone. Just thinking about it made me cringe at the hurt she must feel.
Shaking away the memories before they overwhelmed me, I focused on the present. I was waiting for Bet to arrive so we could head to the library to study. Peter, my co-worker, had already arrived to replace me. He was in the backroom getting things ready for the lunch crowd. I was all cleaned up from my shift. Peter was singing off key along to the radio, making me smile at his attempt to imitate the singer. He was a sweet guy, even if he was a bit of a nerd. Peter was always on his laptop when he was not serving a customer. We went out on one uneventful date. Both of us agreed we were better off as friends.
My eyes drifted to the park, the direction where Bet should be approaching from. A sense of danger suddenly hit me. The feeling of being watched caused me to scan the park. I strained to see if there was anyone watching, noting the park lined with trees and the few people around. I could not shake the feeling there was someone there, hiding, studying me. The tinkling sound of the bell over the door as it was pulled open drew my attention away from the park. Bet walked in, crossing the floor to take the stool across from me. She put her backpack on the counter, leaned over to grab an almond biscotti and took a bite.
“Hi Alexa, are you free to go?” She asked with her mouth full.
Dressed in her designer clothes, I wondered why she was living with me in our dingy apartment. I was sure she had the means to afford her own place. Just the cost of her handbag would pay for three months of our rent. The rest of her clothes would help feed me for a year. The smile on her face was genuine though. Her eyes sparkled as they crinkled at the corners. I still had fifteen minutes on my shift, but Peter would be able to cover for me. We always did favors for each other. Bet reached over the counter for another cookie. I slapped her hand away before she could take another one.
“Stop! You know they come out of my salary. Let me get my things and we can go.” I stood up to clear my cup. “Did you happen to notice anyone milling around outside?” I asked her, my eyes going to the window.
She gave me a funny look, peering over her shoulder to look outside. Shrugging, she looked back at me. “No one’s there.” Her response was followed by a smirk, but her eyes were studying me seriously.
“Never mind.” I told her. “I’ll be right back.” I cast a last look across the street at the park as the hair on my arms stood up. Shaking away the bad vibe I was getting, I stepped into the backroom to get my purse and jacket.