It was a routine by then; I would get up, shower, shave, dress, check my email, read the headlines on the morning paper, then head out to pick her up for our morning cup of coffee and scone.
Terra was always ready when I pulled in the drive, and met me before I even had a chance to get out of the car. I hated it when she wouldn’t let me open the door for her; it wasn’t right. I had always been raised to open the car door for women, no matter who or what the occasion. Her manners seemed uncouth.
We drove to The Grind, the local coffee shop on the corner of 6th and Madison Ave, parked and headed in to make our daily order. “I’ll pay today,” I sternly told the cashier, seeing her about to protest, I repeated again, “I’ll pay today.” I practically threw the change at the cashier while looking at Terra.
Sitting down at the table by the window that we always sat at, again just routine, she began to protest. “I don’t see why you insist on paying all the time, I can afford my own coffee you know.”
“I know. It’s just the principle of it.” I replied smiling at her. She just didn’t understand that as a southern gentleman I had been raised to open car doors for women, pay the tab, and treat women with the highest degree of respect.
“And what principle is that, and don’t give me that excuse of that’s just how you were raised. You’ve had plenty of time to grow out of it.” She looked me in the eyes and waited. I was glad for the interruption of the clerk bringing us our coffee.
“Its just how I am, nothing is going to change that.” The routine played out just as it had for the last six months. Terra had been given a promotion at work and that put her working next to me in my department. I was too shy to ask her out on a date so I settled for offering her a ride to work and home; I also knew the stories that circulated about dating a co-worker and how they always ended disastrously.
“Hey, sorry to change the subject, but have you ever noticed them?” She stared behind me at something. I turned and looked, but didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary.
“Notice what Terra?” I asked.
“There’s always someone behind you, Henry. Haven’t you ever noticed, or am I just the first one to point them out?” She looked from me to whatever she had been staring at before. Confused, I turned again and looked. The only other people in the shop were regulars that we saw everyday. There was no one right behind me so I wasn’t sure what she was really trying to say.
“Um… okay.” I said stretching it out. I turned back to her and took a drink of my coffee. The scalding liquid burned my mouth and instantly I swallowed then wished I hadn’t. I doubled over holding my sides as it burned its way down into my stomach.
“How many times have I told you to blow on your coffee before you take a drink!” Terra looked at me exasperated. “Seriously though, you can’t see them?”
“No. Are you just trying to make fun of me?” I was beginning to get frustrated.
“No, I’ve always been honest with you. These people that follow you all the time… some of them scare me. I don’t like you bringing them to my house when you pick me up in the mornings.”
I had no idea what she was talking about, what people? I never brought anyone with me. It was always just me. “I never bring anyone with me, I live alone, I drive alone, and I most definitely don’t bring anyone with me to your house.”
“You are not being funny! There IS always someone behind you, Henry! I just thought you might want to explain them to me, that’s all.” She got up from the table and walked over to the counter. Still confused and angry that she would continue to badger me about something I knew nothing about I watched her take the phone from the cashier and talk to someone for a minute. She then came back and sat down.
“What was that about?” I asked.
“I’m having a taxi pick me up.”
“What? Why?” I never thought that she would feel she needed to get a ride from someone else.
“Because I can’t look at you without seeing them, and I won’t ride with you if I you won’t tell me who they are and what they are doing.”
“I don’t have any idea what you are talking about, but if you feel that you need to ride in a taxi, at least let me pay for it.” I started to take a $20 out of my wallet.
“No Henry, as I’ve told you before, I can afford my own coffee and I can afford my own taxi.”
“Yes, ma’am.” I quietly replied. I grabbed my coffee and my half finished scone and headed out to my car. I drove to work with the sick feeling that I had no idea what she was talking about and that maybe I was missing something.
I arrived at work earlier than usual, alone and distraught. I tried to get some work done, but just kept worrying about the knot in my stomach. I looked down at the clock on my computer and noticed that Terra was now forty minutes late for work. I rang Mindy, the receptionist, and asked if Terra had called, her answer: no.
Concern ate at me, I knew I shouldn’t have left her alone at The Grind. I tried to concentrate the rest of the day at work with her continued absence. I drove home, taking the time to stop at the coffee shop and ask if they remembered seeing her, the new people on shift couldn’t recall her. I then stopped at her house, nothing looked disturbed and there was no answer when I knocked on the door and rang the doorbell.
I unlocked my front door, walked inside and sat down on the bench in the entry. I tried to clear my mind. A sudden ringing from the phone in the kitchen brought me out of my trance. I picked up the receiver, “Hello?”
“Henry, its Mindy. I just got off the phone with Terra’s mother. It’s not good. I’m so sorry Henry. There was an accident and Terra was killed on her way to work.” I stared out my kitchen window holding the receiver in silence. “Henry? Henry? Hello Henry? Are you there?”
“How?” Was all I could push out of my mouth.
“Her taxi collided with a Semi Truck that ran the light at 9th and Madison. I’m so sorry Henry, I know you two were close.”
“Thanks for telling me, bye now.” I muttered then hung up the receiver. I sat down on my tile floor and put my head in my hands. Sobs shook my entire frame. It was my fault, all my fault.
I still don’t know what she was talking about when she said that there was always someone behind me. I still find it odd that the day she would mention it to me, she would be killed. Obsessed, I now look behind me frequently, expecting to see someone standing right behind me or following close by.
Its now been three years and still each day I drive past her house, have coffee at the same coffee shop, sit at the same table, and then drive to the same job to sit by her same desk now filled by someone else. I still wonder, was it coincidence?