I close the door to Aunt Jane's room softly. I moved the painting back in there and I could tell she wanted me to go out so she could have some time alone. She does that increasingly often, and it worries me. I wish I could do something other than just watch her drift farther away from me. I take one look down at my notebook and decide that I really can't write any more tonight. It isn't due for a few more days, so I can afford to take the rest of the night off.

I know I should really sleep, but I'm far too restless. I'm worried about too much, as usual. I sit on the couch and think. I try to form a steady stream of thoughts, but they buzz around my head in a frustratingly random way. I look across the room at my dark purple overcoat hanging from the hook, and then I glance at the clock. It's nearly eight. The café should still be open.

I should tell Aunt Jane I'm leaving, but I decide against it. Better not to bother her. She probably won't even realize I'm gone. I grab my keys and throw my coat on over my dark grey shirt. I take one last look around the room before heading out into the musty hall.

I put my hands in my pockets and walk down the hall to the stairs. I trudge up, pushing open the door to the lobby. It's brighter up here, and it smells fresher. I wonder again how they're even allowed to rent out those basement apartments. The ones on the upper floors are much nicer.

Most people in our building see anyone who rents the basement as rats. I can understand that much, but I could do without the crinkled noses and poorly hidden disgust. But it's just a minor thing. I don't mind it, because staying here keeps us in a good area. I'd worry even more if we weren't in a place like this.


I can see my breath curl away from my mouth in white curls. There's a dusting of snow all around, but that doesn't stop the city from being alive. I pass tons of nameless faces as I make my way down the sidewalk. Despite the slight crowd, it's quieter than it usually is due to the time and snow. I enjoy that as I walk down the street. The streetlights cast golden light in the snow and I take in the sight.

This is one of the times where I wish I was a painter like Aunt Jane. She'd be able to capture the glistening of the snow and the ways the lights make certain spots look like circles of gold on the ground.

I'm so distracted that I don't notice the tall figure approaching until it's too late. I bump into him, bouncing back a bit. "Sorry. I wasn't paying attention." I say quickly.

"Obviously." He scoffs. He turns to look down at me, a good head taller. He's in a black trench coat and he's clutching a book in one hand. His eyes are so dark they look black. I'm more than a little intimidated.

"Sorry." I say again before putting my head down and running hurriedly off again. I'm sure to pay more attention during the rest of the walk.


After another block I reach my destination. A cardboard open sign sits in a large display window. The window is steamed around the edges from how warm it is in there. I pull open the glass door and stomp my boots on the welcome mat. The familiar bell on the door marks my entrance.

A guy my age comes out of the kitchen, a writing pad and pen in his hand. "Evening. Thanks for coming in tonight. How can I help you?"

"It's me, Peter." I start unbuttoning my coat, already too warm in the little café.

He grins at me as he looks up. "Can't you ever just go home, Zoe?" The name most people know me as around here is Zoe, taken from the end of my real name. I'm not sure how I feel about my 'normal' name. It makes me feel a bit guilty, as if I'm not respecting what Aunt Jane has done for me.

"What can I say? I live to serve the almighty coffee gods." I joke as I hang my jacket on the nearest chair and go over to the counter. My mood always improves when Peter is around, even though we aren't really friends. We don't really talk outside of work here at the café. But I don't really talk to anyone.

I sit at a stool at the bar. Peter goes into the kitchen and comes back a bit later with a steaming cup of coffee. Despite the fact that I just had a cup, I down this one as soon as it's cool enough to drink. If there was a Coffee Anonymous, I'd be the main member.

Peter and I don't speak. We sit in the comfortable silence we've established. Well, comfortable for me, anyway. I never bothered to ask Peter if he minded, and I probably never will.

"The one day you don't have the night shift, and you're still here." He's shaking his head and smiling as he says it. I just shrug. This makes him smile a bit more.

After a few more minutes of the possibly awkward silence, I stand. I slide my cup to Peter and head for the door.

"See you tomorrow?" He calls as I throw on my coat and open the door.

"Yeah."

I know I should go home. It's probably late now, and Aunt Jane might've noticed I'm gone. But something is nagging at me to stay out a bit longer. I zoom through my mental map of the city, deciding where I can head off to. I settle on the park a few blocks away and start walking.