She sat patiently, her fingers clenched around the mug of warm coffee in front of her. No frills, no foam; just black with a shot of cool water. She glanced at her watch and back to the entrance of the coffee shop.
Have I really only been here six minutes? I'm waiting like ten more minutes and then I'm gone. She laughed to herself, Ten minutes is going to feel like ten days. What is it about this city that time seems…glacial? She swept a tendril of burgundy hair back behind her ears and again glanced to the door.
It had been just over three years since Angela Chase had visited Three Rivers, PA. At that time, she had returned because Patty and Graham had put her childhood home up for sale. The printing business Patty had inherited from her father had been bought out and she was offered an executive position for the larger company in Pittsburgh. Graham, still reeling from the closing of his restaurant, had the opportunity to be the executive chef at one of Pittsburgh's newest restaurants. Ultimately, though, Angela supposed it wasn't just career opportunities that had led her parents out of Three Rivers.
Angela had put on a great show of indifference when Patty would call her at college and throw out phrases like "messy divorce" and "trial separation", but secretly the thought of her parents no longer being together was horribly heartbreaking. Moreover, whenever her mother called, she felt a great amount of guilt. Angela had known about her father and his affair with Hallie Lowenthal, his restaurant partner, long before Patty found out. With both of them heading to Pittsburgh and Danielle, Angela's younger sister, finally finishing up college, it made sense for them to leave their old house behind. New city. New life. An actual life.
Angela had remembered the nine hour drove from Chicago to Three Rivers and how interminable it had seemed.
The drive this time had been even worse.
As Angela stared back down at her now empty mug, music poured out over the speaker system. The song was extremely familiar, though at first, Angela could not place it. After a moment a smile spread across her face. The band, of course, was Buffalo Tom; one of her favorite bands from high school. The song, a bit crunchy and yet painfully bare, reminded Angela of all the times she attempted to see Buffalo Tom live and the plots that Rayanne and her would devise in order to catch one of their late night shows on Pike Street. Try as they might, the two of them never successfully made it to one of "The Toms" live shows.
Angela glanced over to the coffee counter, contemplating a refill. Behind the counter a young looking black woman, short black hair, was ringing up a customer and returning change with a smile.
"Thanks for coming," she said to the exiting customers, "Hope to see you soon."
Angela walked to the counter, placed the cup on the ledge and smiled bashfully up to the woman behind the counter.
The woman focused on Angela and her eyes widened.
"Oh my god, Angela Chase? How they hell are you?"
Angela laughed and her face flushed red. The corners of her mouth turned upward and Angela moved her hand quickly to cover her mouth. An old habit from high school that always seemed to return once she crossed Three River's borders.
"I'm good…I'm…" and almost as quickly Angela's face turned downward.
"You're here for the funeral aren't you?" Abyssinia asked.
"Yes," she replied, "I'm actually catering the wake. I thought it was the least I could do."
Angela's brow creased as she looked up and around the coffee shop. She looked to the chalkboard menu above the coffee bar. It read: Abby's Place.
"Oh my god," Angela said, "This is your shop isn't it?"
Abyssinia cackled, "Yup. I've been open just over a year."
"That's great. Although, I always assumed you would have been a big star on Broadway by now."
Abyssinia waved a hand at Angela.
"Stop…please. I wasn't THAT good."
"Yes you were."
"You are making me blush." Abyssinia poured Angela another cup of coffee. "The truth is…I did go to theatre school and then New York. Tried to make it work for a while, but ultimately, it was all a bit too fast for me. So I came back here. Do you remember this place?"
Angela looked around the confines of the quaint shop and its autumn colored walls. She tried her best to figure out why this place seemed so familiar.
"I think I do…but…"
"It used to be Club Vertigo."
"Oh wow…that's right. Well… you've improved on it quite a bit."
"I'd like to think so." A large crash boomed from the back kitchen area. Abyssinia rolled her eyes and turned to leave. "Excuse me a moment." And she disappeared towards the kitchen.
The front door opened and in walked a young man, very fit, clean and highly fashionable. Angela lost her breath for a moment but quickly gathered herself.
They looked at each other for a moment and immediately fell into giggles.
"Rickie," Angela gushed, "You look amazing."
He laughed and embraced her firmly, picking her up off her feet, just a bit.
"No…you look amazing Angela. I can't believe I haven't seen you in…what…like two years?"
"I do not look amazing," she scoffed. "My hair is a mess and I have bags under my eyes almost as big as the rest of my face. It's embarrassing. I look like some emo teenager who just checked out of a mental hospital." Despite fluctuating weight, random outbreaks on her skin and some fairly woeful fashion choices, the one thing that remained constant with Angela was her hair. An amazing shade of crimson that she was never able to let go of. It was her hair that was perhaps Rayanne Graff's greatest gift to her.
"Well," Rickie prodded, "You had always had a way making vulnerable and fragile work for you. I say go for it."
Angela couldn't stop grinning. Of all the people she had known from Three Rivers, Rickie Vasquez was the one she found herself constantly missing the most. He had always pushed her to be more outgoing in school, but in a way that wasn't as abrasive as Rayanne pushed her. Part of Angela had always felt that she and Rickie had shared a common pain. The pain of just not quite fitting. Of always being like how they are.
After exchanging pleasantries with Abyssinia and ordering more coffee, black again for Angela and mocha for Rickie, they huddled into a table in the back corner of Abby's Place.
"So Abyssinia looks great," Rickie began.
"Oh…she's fine," Angela grimaced. "She's…you know. Danielle. Four years into college and she finally picked a major."
"What is it now?" Rickie asked.
"Biology? Maybe? I think the plan is Med School. I'm just glad she finally stopped copying me and switched her major from literature."
"Well," Rickie goaded, "She always did look up to you."
"Yeah…I never understood that."
"Angela…come on. You're…Angela. That's plenty to look up to."
Angela again found herself blushing.
Rickie continued, "I just wish you'd give yourself a chance to believe that."
Angela inhaled. Straightened her back. She wasn't going to let Three Rivers get to her. "I'm working on it," she began. "Believe me. I am working on it."
"Good," Rickie said, his hand shooting across the table to grab hers. "I'm glad."
Angela looked at his face. Thinner now. More mature, but just a hint of that baby fat still lingered. Rickie's eyes looked exactly the same, though not quite as highlighted now that he stopped wearing eyeliner.
"How goes the wicked life of a personal stylist?" Angela asked.
"Oh you know," Rickie sat back in his chair and threw his arms out in an exaggerated stretch. "It's amazing. Exhausting…and honestly…I really, really love it. And I LOVE Los Angeles." Rickie smiled ear to ear and his eyes lit up. Angela loved seeing Rickie like this. It was quite a contrast to how he always seemed in high school. Not that she could blame him. In Los Angeles, Rickie wasn't an outsider. He wasn't one of the freaks, but instead finally popular. Angela had to admit to herself that she was a bit jealous.
"How is Chicago?" He asked.
"Its great," she began, hoping Rickie would believe her. Truthfully she was very fond of Chicago, but lately her career seemed to be headed nowhere. She taught literature courses part time at a small school and constantly told everyone that she was just a chapter away from finishing her novel.
Oh god, she thought, The novel. I say it like its this thing. Like this monumental thing. Only…its not. It just sits there. Waiting.
Angela had to force herself to snap out of it.
"I'm working on my novel," she continued.
"Oh that's great," Rickie squealed. "When can I read it?"
"Well, I'm about one chapter away from being finished. Then first edits. So….six…seven…years."
"Well," Rickie consoled, "WHENEVER it is finished, I want to be the first to read it. Promise?"
Angela smiled again, bashfully and her hand immediately started towards her mouth. She stopped herself and looked Rickie directly in the eyes.
"I promise." Angela took a gulp of her coffee. "So…is Krakow coming?"
"No," Rickie said. "But he sends his regards. He really wishes he could be there, but there is some technology conference in New York or something. Plus Delia is due in about three weeks…so…"
Angela interrupted, "I still cannot believe those two got married. Its good to know, at least, that I didn't destroy his heart completely."
"Yeah," Rickie said. "Not for lack of trying."
"RICKIE!" Angela gasped. "I wasn't that awful."
"Yes you were actually," Rickie teased. "You were extremely awful that whole three weeks you two tried to date."
"Another folly of high school, I suppose," Angela bemused with mock exasperation. "What was I suppose to do? He wrote me that note."
"OH GOD," Rickie interrupted, "Can we please not mention the note. If I never hear about the note again…I'm shocked actually you haven't brought him up yet."
"Who?" Angela feigned ignorance.
"You know who."
"Well…I just assume he wouldn't be there. I ASSUME he isn't town."
"He was…I heard, not sure where he is now," Rickie continued. "At least that is what Tino tells me. He was crashing on Tino's couch occasionally."
"How is Tino?" Angela asked.
"I don't," Rickie answered. "Haven't seen him."
Truthfully, Angela had hoped that Jordan Catalano, the mysterious "him" Rickie and Angela were dancing around, would not show up to the funeral. After everything they had been through. The note. The pregnancy scare. Him dropping out of high school. She had kind of hoped to be able to leave Jordan behind. The last time she saw him was on her last day in Three Rivers before leaving for Northwestern. She was about to get into the family car with Graham and head to the airport when Jordan pulled into her driveway.
God, she thought, That car. That stupid car. His Red.
He stood there waiting for her to talk. She stood there, waiting for him to apologize. Time moved excruciatingly slow until finally he spoke.
"So…I hear Chicago has good music…or whatever."
"Yeah," Angela said, her gaze not leaving the ground. "I heard that too."
"You'll have to let me know if you see any gigs that would be good for The Embryos."
As Graham pulled away, Angela looked back one last time to see Jordan staring back at her. Leaning against his car, sleeves pulled down over his hands. His gaze did not leave her until he disappeared from her vision.
That is how Angela liked to remember Jordan Catalano.
Angela pulled herself back to reality. "Oh sorry."
"Where were you just then?" Rickie asked.
"You know," she blushed, "Just…remembering."
"Uh huh," Rickie said. "I'm sure."
"Shut up," Angela giggled
"So is Patty coming?" Rickie asked.
"She is going to try to come," Angela said, "But dad can't make it."
"Oh, I suppose that would be awkward for them."
"Awkward?" Angela asked. "Oh…OH…no no no. They're back together."
"Yes," Angela said. "You were right, the separation couldn't last. They both moved to Pittsburgh and started dating again. Like, literally, started with a second first date. Fell in love all over again."
"See," Rickie said, "When you have the real thing, then you can make it through anything. All you need is that one thing."
"Yeah," Angela snorted, "And about three years of couples therapy."
"Well I'm happy to hear it." Rickie smiled. They sat, in silence for a moment, both of them realizing what they weren't talking about.
"So…" Angela started.
"Yeah…so." Rickie returned.
"Are you okay?"
"I…don't know really. Its weird. Thinking someone will always be there. In your life? Or like a part of your life. I guess it hasn't really hit me yet."
"Me either, but then again, you had always been a lot closer to…"
"It's just," Rickie interrupted. "I guess you never realize how important someone was to you sometimes…until they're like…gone."
"Rickie…I am so sorry."
"I mean…Angela…he was like my father. Not like my father, dammit, sometimes I really hate that word. He was my father Angela. I just…I just lost my dad." Rickie's face began to turn read and his eyes swelled up with tears. "How do you bury your father?" Rickie's shoulder began to shake and Angela instinctively moved in closer to him. She didn't know what to say. Richard Katimski had only been her teacher, albeit a great teacher, but just her teacher. To her he was always going to be that slightly daffy, easily confused but completely caring Mr. Katimski. But for someone like Rickie, the loss was irreparable. Mr. Katimski had taken Rickie in when no one else would and, Angela was certain for this, if not for Richard, Enrique Vasquez would not be the wonderful man he is today.
They sat there, Angela clinging tightly to Rickie as he shook for what seemed like hours. But this time, for Angela, time could move as slowly as it wanted. Finally Rickie lifted his head and wiped his eyes.
"Oh god," Rickie sniffed, "I am so sorry."
"Don't be. Don't be."
"I'm…" Rickie began. "I'm really glad you're here Angela." Angela laid her head onto Rickie's shoulder. They sat there, staring at nothing in particular, listening to the sounds of Juliana Hatfield pouring over the PA system. The chime for the front door jingled and the door opened.
That voice, though a bit huskier and worse for the wear, than it was in high school, was unmistakable. Angela looked up and immediately started beaming. Rayanne Graff had that effect on her.
"Okay..okay…I know we need to catch up, BUT if I don't get you over to what used to be Let's Bolt, then Sharon Cherski is going to kill me."
"Cherski?" Angela asked, "I thought is was Vinovich?"
"Not as of six months ago," Rayanne cackled. "Hey Rickie," she howled pulling both of them up to her feet. "Sharon and Kyle got divorced and now Cherski is convinced that this is her year. To be irresponsible and finally have some fun. I told her it wasn't going to happen."
As they headed to the door, Angela thought about Rayanne. About how difficult she had been in high school. The drugs…the cheating. How she thought she could never forgive Rayanne, or Jordan for that matter, for what happened back then. Now, staring at Rayanne, she couldn't fathom how it was she could have ever made it out of Three Rivers without her.
"How is the help line going?"
"Oh you know," Rayanne sighed, "No money. Lots of death. Suicide…I'm lonely…blah blah blah. I love it."
"Good," Angela smiled. Rickie went out ahead but Angela grabbed Rayanne's arm to stop her.
"Hey Ray," Angela said, barely above a whisper, "Its really good to see you."
"You know," Rayanne began, the beginning of a smile just beginning to curl on her lips, "In this light…it hurts to look at you!" Rayanne began guffawing loudly.
"SHUT UP," Angela laughed. "God…I try to be serious and you ruin it."
"Okay," Rayanne said, composing herself. "Its good to see you too." Angela beamed. Smiled ear to ear. Her hand did not even attempt to cover her mouth.
Rayanne grabbed Angela's hand and pulled her quickly to the door.