TOPIC OF THIS CONTEST WAS:
Twinkle lights clicked against the window’s exterior, threatening to break in the freezing wind. She was warm inside, too warm, unlike the people rushing by the small coffee shop. Her blunt fingernail repeatedly tapped the steaming cup, her second one, while her other hand clutched the badge hidden beneath her coat. The bell on the door kept chiming and her neck was starting to get sore from looking up…
(Stories need only touch on this topic in some way to qualify.)
Twinkle lights clicked against the window’s exterior, threatening to break in the freezing wind. She was warm inside, too warm, unlike the people rushing by the small coffee shop. Her blunt fingernail repeatedly tapped the steaming cup, her second one, while her other hand clutched the badge hidden beneath her coat. The bell on the door kept chiming, and her neck was starting to get sore from looking up when he finally walked in.
“I didn’t think you were coming.” She gestured to the seat across from her.
“I had to, Vale.” He pulled the chair out and sat down.
“Coffee? At least, I think it’s coffee.” She breathed in the steam, trying to remember its taste. “Where have you been? I haven’t seen you in weeks.”
“Months. At least, it feels like months.” His finger traced along the edge of the table.
“I’m leaving. I got my badge today, if it is today.”
“Me, too,” Vale whispered.
“And?” He tried to meet her gaze. “Vale?”
Her hand tightened around the badge. “Red.” She placed her cup on the table. “It’s Red,” she said. “Yours?”
“I’m sorry.” He reached across the table to touch her hand, but she pulled away from him. “I’m not going there.”
“Are you going back?”
He sat back in his seat and pointed upward. He shifted his gaze from her to the window, watching the lights flicker against it. “I was hoping that you would join me,” he said.
“I told you why I’m here.” She brushed a tear aside. “What about your son? You said that you were here because of him. What changed?”
“I let him go.” He noted the surprise on her face. “I couldn’t carry that burden around anymore, and I let him go. And I can be at peace now.” He reached across the table, touching her hand. “You can too. Just let go of whatever is keeping you here. You don’t deserve to go down there.”
“I told you…”
“You never told me what you did, and I can tell that you are a good person, Vale.”
“No, I’m not.” She tried to pull her hand away, but he refused to let go. “You don’t know what I did. Yes, I was a good person, sure, but then I did one thing, one terrible thing. And I deserve to be down there.”
“I killed my parents’ dog.” She didn’t mean to raise her voice, but the place around them went silent. “I killed their dog.” She burst into tears, hoping that he would hold her, but he sat back, looking away. “See? I am a horrible person.”
“Did you accidentally hit it with your car?”
“No, I choked it with its leash. I had a bad day at work, I was stressed, and I snapped. The dog was going after me, and I snapped.” She ignored the looks of those nearby. “I told you, Stephen. I belong down there.”
“Maybe, you do.” His words hurt, cutting her more than death. “Maybe, you don’t.”
“What? I’m a horrible person.”
“What you did was horrible, and that won’t get you upstairs. But you don’t need to go down there either.”
“My badge is Red, Stephen. It’s been decided.”
“Look, when we walk out of here, our badges will light up, and we will go where we have to go.”
“I know that.”
“But you need to let it go. Before you walk outside, you need to let it go. Don’t take it with you anymore, no matter what happens.” He moved away from his seat, leaned over and kissed her on the cheek. “Thank you for being such a good friend to me here. Without you, I would’ve been lost like so many others. They couldn’t let it go.” He touched her face. “You can.”
He didn’t say anything, but his stare broke her heart, if she still had one. He moved away, pulled out his badge, and opened the coffee shop door. He stepped outside, and his badge flashed white. He was gone, and she knew that she would never see him again.
Something brushed against her leg, making her almost jump out of her seat. She looked down and found a dog sitting near her. It looked like the one that she had killed, and the dog stared at her. She burst into tears, reaching for it, waiting for the dog to attack her, but it didn’t.
“I’m sorry,” she cried. “I am so sorry.”
The dog sat up, and she saw the pain and sadness in its eyes. It stepped away but then stopped, turning to look at her once more. It wagged its tail and barked, and then it was gone, leaving her behind.
Vale steadied herself, rising from the table, and walked over to the door, pulling out the badge. She stepped outside, and the wind whipped around her. She was ready to go, but there was no red flash. She wondered if she should go back into the coffee shop when suddenly there was a green flash. She was going back. She was given another chance, and she smiled as she disappeared.