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The Cafe Was Crowded
The caf' was crowded. It wasn't the type of crowded that provided a gentle hum of background noise. It was the crowded that crammed you in between two greasy haired, pot bellied men who talked too loudly, and made rude comments to the scantily dressed waitresses. There was a glob of jam that looked like a rabbit cemented onto the counter. There was only one reason she was there.
The double doors flapped in her face and then promptly crashed into her back. She made her way past the fire belching oven, and avoided a flying saut'ed mushroom in time to slip down the rabbit hole on the other side of the grease covered room. She branched off the main tunnel, into a cavern, and he was there.
He took one look at her face and dropped the stack of towels he was holding, freeing his hands for her instead. His left held her face steady, and his right traced its way along the ugly purple bruise that was prominently displayed above her cheekbone.
'Who are you with this week?'
His eyes flashed slightly, but he'd had enough practice pulling a curtain over them to keep his emotions from shoving their way through.
'My mom. But it's her new boyfriend.' Her voice trailed off and then picked up again. 'Is it bad enough for anyone to notice?'
He resisted the urge to roll his eyes at her comment. She'd been hit again and she was not here to ask for help, but to protect the people who were hitting her.
'There are only so many times you can fall and land on your face, Jen.'
Her face dropped, and he lost his resolve. He put one hand on her shoulder and guided her deeper into the warren, until they reached a small room. 'Stay here.'
He wheeled out the door. When he came back he had a small bundle in one hand. Wordlessly, he passed over the ice.
She did her homework sitting in the small room, and when he came back a few hours later she stood up.
'Ready to go?' The question was inflectionless.
'Yeah.' There was no hint of casual in her tone, and she twisted the response into a resigned mutter.
'Are you going to your dad's or your mom's?'
Emotions flashed briefly across her face, so fast that they were impossible to read. 'Mom's I guess. A visit from the police right now is all I need. Jack, what am I going to tell people?'
His lips pulled into a taut line and he turned away.
The Rent-A-Wreck pulled up outside an apartment building to the sounds of loud music and breaking glass.
'Are you sure you don't want to go to your da'' he broke off his query when he saw that her face was set in firm lines of resignation.
'Yeah. I'll lock myself in the bathroom if it comes down to it.'
His heart snapped. 'I should have fed you something.'
'Don't worry about it, Jack, I'm not your responsibility.'
She opened the door and slid out. The latch caught, and the trashed Volvo pulled away from the curb.