He still wasn’t there. “But . . . what if I don’t want you to?”
I could hardly breathe for crying, but I remember thinking—no, knowing—that Jeb was so much better than me. He was the greatest, most wonderful guy in the world, and I was an absolute shit who didn’t even deserve to be stepped on by him. I was an asshat. I was as big an asshat as Charlie.
“I have to go,” I said, moving toward the door.
He grabbed my wrist. His expression said, Don’t. Please.
But I had to. Couldn’t he see that?
I wrenched away and made myself say the words. “Jeb . . . it’s over.”
He hardened his jaw, and I was perversely glad. He should be furious at me. He should despise me.
“Go,” he said.
So I did.
And now . . . here I was. I stood by my bedroom window, watching Dorrie and Tegan grow smaller and smaller. The moonlight made the snow look silver—all that snow—and just looking at it made me cold.
I wondered if Jeb would ever forgive me.
I wondered if I would ever stop feeling so miserable.
I wondered if Jeb felt as miserable as I did, and I surprised myself by realizing that I hoped he didn’t. I mean, I wanted him to feel a little miserable, or even fairly miserable, but I didn’t want his heart to be a frozen lump of regret. He had such a good heart, which made it so confusing that he didn’t show up yesterday.
Still, it wasn’t Jeb’s fault that I screwed up, and wherever he was, I hoped his heart was warm.
“Brrr,” Christina said as she unlocked the front door to Starbucks at four thirty the next morning. Four frickin’ thirty! The sun was an hour and a half from rising, and the parking lot was a ghostly landscape, broken up here and there by snow-covered cars. Christina’s boyfriend honked as he pulled onto Dearborn Avenue, and Christina turned and waved. He drove off, and it was us, the snow, and the unlit store.
She pushed open the door, and I hurried in behind her.
“It’s freezing out there,” she said.
“You’re telling me,” I said. The drive from my house had been treacherous, even with snow tires and chains, and I passed at least a dozen cars abandoned by less gutsy drivers. In one snowbank there was an imprint of an entire SUV or some other monster vehicle. How was that possible? How did some idiot driver not see a six-foot wall of snow?
Until the snowplow came, there was no way Tegan would be driving anywhere in her wimpy Civic.
I stomped to dislodge the clumps of snow, then tugged off my boots and padded sock-footed to the back room. I flipped the six switches by the heating vent, and the store blazed with light.
We are the Christmas star lit by the angels, I thought, imagining how this one spot of brightness must look from anywhere else in the pitch-black town. Only Christmas is over, and there were no angels.
I pulled off my hat and coat and slipped on my black clogs, which matched my black pants. I resecured the DO NOT FORGET PIG! sticky note to my Starbucks shirt, which read, YOU CALL IT, WE’LL MAKE IT. Dorrie made fun of my T-shirt, just as she made fun of everything Starbucks, but I didn’t care. Starbucks was my safe place. It was also my sad place, since it housed so many Jeb memories.
Even so, I found solace in its smells and routines—and especially its music. Call it “corporate” or “canned” or whatever, but the Starbucks CDs were good.
“Hey, Christina,” I called, “care for a little ‘Hallelujah’?”
“Heck yeah,” she called back.
I stuck in the Lifted: Songs of the Spirit CD (which, yes, Dorrie gagged at) and selected track seven. Rufus Wainwright’s voice filled the air, and I thought, Ah, the sweet sound of Starbucks.
What Dorrie failed to appreciate—along with the squillions of other Starbucks scoffers—was that the people who worked at Starbucks were still people, just like everyone else. Yes, Starbucks was owned by some hotshot Starbucks daddy, and yes, Starbucks was a chain. But Christina lived here in Gracetown just like Dorrie did. So did I. So did the rest of the baristas. So what was the big deal?
I walked out of the back room and started unpacking the pastries left by Carlos, the food-delivery guy. My attention kept getting pulled to the purple chairs at the front of the store, and tears made the reduced-fat blueberry muffins go blurry.
Stop it, I commanded myself. Get a frickin’ grip, or it’s going to be a very long day.
“Whoa,” Christina said, her feet appearing in front of me. “You cut your hair.”
I lifted my head. “Um . . . yeah.”
“And dyed it pink.”
“That’s not a problem, is it?”
Starbucks had a Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell appearance code that prohibited nose rings, other facial piercings, and visible tattoos—meaning you could have tattoos and piercings, you just couldn’t show them. I didn’t think there was anything in the guidelines that said you couldn’t have pink hair, though. Then again, the topic had never come up.
“Hmm,” Christina said, studying me. “No, it’s fine. Surprised me is all.”
“Yeah, me, too,” I said under my breath.
I didn’t intend for her to hear me, but she did.
“Addie, are you okay?” she asked.
“Of course,” I said.
Her gaze shifted to my shirt. She frowned. “What pig are you not supposed to forget?”
“Huh?” I looked down. “Oh. Uh . . . nothing.” I suspected that pigs were probably prohibited in Starbucks, too, and I saw no reason to get Christina all worked up by explaining the whole story. I’d keep Gabriel hidden in the back room after I picked him up, and she would never have to know.
“Are you sure you’re all right?” she said.
I smiled brightly and peeled off the sticky note. “Never better!”
She went back to prepping the coffee station, and I folded the note in half and stuck it in my pocket. I lugged the pastries to the glass case, put on a pair of plastic gloves, and started loading the trays. Rufus Wainwright’s cover of “Hallelujah” filled the store, and I hummed along. It was almost pleasant, in a life-sucks-but-at-least-there’s-good-music sort of way.
But as I listened to the lyrics—truly listened, instead of just letting them float over me—the almost-pleasant feelings went away. I’d always thought this was an inspirational song about God or something, because of all the hallelujahs. Only it turned out there were words before and after the hallelujahs, and those words were hardly uplifting.