8:00 a.m. – continued
They walked off of the train station grounds and entered a quiet residential area, bypassing most of the parking lot by squeezing between a couple of bushes, though Valentine was certain the luggage Cooper was toting behind him had taken off half of one of the bushes. At least, that’s what it had sounded like from all of his cursing. She’d been a little too scared to turn around and see what shape her baggage was in.
The trees lining both sides of the wide street were large and provided plenty of shade. Birds were flying around and singing cheerfully, though Cooper wasn’t sure there should be anything cheerful about the last day of Earth, just frenzied partying. But the birds probably didn’t know that. A couple of dogs barked as they passed by some of the yards, but they didn’t actually see any canines. Nor did they see any of the usual cars zooming up and down the street, driving to and from the train station and the downtown area that began just beyond the station.
“I’m surprised your parents didn’t come to pick you up,” Cooper said as they walked along. “Weren’t you saying they were trying desperately to get you to come home?”
Valentine shrugged. “Yeah, but I told them not to worry. I told them I would be getting in early in the morning and I would get a ride somewhere. My parents aren’t exactly morning people and they still have my little sisters to worry about. I try to make it easy on them when I can, and I think that’s what they miss the most.” She gave him a wry smile. “My big brothers didn’t call me little mom for nothing.”
He laughed. “Well, this isn’t much of a ride, but it sure is turning out to be a nice walk.”
She smiled. “There’s also a coffee shop along this way and I was thinking we could stop in for some caffeine and a snack, provided it’s open, that is. You never can tell these days.” She shrugged. “I’m not that anxious to see my parents, either. They enjoy nagging me and my next younger sister. I can do without some of that today. Besides, I enjoy your company so much, even though you do stink. It actually kind of surprises me. The enjoying your company part, not the stink part.”
He grinned. “I seem to get that response a lot.”
They walked on in silence for a few more blocks, until they came to the end of the residential area. It opened up into a quaint street with little shops on either side. It was a nice shopping center, but Cooper was sure it wasn’t even a quarter the size of the city’s main street area.
“This isn’t as big as downtown,” Valentine said as they walked along, “but I like it. It’s small and quaint. I used to spend a lot of time here. I loved shopping in these little clothing shops. I found some real deals and some of the cutest outfits.”
“No offense, Valentine,” Cooper said, breaking into her string of words, “but I really don’t care about shopping.”
She gave him a shy smile. “Sorry. I forgot that guys aren’t as into clothes as girls are.”
“Well, there might be some, but I’m not one of them. I mean, look at me. I don’t care if my clothes have giant holes or if they even match. If they cover up the private parts, I’m good. Why do I need to spend a hundred dollars on one lousy outfit? I need the money for better things than clothes, like food.”
“To each their own,” she said with a shrug. “I happen to like clothes, but I get that others, usually guys, don’t. Hey, here’s that coffee shop I was talking about. Magic Beans. I love this place. And it is open. My treat since you’re oh so gallantly walking me home.”
“I could never turn down anything free,” Cooper said as he pulled the door open. “After you.”
Valentine smiled and walked past him, rolling her suitcase behind her. Whistling a few bars, he followed her in and then stopped short.
As Valentine got in line behind an old lady and a teenage girl, Cooper caught sight of his older sister sitting with some guy, laughing and talking.
“Cooper?” Valentine called out, turning to look to see what was keeping him from joining her.
He didn’t answer; he just couldn’t seem to pull his eyes from the girl and the guy sitting at a table by the window. Valentine’s face fell slightly. It was probably some girl he’d gone out with and never gotten over. Oh, well, she thought. He was a nice distraction while it lasted. She shrugged to herself, wondering if it would be possible for her to find some other nice, available guy before midnight. She couldn’t spend the time moaning over her loss; there simply wasn’t time.
Finally, Cooper made his way over to her, his eyes slightly glazed. “Hey, sorry about that.”
“No problem,” she said, a tightness in her chest, a forced smile on her face. “She’s pretty.”
He made a face. “That’s my older sister. I just want to know who that is with her.”
Valentine’s chest suddenly felt much better. His sister. Of course it was. There was some resemblance now that she was taking a closer look at the brother and sister, turning her head from one to the other. Of course it had to be his sister. They had the same face structure, the same nose, the same ears, even the same hair color, and probably eye color.
“Why don’t you go say hi?” she suggested, her voice light. “I’ll order something for you.”
“Sure. Black coffee and maybe whatever muffin they have.”
“No problem,” she said with a smile. “Here, I’ll take my suitcase.”
“It’s okay. I don’t mind.”
And, with that, he walked off, rolling the pink edged suitcase behind him across the tile, the wheels making a slight buzzing noise as it followed him. The guy spotted him first as Cooper walked up to the couple. His curious look made Abigail look up, too. She nearly jumped and tipped over her drink in surprise. Cooper came to a stop near her and she didn’t seem to mind his dirtiness as she threw her arms around his neck.
“Cooper! I thought I’d never see you again. When did you get here? Are you okay? Where on Earth have you been? Oh, this is Grant, by the way. We just met. Grant, my prodigal brother, Cooper, the one I was telling you about.”
“Abigail, shut up,” Cooper said with a scowl as his ever energetic sister paused to draw breath. He took a deep breath of his own at his sister’s furious look. “Look, I’m sorry, but you talk too much. I can’t stand it. That’s probably part of why I ran away from home.”
Grant stood and extended his hand before Abigail could reply and erupt in the middle of the coffee shop. Her cheeks were staring to turn red and her hands were starting to ball into fists. He didn’t think that was a good sign and, considering what she had said about her brother, he knew they didn’t get along too well. Sure, they tolerated each other and loved each other in their own way, but they’d grown up resenting each other for different reasons. He figured he ought to intervene before the brother and sister ripped apart the coffee house before the midnight explosions could.
“Nice to meet you, Cooper,” Grant said smoothly, interposing himself between the siblings before they started their personal war. “Abigail’s told me a little about you. It’s great to meet one of her siblings.”
Cooper briefly shook the man’s hand before turning his attention back to his sister.
“I take it you’re going home, too?” he asked as she took a deep breath and held it for a count of ten.
She nodded, finally getting a handle on her fury. “Yeah. Looks like you are, too. But what’s with that suitcase?”
“It belongs to a friend of mine. I’m escorting her home. I should probably get back to her. See you at Mom and Dad’s, I guess. They already know I’m coming, so I guess you can tell them I should be there shortly.”
Abigail nodded mutely as she watched Cooper turn and walk off to join a very pretty red haired girl at the counter just as she was finishing giving her order.
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