I sit peacefully in Starbucks’ small employee’s room, working on coursework between shifts. Only last year I’d begun studying criminology, not only because I’d found it interesting, but also because I knew my personal experiences could come in handy in the criminal department. And it did. Numerous times. Especially concerning a criminal’s way of thinking. But today, holding my head with one hand whilst reading mandatory texts, I simply couldn’t rely on what had happened more than two years ago to help me out. The texts rambled about crime scenes, the different types of evidence and fingerprints; things I had difficulty relating to. Not only that, but due to Quebec’s French language, I had to work twice as hard to understand it. Good thing I’d taken French courses the weeks following me and Soph’s arrival because there would’ve been no way I would’ve comprehended the quarter of what was being said around me and on paper.
I stare at the texts for another minute before I decide to give up for today. Exhaling loudly, I shut the textbook and lean back on my chair momentarily. I dig in my pocket and pull out a set of earphones and my music player, deciding to waste my break on music instead. The second I place my earphones in, I hear my name being called.
“Anne!” my co-worker Leila says, popping her head through the door. “Il y a un client anglophone et j’arrive pas à comprendre ce qu’il veut!”
I exhale once more and put my music player away. It wasn’t uncommon for me to replace a co-worker whenever a customer who struggled in French appeared: I was nearly as bilingual as Sophie. Nearly. See in the first few months after Sophie’d given birth, she and I agreed to share the chore of waking up in the middle of the night to care for the baby. But I, instead of waiting half-awake by the crib like a zombie every second night, decided to study my French with a truckload of coffee. It had paid off.
“C’est bon, j’y vais,” I say, pulling on my apron as I stand up.
“Merci!” she thanks me.
I nod and step outside the room, heading to the cash register. A 60 year old man stands in front of me.
“You speak English?” He asks me.
“Yes. Can I take your order?” I reply, putting on a smile.
“I’ll have a Breakfast Blend please,” he replies, relieved as he pulls his wallet out. “That other young lady was simply trying too hard to understand me,” he trails on to himself. “The name’s Frank Curtis,” he adds.
I nod, but don’t say anything as I type his order in. “It’ll be 4,75$,” I say. He hands me a ten dollar bill. I fumble around in the cash register, searching for his change. I grab a five dollar bill as well a couple coins and hand them to the man. My gaze falls on the window. I stop breathing as surprised blue eyes meet mine. I’m stuck in a haze, unable to look away from the man.
“Frank Curtis!” Leila calls, already done with the older man’s order. “Un gros merci Anne! Tu peux retourner en pause!”
Keeping my eyes fixed on Louis, I remove the green apron and cap. I rapidly turn around and exchange them for my coat in the backroom before looking back out the window, only to notice his disappearance. Something tugs at my heart.
Still curious, I step out of the staff area and head for the door. I hastily step outside and head right in front of the coffee shop where I’d just seen him. He’s nowhere to be seen. My shoulders drop a little.
“Looking for someone?”
I spin around, only to see Louis leaning on the brick wall right beside the door. I’d completely bypassed his presence in my haste. I stare at the man before me. His hands are in his coat pockets and a scarf is tightly wound around his neck. There’s a light scruff on his chin, and his hair’s slightly shorter than the last time I saw him. As I take him in, several memories bombard me, making my heartbeat accelerate.
“Louis,” I breathe, passing my hand through my blonde hair.
“Hi,” I inhale, still staring at him in awe.
“I was just heading in for some coffee. Wanna join me?” he enquires, opening the door. I hesitate, giving him another quick look-over. I’d heard on the news what had happened to him after me and my sister’s departure: he’d attempted to turn himself in along with the rest of the boys about two months later, once he finally realized that I wouldn’t be the one doing it. Without any evidence or testimony from Sophie and I, the result had been disastrous. Zayn, Liam and Harry had firmly denied it, claiming that he was just playing a sick prank whilst Niall wouldn’t pick a side. Slowly but surely, the whole fandom had turned against Louis, just like his friends, all of them saying that rape wasn’t a matter to joke about. He’d quit the band a month after his declaration, going on a burn out. The four other boys followed nearly 6 months after.
“Yeah,” I agree. “Coffee sounds good.”
He smiles and motions for me to go inside.
“What do you want?” I ask. “I’ll make it real quick,” I continue, stepping back in the staff’s workplace.
“Anything hot will be great,” he replies, taking a seat right by the window where I’d spotted him.
I nod and get to work, taking off my coat before quickly whipping up something for each of us.
I feel his gaze on me the whole time. Leila elbows me.
“Tu sais qui il est hein?” she whispers as I finish up.
“Oui,” I shrug simply, grabbing our drinks and placing them at our table. Louis’ coat is now draped on the back of his chair, his hands rubbing themselves together in attempt to get them warm.
“Thank you,” he exhales, placing his hands around the steaming drink. “How much―”
“Don’t worry about it,” I wave. “You’re welcome. So what are you doing in Quebec?” I probe.
“I was up in Montreal just yesterday for some business. I had a couple free days so I thought I’d come down to Quebec City to see the castle before I returned to London,” he trails on, motioning the Chateau Frontenac right in front of Starbucks. “Wasn’t disappointed,” he continues, gazing at it longingly. He exhales and tastes his coffee. “I must admit though, the weather is cold. Much colder than any other place in North America right now. And that’s peculiar. Especially considering the fact that we’re in March.”
“Ugh I know,” I mutter. “It’s practically winter for eight months here,” I sigh, feeling nostalgic of the hot Australian weather. “But it’s cozy when you’re with people who you care about and who care about you. A North American Paris if you will,” I elaborate, taking a sip of my macchiato. He chuckles. “So why did you stare at me for a good minute outside?” I question.
“I was just as surprised as you were to see you,” he shrugs.
“You were waiting by the door when I came out,” I accuse. “How’d you even know I’d come out?”
“I didn’t. I was hoping you wouldn’t actually,” he responds, his teal eyes seeping with sincerity.
“Because I believe some things are best left buried.”
“Cheers to that,” I huff, lifting my cup before taking another sip. He eyes me longly.
“I don’t understand you,” he mumbles softly, his fingers playing with his cup. “You have before you a man who’s done unforgiveable things, yet you agreed to sit and have coffee with him,” he says. “Why? You should be freaking out right now. You shouldn’t even want to speak to me.”
“I’m not saying I forgive you Lou,” I begin, choosing my words carefully. “I still have nightmares. I’m still healing, just like Soph. But at the same time, you’ve tried to redeem yourself. You tried to turn yourself in and everything backfired against you. And I respect you for that. I’m sure it took a lot of courage to report your activities to the authorities, especially knowing that it could ruin your life.”
“I knew it was a small price to pay. Especially considering I’d ruined two lives,” he points out. “But that isn’t worth all the pain I’ve put you through. All the pain I’ve let you endure.”
“Louis it’s in the past,” I shake my head.
“Yet it haunts my present and it’ll torment me in the future,” he mutters sadly.
“You mustn’t forget you aren’t the only one responsible. Don’t burden yourself with that. The other boys are just as guilty,” I say, my hand reaching for his. Truth be told, Zayn was the one I’d never forgive. Ever.
The British man gazes down at our joined hands on the table. There’s a short pause.
“I’m going to risk sounding horribly selfish here,” he exhales, “but do you remember when we talked about different circumstances about 3 years ago in L.A.?” he begins, rubbing the back of his neck with his hand.
I nod slowly, indeed recalling something.
“Do you think we can do that? Pretend we’re two people who just met and know nothing about each other and just start fresh? I know it’s selfish and ridiculous―”
It takes me a split second to think my decision through but I know it’s what I want. I hold my hand out to him.
“Hi. I’m Anne Miller,” I say, a smile tugging on the side of my lips. “Pleasure to meet you.”
“Louis Tomlinson,” he exhales, taking my hand in surprise. “And the pleasure is all mine.”
 “There’s an English customer and I’m unable to understand what he wants!”
 “Okay, I’ll go.”
 “Big thanks Anne! You can go back on your break!”
 “You know who he is, right?”