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The Chocolate Cake Savior

by Hailey Mills 11 months ago in Short Story · updated 11 months ago
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Written by Hailey Mills

I love routine. Wake up at six every morning, jog three miles, shower and get ready for school. I can’t remember the last time I started a day differently, or went to school without first stopping at Maggy’s Coffee House for my usual cold brew and blueberry bagel.

Just like that, each day follows a pattern. It keeps me organized, almost like crossing off items on a checklist. A simple life befitting a simple girl. Everything about me can be summed up in a few short sentences. My name is Kyla Reeves, and I’m seventeen years old. My best friend is Maddy Peters, and we are both high school seniors. My only other friend is my mom, a nurse at the local hospital. The only slightly interesting thing about me is that I’m a pretty great tennis player. For years, countless people have come up to me after matches, going on about how I get my skills from my dad. Everyone in this small town knows what an exceptional athlete he was. My talent must come solely from genetics, since he has never been around to coach me. Sadly, I have almost no memory of him at all. He was killed in a car accident on his thirty-first birthday, not long after I was born. Mom rarely speaks about the painful tragedy, but even with Dad gone, she’s always been my number one fan. No matter how busy she gets, she’s never missed a match. And so, aside from my title as three-time Singles State Champion, I’m just your typical teenage girl, with bright blue eyes, freckles, and not much of a social life. It’s all part of the routine.

I suppose that’s why he so easily became a part of my life. The young man with dark tousled hair, sitting in the counter-seat farthest to the right at the coffee shop at precisely 7:40 every morning. Consistently, and without fail, this tall and broad-shouldered man was there, hunched over his usual order: a single slice of chocolate cake. An atypical breakfast choice. I couldn’t remember when I first started noticing him. One day, he was just there, wearing his same leather jacket and peacefully eating his chocolate delicacy. There was something oddly familiar about him, but I’d never seen him around town before. As far as I knew, the only thing he ever did was sit at that counter.

I don’t know why I was so intrigued by him at first. He couldn’t have been much older than I was. He never looked up when I walked by, never offered so much as a polite “good morning.” I could never muster the courage to talk to him. He was just so…strange. And the chocolate cake? I figured one of those days I would ask him about it, but I never did. After about a week, I lost interest. Nothing more than a boring part of my every-day checklist.

Sure enough, when I walked into the shop on that cool spring morning, he was there. My eyes swept over his long arms and sharp jawline, not even lingering a moment on the little plate bearing his slice of chocolate cake. I strolled right past his seat and ordered my coffee and bagel. Check. As the server prepared my drink, I already began contemplating what steps I would complete next. Drive to school, lock up my tennis gear, and then bravely attempt a conversation with Mr. Parker about retaking that chemistry test. After collecting my breakfast and leaving a small tip, I started toward the exit. Breeze through first period, start my research paper—

I definitely hadn’t expected the man to suddenly turn away from the counter and grab my arm, stopping me abruptly in my tracks. The man who had never afforded a single glance in my direction. For the first time, I could clearly see his face, and his striking blue eyes caught me off guard almost as much as his sharp movement. They contrasted heavily against his dark eyebrows and the stray pieces of hair that brushed against his forehead. Not a hint of stubble traced the smooth skin of his jawline or chiseled chin. He wore an expression of utter seriousness, his mouth tight as if clenching his teeth. And those eyes! Deep and round, bright as the sea on a beautiful summer day. I almost dropped my drink.

“Um…” I stammered, gently pulling my arm from his firm grasp.

“Where the blue bird crosses the river, you must wait.” That was all he said, those blue eyes boring into mine. His warm voice weighed heavily in the air, like he had been thinking those ten peculiar words over and over in his mind before finally saying them out loud.

“Excuse me?” I choked out, startled and confused.

“Where the blue bird…crosses the river…you must wait.” His voice was more intense this time, bringing with it a sense of dire urgency. I could see in his face that he needed me to make sense of his words. There was worry behind the fierceness in his eyes.

My mind whirled with questions, but the jumble was nothing I could put into a coherent sentence. I slowly backed away from the man, my mouth falling open in bewilderment. His desperate gaze didn’t leave my face until I’d shakily inched my way out of the coffee shop.

Blue bird? River? And I hadn’t thought that man could get any stranger. There wasn’t a river around for miles. Those words meant nothing to me, and they surely wouldn’t mean anything to any sensible person. What a wacko.

I decided to push the bizarre incident from my mind, although I had already lost my appetite. My untouched bagel was tossed into the trashcan as I walked through the school’s front gates.

The rest of the school day went seamlessly according to routine. I endured through all my classes, spent lunch in the library, and got a great head start on my homework. Check, check, and check. My best friend Maddy and I made plans to drive up to the city later that night to catch a movie. By the time I’d changed out of my school clothes and picked her up in my Chevy Cruz, I’d almost forgotten all about the morning’s mystifying encounter.

Music blasting and windows rolled down, we made the thirty-minute drive to the movie theater. My appetite had fully returned, and the two of us devoured an entire extra-large popcorn while screaming at the terrifying scenes of the horror movie. Personally, I wasn’t into the horror genre, but there was something about hooded creatures ravaging innocent souls that thrilled people like my quirky best friend. Before we knew it, the movie had ended, and it was time to head home.

“Can you pull up the GPS?” I asked casually, eyes drooping and belly full.

“I think I remember the way back,” Maddy said thoughtfully. “Just head east on Blue Jay Avenue until we reach the highway.”

“And that is why I will always keep you as a travel partner,” I replied appreciatively, as we pulled out of the busy theater parking lot. Sometimes it felt like she knew everything!

It was a clear warm night, and the roads were bustling with cars of laughing people returning home from an adventurous night out. I drove in the fast lane, while Maddy explained the three enormous plot holes she had found in the movie. Suddenly, the traffic light at the upcoming intersection flashed yellow. I quickly slammed on the breaks as the cars in the adjacent lanes skidded to a stop, their drivers probably as exasperated as I was.

“Are we almost to the highway?” I groaned.

“Maybe another mile or so,” Maddy answered, before continuing where she left off. Consumed by her spiel, she seemed completely unbothered by the traffic.

My eyes wandered the intersection as the cars sped past on the pavement perpendicular to us. Squinting into the night, I was barely able to make out the name on the street sign. My heart rate picked up instantly.

“River Road?” I cried out incredulously, cutting Maddy off midsentence.

“Yeah, I guess it was named after a river that used to run through here decades ago,” she announced, once again untroubled by my tone.

I froze. We were in the intersection of Blue Jay Avenue and River Road. Instantly, the wild events of the morning came flooding back into my mind. Where the blue bird crosses the river, you must wait.

The light turned green, but I didn’t even notice. Unable to move, I gripped the steering wheel breathlessly.

Maddy finally paused her tirade. “Hey, the light’s green.”

Still frozen.

“Um, Earth to Kyla, people are going to start honk—”

Suddenly, a giant semitruck barreled across the intersection in front of us, coming from the left at high speeds. There was an earsplitting crash as metal smashed metal, and the cars that had inched forward in the two lanes to our right were immediately demolished. The devastation was enormous: skidding tires, roaring flames, totaled cars, and the semitruck crumpled like a soda can. It had run its red light…appeared out of nowhere.

We were both paralyzed with shock. The events that followed were a blur. Sirens. Broken bodies. Dozens of questions.

No survivors.

The next day, I skipped my run and went straight to the coffee house. Heart pounding, I headed directly to the far-right counter seat.

It was empty.

“Where is he?” I burst. The rowdy din of the coffee shop suddenly grew quiet. “Has he been in today?”

“Who?”

“The man who is always here, with the chocolate cake?”

“I’m sorry, I don’t know who you’re talking about.” And no one did. According to the workers and even the frequent diners, that seat at the counter was always empty. “Perhaps you are thinking of a different place.”

It was 7:40, and there wasn’t a plate of chocolate cake in sight. His absence chilled my bones.

For days, I could hardly eat or sleep. I kept seeing myself at that intersection, imagining what would have happened if I had just stepped on the gas: the impact as the full force of the semitruck smashes the driver’s side door, my car rolling over and over again for a few dozen feet, the windshield shattering into millions of pieces, blood everywhere, and then nothing. Deep down, a part of me knew that I was supposed to die that day. There was absolutely no reason to have hesitated at a green traffic light. It felt like I had cheated death, and the fact that I had no idea how or why made me sick.

But the real question was who. Every morning I went back to the coffee shop, and the strange dark-haired man was nowhere to be seen. Like he had never existed. After days of confused, concerned, and even sympathetic looks from other customers, I realized the worst part about it all.

Chocolate cake wasn’t even on the menu.

About a week after the incident, I came home from tennis practice to find my mom sitting at the kitchen table, peering over an old scrapbook. I dropped my backpack at the doorway and slumped down into the seat next to her.

“Hey Sweetie, I was just going through a few of your dad’s old things,” Mom said, as I looked over her shoulder. She flipped the page, and the picture at the top nearly gave me a heart attack.

“That’s Dad?” I exclaimed, pulling the book closer. I recognized those broad shoulders, the ruffled dark hair, and the chiseled chin. Those were the same blue eyes that stared back at me in the mirror every morning. The eyes of the man from the coffee shop.

“Yes, on his nineteenth birthday. Isn’t he handsome?” I could hardly hear my mother as the realizations slammed into me. “Chocolate was his favorite, he insisted on it every year…”

Short Story

About the author

Hailey Mills

Hi I'm 18. I've never let anyone read my writing before but here we go. :)

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