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Love Beyond Words

By:Emma Scott

Only one year to go and she’d have her Accounting degree, a feat that—given the circumstances—she’d never dreamed of accomplishing.

Natalie turned on the lamp next to the couch and opened her old flip phone to call Liberty. She eased a sigh of relief that it went to voicemail.

“Lib? It’s Nat. I’ll be there. Wouldn’t miss it.”

She hung up, relieved to have avoided a conversation. Her pride still smarted from her bungling attempts at one with Julian Kovač. Moreover, sometimes she just didn’t feel like talking, something an extroverted performer like Liberty never understood. A voice spoke up in Natalie’s mind, sounding much like her gregarious friend: Maybe if you weren’t so out of practice you’d have made a better impression on Julian.

Natalie brushed the thought away and eyed her coffee table where The Common Thief by Rafael Melendez Mendón sat, beckoning. She’d read it four times already but had decided to prepare for Mendón’s newest by giving his latest another go. She longed to pick it up and become lost in its pages, especially now that she wouldn’t be able to do so the next day as planned.

She quelled the resentment; if she missed any more of Liberty’s cabaret shows, her phone would stop ringing. You have to go. Liberty and Marshall are all you have.

Against her will, her eyes strayed to a photograph on the bookshelf in front of her. A man, woman, and their thirteen-year-old daughter stood in front of a backdrop of jagged mountains, and what looked like a telephone pole but was actually a ski lift. All three wore barely-there smiles.

It had been a rough day, she remembered, full of first-time-skiing frustrations. But Natalie liked this photo better than any of the cheery ones that filled her albums. It was easy to remember her parents as loving and kind. Not so easy—and getting harder every day—was remembering the small details of their brief lives together. The strained moment captured in the ski photo was priceless; her parents were real and human and not perpetually smiling ghosts. And while she appeared as a typical, surly teenager in that photo, she hadn’t been. She’d been happy, and every day since she could speak, she’d told her parents she loved them.

She’d told them that day on the ski trip, and she’d told them that morning four years ago when a drunk driver plowed his car into the farmer’s market, knocking into people like pins in a bowling alley. Curtis and Tammy Hewitt were killed instantly. A perfect strike. Natalie had stepped away from them to get some green beans from their favorite vendor. She heard a scream, a screech of tires…Her memory of that day had shattered into a million pieces, becoming whole only in her nightmares.

The memory came to her now, broken but trying to put itself together. Panicked, Natalie turned her phone off and picked up The Common Thief. She held it for a moment, like a drowning woman might a life preserver, then dove in.

It took a full chapter for the beauty of Mendón’s story to work its magic, like a balm, over her pain. The clock read two a.m. by the time she forced herself to close the book. She slipped into her bed, apprehensive for her dreams, but Mendón’s writing continued its work: her sleep was dreamless.

Chapter Two

At ten the next morning, Natalie rose sluggishly and with a twinge of guilt for having indulged so late in the Mendón book. But even with eyes burning and her jaw cracking with yawns, she wished she could burrow into her bed and lose herself for a few more hours. She fought off temptation and made coffee instead. She could have all she wanted at Niko’s but the café was always bustling in the morning, and she wanted to get in and get out before her Greek employers could smother her with their well-intentioned affection.

As the coffeepot burbled, she showered, dried, and then stepped into one of the many vintage dresses from the 1940’s and ‘50’s that filled her small closet, each painstakingly unearthed from one second-hand shop or another. She buttoned up the simple blue cotton dress, pinned her hair back from her face, and packed her bag full of accounting textbooks. Three hurried sips of coffee and she was headed for the door. The Common Thief sat on her coffee table.

Farewell, my love, Natalie thought. You were great last night. An abashed laugh escaped her but faded quickly. She went out, closing the door softly behind her.

#

Niko’s Café was a different place in the morning: bustling, loud, full of conversations, burbling milk steamers, laughter, and the constant ding of the cash register. Louder than anyone was Niko Barbos. His booming voice filling the café as he talked and laughed with customers and two of the baristas who worked the day shifts. His apron hung from bony shoulders, and his salt and pepper hair looked as if it were trying to fly off his head. He appeared, Natalie thought fondly, more like a mad scientist than a café owner.

“Natalia!” He approached her with open arms and engulfed her in a hug before she could make it halfway across the café. “My little night owl. You’ve come for your schedule, yes?”

“Yes.”

“Petra!” Niko called, as they approached the counter. “Natalia wants her schedule.”

The baristas, Sylvie and Margo, waved hello. Sylvie—a light-haired young woman with a warm smile—thanked Natalie profusely for cleaning the grate under the icemaker. “That was on my list of cleanup duties and you know it,” she scolded cheerfully.

Natalie tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. “Um, yes, well…I had the time. You guys are so much busier.”

“Busier? Yes, let’s talk busy.” Petra Barbos’s voice boomed from within an expansive bosom as she emerged from the back room. The loose folds of skin under her arms jiggled as she flapped a piece of paper at Natalie. “Here’s your schedule, glýka.

No changes, but you tell me if it’s too much for you to do alone. Too busy,” she raised an eyebrow, “or too dangerous. No one bothers you, yes?

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