It took no longer than half a second, and there I was. In front of a run-down building, faced with big, old bay windows; the pale blue paint peeling off the frames right before my eyes.
‘Not again,’ I thought as I started to look around and take in the surroundings. There it all was, the bent lamppost, the pink and green neon sign that reads ‘24/7 diner’ with the ‘2’ flickering on-and-off, and the beaten-up Harley with the missing back wheel parked up outside.
‘This bloody diner!’ I hear a voice in my head that, for a moment there, does not sound like my own. ‘Um, hello?’ I say out loud and for a second I actually expect to hear someone answer, but nothing.
Though it’s getting dark outside, I can hear noise and chatter, the sweet medley of Hendrix playing on the jukebox that is no doubt more than three times older than me, and I definitely smell coffee. I really need some of it right now.
My eyes are still adjusting as I walk into the dimly-lit place, the bell signalling that I have entered startles me, and I freeze for a moment. In those couple of seconds, I actually think I’m seeing people. Just people. Once I arrive back in the present, there it is. The lights. Lights around everyone I encounter that I have seen for as long as I can remember. Purple, blue, and grey; everyone has one.
I remember trying to explain what I see to the child psychologist my mum insisted I visit when I was 12, Dr Carter. ‘A cloud of colour that surrounds you, I can just see your features shining through it, sometimes all of them, sometimes just a few.’ Needless to say, Dr Carter sent me to an optician because seeing random colours is not ‘normal’; I guess everyone is truly afraid of anything they can’t understand.
The only person without a colour is me; I am still awaiting an explanation for this.
I find an empty booth close to the door and slide into the faux leather seat while grabbing a menu from its stand in the middle of the table. I scan it for all of 30 seconds and put it down; coffee is all I really want.
As I wait for the waitress, I try to remember how I got here. My memory of the last 24 hours is a little hazy: trees, hospital waiting room, bright flashes of light and my mum, that’s all I’ve got. But this happens every time, I’m not too sure why it still makes me anxious. I start to look around as calmly as I can, should I be worried? I look behind the counter, all purples, of course. Men sat at the counter, sipping coffee and finishing their light bites before getting back on the road, all greys with an occasional green, how typical. You can tell just by looking at them.
‘When did I become so judgemental?’ I whisper to myself. Before I can answer, I see her. The waitress, in a plain black t-shirt and ripped skinny jeans approaches me, she looks concerned: ‘It’s a little early for a rough night, isn’t it?’ she says with a wry smile as she tucks loose strands of her curly brown hair behind her ear.
I’m mute. I want to say something, but I simply can’t find the words. ‘You’re plain,’ I whisper, maybe a little too loud but she acts as if she hadn’t heard me and replies with a simple ‘What can I get ya?’
‘A coffee. Just plain black coffee. Please.’
And then she disappears behind the counter, shielded by the purples, and I can’t see her anymore. What even was that? As far as I can recall, I have never encountered anyone else who is plain, like me.
Rough night? I should probably look in the mirror. I get up to make my way to the mirror in the men’s room, where I am greeted with a face that I barely recognise but know as my own. My light brown hair is an absolute mess, it looks like I have abandoned the motion of shaving my face months ago and I am pretty sure that the blue shirt with the subtle flower print I’m wearing does not belong to me. I’m more of a black shirt type of guy. Apart from that, everything looks normal.
I physically jump when my phone vibrates in my pocket. How could I not think to check my phone?
The screen reads ‘Tilly’ and I instantly feel at ease.
‘Hello, stranger!’ I answer the phone with the calm in my voice that surprises even me.
‘Cory! Are you alright?’ she sounds worried.
‘I am now!’ me and Tilly have always just been friends but flirting with her seems effortless to me.
‘Ah for lucifer's sake,’ Tilly chuckles slightly and then her worried voice returns: ‘Did you find her?’
‘Her?’ I ask, and before Tilly manages to answer, I remember the waitress. She is the reason I’m here. Temporary confusion is a slightly annoying side effect of teleportation.
‘Yes, I saw her but she had no colour, Tilly!’ I say with slight excitement in my voice and she notices straight away.
‘Oh, please stay focused! As interesting as that is, her lack of colour is not the reason you’re there.’
‘Yes, right, okay! What do I do?’ I question as I sense the seriousness in Tilly’s voice.
‘Well, you can either go back out there or try again?’
Try again? I reach into my pocket and find a small metal tin engraved with two chain links; our logo. LINK, of course. In the tin should be two transparent capsules that will let me rewind as far as a week ago, great. It was Tilly’s idea to put our potions in funky little capsules, clever!
Tilly is my best friend, I have known her as far as I can remember. She is the reason I don’t think of myself as crazy, and she is the one that helped me figure out what the colours mean. I still remember the day she sent me her theory; it’s auras! Purple, green and grey. It’s tied to people’s intentions and experiences, and their perception of themselves. That’s what I have been seeing all my life. Once we figured this out, it became easy for me to stay away from greys unless I’m looking for trouble.
Which makes this waitress even more intriguing.
So, do I go back out or get a second shot at the first impression? Of course, let’s do what any 19-year-old guy would do.
I take one of the capsules, few seconds go by and there I am. In front of the diner, the neon sign, the old windows and the broken Harley.
I fix my hair, scoff at the shirt I’m wearing and walk in. I scan the diner, it all looks the same so I take a seat and wait for her. After a few minutes, I start to worry, I can’t see her.
I re-scan the menu, look up, and there she is.
Before she gets a chance to comment on my appearance, I look at her with a big grin on my face, and say: ‘Are you ready?’