Leila worked at The Coffee Shop. Yes, that was the name of the café. No, she did not like it; the lack of creativity in the name did not reflect well on the coffee shop itself. It was a small shop in a sketchier area of town, so it was never that busy. However, if someone wandered off the beaten path and discovered the small café, he would usually end up visiting more than once. It was a cozy place; huge edison bulbs hung from the ceiling, low couches and sofas circled most of the tables, and bookshelves lined two of the walls. They weren’t books most people would particularly enjoy, but they made the place what it was; otherwise, it would have just been another slightly overpriced coffee shop.
Leila worked mornings with a guy whose name was as generic as that of the coffee shop, John. He didn’t look like a John, though. He was a quiet guy with a huge red beard and a beanie, no matter what the season. They worked together most of the week. They didn’t talk much; they just did their jobs in amicable silence. Leila knew John had a fiancée and was saving money to move away, but that was about all she knew about him. Every morning, Leila would get to The Coffee Shop at precisely 6:30, and John would already be there, making himself an espresso. The two of them would work until 2, and then they would pass the work on to Kayla and Shawn. Shawn was okay, but Leila didn’t like Kayla much. There was no real reason; there was just something about her. Maybe it had to do with her getting more tips than the rest of them combined. Maybe had to do with the way she talked to people, always with a bright smile on her face, as if there was nobody else in the world she’d rather talk to at that moment. Everyone loved her. Leila was sure nobody could be that happy all the time. Okay, maybe she was a little jealous. Whenever Kayla got there, Leila would make a point of leaving as quickly as possible so she wouldn’t have to hear all the friendly chatter, or worse, pretend to be friendly back to her.
That was life at The Coffee Shop. After her shift, Leila would stop at the store, then go home to her apartment and work on her online college classes. She didn’t have much of a social life, and her landlord didn’t allow pets. Leila contented herself with being alone most of the time, studying and saving up for… something. She wasn’t sure what it was for yet. Once a week, on Thursday nights, she would go out with a friend or two, because Friday was her day off.
Her life didn’t vary much, and that was the way she liked it. One day, however, after months of working at The Coffee Shop, Kayla called in sick and asked if Leila could cover her shift Friday night. Leila wasn’t too excited about losing her day off, but she said yes anyway. The vibe was fairly normal at the café, other than working with Shawn instead of John. He wasn’t the best worker, so Leila found herself doing most of the work.
It was getting near the end of her shift when a teenage girl walked up to the counter. Her hair was black with streaks of red, and she wore black everything. She pushed her way to the front, past some still-deciding customers, ignoring the indignant looks from them.
“Hey, you don’t know me,” she said to Leila, out of breath. “but Ellen says you guys are close. She needs help. I don’t know what she’s about to do, but her text freaked me out.”
Leila’s mind raced. She did know an Ellen; the two of them would go out a couple times a month. But Ellen had never mentioned a punk chick before. “What did she say?”
The girl put the phone in her face. Leila leaned back and steadied the phone in the girl’s hand. The last text on the screen read, Can’t do this anymore. I’m doing it
“What is she talking about?” Leila asked, hesitating.
“She’s going to kill herself,” punk girl said with total sincerity. Her face showed genuine concern. “She’s been talking about it a lot. I always talk her out of it, but this time, it’s different. I don’t want to go to her alone.”
Ellen had been through a lot lately with her boyfriend leaving her and not getting the promotion she’d been expecting, but Leila never would’ve imagined her friend going this far.
“Let me try calling her,” she said, pulling out her phone. It rang several times, but there was no answer. Leila was getting worried. “Do you know where she’d be?”
“I don’t know. Maybe at home?”
Leila turned to Shawn, who was lazily wiping off a table. “Hey, can you close up tonight? Something came up.”
Shawn looked at the clock. “You can’t leave yet. We haven’t even closed yet.”
“It’s an emergency.”
“Our friend’s about to commit suicide,” the punk girl explained, already heading toward the door.
Leila grabbed her stuff, muttering her apologies to the people in line, and left with her apron still on. “What’s your name?” she asked when they’d gotten outside.
“Trysten. We can take my car.” The girl swung open the door of a black Mini Cooper. Leila glanced at her car halfway across the parking lot, but got in beside Trysten and jumped when, with the turn of a key, the car came to life and death metal started blaring from every direction.
“How do you know Ellen?” Leila yelled over the noise.
“We’re best friends. She’s my girl, dude,” Trysten said, or at least that was what Leila understood. She could barely make out what the other girl was mouthing. “She talks about you a lot. I was getting kinda jealous. You two hang out so much, and she’s changing. Like all that Jesus stuff you’ve been telling her—”
“Can you turn that down?” Leila shouted, reaching for the knob. “What did you say about Jesus stuff?”
“Like, she’s been talking about going to church and something about being a Christian. I don’t know why. I was a Christian when I was a kid, and it—”
“I don’t do Jesus,” Leila said absent-mindedly.
Trysten swung into a tight parking spot in front of an apartment building without slowing down and slammed on the brake. “Come on,” she said anxiously when Leila didn’t respond.
“I think you have the wrong person. What do you think my name is?”
“You’re not Kayla?” Trysten asked. Leila buried her face in her hand. She was startled when her door was yanked open and Trysten pulled on her arm.
“Hey, I’m not Kayla!” Leila said. “My name’s Leila, and I was covering her shift…”
“I’m not going in there alone,” Trysten said, shaking her head. “I need someone to help me stop her. And we don’t have time to find Kayla. Come on.”
Leila found herself following the punk chick she had no connections with at all into an apartment where another stranger was committing suicide that she had no idea how to stop. She couldn’t leave, because her car was halfway across town. “Wait, I don’t know what I’m doing. I shouldn’t be here; I don’t even know who she is or what to say. I’m not a Christian.”
“Shut up and hurry,” was all Trysten said. She didn’t let go of Leila’s arm.
They ran up the stairs and came to a halt in front of Ellen’s door.
“What if she already did it?” Trysten whispered.
“I really shouldn’t be here,” Leila groaned.
Trysten finally grabbed the handle, and, to their surprise, it turned, and they were in. The apartment was dark except for the streetlights shining through the windows. It was silent, almost eerie.
There was no answer, and Trysten ran through the living room, dodging pizza boxes and pillows on the floor, disappearing around the corner. Half a second later, she appeared. “She’s not in either of the bedrooms. Stop standing there! Ellen!”
Leila slowly followed Trysten to the kitchen and on into the bathroom, where she almost bumped into the punk girl who was now standing still. On the floor in front of the sink sat a girl. Her dark makeup was smudged with tears, and she sat cross-legged with boxes and bottles of pills surrounding her. She didn’t even look up, staring instead at her palm filled with tablets. For a minute none of them moved.
“It would be so easy,” the girl whispered through the matted hair hanging in her face.
Trysten seemed frozen in place. She stared at her friend with her mouth open in horror. Leila reached out suddenly and slapped all the pills out of the girl’s hand.
Ellen burst into tears. “Why don’t you let me die?” she sobbed.
Leila put a tentative hand on her shoulder. “You won’t die. We’re getting you help.” She didn’t even know what she was saying, but an overwhelming calm had come over her.
Ellen looked up at her, shaking. “Who are you?”
“I’m…” Leila shot a glance at Trysten, who still didn’t move. “I’m a friend of Kayla’s. Trysten, call 911.”
“No. Where’s Kayla? I want Kayla,” Ellen whispered.
“Trysten, call. Then try to get a hold of Kayla.”
Trysten dialed with shaking hands. She talked briefly, hardly able to make out the words. Leila focused on Ellen, trying to see if she had taken any of the pills. Trysten finished and whispered, “They’re on the way.”
“Kayla,” Ellen sobbed.
“Do you know where Kayla lives?” Leila asked Trysten, still holding the sobbing girl. Trysten shook her head. “Do you have her number?” Again, a headshake. “Okay.” Leila was surprised at how calm she was. “My phone’s in your car, and I have her number. Can you go down and get it?”
Trysten nodded slowly, then ran out of the room. Leila stayed, awkwardly kneeling by Ellen, who couldn’t seem to stop crying. Suddenly, she turned and threw up all over Leila’s pants. She gagged uncontrollably, and all Leila could do was hold her shoulders tighter to keep the girl from collapsing. She wondered how she’d gotten into this situation. But there was no way she could leave now. For the first time in years, she let out a prayer to God. If you’re even out there, help us find Kayla. Don’t let this girl die.