Before the short story starts, I just want to say that this is a very scary but exciting venture for me. A short while ago I put a poll on my Instagram account asking if people would read my writing if I put it on my website and the overwhelming majority said yes. So…here we are.
I’ve written on and off since I was quite young, but I’ve never really put it out there for anyone to read. But I want to get better and one way to do that is to put my writing out there for critique. So…here we go!
I’ve also created some covers for this story, because I like playing around with cover design, and I’ve put those at the end of the short story. Ps – I’m using my nom de plume of Laurana Stevens so that’s what’s on the covers!
I hope you enjoy!
There’s no wind, but the late autumn air is bracing against the exposed skin of my face and hands. I look down at my short nails and the beds have the faintest tinge of bluish-purple creeping in to them. I’m sat on one of the benches sporadically placed throughout Wellspring Park, just like I usually am between 6:30 and 6:45 pm on a week day.
It’s already quite dark and the park is empty despite the time. Wellspring Park is a common short-cut route for people in spring and summer, but the lack of street lighting makes it a bit of an ominous place for most people when it starts to get dark and cold. It’s a shame really, because the trees are beautiful when their leaves are turning. The area isn’t dangerous either – in fact I think the worst crime that’s ever been committed in the park is someone not picking up after their dog.
But never mind. The solitude is quite nice as I wait.
Before long a girl in black skinny jeans with strong, athletic legs and long brown hair walks into my periphery. Her slender body is barely protected from the autumn air by a small jacket. I remember just a few weeks ago when she’d walk home with no jacket at all, letting her slender arms soak in the rays of the late summer sun.
She walks this route every night, presumably on her way back to her home. She’s a barista at one of the local Starbucks cafés, the one on West Brook Street.
I didn’t usually use that one, but about two and a half months ago it was raining pretty heavily on my way to work and I’d taken a detour from my usual commute to seek refuge in West Brook Street’s Starbucks.
I was hoping to get my early morning caffeine fix and use the time to let the worst of the summer rain pass over so I could get to the office relatively dry. If I’d have carried on through the rain to get to my usual, and closer to the office, branch over on Arlington Street I’d have no doubt been completely drenched.
I remember bursting through the door with a little bluster, looking up to familiarise myself with the layout of this particular store and then I saw her.
She was striking and immediately caught my attention. She had a slim but strong body and breasts that were full in the way they can only be when person is in their twenties.
Her hair was tied back in a long pony tail, natural shades of chocolate and caramel locks ran down her back. The occasional strand hung down over her heart-shaped face.
Her full lips were never painted in anything other than a nude tone and she clearly allowed her dark eyebrows to take their natural path, yet they were tamed somewhat. Her eyes were an intense blue, the colour of a deep lagoon on a sunny day, and were rimmed with thick black lashes. The minimal brown smoky eyeshadow she wore complimented her whole complexion. She was the kind of beauty that would make a renaissance painter weep.
Of course I noticed all of this in nanoseconds, because no one wants to be the creepy person in Starbucks staring at the barista.
I made my way up to the counter to order my usual; a macchiato with a shot of hazelnut. It’s not something I would have ever considered ordering this time last year, but a female co-worker brought one in to a meeting one day and the smell was enticing. The old me would have just ordered a latte, but I have to admit that Carol in Accounting certainly has great taste in coffee, if not in workplace banter.
The barista’s nametag read ‘Hailey’. She took my order, smiling the whole time, and asked for my name, as is customary, then passed my cup on to the next barista on the conveyor belt of minimum wage workers. My office job wasn’t the greatest, but I sure don’t miss the pay of this kind of job.
I paid and went to stand at the end of the bar where I could get a good view of the person making my drink. I’ve had a fair few baristas skip the hazelnut syrup step in their morning-rush haste, and very little can hold a candle to getting a wrong coffee order when it comes to ruining a person’s day before it’s even begun.
The person making my coffee was a boy who looked about the same age as Hailey. He had tousled brown hair and a goofy grin and there are a million boys who look like him. His ordinariness was only intensified by working in such close proximity to Hailey. But credit where credit is due, he made my coffee right.
I eventually got my cup and I noticed that Hailey had drawn a little heart next to my name. I immediately felt the blood rush to my cheeks against my will. I looked up and Hailey was serving another customer, but she caught my eyes as she turned to pass another cup on to the guy who made my drink. She smiled at me, only at me.
Since that day my usual Starbucks officially became the one on West Brook Street. Every morning on my way to work I’d pop in for my morning coffee and I noticed that Hailey was always there which, of course, I was delighted about. It turns out that she works the weekday morning shifts and she always looked effortlessly breath-taking. Seriously, how does anyone look that good in the morning all the time?
Hailey was my little morning highlight. Seeing a smile on that perfect face of hers always made me want to do the same, which is a big deal when you’ve got nothing but office grunt work to look forward to for the rest of the day.
It didn’t take long for me to realise that I always received a little heart next to my name. As much as that always made my own heart beat a little faster, the cynicism I’d developed over the last few years in a professional environment had me wondering if this was just Hailey’s way of trying to get a tip out of her regulars.
But the memory of the smile she gave me that first day almost shook those thoughts from my mind. Almost. I had to know for sure.
As each day went by I’d noticed a few other people who turned out to be regulars to this particular branch, just like me. Same old Average Joe’s showing up at the same time on their pre-office coffee run. One day I decided to get there five minutes earlier than usual, nothing drastically different to my usual routine, but it gave me enough time to hang around at the end of the collection bar. I’d pretended to check my emails on my phone so that I could surreptitiously scope out the other takeaway cups of the patrons behind me in the queue.
A few people had reusable cups that they brought in. I kept meaning to get one, but now that Hailey wrote something just for me every day I can’t bring myself to give a shit about the planet. But there were enough takeaway cups in a six minute span for me to see cartoon suns, smiley faces, stars, moons and flowers. But there were never any hearts. No one else ever had a heart. Hailey’s hearts were just for me.
Bolstered by my new knowledge, and new found confidence, I gradually started talking to Hailey more, now that I knew her intentions. I’d ask her how her day was going, if she was looking forward to after her shift, I’d mention that she seemed very chirpy for this time of the morning. You know, innocuous shit that was harmless but would give me more information about her.
She was sweet and polite but always gave me stock answers. Yet there was something about the way she spoke that made everything seems so genuine. She never gave much away about herself in her responses. She was my little mystery and I loved this cute game that we played every day.
Every now and then she’d drop a little breadcrumb for me, like she was seeing a movie after work, but she’d never tell me which one. Sometimes she’d say she was going out for a drink with a friend. I’d joke that I hoped it wasn’t for coffee at a Starbucks and we’d laugh. She really was the highlight of my day and each time I saw her I felt more connected to her.
I’ll never forget that first time I went to get my morning coffee and Hailey wasn’t there. It rattled me all the way down to my bones. My chest tightened and it was harder to breath. She’d become a constant for me. I knew that between 7:15 and 7:30 am every Monday to Friday I’d get to hear her voice, her laugh, and see the smile that she kept just for me.
She was a promise that no matter what kind of bullshit I’d have thrown my way in the office, my day would always start with her and I would see her again in the morning.
That first day when I hadn’t seen her, when my lips hadn’t been on a cup that she’d touched, when I couldn’t see that little hand-drawn heart next to my name in her handwriting on my cup, was one of my roughest.
Days without Hailey were rare, but they did happen occasionally. When they did, they affected my work life. I snapped at colleagues, I had no focus and my productivity dropped. I couldn’t even blame it on the lack of caffeine. I’d still ordered my drink, even without Hailey because, again, no one wants to be the Starbucks creep.
Staring at the coffee cup on my desk, brandishing my name in someone else’s handwriting, heartless, it always set me on edge. My colleagues took notice, and so did my boss on one occasion. I couldn’t have that. I was great at work, one of the best in fact. But Hailey…she ran through my thoughts all day when I saw her, but even more so when I didn’t.
I didn’t have perverse thoughts about her. I just thought about her honey-sweet voice when she greeted me. I thought about the way her hair would sometimes fall over her shoulder if she leaned forward to fix the card machine. But most of all I thought about her smile and how openly happy she always was to see me.
I decided that it would be unacceptable for me to have days without Hailey sprung on me. They ruined my day in multiple ways and it wasn’t fair. I could handle not seeing her if I had time to prepare for it. But letting my anticipation build for hours on end only to have it unfulfilled at random was cruel.
The next day that Hailey was back I lightly prodded her for an explanation by nonchalantly letting her know I’d missed her the day before. She told me that she had swapped shifts with a co-worker and that’s why she wasn’t around. If I remember my brief times in customer service based roles there are usually rotas involved, and these rotas are usually on display in the staffroom as they can change at the drop of a hat.
If I could find that rota I could know in advance when Hailey wouldn’t be there for me and I could brace myself. The weekends were bad enough without her.
So one day, before ordering my coffee, I decided to use the toilets that they had. This branch had toilets in individual roomed stalls accessible through a door in the main café and down a long corridor. The individual rooms meant that each toilet was gender neutral, which is cool. It also meant that I could explore all the way to the end of the corridor without raising any red flags for anyone else who may be using the facilities.
At the end of the corridor I saw a single door on the opposite side to the toilets. I could see that it had glass taking up half the door space, so it wasn’t a stall. It was the staffroom entrance. I raced to the end and peered in. My luck was really in because on the wall neighbouring the door had a noticeboard with a staff rota for two weeks pinned to it. I quickly snapped a photo of it and made my way back out to the main café floor.
I knew that if I checked the live rota by visiting the toilets every two days or so I would be able to check for last minute changes without arousing suspicion. I would never be surprised by Hailey’s absence again!
That day turned out to be a double-win for me. The rota showed me that Hailey didn’t work a typical morning shift, she worked split-shifts. She worked four hours in the morning, and then four in the evening – she covered the rush hour shifts for workers and commuters!
So I spent the following waiting a short distance away from the West Brook Street Starbucks at the end of the day for Hailey to finish her shift so that I could see which way she went afterwards.
It turns out that Hailey cut through Wellspring Park after her evening shifts. So I started sitting on a bench in Wellspring Park (the same one I’m on now) long after my own shift had ended. I would stay an hour or so late every week night, finishing a few things and getting ahead on the next day’s work when I could, all so I could see her again. I never called attention to myself; I just watched her walk by each night.
The wait was always worth it. I discovered that she lets her hair flow freely after a shift. Sometimes she was on her phone, sometimes she was listening to music, but she was always in her own world. She often walked with her hands in her pockets. Sometimes I fantasised about her tripping over a stick or stone on the pathway in front of my bench, giving me the chance to heroically catch her before she hit the ground.
Seeing her for those few extra, silent seconds each night helped me get through to the morning.
A few weeks went by and Hailey began to greet me by name and asked if I want ‘the usual’. My heart soared when my name left her lips, the way they formed around it.
Then, the Monday just gone, I decided to take the next step. One of us had to.
I paid for my coffee and then, gathering my courage, I asked Hailey out on a date. She blinked at me for a beat and then gave a quick glance to her co-worker before she said no. She didn’t give me a reason; she didn’t say she had a boyfriend, or that she had plans or anything. She just said no. The pain I felt must have been evident on my face for a split second because she recovered quickly, shook off the shock and smiled sweetly at me. She suggested that perhaps we could forget it ever happened. She again gave a quick look to her co-worker and that’s when it hit me.
What an asshole I’d been. I’dembarrassed her! She’s at work and what I did was the height of unprofessionalism! I’d have hated it if someone did that to me, and I went and did it to Hailey. I wasn’t thinking and I felt awful. I apologised to her and she smiled and told me it was all water under the bridge.
For the rest of the week Hailey and I acted like nothing had happened, and life had gone back to normal for us.
Today is Friday. I saw Hailey this morning, I’ve checked and double checked the rota for this week and she is scheduled to work tonight and now I’m waiting in Wellspring Park for her to walk past me.
After what feels like an eternity due to the trepidation and nervousness building in my chest, Hailey finally walks past. I call out her name in the near darkness.
“Hey, Hailey!” She starts and slows slightly but doesn’t stop. It’s quite dark and we’re all alone in the park. I’ve probably frightened the poor girl. She frowns lightly at me until recognition kicks in.
“Oh, hey!” She raises her hand a little and waves at me before she turns to carry on her way.
“Wait, Hailey, hang on.” I say as I rise up off the bench to get closer to her. “I wanted to apologise properly for what I did on Monday. You were at work and that wasn’t cool of me. I’m really sorry.” I say sincerely, taking another step closer to her.
“That’s ok, really. I’ve forgotten all about it” Hailey says in her always-sweet voice and this time turns fully and begins to walk away.
Forgotten all about it? Hasn’t she been thinking about me at all? Did my proposition mean nothing to her? I shuffle quickly towards her to close the distance she’s put between us.
“But you’re not at work now.” I say, a slight desperation creeping into my voice. “It’s Friday, how about we go for a drink? Blow off a little steam and shake the week off? What do you say? I promise it won’t be coffee at Starbucks?” I blurt out, laughing nervously.
“No, thank you.” Hailey stutters out, her nervousness matching mine.
“How about tomorrow then?” I ask with renewed optimism, my nervousness vanishing as quickly as it came with this new offer. Hailey doesn’t even look back at me but I’ve noticed that she’s picked up her pace.
“Look,” she calls over her shoulder, “you’re really nice, but I’m really not interested.”
It feels like all the wind has left my lungs. How could she be so cold? I run the few paces between us, grab her wrist and pull her so she’s facing me. I need to see her eyes when she tells me no. she can’t mean it, surely.
“Let me go!” Hailey yelps out, panic tinting the edges of her tone as she tries to pull free from my grip. I only tighten it around her wrist.
“You put hearts on my cup all the time! Every time! You don’t do it for anyone else! I’ve seen you at work! No one else gets a heart! Only me! That means something! You like me!” I’m feverish as I rapidly list off all the things that validate my reasoning, imploring Hailey to understand.
“What are you talking about?” Hailey gasps, exasperated and still trying to free herself from my hold. “I draw all sorts of things on the cups! It’s a nice thing to do! Loads of people get hearts, it isn’t just you!”
Hailey’s confession all but rips me in two. I refuse to believe her.
“No.” I whisper, barely audible even in the silent park. “No, they are for me. You are for me.” I barely raise my voice, but I make sure to emphasise the most important words. I’m looking down at the ground not focussing on anything in particular, still trying to comprehend what Hailey just said to me.
“I’m not for you, and you’re scaring me. Please, let me go!” Hailey is nearly crying now. I look up and I can see tears starting to form in her blue eyes.
“I can’t. I won’t.” I tell her, looking at her fully in the eyes now. “We’re…we…this can work. After weeks of teasing and playing and this is how you’re ending it? Let’s just go for one drink, ironic right?” My nervous laughter has made a return. “You serve me drinks five days a week and now I’m suggesting going for one! I know, it’s ridiculous.” I softly laugh out. “So, how about food instead? Are you hungry? I know this great place –” I don’t even get to finish my suggestion before Hailey interrupts me.
“NO! Leave me alone!” she shouts as close to my face as she can manage whilst being at both mine and her arm’s length. “I’m not interested! I’ve never shown any interest in you. If you think this is because of some doodles on a cup you’re crazy! I’m nice to everyone! It’s part of my job!” her earlier desperate tone has turned into one of defiance.
“Let go of me!” she screams as she puts all of her strength behind a final tug and snatches her wrist out of my grip. She turns quickly on her heal and begins to run.
She only makes it a few steps before I catch up to her. I secure my left arm across the front of her chest and pull her close to me. I can smell the soft coconut scent of her shampoo as her free-flowing hair fills my face. I barely have time to breathe her in before the knife in my right hand finds its place between her ribs.
She cries out, whether in shock or pain I don’t know. Apparently I’m not the best judge of what she feels. I don’t even know if she can feel my tears as they spill hot on the back of her neck.
I yank the knife free from her ribcage. It’s an awkward and clunky movement, not at all like you see in the movies. I inhale her scent one last time, raise my arm and bring the knife down again and again. Each thrust finds a new untouched patch of flesh an inch or two from its previous position.
Viscera starts to fly off of the knife with each new extraction, so I stop and fold to the ground, supporting Hailey’s weight as I hold her in my arms.
She rests on my thighs and I let go of the knife. It makes a soft, wet thud as it hits the ground. I cradle Hailey’s head in the crook of my left arm like a baby. Those deep lagoon eyes are still alive and looking right at me. Her eyebrows aren’t even knitted together in fear or panic. She’s soft, like I’ve always known her to be.
“I just wanted you. I wanted us.” I sob through my tears and her rasping breath as I begin to dip my fingers inside one of the larger and more profusely bleeding wounds in her torso. I drag my blood soaked fingers across the pathway beneath us. I stop occasionally to recoat my fingertips in fresh blood, accidently depositing gravel and other park floor debris onto and into her chest as I do so.
I’ve just about finished what I’m doing when I hear a deep rattle from her throat. In my concentration I’ve let her head drop back into her neck too deeply, perhaps her throat is filling with blood. It looks like she’s struggling to take her last breaths. I raise her up slightly and help tilt her head forwards so she can see.
She has just enough time to register what’s in front of her, her face contorting in grief before the light finally leaves her eyes. They’re too beautiful to close, even in death.
I reluctantly lay her down gently on the path and slowly stand as a single tear lands on her face as I do so. I kneel down to wipe it off – there’ll be no tears to mar that beautiful face, even my own. I take one last look at her and walk off into the night.
I left Hailey on the floor of Wellspring Park, positioned in a way that will have her eternally staring at my version of what she did for me every work day. It was my very own rendition of what always gave me hope and filled me with love each day.
Written in her own blood, forever linking us is my name, Lydia, and a little heart.
So that’s it! That was my first short story that I’ve written specifically to be shared online! What did you think? I’m open to feedback and would love to hear some! Feel free to drop a comment or contact me directly! I hope you’ll come back for my next short story (whenever that comes out)!
Finally, here are some pretend fantasy covers that I designed for One Night In Wellspring Park!
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