Chapter Nine: Midnight Coffee

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Molly was at the counter, only lit by the gloom of the sleeping city outside Ash's windows. The shutters had been drawn up but all the lights were off, and had been that way since she'd arrived.

She watched the coffee drip into the pot at the bottom, absently running a finger up and down the countertop. Molly hadn't had coffee this late since her time as a student, and usually it had been with Ash.

He hadn't moved from the table for some time, his arms folded on top with his head nestled in the middle. They were both twenty four and twenty five now, yet as she looked at him, he had barely changed from his quietly charged self of eighteen. Ash was like a locked box of frogs, only opening in the company of close friends.

“It's a good job I don't have work tomorrow,” she said to the slumped figure at the table as she poured the brewed coffee into two identical white cups. Ash didn't move as she set the mug down beside him and took a seat.

Ash was a quiet person, usually happy to go with the flow, but Molly had seen him at his neurotic, perfectionist worst. It usually ebbed out when he was drunk or stressed, and she knew under that bundle of arms and hair piled on the tabletop was a pressure cooker waiting to explode.

“Thanks for coming,” he mumbled, “I know it's late.”

Molly smiled and rumpled the top of his head. “Anything for the one that got me through Harry Galvin's lectures.” She took a sip of coffee and leaned back in the darkness. “But yes it is late, so are you going to tell me why you dragged me here?”

He looked up, relieved of the bandage he had been wearing when she'd last seen him. The soiled linen lie in a heap under his head. Molly couldn't ignore the scar that stretched right across his face. She had only seen it once about a month ago, but it seemed so much angrier now. The sides were raw and scabbed, and the skin around it seemed red and pinched. Molly didn't want to say just how bad it looked. Luckily, Ash answered her thoughts anyway, perhaps noting her expression.

“It won't stop aching, like someone keeps prodding and poking it.” One of his hands reached up and tenderly touched the outside of the scar, wincing as he did so. Molly took another sip of coffee.

“Shouldn't it have healed by now?”

“Yeah, but it's like I just did it yesterday. I don't really understand...well, I might understand but -” He stopped himself, biting his lip and looking over at the steaming coffee beside him.

“What's wrong, Ash?” She leaned closer, trying to catch his eye.

*****

There was a disconcerting and heavy silence in his head. A silence he wasn't used to. Molly's question hung in the air between them, and there was something inside him that screamed to not reveal his secret. If anyone knew he'd been hearing voices, even a close friend like Molly, his career would never recover.

He looked up, into her eyes that coursed with concern and warmth. Eyes he had crushed on for years and years.

“Ever since the crash, something is different,” he whispered into his cup as he gripped the handle. “In my head, something's...something's inside there.”

He held his breath and fixed his gaze firmly at the wooden tabletop. He had said it, and his heart spiked. There was a glimmer in the mirror that hung on the wall.

Maddie materialised behind him, and instinctively he looked over his shoulder to find nothing.

“Inside? What do you mean, exactly?”

“Shh!” He sliced his arm through the air to kill the conversation, looking back in the mirror, “it's finally shown up.”

“What has? Ash…?”

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