Twila pushed a wayward dark lock behind her ear. Never should have consented to the hairdresser's suggestion to grow out her bangs. She disliked it when her hair continually reminded her of its existence by flipping across one eye. Maybe her hair was emo.
She had just achieved coffee perfection -- enough skim milk to turn it toffee-colored, enough raw sugar to make it taste less like coffee -- when Josh sat down across from her. A blonde guy resembling a young Chris O'Donnell, he was her fellow pizza delivery driver, the new guy she'd been tasked with training a few weeks ago. They'd gotten into the habit of meeting here at The Fix before their shift. It was the sort of blandly familiar coffee shop, with tan-painted walls and local artwork, which these days was mandatory for any decent downtown, especially a college town like this one.
Josh looked more earnest than usual. "Did you ever wonder about your place in the world?" he asked, then took a sip of his frothy frappuccino. Not trying to impress anyone with his manliness, this guy.
"And here, I thought that pained expression meant you wanted to ask me how I felt about you," she said, only half joking.
Reddening, he responded, "You mean because of our kiss the other night?" They'd fumbled in a stairwell and landed on each other's lips. At least, that was her story, and she was sticking to it. Josh continued, "Well, I've been meaning to talk to you about that."
Here it was, the kiss-off. What other ending could result for a romance between a golden-boy college student, just dumped by his long-time girlfriend, and a college dropout and frustrated artist like herself? Probably didn't help, either, that the whole reason Josh's girlfriend split was to hook up with Twila's waste-of-space punk rocker ex-boyfriend. Gods, it was a freaking indie soap opera, and she was about to be written out of it.
Uncharacteristically direct, Josh told her, "I think it's all made up."
Poor gullible puppy, he still couldn't face the truth. "You still think Donna's coming back, don't you?" Or whatever her name was. She couldn't quite remember right now.
Shaking his head, Josh said, "No, not the affair. I mean, we caught them in that chat room and then spied on them when they met, remember? And we vowed to find a way to break them up, because he's such a sleaze." That was also the night they'd kissed, but he left that part out. "No," he went on, "I mean, all of it's made up: you, me, our exes, the House of Pizza, even this coffee shop."
She took a long sip of her pseudo-latte before responding. "Mighty early in the day to get so existential. Yeah, maybe we all exist in the mind of some giant weirdo with a perverted sense of humor. Someone who toys with us like flies..."
"... for his sport," Josh said, finishing her literary allusion. He did that a lot. "Didn't you ever wonder how I read your mind so easily? Doesn't it feel sort of... scripted?"
Seriously, what was with all the naval-gazing right before a shift? This was time for a little caffeine-injected chit chat, not "My Dinner with Andre." The last thing she needed while carting pizza boxes around town was to be contemplating the nature of the universe. "Spit it out, true believer. What's the conspiracy? Are we all being ruled by space mongooses or what?"
Instead of objecting to her sarcasm, Josh reached into his messenger bag and pulled out a manila folder, overstuffed with white pages. He pushed it across the table to her. She opened the folder and read the title page: "The Muse of Pizza by Alyce Wilson." Who was this chick? She'd never heard of her.
As Twila read page after typed page, she went from skeptical to confused to steaming. "Josh, this is not funny. You've been writing down everything I say to you and turning it into a novel? Not only that, but some sort of sappy alt-rock romance? No wonder you wrote it under a girl's name."
Josh shook his head slowly. "I didn't write it. I found it. On my computer."
Twila regarded him oddly. "Um... do you ever wake up in strange places and don't remember how you got there?"
"I see where you're going with that, and no, I don't have a multiple personality disorder," he said.
"Not that there's anything wrong with that," she quipped.
Josh said, "I found it buried in an old folder while I was backing up all my documents."
She flipped to the end and read the last page, which definitely didn't sound like an ending. "This only goes up to Chapter 7. Where's the rest of it?" she asked.
"That's the thing. The file hasn't been updated since about 2003."
Twila made a face. "Now I know you're messing with me. It's only 1997."
"Is it?" Josh asked. He looked at her carefully. "When did you start wearing your hair that way? It's been the same ever since I've known you."
"Back in the Nineties during the ape rebellion, you mean?" she said, tweaking him.
"A change! This is good," he said.
At the table next to them, a guy with a long nose and fuzzy beard that made him look like an anthropomorphic human began poking at a tiny flat screen. He read something on it and then tapped the screen and typed something with his thumbs.
Twila stared open-mouthed at the device. "What the holy hell is that?" Then, a beat later. "I want one."
Josh nodded sagely. "I think it's new technology, technology from her time. Maybe she's finally going to break us out of this limbo. Maybe she got my message."
"You found a way to contact her?" she asked. "How?"
"I updated the file, hoping that maybe wherever she was, whatever time it is, whatever she's currently occupied with, she'd notice and remember us."
Twila grabbed his hand. "You didn't write everything that just happened in here, did you?"
"No, no, no. I just cut-and-pasted in some Fiona Apple lyrics." Then, answering her next question before she could ask it, he said, "I want her to remember us and give us the ending she intended. You see, I read the outline."
The coffee house speakers started blaring "Werewolf," and Josh kissed Twila's hand.
In honor of two of my favorite creations, Twila and Josh, whose love quadrangle has remained unresolved for a decade. Sorry, guys.
And yes, they really did hang out in a coffee shop called The Fix.