The voice sounded light years away. I was vaguely aware of the presence somewhere in the distance, too focused on the ticking hands of the wall clock. Ten till freedom. Twenty till…
“Yeah, boss?” I asked, turning toward the back office.
“We haven’t had a customer in the last hour, why don’t you just close up.”
Delighted, I grabbed the keys from beneath the counter and practically danced to the front door. It was my last night suffering sleepy shifts at the Steamery, the coffee shop I had basically called home for the last three years. But tonight was it. It was the doorway to a new life, a life I couldn’t wait to start.
Half way to the double paned doors, I saw it. It was sitting on one of the old tables, abandoned. The dim, yellow lighting helped illuminate the obscene chrome latches on contrasting ragged leather. I slowed my mediocre, one act performance of Le Corsaire, nearly tripped over a chair and winced when the stubborn feet scraped across the hardwood floors.
I can’t really say what was so mesmerizing about a simple, old briefcase, but I locked onto it. I reached out to touch the ripped leather, fingers grazing the frayed edges. Might as well see what was inside, maybe a way to contact the owner.
I hesitated a few minutes, fingers stuck on the shiny latch in the center of the case. It seemed rude to snoop, but… Oh what the heck.
I pushed down, satisfied by the heavy click of the inner workings. I about gave myself whiplash when the other two latches sprung noisily and sent the top of the case flying, I jumped back so hard. My right hand flew over my chest and I breathed a laugh. Thank goodness no one was watching.
I could see the contents of the briefcase now, though I wanted to laugh again as I gave them a once over. The inside of the case was an odd Victorian pattern in worn-out blue, another contrast to the design.
I stepped closer, peering into the bottom of the case. Situated in one corner was a gold hued vintage spoon, tied with a blue ribbon. Tiny crystals were dotted around the spoon. Sugar? Next to the spoon, more toward the center, a shoddy old teddy bear looked to the ceiling with one black button eye and a wild piece of yarn. He wore a cornflower blue bow-tie. In the far corner, a scuffed pair of ruby red children’s dress shoes sparkled.
I ventured closer still and wrapped my fingers around the bear’s paunchy tummy. Lifting him from his resting place, I examined his corduroy fur coat. More little crystals fell to my feet, glitter dancing to the ground. Perhaps he was snacking? A magical little world in this closed briefcase?
I laughed aloud. I’d been reading too many fairytale books to my baby nephew. I pictured a beautiful woman in a white dress and hat dancing into the shop and claiming the case while singing about spoonfuls of sugar and cough medicine.
“Alma? Is there a customer or have you locked up?” My boss’s voice drifted from the back office, breaking my dreamy haze.
“Just about…” I sang in attempt to keep him from realizing anything was less than normal.
I jingled the keys in my left hand and took the bear with me to lock the doors.
A sing-song voice halted me. Was that…? I listened intently, angling an ear toward the street, eyes glued to the sidewalk outside.
“A robin feathering his nest has very little time to rest…”
I was losing it. That was the only possibility.
“While gathering his bits of twine and twig.”
“Oh, there you are Sebastien!” A voice chimed.
I jumped at the sound. Suddenly, there was a woman on the sidewalk, gloved hands wrapped around the bar across the door, which was slightly ajar. Her sweet scent drifted in with a chilled gust of winter.
Awestruck, I glanced to the ratty bear in my hands.
“Yes, that’s Sebastien. I’ve been looking all over for him.” She spoke with an accent I couldn’t place.
When I glanced back up, it was into her coffee and cream eyes. I hitched a breath. She was two feet in front of me now.
“Um, I’m sorry I opened your case… I was…” not having any luck with words.
“Oh, don’t worry about it, dear. I am just glad to have found him. He’s very special, you know.” A dazzling smile crept into her words; her cheeks alight with pink blush.
Nervously, I held the bear out, and when her fingers brushed mine to take him I felt a chill sneak down my spine.
“Thanks for safe-keeping,” she winked.
She turned upon her heels and tip-tapped across the shop to the table where her case sat. Gingerly, she set Sebastien down in his place and fussed over his bow. She was humming a tune I faintly recognized.
“Well,” she started as she clicked the case shut, “I should be off then.”
I managed a nod as she slipped toward the door. As she gripped the bar once again, I finally found my voice.
“Yes, dear?” She turned to face me, still smiling.
“Your name, by chance… it wouldn’t happen to be Mary, would it?”
“Oh, heaven’s no.”
Before I could clarify, she was gone. And I was left alone with images of nursery rhymes and sugary syrup.
I decided to use “- You are at work in a coffee shop. You are told to close up the shop and before doing so you discover that someone has left their briefcase. Curiosity gets the better of you and you open it.”
The three items chosen were a spoon, a teddy bear, and children’s dress shoes.
I am so, so rusty right now. I haven’t written in years, but recently I’ve had some inspirations and a burning desire to start up again. Hopefully it’s not too awful!