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Chloe heard several plates crash to the kitchen floor below her apartment. She closed her eyes for a moment, taking the cigarette from her mouth and watching it slowly smolder black. It was time for her weekly job, not the one she was paid for, as yet another waitress at J&J's 24 hour pancake house, the one that provided her with the apartment upstairs, a place to lie down in bed, and even shut her wide-awake eyes. Because really, who sleeps these days? No, her real job was keeping Jen, or Jealous Jen, as the employees had fondly named their manager, away from the kitchen, where more than one young waitress had been snatched in the well-practiced and powerful arms of her husband, Jed. It wasn't like it was possible to keep the man's graying handsome head from turning in the direction of some bright young thing. Even Chloe wouldn't dare confront the man, with his thundering voice and presence.

But Chloe was useful. Chloe had a gifted mouth, and she could certainly use it. Every weekend, after finishing her shift, she would warn the sometimes willing victim and the lecherous diner god when Jen was arriving. Every week as the statuesque woman came to the door of the diner, with a pair of quick hands and a jingle of keys, Chloe's routine started. It was foolproof. She would start the coffee machine and smooth her apron. She would twirl her lank hair around one figure and twist her clever face into a simpleton smile. Jen would come in and lean over the counter. Sometimes she would ask where her husband was, and sometimes she would not. Chloe knew the right answer was always an idiotic variation of ‘I don't know.' Then Chloe would spill her words into Jen's neurotic, coffee-driven mind, sweetening and mellowing it. She would let go of whatever word tripped off her tongue, with eloquence and confidence, a master of the art. She could talk for seconds and minutes and hours all added together about things like capital punishment and origami, the evolution of man and the best brands of suitcases. Sometimes she wove her ideas all together, in a great big tapestry of a story. If Jen was not always pleased, she was, at least, always delayed.

Chloe slumped her back against the wall, checking her watch. There was still time. She closed her eyes again and began to see things, well, one thing. The boy's face was still fresh in her mind. The sharply sloping pale cheekbones and nose and the dark eyes that never looked in hers that morning he had come to the diner. He had avoided her eyes for those of his reflection in everything, in platters, in spoons, in the lipstick mirror of a woman seated in the booth directly in front of his …

Somewhere close, a car door slammed, and familiar footsteps followed the path to the diner. Chloe let out a strangled breath, eyes wide. Jen. If she didn't go now, it would be too late. Everything she had built would fade away. Racing down the stairs, she was shocked to find that only Jen stood in the kitchen, standing amongst the plates that Jed and one of the dishwashers had broken in their clumsy passion. She turned to face Chloe, with a smile that contained no warmth.

“Surprised your friend and my husband aren't here, are you?” she spat, her cool blue eyes reflecting fire, “Well they're gone now, but I got a good look at them before they left.” She paced closer to Chloe, going in for the kill. Chloe had stopped breathing, her gut wrenched so hard it was irrevocably tangled. She tried to think of something to say in defense, but she wasn't quick enough. As she stood there, smoothing her pinstriped uniform, she was starting to see the bleak fate that awaited her.

“And I thought you were babbling this whole time, because you were a bit dumb,” Jen continued. Her eyes held fast to Chloe's for a moment and then… “Leave,” she declared, with all the finality and authority of an ancient goddess. It was a word that Chloe understood perfectly. As soon as it left Jen's mouth, it entered Chloe's, slicing her tongue and forcing her speech down her throat.

Jen knew. Jen knew about her husband and she couldn't take anyone else knowing, even if she stripped their life away, especially the life of a liar. Chloe was a hateful liar in the back of Jen's memory now, and an almost nothing in everyone else's; one puzzle peace that had no others to fit to. J&J's Diner and its white tiled glory had been her only home. Both home and life had vanished in that instant, in smoke and silence.

Dully, Chloe slung her purse over one arm and slipped out the door. Where was she to go and who was she? Chloe used to be clever. She used to talk. She used to be a whole, not just a part of an entity. Now she was only a fragment of a girl, a shadow or and echo. The night hanging over the downtown streets was dim, so Chloe simply faded in.

Wait. There, on that corner. It was him, the boy whom streetlights directed their shine on. His hair and skin were equally pale and smooth. The way he stood, the way he carried himself, was the action of a moving statue, a great, pretty thing. And his dark eyes flicked to the equally dark windows as he passed.

‘Could he see himself?' thought Chloe. It was the boy she had served waffles just the other day. The one who avoided her eyes. The one who was before her eyes whenever she shut them. She had marveled at his youth and beauty, had watched him gaze at his own reflection in the clean plate, had thought nothing of it. Certainly now, if Chloe looked in a plate or a window, she wouldn't see anything, not like this magnificent boy. Shadows and echoes don't have reflections.

Without thinking, Chloe simply approached the young man, but it seemed that tearing his eyes away from the window to answer the light tap on his shoulder was excruciating. The black eyes froze Chloe's, although her heart was melting onto her ribs, sticking like the speech lodged in her throat.

“Go away,” he muttered. He knew what she wanted, but he had none to share, only to hoard. Chloe didn't go away. The boy kept walking, and she became his shadow. He climbed some apartment stairs and she followed. He unlocked a door, and she opened it. He made some coffee, and she poured him a cup. He ran a hand though his hair in frustration, and she took it in hers, stroking it, wanting to calm him, warm him. He soundlessly snatched his hand away and turned the corner, walking through a shabby and uncared for living room. One corner of the room, the only clean and livable-looking part of the apartment, housed an elegant mirror, perched easily on a smooth, wooden desk. The boy settled himself in front of it, yearning spread across his features. Chloe sat on the floor beside him, feasting her eyes on the original copy, not the reflection. He looked so desperate, so unaware of his own loneliness the Chloe wished she could soothe him, that she could sweetly talk him to sleep. She tried clearing her throat, but speech held fast.

The beauty leaned into the mirror and Chloe leaned into the beauty. How she envied the mirror and identical boy within it! He murmured uncharacteristically kind words at the piece of glass in a familiar and loving speech, and Chloe hung on to each one after they fell off the perfect pair of lips. These lips brushed the mirror and before the former waitress could brush hers to his, he was melting. The two perfect boys were becoming one, devouring each other. Everywhere they touched became the mirror, until only one boy was trapped within the frame, one handsome figure who was both boy and reflection. Chloe couldn't see her shadow of a face anywhere. Not the dark under her eyes or the pancake mix on her apron, which she still wore. She could only see the boy – finally united with his infatuation, his perfect features neither delighted nor distraught. He was still mouthing pleasant-looking syllables of what were probably very pretty words. And though Chloe couldn't quite make them out, she repeated what little she caught for her lovely boy, her only care, as she sat in the white wooden chair he had occupied only seconds ago. Water welled up in her eyes and washed away her face.





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Elysia said...
yesterday at 12:30 pm
A very well written story. I kept looking for a connection between the boy and the philandering husband who made Chloe suffer so much. Is she fixated on handsome men and boys and unable to look beyond this. Nonetheless Gabby I was very impressed with your story and your command of the English language. You will be a great writer some day.
 
Chewy said...
Oct. 18 at 10:14 pm
What a fantastic, twisting, turning story that was! Very clear imagery and great sentence structure. Turned up the tension and emotion at the right times and was thoroughly entertaining. Great Job!!
 
writergirl13 said...
Mar. 13, 2010 at 7:47 pm
That's really deep! I like it. You might want to consider bringing just a little more clarity to it in some parts, though.
 
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