He spotted her immediately. Head down, eyes cast deep into the coffee mug gripped tightly between her hands. She was in the right spot—back of the diner, corner booth, access to the kitchen and back hallway, facing the door—but everything else was wrong. Micah slid into the seat across from her before she looked up. He expected her to startle, but the defeat that weighed down her shoulders was total. She merely glanced at him before lowering her eyes again.
“Hey,” she muttered.
“Courtney,” Micah replied.
She didn’t respond.
Rather, she responded with her silence.
Micah shifted his keys to his hip pocket and unzipped his jacket, readjusting the firearm at his belt line with a gentle touch before resettling himself into the booth. He wasn’t comfortable wearing it, yet. It was a relatively new addition to his wardrobe, but given the circumstances, he couldn’t come up with a good excuse to put it off anymore.
Courtney had always chided him for his reticence. He trained regularly, she’d argue, and not just tossing bullets down a concrete corridor at a circle drawn on paper. No, he did plenty of dynamic shooting. Working from the draw, recognizing targets, identifying bystanders, engaging multiple threats, evaluating backdrops; he considered his training regimen complete. Some days they’d leave the ammo at home and work on close-quarters combatives, weapon retention, defeating the draw. They didn’t treat firearms like magic talismans. They didn’t believe in magic, but they held a deep respect for Smith & Wesson.
Micah smiled at the waitress as she approached.
“What can I get you?” she asked without the spaces between the words.
“I’ll, uh, just have what she’s having,” he told her.
“Just coffee, then?”
And that was always one of the first arguments Courtney would level at him. Magic. By not carrying it, she argued, he was giving it power it didn’t have. There was no logical reason for him not to carry it, she’d tell him. He knew how it worked, he knew it wasn’t gonna jump out of its holster and start offing people as he walked through downtown. And he knew that bad guys weren’t gonna start calling him out for high noon duels. “No one even knows you’re carrying it,” she would told him, “unless you keep touching it and readjusting it to reassure yourself that it hasn’t gone AWOL.”
He reached into the outer left pocket of his coat and set two books on the table. “I brought you a gift,” he offered.
“What for?” she mumbled.
The waitress returned with a mug for Micah. “Top off?” she asked Courtney.
Courtney slid her mug over without a word and took it back once it was full again.
“Thank you, miss,” Micah said as the waitress wandered away.
Micah took a sip. Too hot. Too strong. He winced.
“I brought you Melito,” he slid one of the books forward. “His Paschal homily?”
“Listen,” his voice was heavy. “You already know what I’m going to say, right? ‘This too shall pass,’ and all that?”
She looked up, her eyes scanning him from beneath her hood. Micah still couldn’t get a good look at her face.
He smiled. “No. I wouldn’t. But not for the reasons you might think.”
“You’re not gonna try to fix me?”
Micah shook his head. “I can’t fix you,” he admitted. “I’m not equipped. I don’t have the insight or the wisdom.”
“Then why are we here?” Courtney asked.
Micah tapped the book. “Melito of Sardis.”
“You think there’s some emotional healing for me in the Quartodeciman Controversy?”
“No. Just thought you wanted to read it. We were talking about it before.”
“You invited me out to coffee so we could talk about when we ought to celebrate Easter? Why do I find that hard to believe?”
Micah shrugged. “I just want to talk to you, Court, about anything.” He paused to swallow. “I miss you.”
She raised her head, then. Micah tried not to flinch and mostly succeeded, but Courtney saw his reaction.
“It’s bad,” she admitted. She watched his lips press together and his eyes get thick and watery.
She felt the stinging in her mostly closed left eye that meant her eyes were welling, too.
“Don’t,” she begged. “I’ve done that. For three days I did that.”
Micah wiped his face with the napkin under his silverware and nodded again. “I get it. Sorry.”
Courtney tried to smile, but the tug on her stitched cheek stopped her. “It’s bad, I know. I don’t even recognize myself in the mirror.”
“What’d you tell the doctors?” he inquired.
“All of it?”
“The parts I thought they’d understand.” Courtney sipped from her steaming cup. “Dancing at the club, brushed off the wrong guy too harshly, woke up in the back of an ambulance.”
“Well,” Micah said.
“It’s not inaccurate.”
“Should I have told them the rest? That would have implicated you and Daniel.”
“And they’d be looking for a body.”
“You got him?” she asked, a sparkle in her eye—at least in the one that wasn’t more red than white.
Micah smiled. “We got him.”
“That’s something, at least.” Courtney traced the fingers of her left hand across the scabs that covered her right knuckles. “And the rest of it?”
“Which is really why you didn’t tell them everything.”
Courtney didn’t respond. Simply stared at her friend. Friend? Maybe, she thought. Time would decide the nature of their relationship. It would change, but how much?
“Yeah,” Micah assured her. “Pfft,” he fluttered his hand up into the air, a gesture that reminded Courtney of trash on the wind. Not so far off at that.
Courtney sobbed and Micah tried to ignore it, busying himself with his coffee.
As quickly as it started, the grotesque outpouring of emotion stopped. She looked up and Micah could see where her eye had overflowed, a moist track running into the bandage on her left cheekbone. He got caught looking into her eyes, not really seeing her, but the damage done. Physical, emotional, and spiritual. Courtney’s faith was shaken.
“So, what now?” she asked, her voice small. It sounded like glass after it shattered.
Micah shrugged. “Regroup, I guess. Keep looking?”
“For the Adversary or another Third?”
“Both, I suppose. I don’t really know,” he admitted. “You were always the one who moved us forward.”
Micah watched her flex her fists.
“I don’t know,” he repeated.
They sat in silence for a while. Micah sat trying to think of something to say and trying desperately not to ask the only question he could think of. Courtney, for her part, struggled to understand why she’d decided to accept Micah’s invitation.
“Coffee?” he’d texted. Actually it was the little picture of a coffee cup and a question mark.
At first, she tried to ignore it like she’d ignored his phone calls and voice mails. She ignored every chime, bing, and bauble from every app on her phone that allowed Micah and Daniel to send her messages, and in the end, she turned it off. That was nearly a week ago. This morning, when she finally decided to see how desperate her partners had been to get ahold of her, there sat that stupid little cartoon cup of coffee. And that intrusive question mark. She successfully let the message go unanswered for three hours.
“Fine,” she’d typed back.
“Carvers 10am,” came the reply. Which gave her about forty minutes to get dressed and drive twenty minutes.
“Carver’s. 10 a.m.,” she’d sent back.
No shower. All she’d done over the past couple days was wallow in her own misery. Plus, she told herself, she didn’t have time. She brushed her teeth and changed the dressing under her eye, concerned that the split on her face was getting infected. It wasn’t warm to the touch, and there was no discharge or anything, but it just didn’t seem like it was healing as quickly as her other wounds.
And that thought made her laugh. Well, at least start to, because her ribs reminded her in no uncertain terms that she was not up to laughing yet. Or coughing, or sneezing, or bending over, or reaching out too far, or taking a deep breath. But it was a good reminder to take inventory.
She shed her pajama bottoms and t-shirt and stood before her full-length mirror. When she looked at the patchwork of bandages and the rainbow of bruises that covered nearly every inch of her skin, she expected to feel an overflow of self pity. She expected to cry at the disgusting state of her body. But she didn’t. She felt nothing.
Left ankle and knee wrapped for support. There was the crutch next to the bed she should’ve been using. Bruising on the right side of her abdomen that had concerned the doctors, but somehow—miraculously, they’d said—they found no internal bleeding. The ribs she knew were cracked, but they didn’t even offer to wrap them. That was just in the movies, she’d been told. It doesn’t really do anything.
Her throat was ringed in bruises, hands wrapped around her throat. Her lips were swollen, cracked, and scabbed. Actually better now. Mouths heal quickly. Her right cheek, sliced open, stitched together into a thin, angry line. The nurse told her it probably wouldn’t scar too much and a plastic surgeon would be able to help if it did. That nasty split under her left eye; the eye itself had initially been swollen shut. Now it was better, but the sclera of the eyeball beneath all that tissue was obscured by cirrus clouds of slowly swirling blood.
The area beneath her right eye had initially been clear, but over the past few days, it was filled with a deep purple that was slowly turning brown and yellow. Blood pools. There was a nasty looking scrape across her forehead that evidence the brick wall in the alley behind the club; thick chunks taken out of her skin, now covered over by large, dark scabs.
Then there were the wounds the doctors couldn’t see, but she didn’t have time to take that inventory. That was the work of a lifetime, and she’d only left herself twenty-five minutes. She’d be late and the boys would understand. They’d take one look at her and forgive her.
And when she finally got to Carver’s Diner? They weren’t even there.
“What happened?” Micah finally asked, giving into temptation. They both knew that’s all he really wanted to ask anyhow.
“It happened before,” Courtney told him, surprising herself with the truth.
“Before? Like it cut out and came back?”
“No,” she shook her head. “It’s been gone. Three months or so.”
Micah’s eyes went wide. “So that’s why—”
“That is why.”
Micah shook his head. “No, that doesn’t make sense. That’s not right. What about out on the bridge? You knew.”
“Daniel saw it first. I’m just faster.”
“You saw Danny see it. Trusted his instinct. Pounced.”
“You saved his life” Micah continued to argue. “No, it doesn’t make sense.”
“Micah,” she whispered, grabbing his hand. “I’m blind again.”
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,” she quoted.
“Blessed be the name of the Lord,” Micah quoted.
Courtney smiled small. “It’s okay.”
“Are you telling me or yourself?”
“Yes? It’s gonna take time, and I may not ever understand, but if this is how it’s supposed to be, there’s no point in my raging against it.”
“That worked for Job real well.”
“Hence the scripture,” Courtney said. “No, I’m not okay, but I’m not gonna scream into the maelstrom. I got some stuff to figure out.”
“Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians,” Micah offered. “Chapter twelve. Spiritual gifts come in many varieties.”
“Yeah. Daniel has wisdom and discernment, you have healing and prophecy, and I had what?”
“The ability to work miracles,” Micah said plainly.
“The ability to cast out and smite unclean spirits.” Courtney turned her mug around and sipped the cooling coffee. “Now I’m nothing.”
“Stop that,” Micah rebuked her. “So you’re not a fist anymore, that doesn’t mean you aren’t still a hand, still part of the body. You suffer, we suffer, Courtney. You know that.”
“I know that,” she admitted. “It’s just—”
She had to stop talking or the tears would pour.
“I love you, girl,” Micah said.
Courtney closed her eyes. “I love you, boy.”
“Can I pray for you? That He would show you a still more excellent way?”
“Please,” Courtney begged.
Copyright © 2017 Chad D. Christy
All rights reserved.