This was written for last week's challenge, which I missed due to family in town. But I wrote it as promised, and here it is! Better late than never! Enjoy!
Amy yawned and rolled over in bed, wishing she didn't have to go to work. Not the closing shift again with all the rowdy college students who never tip and always leave a mess. But it was noon, and she couldn't stay in bed much longer, so she got up and got herself ready, ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and fed the cat on her way out the door for her hour long commute. As ever, her shadow of a friend, Lisa, followed her silently, and Amy wished she would go away.
On the train, she listened to her music and tried to ignore the grifters who frequented the cars with their cup and ball game. She was not stupid enough to fall for the “wowed first time winner” act, but she did try and follow the ball, and got it right half the time. Still, she never bet money on it. She never had extra cash to wager anyway, and when she saw the same people in the same act with the same “wowed first time winner” later that week, she was glad she hadn't.
She thought about stopping the gullible woman who fell for their game, but shook her head and looked out the window instead. Not her business. People shouldn't be so stupid. Lisa, as ever, was nearby, watching the exchange, expressionless.
Amy climbed off the train and clambered down the steps to the street, glanced both ways twice, and ran across the street to the bus stop she needed for the next leg of her trip. Lisa followed, humming. Amy ignored her.
She wished for the hundredth time she had been able to just get a position at the Beanery that was on the same street as her building, but it was always fully staffed, whereas the one in the center of three college campuses downtown was not. That one employed college students, who, by default, tended to be less reliable than their adult counterparts uptown.
She arrived at work ages later, and wondered what the muse would bring out tonight. She never did know. The people she worked with saw her coffee artwork as beautiful and inspiring, something to live up to, but she couldn't tell them the truth. It wasn't her who made the pictures in the foam. It was her ever-present friend, Lisa. It wasn't their fault they couldn't see her.
Amy pulled her vivid orange apron over her black shirt, tucking the apron neck beneath her collar so it sat properly on her, and washed her hands thoroughly in the sink. Her manager briefed her on the day, set her up for the evening, then left. The night shift was Amy's territory. Not that she liked it exactly, but it was a job, and she should be thankful to have one at all.
The afternoon passed into evening seamlessly, then died down once the usual after dinner coffee crowd made their way through. She was humming to herself and cleaning the dishes when the door opened, bell clattering, and a crowd of generally conservative and clean-cut college kids walked in.
She recognized them immediately as regulars from the church around the corner and wanted to hide. They were always nice, but thought leaving tracts about saving your soul that were printed to look like money were the best tip they could ever give. Little did they know the change from each of their orders could make a real difference in her pocket.
Still, she put on her smile and served each and every one of them, making the drinks to order, dipping and swirling the spoon in the foam when she was done, and handing off the liquid artwork. It wasn't until the last one of the group sat down and they started to compare notes on their images for the evening that she realized she'd made the same picture for each of them, and they took turns looking at her curiously.
Amy hadn't really paid much attention to what she had done, but she squeezed her eyes shut and tried to picture it. All she came up with was a fuzzy face. She turned her back to clean out her milk pitcher, hoping to keep the foam from setting, and she jumped when someone said, “Excuse me.”
She stilled her heart and turned around to see a new girl in their group standing there before her. “I was wondering, how do you know this girl?” she asked and gestured to the cup she'd brought up and set on the counter.
Amy glanced in long enough to see what she had done, and hid her surprised to see Lisa's image looking back at her. She shrugged, “I don't know. I didn't really think about it much today.”
The girl nodded slowly and looked over her shoulder to be sure they were alone before she continued. “It's just... she looks like one of the girls at my school. She's been missing for a year or so now,” she began, but trailed off. She took a deep breath and added, “She was my friend.”
Lisa wandered over by the other girl and looked at her sadly. Amy made herself not look at Lisa and spoke again, “No, I'm sorry, I just dipped the spoon and it came out that way. It wasn't meant to look like any real person.”
“But you do this every week. You make all different designs, they told me. There has to be a reason we all had the same one today,” the girl's heart visibly fell, and Amy felt bad for her.
“I was just messing around, seeing if anyone would notice. It wasn't meant to be any real person. I'm sorry if it upset you.” The girl nodded and took her seat, but left the coffee on the counter. The rest of the time the group was there, she sat and watched Amy work, clearly trying to puzzle it out.
Amy took the cup carefully to not disturb the artwork, and stared into it for a while, feeling like she was being pulled into the coffee colored eyes on the face, losing herself to all else. Why was Lisa putting herself in the cup? She didn't say anything to her when the girl came up to ask about her. What did she want? How could she help her spirit find peace and finally move on if she wouldn't talk?
It was Lisa's playing in the foam that started their location's art themes. It just happened one day, the day after she'd come to Amy, months ago. Her boss thought it was clever and told her to keep it up. Lisa wandered into her line of sight, breaking her train of thought. The spirit girl gave her a significant look, then pointed out the door. They'd gone and she hadn't even heard the bell.
Amy ran out the door, and called out, “Wait!” just before they disappeared around the corner. The thin girl turned around, but the rest of the group continued on, oblivious. “I do know her. Just not like you think. People never believe me, so I don't like to say anything,” She said, shaking her head. “Come back inside. I think she's ready to talk.” The girl looked confused, but followed.
Amy made her a new cup of coffee without any design in it, and they sat in the corner booth again. The girl introduced herself as Jen, and Amy told her story. Amy explained that she had always been sensitive to spirits, but most of them would pass on their messages through her and vanish. Lisa had been different. She'd stuck around much longer than any other spirit Amy had dealt with before. She stuck around, probably waiting for a face she knew. Stuck around waiting to let her friend know she was gone.
Once the basics were out of the way and Jen didn't get up and leave, Lisa came over and told her story through Amy. She told how she was invited to a party on a boat, and went despite having previous plans with Jen. She drank too much and fell over the side of the boat, but nobody noticed. She spluttered, alone in the dark, as the boat left her there. Her last thoughts were of Jen, wishing she'd just stayed home and kept their plans.
The thin girl sat, face in her hands, and sobbed. Lisa had been her best friend all her life, they'd gone off to college together, and now she was left to face the world alone. Amy gathered her up, and hugged her fiercely, telling her she was never alone. Jen and Amy ended up talking all night, and quickly became friends. Lisa hung back and watched it all before she vanished into the ether, a smile on her face. Her job was done.