Coffee Break

Coffee Break

Spring was lovely in Central City, I decided. The day was sunny and warm enough to sit outside with just a light jacket; a good thing for me as they didn’t allow animals—other than service animals—in CC Jitters. I sipped one of their signature “Flash” coffees while testing out their free wi-fi by scanning the website of a local charity on my tablet. The patio area was full of customers enjoying their beverages and the good weather, but no one bothered me, probably because of the small, scruffy dog laying at my feet.

He suddenly perked up, nose in the air, giving it a good solid sniff before letting out a sharp bark. I was just about to reprimand him when someone spoke.

“Mrs. Dibny?”

I whirled at the familiar voice. My eyes lit up with pleasure. “Dr. Snow! What a pleasant surprise!”

“Yes, this is a surprise!” She came around the table, arms outstretched. I rose, placing my tablet on the table before giving her a stout hug. “I thought you’d gone home to Opal City!”

“I did. Just long enough to sell my house, pack up, and move here.” I settled back down in my chair and took a sip of coffee while Dr. Snow tugged her companion, the handsome young man I remembered in passing, forward.

“Mrs. Dibny, this is my friend, Jay Garrick. Jay, meet Sue Dibny. She came to us for help a couple of months ago.”

“Oh, yes! I remember passing you in the parking lot.” Jay held out his hand. “It’s nice to meet you, Mrs. Dibny.”

“Please, call me Sue, both of you.” My dog stood, wagging his scruffy tail at Dr. Snow, who crouched down and offered her hand for a sniff.

“What an adorable dog!”

“His name is Ralphie. He’s a terrier mix.”

“In other words, a mutt.” Ralphie’s tail wagged a mile a minute, sometimes in circles as she petted him. “Where did you get him?”

“The Central City animal shelter. He’s a good companion and gives me a reason to get outside and walk.” I smiled as she withdrew to give Jay an opportunity to make friends.

Ralphie’s reaction to Jay Garrick was different; his hackles went up and he growled low in his throat. He began to bark, growling between spurts of warning yips. Startled, Garrick withdrew, stumbling backward before catching himself on another patio chair.

“Ralphie! Stop that! Come!” Frowning, I snapped my fingers. Seeing the threat retreating, he returned to his spot beneath my chair, eyes watching Garrick’s every move. I turned my own attention to the perceived threat. “I’m so sorry, Mr. Garrick. He’s usually very friendly.”

“Don’t worry about it, Mrs. Dibny. I’ve never had much luck with dogs. And, please, call me Jay.” He turned to Dr. Snow. “Hey, Cait? Why don’t I get the coffee and the two of you can chat while I wait in line? I’m sure you have some things to catch up on.”

“That sounds wonderful,” Dr. Snow said. She settled into the chair beside me as he pulled it out for her. “Thank you, Jay.”

“Do you need a refill, Sue?” When I shook my head, he nodded. “Okay, then. Be back soon,” he said, striding off to the coffee shop’s doors. Dr. Snow’s eyes followed him until he disappeared inside.

“He’s such a nice guy.” Her dreamy utterance abruptly ended as she turned to me, leaning in to ask, “So, you moved here? When did this happen?”

“Not long after we spoke last.” I put the tablet back into my bag and took another sip of my coffee. “Something you said about giving yourself space really resonated with me. Ralph and I bought a house here, with the intention of moving and relocating his private detective business. I figured, I already have a house here, why not go through with the plan? So, here I am.”

“Amazing!” She smiled at me, a twinkle in her eye. “You look so much better than you did when I saw you last. More relaxed and rested.”

“That’s because I am both. Coming to Central City has done me a world of good.” I paused. “How are Cisco? And Barry? Still working hard?”

“Yes, they’re both very busy. Oh, thank you for those chocolates and the edible arrangements. You didn’t have to go through all that trouble.”

“Of course I did! You deserved more thanks than I could muster up at the time. Did you get the check?”

Ralphie wiggled his way under the table to lie down at Dr. Snow’s feet. She glanced at him but did nothing more. “Yes, we did but Barry was puzzled. He couldn’t figure out what to do with it.”

“Ah, so Barry owns S.T.A.R. labs?” I hadn’t found any new information on the owner; the name of Harrison Wells was still attached to any financial records.

“Yes, he is. Or he will be once Dr. Wells’s will clears Probate.” She shook her head. “Until then, there are no funds to repair the building and the city might object to any remodeling which makes it look as if the accelerator is coming back online.” Leaning forward again, she clasped her hands together. “It was a generous gesture, though.”

“I should probably speak with Barry, then, and tell him to use the money in whatever way he sees fit. I just thought it was a shame for the place to look so damaged.”

Our conversation lagged a little. Ralphie’s whine brought her attention back to him. “So, Ralphie,” she said, wiggling her fingers so he would come closer. “Does Ralph, uh, inhabit—?”

I shook my head. “No, he doesn’t. He’s tried, but says the dog’s senses are too limiting.” I grinned. “Besides, when he does, he wants to talk and that means Ralphie barks incessantly. He’s not as bad as just a dog and fewer people give me funny looks when I’m talking to Ralph because they think I’m talking to the dog.” It was my turn to move forward, as if imparting a secret. “I have noticed, however, that Ralphie is a very good judge of character. You should keep an eye on your friend there.” I wanted to tell her about the would-be thief who slid up beside my car as I stepped out to fill my gas tank—I locked my car doors at his angry bark—or the belligerent woman who mistook me for a feuding neighbor. I didn’t have time because Jay, hands full, was headed our way.

I leaned in, my voice soft ask I asked, “Please, Dr. Snow, if you haven’t already mentioned Ralph’s condition to him, don’t. I just—I’d like to keep that quiet.”

Dr. Snow frowned, puzzled. “I—sure, okay. I can do that.”

“Thank you.” I sighed, relieved.

Her frown cleared. One side of her mouth quirked up in a smile. “Dr. Snow—that sounds so formal. Call me Caitlin, please.”

“All right; Caitlin it is.” At a snap of my fingers, Ralphie abandoned her and settled by my side again. He didn’t lie down but stayed alert, his eyes focused on Garrick as the man took the seat opposite me at the round table. I could hear the low growl in his throat.

“So, I hope you ladies had a good talk while I waited in that line.” Garrick shook his head. “There’s a trainee behind the counter today; he took forever!”

“Their best barista, Kendra, quit a few weeks ago.” I pulled my tablet from my purse again. “Looks like they’ve had a hard time replacing her.”

Caitlin murmured her thanks to Jay as he handed her a cup. “That’s right! Kendra. Cisco dated her for a little while; he told me all about it. I’m not surprised they’re having difficulty finding someone as good as she was.”

“Really? What a coincidence!”

The conversation lagged a little again. Ralphie’s reaction to Garrick soured me on learning anything about him, but it wouldn’t hurt to ask some questions. After all, my nose was beginning to twitch. I put on my best hostess smile.

“So, Jay, what do you do for a living?”

The question seemed to take him by surprise. “Well, right now I’m helping Caitlin and Cisco at S.T.A.R. Labs deal with the recent influx of metahumans.” He cleared his throat. “I’ve had some experience with them.” Something in my face must have clued him in to how that sounded. “Heh. Uh, actually, I mean I’ve had experience with metahumans in general. Not these in particular.”

“I see. So, you’re a geneticist, too? Or a researcher?” I sipped my coffee, gazing at him from over the cup’s rim.

“Uh, more of a behaviorist, I guess. I find I understand how they think, what moves they’re likely to make.” He shrugged, giving me another smile. Really, he had a vibrant one. “What about you?”

I flapped a hand, a self-deprecating gesture. “Oh, I’m what the old-timers would call a socialite. Inherited money, good works, supporting the arts, that sort of thing. My husband, Ralph, was a private investigator; we were moving to Central City from Opal City for his business.” I sighed. “Then the particle accelerator exploded and I lost him.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that!” He glanced over at his companion. “Is that how you know each other?”

“Yes.” I nodded, wanting to give Caitlin some direction. “She helped me understand what happened to Ralph the day he died.” I smiled at her, an honestly warm expression. “She gave me some closure; helped me accept his passing.”

“I was glad to help.”

I could have sworn Garrick’s eyes narrowed as they flicked back and forth between us. “So, that’s why you were at S.T.A.R. labs a few months ago.”

My nose twitched again; by now, I was used to the little warning tic. “Yes. It took a while for me to connect his death with the explosion and, once I had I thought, surely the lab was closed. But Dr. Wells’s confession caused quite a stir and I discovered it was open. So, I visited Caitlin when I came to Central City on business.” I turned to her and reached out my hand. “You were such a help.”

She grasped it and squeezed, shaking it gently. “As I said, I was happy to help.”

A soft chime went off. Caitlin let go of my hand and consulted her phone. “Oh, break time’s over. We need to get back to the lab.” She began to gather her things as Garrick finished his coffee. “It was so good to see you again, Sue. I hope you enjoy your new life here.”

“Yes, welcome to Central City,” Garrick quipped as he took charge of the trash. He walked it to the nearest trash can. I scrambled in my handbag for a business card.

“Here, take this. My phone number’s on it. Call me whenever you like and, please, remind Barry to get in touch about that check.”

“I will.” She took the card. I stood and we embraced.

“Remember what I said about your friend,” I murmured. “Ralphie hasn’t steered me wrong yet.”

Caitlin’s smile was terse; I could tell she didn’t like what I had to say about her handsome young man. Garrick returned, gathered her up with a hand around her waist, and, giving me a brief wave, guided her away from the coffee shop.

I sat down as I watched them go, breathing a troubled sigh out my nose. My coffee was cold and I debated buying myself a refill. A spring breeze ruffled my jacket, raising goosebumps. Ralphie stood suddenly, stretching, his pink tongue curling up into a yawn. I took that as a sign.

“Well, Ralphie my boy, I think we’d better be on our way. I want to find out more about this Jay Garrick.”

Author’s note: I’m taking some liberties with CC Jitters; the production stills show no sign of an outdoor seating area. However, there might still be one behind the building and tucked out of sight. Just go with it, please.

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