The barista smiled and refilled her tea cup. She nodded her thanks and returned to her seat at the corner of the cafe. He returned to his work.
He still had to tally the earnings before the new year, yet this lone lady irked him. She sat there, the drink steaming and steeping from her third refill, her line of vision going between the tea and the view.
The thought of approaching her crossed his mind, it was not as if he did not know who she was. Arianna Long was not, at any length of societal measure, an award-winning novelist, but she was well-regarded enough in the local community for her mysteries. She had been there since he got onto shift during tea.
“Are you closed?” she asked as his reflection shone against the lit window.
“Almost,” he said, “We’ll be closing for the new year in five minutes. But you can stay for longer if you’d like.”
She glanced over her shoulder. The largely-empty cafe, which survived on the drones and working crowd from the surrounding office towers on weekdays was now as good as abandoned. With half the cafe appearing like a skeletal silhouette against an unpolluted night sky, the only lights which continued to burn for them were the dim spread of amber over the cashier and her table.
“If you don’t mind me asking,” he said, inching into the seat across her.
“Why am I here alone on New Year’s Eve?” she said. She glanced at her watch – four minutes, “If you don’t mind my answer. I’m waiting to get arrested.”
His eyes widened. The edge of his mouth twitched.
“The Christmas murders,” she said, her eyes shifting towards the flat-screen television hanging above them.
He had seen the news. Five murders, five bodies, consecutive murders lining against each other since Christmas day, each murder executed exactly as it was stated in Long’s latest collection of short stories, Criminalities, a mere week after it was launched.
“The police won’t be dumb enough to believe you’re responsible,” he said, “It’s probably just a coincidence.”
“Sometimes people look guilty because they are,” she said. A merest hint of a smile crept at the corner of her mouth. Three minutes.
They sat in silence for a while. The barista’s eyes trained on her, her own trained on the view. If the police were asking for her assistance, he could believe it, but pinning the whole thing on her? That was bordering incompetence. Two minutes.
She sipped, and her gaze was now lingering out of the cafe. Likewise, the barista did so, this time catching sight of another well-dressed woman walking towards them, a laminated badge swinging around her neck.
The entrance clinked open.
“I’m sorry, we’re closing,” he said, getting off his seat.
“She’s looking for me,” Arianna said. One minute.
The cafe’s latest visitor looked at them, expressionless, shifting her attention to Arianna before saying, “Are you ready to go?”
Arianna Long took one last sip of her tea and stood up. The barista swore he could see a smile from the corner of his eye. He followed her as she stood up, clearing the half-empty cup which now sat coldly on the round table.
The doors clinked open again as his last two visitors exited. As he stared past the counter, he saw his last customer look over her shoulder as the fireworks sounded in the background.
“Happy New Year,” she said.
“Happy New Year.”
This flash piece will be up on my Wattpad following my next update. Thanks for reading!