Her name was Grace. She was the barista at my favorite coffee shop, and I saw her every morning on my way home from work. And every morning she gave me the same bright smile. “Good morning, Lisa,” she chirped as I walked in. I knew it was nothing but good customer service, but it always felt personal. Maybe it was because I was just lonely enough to believe it.
I smiled back. “Good morning.” I was usually the first one in the shop when it opened since I worked night shift and got off work about the time the shop opened.
“You want your usual?” she asked, already plucking a cup from the stack of them behind the counter.
My usual. A chamomile tea with a shot of sweet dreams. Sometimes having a fae barista makes your day just a little better.
“Yeah, please. It was a long one.” I leaned both hands on the counter and yawned.
“You catch the guy yet?” she asked while she put together my tea.
I’d told her the morning before that I’d been chasing after a killer. I sort of regretted it since a lot of the time people treat you differently when they know you’re a cop. Grace, however, had taken it in stride. Either she didn’t care enough about me that it mattered, or she liked me enough that it didn’t. At least now she knew why I liked the sweet dreams in my tea.
Grace bustled about, adding honey to my tea and humming while she did so. The sound soothed nerves frayed by long hours working overnights on cases that had no happy endings. In truth, happy endings don’t exist in homicide. The happiest ending we get is when we catch a killer, and even then we catch them only after they’ve killed someone.
It was then I realized I hadn’t answered yet. “No, not yet. I’m hoping we’re close, though. The magic division is on him. He left some spell components at the last scene. I think we’re closing in. I just hope we get him before he kills anybody else.”
“Me too. How long have you been on the case?” She set my cup on the counter and slid it toward me.
I wrapped my fingers around the paper to-go cup and sighed. “Few weeks now. He’s killed four people.”
Grace put her hands over mine on the cup. “You’ll get him. I’m sure of it.”
When I looked into her sparkling violet eyes, I almost believed her. I smiled some. It felt like my mouth should’ve made a creaking noise from disuse. I didn’t smile much. We don’t tend to in homicide. “Thanks, Grace,” I said, looking down at where her hands sat over mine.
“Hey, uh, just a random question,” she asked, releasing my hands and heading over to the cash register. “But I was invited to a party tomorrow. I was wondering if you might wanna go?” She didn’t look at me as she asked, but the detective in me read her body language. Blushing cheeks, hunched shoulders, fingers looking for anything to be busy with.
I sipped my tea. “I haven’t been to a party since college.”
“Oh, sorry. I just—”
“I’d love to.”
She lifted her head, a brilliant smile pouring across her beautiful features. “Really?”
She jotted down her number on a napkin and slid it across the counter to me. “Call me when you get up?”
“All right. Will do.” The tea tasted better this morning. Or maybe I just noticed it more.
Grace smiled at me again, and it felt like sunrise all over again. Maybe everything in the world didn’t suck. “Cool. Oh, uh, I’ve got your tea. It’s on me, I mean. Well, not on me. You have it. But…” She sputtered a couple more seconds, and I let her. It was precious.
“I get what you meant, Grace.” I smiled again. She seemed to like it. “I’ll call you tonight.”
“Cool. Yeah. Okay.” She nodded.
I headed out to my car and climbed in, sitting for a minute in the quiet and sipping at my tea. She’d done something else to it this time. While, yeah, it definitely had that soft, ethereal quality I knew would help me sleep when I got home, would chase away the demons in my dreams, this time it did something else.
Or maybe it wasn’t the tea.
That day, in my dingy little apartment on the wrong side of town I dreamt of flower fields, of Grace laughing, and of sunrises. And when I woke up feeling lighter and like I could breathe again, I called the number she’d given me on the napkin.
E. Prybylski has been in the publishing industry as an editor since 2009, starting at Divertir Publishing and eventually partnering with her close friend Richard Belanger to begin Insomnia Publishing.
Ever since childhood, E. has been an avid reader and writer of fantasy. The first chapter book she remembers reading is The Hobbit, followed swiftly by most of Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series. In high school, she perfected the skill of walking while reading without slamming into anyone. Mostly.
When she isn’t reading or writing, E. is an active member of the Society for Creative Anachronism and has a B.A. in European history from SNHU. In addition to her many historical pursuits, E. is a musician of multiple instruments, a cat mom, and a loving wife to her husband, J. E. also speaks out for the disability and chronic illness communities being a sufferer of chronic migraines and Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome.